+ THE UNHEARD
Oxford Tavern, Wollongong, NSW
Thursday, 27 October 2005
WORD AND PICTURES: The Barman
Scott Morgan puts it well in a song from Powertrane’s forthcoming album: “People don’t know what they like, they like what they know”. It’s a truism, borrowed from an author unknown, but fits so well when applied to rock and roll in these troubled, culturally-divergent but paradoxically media-convergent times.
The crowd of 100 or so drinkers, pool players, nightshift roadworkers (true story) and sprinkling of music fans seemed to like what they saw and heard at The Ox on this Thursday night - even if many weren’t entirely sure what it was. Here’s the lowdown for anyone in doubt: It was Rock and Roll, delivered in two different doses, both free of pretension. Where the confusion/bewilderment kicks in is that it’s music that isn’t heard on mainstream radio, or in supermarkets and elevators, and that makes it hard for some people to relate.
The Unheard are local (old) boys, kicking around Sydney and the Gong in the 1980s, shedding members like dandruff and falling off the map for periods in the ‘90s, before returning this year after a long (decade) lay-off. Two guitars, bass, drums, and a singer doubling on Yamaha organ (occasionally played from the wrong side of the keyboard, for good effect) and mouth harp. Rooted in ‘60s punk and not going any other place in a hurry.
Someone recently bemoaned about these guys: “I’ve already heard Nuggets”, and to each their own. Me, I only tire of this stuff when it goes out of its way to be hip or the songs suck. The Unheard are Not Guilty on both counts. Even if you think you’ve heard it all before – and it’s near impossible to hear all the shit that’s come out posthumously on compilations like “Back From the Grave”, “Pebbles”, “Teenage Shutdown” et al – you can still appreciate the best bands of this genre for what they are i.e. purveyors of a pure and base strand of rock and roll.
Unlike the original 60s punks from garages in the Australian suburbs and the American Midwest 40 years ago however, The Unheard aren’t doing this with stars in their eyes. This is very much all in good fun. No eyes on any prize. There’s a lot of pushing for shared mics, boots on feedback wedges and caustic fuzz in the air. It’s good-spirited and they’re all excellent players, on the same page as bands like Brisbane’s Hekawis and Melbourne’s Shutdown 66. Every town should have one, if only to remind the kids where the roots of what they listen to today lie.
There are stacks of originals in the set, but it’s a cover - Plague’s “Go Away” – that was a snarling highlight for me. (There I go, hypocritically liking one that I know). Ya gotta love "Witch" simply for beign a Sonics song. In The Unheard's hands (try saying that five times fast) it gets along particuarly well. And this is a band with a following: There’s a hardcore cadre of fans/wives/girlfriends up front for The Unheard, some of whom I recognise from a recent brief encounter when they supported Radio Birdman’s local show.
It’s a difficult room for any band to work with phalanxes of tables and chairs filling most of the available space in front of the stage, encouraging punters to sit, but The Unheard do their level best. By the end of their set, people know they’ve seen a show. More power to them, a nice bunch of blokes who insisted the touring French band fill the headline spot.
And that’s the cue to go on to what Jim Dickson affectionately terms “Froggy Rock”…
There’s less familiarity around the place for Holy Curse, which is only to be expected. This is only their third official show on Australian soil so they go for recognition from the outset by dealing the MC5’s “Future Now” off the top of the deck. It’s an icebreaker recognised by a handful, that immediately yields to the floored V-8 bass line of “OD’ed on You”, whose impassioned vocal is convincing proof that singer Eric is true to his word and his band will play their hearts out, no matter the occasion. ("O.D.'ed" is fast becoming a firm fave with me, along with the later-to-be-played "Long Gone" which has a riff so tough you can shred sheet metal with it).
There’s appreciative applause as the band fly off into a flurry of their own hi-energy songs (“Life’s a Bitch”, “Let’s Go Surfing”, “Long Gone” and “Sister Soul”) that no-one here’s heard. A couple of technical hitches (a moving kick drum and a pesky effects pedal) plus a fight in the crowd are distractions that the band takes in its stride. (So does Steve from The Unheard who's one of the brawlers and comes out on top against a guy twice his size.)
Meeting and playing with Australian players whose work they’ve admired from afar is a real kick for the Curse. Tonight they welcome guitarist Stewart “Leadfinger” Cunningham, an Illawarra-local whose history (Asteroid B612, Brother Brick, Proton Energy Pills) would be known to followers of subterranean Oz rock. (He's known to members of The Unheard as the little kid who used to sneak onto their bill to play Stooges covers an eon agao). Stew plus in and the augmented band is straight into “No Way On Earth”. Mission accomplished, onto the next. Vinz lays down the bass line, drummer Gooloo takes up the beat and a red-hot “City Slang” shows the way home.
Impromptu as their coming together may be, you can’t help be impressed by Paul’s and Leadinger’s weaving, fluid guitarwork. Lots of people are but aren’t vocal enough to coax an encore out of the tourists. Ultimately, it's a stand-offish crowd and not entirely a rock and roll one. No matter. A long overnight drive to Melbourne lies ahead.
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