East Brunswick Club, Friday 7 March
Tote Hotel, Monday 10 March
Evelyn Hotel, Monday 10 March
By PATRICK EMERY
Photos: RICHARD SHARMAN
It seems a while since the events subject of this review took place. Part of the delay is the natural passing of time, part of it is the consequence of more pressing professional responsibilities, and the other part of it is the desire for distance to enable a more objective – and sober – account of festivities.
The double bill of Jay Reatard and Dirtbombs – both couried out here under the sponsorship of Johanna and Dan from Stained Circles – was an inspired choice, to say the least. The Dirtbombs’ flag is well known in Australia courtesy of Bruce Milne’s regular patronage, going back (at least) to the days when Milne’s then label AuGoGo released an album of tunes from Collins’ Blacktop outfit (if you find a copy in the stores, pick it up and move hither to the check-out – it’s a cracker). Jay Reatard, on the other hand, lacks the wider public currency of The Dirtbombs, though what Reatard lacks in breadth of current appeal he more than makes up with depth of interest.
Classy guy that I am, I dragged my better half along to the East Brunswick Club show featuring Jay Reatard and The Dirtbombs immediately after a birthday dinner. We arrived too late to see the Ooga Boogas (guitarist Mikey Young claimed “it was great – you shouldn’t have missed it”), but in time to see Reatard and his band hit stage. Jay Reatard is less an artist than a punk rock experience. Forced – or attracted, as the case may be – into punk rock at an early age (when, like others of his ilk in the past, present and presumably the future, the young Jay Lindsay realised punk rock was the only activity likely to impede a stint in gaol), Reatard has been ridiculously prolific, generally provocative and never lethargic.
With his current (anonymous) band in tow, Reatard hit town tonight to play tunes drawn predominantly from his recent Blood Visions album. Reatard has only one speed – full-on. Within about 15 minutes most of the album had been covered and the audience was neatly divided between Reatard lovers and haters (one punter walked past me and condemned the sound as derivative and uninspiring; others couldn’t be dragged from the front of the stage with a 10 tonne pulley and the promise of fellatial reward). The East Brunswick Club didn’t seem to do absolute justice to the sound, and at the back of the room – where we’d retreated due to the lack of earplugs – the sound was decidedly muddy.
Still, to watch Reatard – hair flopped over his face, his body showing the unmistakeable signs of American culinary fare, thrashing his guitar with an intensity the average psychiatrist would easily articulate into a newly discovered personality defect – was an experience in itself. His band is no less appealing.
The bloke on bass is one out of the box – wide eyes rolling around in concert with his thrashing head, with a shock of hair like the proverbial finger-in-toaster job, he’s got the look in his eyes of someone who should be wearing a medic alert bracelet that prohibits the consumption of excessive amounts of sugar. The drummer looks like Garth from Wayne’s World – or should that be Bob Vennum from the Bellrays – and sets a cracking pace that few bands could be bothered matching. With barely half an hour of music under it’s all over, and the crowd recedes with the sense of relief associated with the end of a terse lecture from a sadistic soapbox preacher.
We didn’t stick around for the Dirtbombs – good babysitters aren’t cheap these days – but there was plenty in Reatard’s efforts to compel a return visit on the following Monday. So it was that a trio of us – all with day jobs to manage the next day, and keen for a ‘quiet night’ – hopped on our bikes to head to the Tote for the Labour Day barbeque festival.
Despite the best of endeavours, domestic commitments prevented us getting there until 8pm, by which time Digger and the Pussycats were just finishing their typically energetic set. Reatard was up next, and this time things clicked perfectly. It’s an absolute onslaught, and we’re all caught in the spotlights watching this guy and his perfectly executed assault on the pathetic domestic, social and economic constructs that make up our daily existence. A couple of quiet beers on a Monday night becomes half a dozen and things are looking hazy for the next day.
A friend of mine collars each of the band members and gets his merch signed while next movements are determined. Brett has to fly to Mildura at 8.30pm, and I’ve got an all day meeting in South Melbourne to manage. We get another round, chew the fat with anyone who’s foolish enough to engage us in conversation and contemplate the ifs. The members of the Dirtbombs and Reatard’s band start filing out the door to head to the Evelyn – where both bands will be playing after 10pm – and it’s time for us to brave the backstreets of Collingwood and Fitzroy. Brett bids us farewell and heads off – or so we thought.
We grab a couple of beers at the Evelyn and watch the last few songs of local garage dance collective Dynamo. There’s a tap on the shoulder and Brett appears, having endured a timid contest with his conscience and decided to throw his lot in with the power of rock’n’roll.
Jay Reatard is back on stage sometime after 10pm and things become a blur. I know he played some older stuff, but quite frankly I wouldn’t have much of a clue if he played a Carpenters song. It’s loud, and it’s got a kick on it like a mule dosed with speed, prodded with a red hot poker and subject to offensive taunts about his mother’s back paddock activities.
This is the primitive essence of rock’n’roll, the gutter of musical experience, where society is simply a euphemism for the plethora of overly prescriptive institutions that govern us into submission. My earplugs fall out quickly, a symbolic moment if ever there was.
The Dirtbombs appear on stage after one, maybe two more trips to the bar. Having just returned from Golden Plains, the band is looking tired, but playing to its usual high standards. The next day a few fellow punters suggest the performance wasn’t up to scratch, but that’s not an opinion shared by many.
The second – or was it the third – song is “If You Can Want” from “Ultraglide in Black”, possibly my favourite Dirtbombs song (notwithstanding that it’s a cover), partly because I used to sing it to my daughter some years ago (a memory that’s sadly departed her memory) but mostly because it’s impossible to avoid dancing to.
“Stuck Under My Shoe” makes a lot of people happy, “Kung Fu” is excellent and there’s a even Suicide cover to warm the cockles of the masses. By the time the band leaves the stage – after bassist Ko asks if there’s any amateur pharmacists in the crowd to help the band through the rest of the night – it’s at least midnight and we’ve suspended reality, but only for so long. A dozen slurred goodbyes and we’re on our bikes and back into the night.
The next day is a haze that lifts gradually as the morning wears on. It’s ugly, but it’s worth it. This is the yardstick by which the rest of the year’s music shall be measured.
BACK TO THE BAR