Tuesday, October 8, 2002
@ Seymour Centre, Sydney

The Seymour Centre doesn't normally play host to rock bands, which may explain why this show was originally promoted along the lines of "an evening with..." (and in the process invoked fond memories of the Ray Davies appearance several years ago - and if I'd been reporting for the Bar back then, that magical evening would have easily scored a five and a half out of five).

When Bob Geldoff took to the stage, along with the band, he was quick to dispel any misconceptions that this was going to be any such cosy night of open discussion, gentle reminiscence and thoughtful introspection ("It said in the paper that I would answer questions from the audience. No I fuckin' won't!").

To my regret I never saw Bob in his heyday. Back when the Boomtown Rats toured Australia, I was still living in Adelaide. The Rats were booked to play at Apollo Stadium ("the home of basketball") and I queued expectantly for my ticket, but then the show was cancelled "due to illness" and I had to queue again to get my refund. I had tickets for Tom Petty around the same time and his show was cancelled as well. Fuck, was there some sort of super virus going around on the east coast, because they all managed to play shows in Sydney and Melbourne but then were too sick to come west?

Of course I was wide eyed and naive in those days; friends with more cynical dispositions suggested that the obvious lack of competent promotion, leading directly to a dearth of ticket sales (no wonder I'd managed to get such bloody good seats for both shows), was more likely to be the root cause of the otherwise unexplained malaise going around. Sure enough, when Souxie and the Banshees came to Australia, no one even bothered to attempt bringing them to Adelaide (I remember seeing Rolf Harris at the Royal Adelaide Show in my childhood, so Adelaide wasn't always the cultural wasteland it had become in later years).

Though only Pete Briquette, the Rats' bassist, is still with him these days, this was my big chance to make up for that broken engagement of all those years ago. Shit... getting on for near to a quarter of a century ago in fact. Hope I die before I get old? Bollocks! Just hand me my walking frame and I'll turn up my hearing aid and keep on rockin' until my incontinence underpants fill up.

Not being the most organised bloke in the world, I'd hadn't done anything about trying to get a press freebie (and when the charge on my next credit card statement turned out to be over 60 dollars, boy did I begin to wish I had), but that didn't stop me taking my camera along. However, having learnt my lesson from last year's Alice Cooper fiasco, I kept it hidden in the bulky pocket of my bulky trousers.

The theatre has a large octagonal stage and the band's equipment was set up on the back half of the stage, so although I was in the second row I was still a fair distance from the band. After dropping a few subtle hints to the audience early on, all to no avail, Bob eventually came right out and invited everyone up onto the front half of the stage, where fortunately those who took him up on the offer all decided to sit respectfully at his feet, so I could still see easily over the tops of their heads while retaining my comfy chair, thus being spared the rigor of having to sit cross legged on the hard surface, something which I have studiously avoided since kindergarten (it's no good for the old metric miles, I can tell you).

I certainly wasn't the only punter who'd snuck in a camera, but I couldn't help noticing that every flash from the audience brought a swift response from the ushers. The fact that all the accredited photographers weren't much closer than me wasn't any consolation; in fact most were no closer at all, being forced to perch on the stairs between the seats, where they seemed quite happy since the ushers were too busy hassling paying punters to enforce the fire regulations. To tell you the truth, this gave me the shits, since I had to keep my camera concealed and take my pictures by stealth without using a flash, while all these other photographers sitting virtually next to me were dragging out gigantic telephoto lenses that looked like they'd been picked up from a garage sale at NASA.

When the band launched into the first song, I was alarmed that they'd sent along the wrong Bob by mistake - I'd paid for Mr Geldoff, but I seemed to be getting Mr Dylan. I guess it might be the right time for a little confession at this point. I haven't really followed Bob Geldoff's career all that closely since the Rats broke up, so most of the songs he played were completely unknown to me. In fact I hadn't bought any of his solo albums, although I did pick up the newie ("Sex, Age & Death") on the way out this evening, being most impressed with what I'd heard. Having played it a few times in the privacy of my own boudoir, I suspect that he might have opened up with "One For Me", a catchy tune which quotes unashamedly from "All Along the Watchtower" and "Knockin' On Heaven's Door".

I guess all singer/song writers live in Dylan's shadow, but while Dylan has been able to retire to the privacy of his country property whenever he wanted to, Geldoff has found himself conducting his daily life across the front pages of the sleazier tabloids. In Australia the coverage is just as invasive, but being the media superstar and saviour of the poor and starving that he is, clearly it's felt by the media that Bob's entitled to the attentions of a better class of sleazoid, so he winds up being sucked up to by the likes of Ray Martin, asking the same sort of questions while pretending that their shit doesn't stink like the corresponding bottom feeders in pommie land.

