Posted June 17, 2009

He's Loose: Bruce Loose from Flipper, fresh from a Rotary meeting.

+ X
Manning Bar, Sydney University, Sydney
Saturday, June 13, 2009

Excelsior Hotel, Surry Hills
Sunday, June 14, 2009

Words & Pictures: THE BARMAN

The prospect of seeing the new X line-up was the drawcard for mine, over and above reconstituted San Franciscan grindcore legends Flipper on this cool and damp Sydney Saturday night. There are curious parallels between both bands (bass as a lead instrument, many ex-members dead and past lifestyle choices not so wise) but their approaches to their music are divergent.

Openers Circle Pit played music that recalled the Wall of Chicken Wire, skeletal punk of Tactics (thanks for hitting the nail on the head, Cookie.) They're a bit tentative and some of the ragged-edge vocals grate but they're worth a second look.

The news from X is that Kevin McMahon (from the Steve Lucas-fronted Bigger Than Jesus) has replaced Kim Volkman on bass. Kim has moved on to noisy Melbournites Daicos and this gig was his replacement's ninth after previous Flipper supports and a run of rural Victoria shows.

New X bassist Kevin McMahon.

First impression is that the wiry, wise-cracking McMahon has a challenge in front of him. The bass spot is so fundamental to X’s sound that whoever fills the role has to fill enormous shoes. Although less a showman than Volkman and not as dominant a presence as the late Ian Rilen (but who is?), he’s right at home. Turns out he's a nice guy too - even if he's a Pom.

As it turns out, McMahon locks in magnificently with Cathy Green’s drumming and swaps jokes with Steve Lucas like a polished vaudeville team. Musically, the new configuration is a step up. That’s not to sleight Kim Volkman, who did the job at a time when crowds still had to be convinced it was OK for X to continue without Ian Rilen. The bottom line is that past tensions have gone out the window. This is a happy X, something we haven’t seen for some time.

The set relies on “X-Aspirations” songs for the most part and it’s likely most were first-timers to the ears of the small but young-ish crowd that’s in tonight. It’s 45-minutes of the more visceral tuneage, "Degenerate Boy" opening proceedings.

There’s a twist late in the set when a two-girl horn section steps up. Steve discovered The Hornettes in a Sydney pub and their confident contribution (and classical background) belie their tender age. "The Feel" and "TV Blues" grow extra legs tonight.

Cathy Green is the usual oasis of calm for X.

A couple of old buggers and The Hornettes.

Suspected terrorist at right.

X’s set is over too soon and their reputation as one of the best live acts in the country emerges enhanced. "El Salvador" resonates especially.

Flipper’s reputation for being a train smash precedes them but the small crowd that’s settled in to watch is more than a little standoff-ish. This only spurs vocalist Bruce Loose to insult/cajole them as he prowls around the stage, curiously dressed as a delegate from a Rotary congress in chinos and open-necked business shirt.

Bruce is a social commentator but a simplistic one. While his observation that Australia is a big place with few people concentrated in a few areas is primary school geography, the conclusion that, ergo, the population is "cliquey" is a long bow. I thought the urban concentration was down to 70 percent of the continent being arid or semi-arid. But I should give the guy a break, he’s been here all of a week.

Despite Loose’s best goading there’s not one object thrown at the band, just a few banal comments like “Welcome to Australia ya cunts”. A few people seem disappointed and move outside to the balcony to watch from behind glass or maybe they just want to smoke. Bruce’s schitck gets a bit wearing (but more on that in a minute).

The big, grinding sound of Flipper music past IS present and I’d go as far as suggesting bassist Rachael Thoele is be the best player onstage. It's something of a dream gig for a bass player because there's no-one telling you to turn it down. She unleashes an enormous fuzz bass that swirls and pushes the songs forward.

An unfazed Ted Falconi.

Rachael Thoele has a fuzzbox and she knows how to use it.

Guitarist Ted Falconi doesn’t look a day over 70 with his long, grey dreadlocks drawn into a ponytail and hunchback pose at the side of the drum rider. He scarcely moves from there. Ted’s obviously crammed some years in his life and believes in economy of movement. Only when relations seem to become fraught between bandmates does his visage crack a smile. The guy must have the patience of Job.

And on that subject, drummer Steve DePace declares he’s had enough after Loose dangles a couple of baits. The first is a comment that the timekeeper resembled a wind-up monkey. The second (and gamebreaker) is that he’s playing “Way Of The World” at the wrong tempo. DePace sends his sticks out into the audience, confronts the singer at the front of the stage and asks if this is “the Bruce Loose comedy hour”. The answer’s obviously in the affirmative because the drummer walks off-stage and calls go out for someone to replace him.

No-one does, DePace cools down and has another lash at the song but it’s not fast/slow enough for Loose who spits the dummy and walks. Thoele launches the microphone into the crowd “Way Of The World” is sung by a variety of moshpit denizens. One of the crew has a heart attack (maybe it's his microphone?) but the show goes on.

Closing song “Sex Bomb” gets X’s Kevin McMahon up to join in on bass while a bunch of willing volunteers hop up to do their best Will Shatter impersonations. Chaos rules and the show staggers to a close.

I’m already halfway down the stairs when Loose re-emerges to say: "Sorry for all the bullshit but it is a Flipper show". Thanks for the information. It did leave an impression - I'll give them that - which is the desired effect.

* * *

It's the evening after the night before and a small but enthusiastic crowd is in to catch Steve Lucas' solo band gig at the Excelsior in Surry Hills. I'm not going to be able to stay. But first, X plays an unadvertised show.

Free of support set limitations, it's as relaxed (and tight) a bracket as you could hope for. Cathy and Kevin have to catch a plane back to Melbourne (Steve having delayed his travel till Tuesday.) The crowd does its best to make them miss their flight.

This is X-cellent stuff. "Halfway Round The World", "Mother" and lesser played gems like "Burning On The Beaches" and "Infamy" get a look-in. No set list, songs picked at random with Cathy the final arbiter most of the time with her count-ins. Smiles all round.

And like most stories, it has a sequel which you can read here.