Tote Hotel (Cobra Bar)
Friday, January 19, 2008


It was a slightly humid evening – dare I say it, closer to Sydney summer weather than Melbourne – that greeted us when we jumped on our bikes to ride to the Tote.  The composition of the bike riding posse was demonstrably different this time.  My wife, having made a New Year’s resolution to “see more live music”, had decided to return to the vibrant rock environment of the Tote to see Dolly Rocker Movement on their latest foray south of the Barassi Line.  After a warm up ale at the Curry Family Hotel on Wellington Street – and the opportunity to see one of those rockabilly themed nights that makes you marvel in admiration at the passion and enthusiasm of the rockabilly sub-culture – we headed to the Tote, and wandered upstairs to the Cobra Bar just as the little hand eased past ten on the clock. 

It was, not surprisingly, a suffocating atmosphere in the Cobra Bar, even before the bands started – the Tote is not a venue one attends to imbibe the natural beauty of clean air.  First up tonight was Geelong’s latest musical product, the Frowning Clouds.  Geelong gets a bad rap from time to time.  Its football (that’s Australian Rules – not AFL, as northern residents are prone to erroneously labelling the code) team has a long and painful history of producing brilliant individual players, and teams capable of laying waste to unsuspecting opposition teams, only to fall down in a screaming heap when finals time arrives.  Last year, however, Geelong slaughtered Port Adelaide in the Grand Final, and the city has benefited from a renewed sense of optimism.  Economically, Geelong still suffers from its isolation, and reliance on the patronage of the Ford motor company; thankfully, however, the factories are still there, and the evil fingers of the free market economist community haven’t succeeded in ripping out the last vital organs of the Australian motor vehicle industry.

And on a musical level Geelong is still doing OK – Bored! are perhaps Geelong’s most notable export, and the city continues to enjoy a reputation for Detroit styled garage rock (presumably the shop rat attitude of the MC5 and the Stooges is more than an accidental occurrence).  The Frowning Clouds, however, aren’t your standard twin guitar, high octane rock band telling tales of burning down the highway and living life on the margins of legal existence.  The Frowning Clouds are a 60s influenced band that combine the mid 1960s UK r’n’b feel of Them and the Yardbirds with the deranged rural psychosis of the Sonics.  These guys look the part too – tall, rake thin and heads of hair that resemble prime ornithological real estate.  The lead singer has a scream with the potency of Gerry Rosalie reacting to sticks of bamboo being prized under his nails, and the whole band behaves with the same level of juvenile excitement as my son when presented with his Christmas present of a serious Lego construction.  The Frowning Clouds are fast developing a cult following, and the crowd – crammed into the various knooks and crannies that the Cobra Bar is so good at providing – is impressively healthy.  Rumour has it that these guys might have a set of tracks ripe for an album picking, and if their one song on last year’s Antipodean Screams compilation is anything to go by, it’ll be an album worth casting a more than casual look. 

Next came the Dolly Rocker Movement, in town for the first time since a devastatingly groovy show in September 2007 to celebrate the 5th birthday of Melbourne’s Blow-Up! troupe.  Tonight lead singer and guitarist Daniel Poulter – aka ‘Dandelion’, a nickname matched by the flower stickers adorning his guitar – starts the evening with a set of oversized round shades my wife claims remind her of Yoko Ono, but make me think of Jacqueline Onassis. 

Within moments, however, the glasses have faded from memory, and the Dolly Rocker Movement are channelling all the flowers, ink blots and freak-outs they can possibly muster.  Somewhere deep beneath the distorted electronic sounds, The Dolly Rocker Movement are simply a great pop band.  Simple melodies, catchy lyrics and Dandelion’s elegant pointy shoe shuffling and Syd Barrett-like charisma.  The rhythm section is tough as nails, and the keyboard sprinkles across the sound like some crazy old hippie running around with a bag of sparkling purple fairy dust.  Get Up Au Go Go is a particular favourite – tonight’s version bends into shapes hitherto unknown, and Follow the Sound never fails to disappoint.  The new tracks are all favourably received, suggesting the next Dolly Rocker album could come close to surpassing the unbridled excellence of its predecessors.

The audience gets into the swing of things – in the case of Bar regular Richard Sharman, almost too literally, as he falls to his knees to compel more psychedelic pop from the band – and I’m reminded again of the paradox of a decade that continues to be mythologised for its popular artistry, yet at the same time gave us some of the most psychotic ideological pursuits, a war that laid the foundation for the United States’ modern day military industrial insecurity complex and a consumer culture that underpins the widespread environmental disaster we’ve unfortunately begun to take for granted. 

Yet listening to the Dolly Rocker Movement sing songs of peace, love and happiness – all set to a melody that glistens with more natural beauty than the Garden of Eden immediately prior to a heavenly inspection – and you’re reminded that the '60s gave the world more quality music per head of musical producing population than any other decade in living memory.

Finally it’s all over and save for one last encore (which costs us an extra $20 in babysitting fees) the night is over, and we’re back out into what passes as rarified Collingwood air.  It’s another long ride home, and a short night’s sleep before the ankle biters are up and at the world, but at least we’ve got a night of Dolly Rocker Movement – and Frowning Clouds – to think of in the more frenetic domestic moments.