In Vivo + Pig Iron + Roll Cage
Cat & Fiddle Hotel, Balmain, Sydney

April 20, 2003

By JOHN McPHARLIN

In Vivo were up from Melbourne for the long weekend (this having been the Easter weekend, for the benefit of those with even more of a memory problem than me) and the main showcase was on the Saturday night at the Annandale Hotel with Asteroid B612. Unfortunately I had to miss that show, for reasons that need not concern us here (however I will admit that there had seemed to be a definite promise of sexual intercourse in the air, though in the end it just came down to a bit of wet, sloppy smooching and an all too short session of fondling and generally "inappropriate touching"; still beggars can't be choosers and there certainly had ended up being plenty of begging involved).

This then was my consolation prize, an afternoon gig not even mentioned in the Cat & Fiddle's advert in Drum Media. Fortunately Ashley Thomson had alerted the Bar to this gig's occurrence, though when I got there I found that there had been some jostling in the ranks of the support acts with The Fever having dropped out at the last minute, their spot on the bill filled by a reconstituted Pig Iron, and "Blind Ash Leadfoot" turned out not to be the expected Ashley Thomson acoustic mode extravaganza, but instead a first outing for the revamped Roll Cage. Well almost.

For those who haven't heard, here's my understanding of the state of play: Roll Cage used to be Ashley Thomson (Guitar, Vocals), Carl Ekman (Bass, Harp), Scott Armstrong (Drums), Ned Matijasevic a.k.a. Ned Alphabet (Keyboards) and sometimes Stewart "Leadfinger" Cunningham (Guitar). Roll Cage are now Ashley Thomson (Guitar, Vocals), Scott Armstrong (Drums) and Sabina Collins (Bass).

Aside from an impressive resume, which includes stints in the Vanilla Chainsaws and Harpoon, Sabina "sure smells better than Carl and Ned and has much prettier underwear", according to Ashley. Scott of course is the other carry-over member from the previous line up, except that he was away this weekend, so Ashley had persuaded Adam Roche, late of La Sect Rouge and now of The Fever, to sit in on drums.

While I'm going at it with the expositions, Pig Iron used to be Dave Thomas (Guitar), Kenny Archibold (Bass, Vocals) and Ashley Thomson (Drums, Attitude). They are now Al Creed (Guitar, Vocals), Kenny Archibald (Bass, Vocals) and Ashley Thomson (Drums, Attitude). However, since those three were the core of the old Panadolls, apparently they are thinking of going back to calling themselves The Panadolls. Stay tuned for more news as it comes to hand.

Oh, and the Cat & Fiddle itself has been through more changes than a troupe of transsexuals as well. Over the last three or four years it's oscillated back and forth between soft, acoustic only music, loud music, moderate rockabilly-cum-C & W music and no music at all, each swing of the pendulum seemingly accompanied by a substantial remodeling of the music room.

So anyway, there I was. It was three o'clock in the afternoon and the sun was streaming in through the windows (much larger and more of them than I remembered from the last time I was there). There's something vaguely unnerving about rock'n'roll in daylight, especially in a night-time venue. For some reason the bar staff waited until the last act came on before drawing the curtains, by which time it was dark outside anyway. In the meantime there was enough "afternoon delight", Ashley Thomson style, to keep the attention focused away from the windows, except during the breaks.

Roll Cage's set was a quieter affair than usual, perhaps due to only Ashley having performed most of these songs live before. That might also explain the high proportion of covers, including the closing "Theme from Gilligan's Island" (after someone set it to the tune of "Stairway To Heaven" you might have thought that it had been taken as far as it could go, but Ashley has no trouble setting this island onto an equal footing with Brisvegas as far as desirable international destinations go).

However even Ashley himself seemed a little subdued for most of the set, his usual boisterous personality only emerging now and then (like when he dedicated "Blow Job Queen" to his mother). Any restraint was not due to a lack of practice however - after the set Mr Thomson informed me that the band already has about half an album's worth of new songs ready for the follow up release to the "Whole Summer Of Pussy" LP.

This day may have been best known as the day of Our Lord's resurrection, but Pig Iron's performance also represented quite an important resurrection - that of former New Christs (and Panadolls) guitarist Al Creed [hmm, maybe I better cool it on the blaspheming before some bunch of humourless Christians try to crucify me right alongside John Lennon, er Jesus]. My sacrilegious instincts notwithstanding, the received wisdom was that Big Al had stepped back from performing for good after the collapse of the New Christs and that we would never see him on stage again, so it was mighty surprising (and mighty pleasing!) to see him up there belting out "Black Eyed Bruiser" next to Kenny.

Rock at its best is really a "hearts and minds" affair, but when Pig Iron hit their stride the lungs get a fair old workout as well. It was mainly covers (appropriate readings from the book of Turbonegro and the book of AC/DC prominent amongst the lessons for the day), but it was solid rock, not to mention rock solid. These guys have got a lot of history together and you can hear it in the way that their playing meshes into, well not so much a wall of sound, more like a barbed wire fence of sound.

All I knew about In Vivo was that the line up included Dave Thomas, famously of Bored! and more recently of Magic Dirt and the previous incarnation of Pig Iron, and that they once had an album produced by Johnette Napolitano of Concrete Blonde. There had also been some talk of Phil Calvert from the Birthday Party being on drums, but judging by the on stage patter from In Vivo frontwoman Fiona Lee Maynard, there had recently been a sudden and unhappy change of drummers and in the end I came away not sure of whether I'd just seen him or just missed him (though my opinion leans toward the latter, with the new drummer possibly being brother Glenn Maynard from Have a Nice Day).

Ultimately though, it doesn't matter what bands the current members used to be in. All that matters is what they're doing in the band they're in now. In the case of In Vivo, what they're doing is making a lot of glorious noise.

Given the presence of Dave Thomas in the line up, I had expected him to be a major focus of the action on stage, but it was Ms Maynard who dominated the performance. Sure Dave was giving it plenty of propulsion in the guitar department (and he was being well matched the entire way by the other guitarist, James Lomas), but it was Fiona Lee (makes her sound like some double first named southern temptress deserving of her own Dukes Of Hazard spin off series, doesn't it?) who was definitely running the show.

And what a show it was. Combining a provocative swagger with an aggressive stage presence ("I love it when a woman says 'cunt'!", Ashley confided to me at one point during In Vivo's set), Ms Maynard put her heart and soul into her performance and backed it up with some pretty impressive lungpower.

She's sure one singer who doesn't have to worry much about the audience not paying attention - I reckon she had everyone's attention for the whole set - and the music soared right along with her vocals; not the raw and thunderous, post-Birdman Oz/Detroit rock of Bored!, but a diamond hard, almost frenzied variety of power pop which finds great favour with this punter.

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