Kelpie Mark Easton in his best A Clockwork Orange threads.

The Excelsior, Surry Hills
Saturday, August 11, 2007


This was a night where nothing was quite as expected.

Firstly, the Kelpies’ ailing singer, Jim Atkins, was unable to make it down from Darwin, due to extreme ill-health, so the band soldiered on with guitarist Mark Easton, newly-recruited bassist Kenny Archbold and drummer Ashley Thomson sharing vocals. That meant a re-worked setlist with Easton dipping into his pre-Kelpies history for some classic Suicide Squad material, which was something of a bonus and didn;t detract from the night.

Secondly, the punters got more than they expected with a free copy for each of the new EP from the Kelpies’ illegitimate descendents, The Ghostmen, whose ranks include three of the parent band. All roads led to a (groaning) merch desk for collection of said EP, where fans could add also avail themselves of Kelpies/Suicide Squad/Candy Harlots/Mark Easton back catalogue and T-shirts. Punk’s commercial face was on display but no-one was getting rich from the proceeds with everything priced very low.    

Lastly, half-Spanish, half local opening band Bad Vibes (briefly known as Negative Waves – and for I know they might be called that again this week) roped in Johnny Casino at 4am the day of the show to join in on guitar. Another bonus and a convenient point from which to jump into this review.

Negative Waves shun the Excelsior tapas to make a racket.

I don’t know much about Bad Vibes except at least one of the overseas guys was in Los Teros (got an album here somewhere) and that’s Ally Spazzy doing her usual power-meets-precision job up there on drums. High-time that new Spazzys album was out, by the way. There are two Spanish blokes on guitar and bass and the band churns out a lively set of punk rock, interrupted by some technical problems courtesy of a dud amp lead.

Having Johnny Casino on board adds another element altogether with the big man’s rippling lead guitar a stand-out in any company. It adds up to a nice way to open proceedings, even if the songs suffered form a lack of familiarity and too many people to talk to. Presumably the three-piece version of the band will be seen around its home base of Melbourne in weeks ahead.

It’s hard to recall when the last time that Bored! graced a Sydney stage but I think it may have been on the same all-day festival at the Green Square a few years back with the late, great Powder Monkeys. Ashley Thomson organized that one and has been the driving force behind tonight’s line-up coming together, and the whole reformation of the Kelpies. The band more or less ground to a halt in 1995 but that's not to say their re-unifications don't pack some incredible punch.

Bored! were anything but.

Tonight's line-up is Dave Thomas, Russell Baricevic on bass and Buzz Munday on drums. Someone makes the observation that Bored! are like an old car, kicking into gear slowly at first and building momentum as the set goes on. No argument from this quarter, but I have to admit to a lack of familiarity with some of the newer songs, even having owned all the albums. "Little Suzie" is the anchor of the set and Dave's guitar and vocal delivery combined threatens to take our heads off. "Motherfucking Motherfucker" is a personal fave tonight.

It’s dirty and slovenly and hits with the impact of a shovel in the face. If Bored! ever got around to recording something new I bet it’d still kick the living fuck out of 99 percent of everything out there, even without the advantage of that living-on-the-edge vibe.     

The merch table is groaning with enough procurables to put a mid-'80s Ramones show to shame. Price of place is a free-to-all-punters EP from The Ghostmen, a side project whose ranks include four Kelpies supplemented by Hell Crab City/ex-New Christs guitarist Al Creed cutting loose on lead guitar.

So to the headliners and the multi-lingual Senor Thomson ("thanks to the Spanish cunts") sets us straight with the prognosis on Jim before the set kicks off proper. It's re-worked to take in material from Mark Easton's pre-Kelpies band, Suicide Squad. "I Hate School" starts us off in dirty school uniform fashion. From thereon, it's a Best Of set supplemented by the occasional Ghostmen song.

Kenny Archbold on bass and car-jacking for the Kelpies.

Brian Connolly is back in black.

If tonight’s a lot about reflecting it’s also about celebrating a small but important thread of music that the Kelpies and associated bands (Bedhogs, Suicide Squad) generated in Sydney 25 years ago. The Kelpies had some amazing lyrical moments (“My Wall”) and they’re well in evidence. It doesn't get much more bitter/grim than "My Wall". For such a shortlived, intense and live-fast-die-young-get-fucked-up-as-soon-as-dole-cheque-arrives outfit they also had a strong sense of melody that most two-chord thrash bands couldn’t (can’t) touch.  “Take Me Away” still burns bright and drives more than Jules Normington (ex-Phantom Records chief who put it out - and deservedly gets an acknowledgement tonight) to test the dancing shoes.

Ashley Thomson does his best Stewie Spears impersonation.

“Dead Meat”, “In a Bottle” and a new Ghostmen number, “Only An Addict”, all get the Kelpies treatment. "Brand New Cadillac" sounds like they wrote it. One notable observation to be made is the relatively polite nature of the crowd with no slamming or stage invading, as at the first Annandale reunion a few years ago. Everyone had a good time and went home comfortably happy. Isn’t that what it’s about?

It might be their last show, they may continue. If the Kelpies go back into their kennell for a long time, this one was a pretty good one to remember them by.