+ ASTEROID B612
Annandale Hotel, Sydney
Thursday, October 9 2003
WORDS AND PICTURES: THE BARMAN
What possible interest could there be in the reformation of a shortlived and relatively obscure Sydney punk band like the Kelpies, 20-something years on? Plenty, if the roll-up to tonight's one-off show is any indication.
The front bar of the Annandale is comfortably full of lots of familiar faces...and a few dazed ones.
I never saw the Kelpies back in the day but the lower north shore of Sydney (their stronghold) wasn't in my street directory back then. The odd story did get around about the fanatical following they attracted. What I had heard of their recorded legacy (the Phantom single "Take Me Away" being only the tip of the iceberg, with a rehearsal tape and a handful of songs on an Aberrant album being the rest of it) had impressed. I was looking forward to seeing the band live.
I arrive from Perth 24 hours after literally running into Nick Royale of the Hellacopters in Dada Records, the afternoon of their one and only West Australian show. I can't make the gig that night because of a previous engagement - a double blow because local boys The M16s are top-billed support - so I'm buggered if I'm going to pass on the Kelpies reunion the night after.
I lob just after the end of a short but well-received set by Fragile, the heavy band for former buzzsaw pop exponent Simon Holmes (ex-Hummingbirds). Mrs Oz Rock Carol is already doing brisk business behind the merch table, where copies of the Kelpies' 24-song retrospective CD "Television" and commemorative T-shirts are being snapped up. Time to settle in with a beer for a chat or three, but the second support is cranking up...
If there's a band more imbued with a passion for music than Asteroid B612, I don't know their name. From contenders with an international deal at their fingertips to under-appreciated but still convincing home town secrets, the 'Roids have run the gammut. Seemingly resigned to pumping it out for the faithful and flying in the face of fashion, they remain one of the best nights out on the Sydney rock circuit.
Call it bad luck or bad self management but I hadn't caught Asteroids live for a couple of years. More fool me. This is certainly a different band to the one that used to be around in the mid-'90s. Numerous line-up changes haven't dimmed the fire in John Spittles' fingers, however. Brother Grahame grew into the singing role long ago. The Fox-Nash engine room is one of this town's most enduring and best. And the tunes cook.
Tonight caught them in a relaxed frame of mind. John lamented the lack of a set list (or rehearsal) and the band seemingly plucked songs from their repetoire as they went along. No problem in the slightest. Where you see is what you get with the Asteroids. "Am I the Problem?" was brutal, a take on the Yardbirds' "For Your Love" a muscular gem. One original (that I segued into a steamy "Lookin' at You" but Asteroid B612 are as much Groovies and Stones as they are Detroit rock.
It's over too soon. Johnny Casino leaves his hollow-bodied six-string leaning against the amp and feeding back as the band leaves, slack-jaws hanging and enthusiastic calls for "more" ringing in the air. Someone give these guys a bundle of cash to record a new album now!
Last break between bands is time for people spotting. There are some seriously crusty old punks in the Annandale tonight - and that's before a Kelpie is sighted on stage. Age may have thinned a few pates and widened a few waists (none of us are imune) but the enthusiasm of the band's following remains intact. There's some jostling for position as the band file onto the stage and plug in.
The Kelpies might not have had a job between them in the old days but tonight they're distinctly workmanlike in appearance. Singer Jim Atkins (aka James Gelding) looks like a psychotic bricklayer heading for a weekend of axe murdering in the snowfields; his head's obscured by a black beanie with wraparound sunglasses perched on top and he's wearing a zip up jacket (soon discarded). Lead guitarist and principal songwriter Mark Easton strips down to blue working singlet. He's glammed down since I last saw him fronting New York Dolls-cum-Hanoi Rocks exponents, the Candy Harlots.Rhythm player Brian Connolly's eye liner is the only concession to flash on his part or that of bass player Con Murphy. Both are nassuming to a tee. Drummer Ashley Thomson sports a T-shirt plugging his other band, Roll Cage, as he sits behind his kit under a mop of hair.
Jim dedicates the set to "old punks who never made" it and rattles off a list of names of those who presumably are no longer of this world. Then it's into "World of Fear" and it's stuttering guitar line sends a bolt of energy through the first three rows of a now reasonably full band room. You can almost hear the arthritc knees cracking (mine included) as movement starts. The more boisterous old punks press the flesh in the direction of the stage and start moshing.
From there on in it's a perfectly-paced set of mostly original material, peppered by the odd cover. "Brand New Cadillac" is fittingly enough dedicated to Joe Strummer. "New World in the Morning" bobs up, a song covered by Mark Easton's previous band, Suicide Squad. Roger Whittaker never sounded so good.
It's raining punks in here tonight. At one stage, I end up being poleaxed sideways by a flying human wedge and hang onto my camera for all it's worth (which is significantly more than me). There's even a lone stage diver at one stage, but no-one makes a serious effort to catch him so he declines a second attempt.
The Kelpies themselves appear to be enjoying it and pump out a sound based on catchy guitarlines and hooky vocal melodies. Of the originals, "Dead Meat" whips the crowd into a frenzy. "Beer Bottle" and "Die" are worth drinking to and Jules Normington, who's in the crowd, gets a nod for putting out the still fresh-sounding "Take Me Away", on Phantom all those years ago. The cowpunk-flavoured "Ride" is introduced as "a song we did before the Johnnys were fucking born". The eloquently grim "My Wall" remains a gem and "How Can I Tell You" (recorded at the same time as the single but only released on the impossibly rare "Go And Do It" compilation - it's on the "Television" CD) almost postpunk (fucking lame term invented by humanities scholars) in its sparse arrangement.
Easton's a fine guitarist, currently plying his trade in his own blues outfit Mark Easton Limousine but showing he's at home playing the high-energy stuff as well. Connolly complements him well and is rock solid. The Thomson-Murphy engine rooms carries a punch and drives the show with simple dynamics. Atkins does a nice line in brutal stares, and his family's presence in the front row seems to indicate the Gelding tag was a ruse.
If you weren't there you missed a good 'un. The show was recorded to 16-track so let's hope that surfaces soon.
Reunions are sometimes dour affairs, but this one works partly because there are no overwhelming expectations. The Kelpies existed for a little while, did their business, and went on to other things. Their legacy was a crop of great songs that still work today. On the face of it, there's no reason why they shouldn't cock the collective leg again sometime.
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