What's Dylan ever done anyway; what's his legacy, other than a million buskers droning bad poetry in a million malls and underground train stations and a million self-righteous wankers sitting in a million dingy coffee houses, letting their beards grow and adjusting their berets while they appointed themselves leaders of a "people's" revolution that never came...? Didn't the voice of a generation once say, "Don't follow leaders"? Only Nostradamus has gotten better mileage out of obscure rhymes and open ended riddles, but it seems to me that this was one time when the meaning was crystal clear!

Few people would have named Bob Geldoff as their candidate for the punk most likely to save the world, so the fervour with which he pursued Band Aid and the subsequent Live Aid took everyone by surprise. If there are still millions starving in Africa then that's hardly his fault; fuck, he tried harder to do more about it than most (and that includes snooty society dames throwing expensive charity lunches for their "A" list cronies and spending more on their designer dresses than they raise for the poor, who continue to dress in rags and the occasional op shop bargain), sacrificing his music career along the way, though I don't know for sure whether the Rats faltered in the wake of him pursuing his humanitarian vocation, or the waning of the Rats was what prompted him to continue with the aid and charity work after Live Aid.

Given that almost all of the Rats' records are long out of print, so there'd be precious little in the way of royalties coming in (and my impression has always been that his solo stuff all sank pretty much without a trace after release, though from the audience reaction at this show, a significant proportion of the populace clearly do know and love that material), I couldn't help wondering what's he's been living on these past few years. Fortunately he answered that question for me the following evening when he divulged on the Panel (TV show), during the briefest of guest appearances, that he part owns the Survivor concept, along with someone called Tony Parsons (hmm, wonder if that's the same Tony Parsons who used to write for the NME and co-wrote "The Boy Looked At Johnny" with Julie Burchill?), which must make him one rich son of a bitch considering that the program can afford to give away a million bucks to some arrogant, narcissistic yank at the end of every series.

So why's he bothering to tour then? He says it's because he still feels driven to do it and deep down he still loves it, both the singing and the touring. Touring is something that was both an inspiration and a highlight of the Rats' career, culminating in a gig in the old Polish parliament building just after communism fell (they arrived to find a neon "casino" sign hung on the statue of Lenin outside), where the red phone in the dressing room turned out to be not only the old hot line to Moscow, but also to be still connected, as he found out when he lifted the receiver and found himself talking to a Russian operator...

Indeed, despite all the intrusions of fame (or rather, the intrusions of those who feed on fame) and the turmoil in his personal life, he brings to the stage a weary enthusiasm that juxtaposes on the one hand the burden of being not only a saviour of the starving millions, but also one of the world's most famous single parents (he and Prince Chuckles must be neck and neck for that title), with on the other hand the pleasure of presenting the fruits of his musical inspiration to people who can enjoy the songs as they are, without demanding intimate details of his domestic situation.

Of course he walks a fine line there since, like all singer/song writers, aspects of his life turn up in his songs whether that was his original intention or not and the feeding frenzy starts again (but obsessive fans and grubby journos would always be looking for those personal, topical references even if they weren't there to begin with). In his case song writing must be even harder, since to be original he also has to find something that hasn't been completely picked over by the tabloids already.

He may not have been prepared to take questions from the audience, but he was more than happy to take requests as the show progressed, sometimes greeting them with a cheerful, "Yes, we'll do that!" and other times with a bored, or even startled, "Oh fuck...". Some songs are obviously played often or else have been well rehearsed; with the others he just launches in and does as much as he remembers, leaving the band free to join in if they think they know any of it.

It took about half the show before he got to his most famous composition, "I Don't Like Mondays", which the audience lapped up and which he then dismissed as a bit of "Tuesday night karaoke" before mockingly taking on the voice of a relieved punter, "Thank God he finally played something we know!". He also noted with detached amusement that that song had been referenced in the opening episode of the new season of "The West Wing" (these Australian shows come straight are several weeks of performances in U.S.), but then the version played in the background was Tori Amos' cover instead of the Rats' original!

Towards the end of the evening there were more old favourites like "Mary Of The 4th Form", "Someone Looking At You", "Rattrap" and "Diamond Smiles" (but sadly no "Looking After Number One", despite the fact that I definitely heard someone down the front calling out for it). These were mainly audience requests, but there were just as many calls from the audience for the later solo material, which revealed a surprisingly wide range of influences, from the previously mentioned voice of a generation to Wall era Pink Floyd (sure he was in movie, but it sounds like he had a greater affinity to the music than previously imagined), some traditional English and Irish folk, a little country & western (blended with the Monkees, via brief quotes of their version of Neil Diamond's "I'm A Believer") and some plain old energetic rock'n'roll.

As noted earlier, I was impressed enough to grab the newie ("Sex, Age & Death") on the way out. Now all I need to do is see if I can find some of his earlier ones. - John McPharlin