Lowdorados/Meek/Chucky Monroes/Richie & The Creeps
Tuesday June 17, 2003 @ the Annandale
Saturday June 21, 2003 @ the Sly Fox
WORDS AND PICTURES: Hayseed McPharlin
Well, for a bloke who's not big on country music, I sure seem to have been getting more than my fair share of late. There's a bit of history behind this gig though.
Back when the Bar was doing its end of year round up, I said that I could "not comprehend why no one's offering [the Lowdorados] a record contract and since Laughing Outlaw have recently taken on both the Chucky Monroes and the Hazlewoods (both lesser bands in my opinion), I'm astounded that they didn't do the sensible thing and snap up the Lowdorados first". Perhaps not surprisingly, some members of the Chucky Monroes felt slighted by that remark and the result was an invitation to partake of one of their live shows as their guest.
Being of a cynical and nervous disposition, my first thought was that it might be just a ploy to get me to identify myself to the band, so that they could then have their roadies drag me behind the nearest speaker stack and beat the crap out of me. In the end though, avarice triumphed over concerns for personal safety. Since I was planning to go to this show already, because I wanted to see the Lowdorados and the Meek, and the chances were that the band would find someone to point me out to them (and their roadies) anyway, if indeed that was their intention, I figured I might as well cop the freebie and pocket the entrance charge in case I found I suddenly had some unexpected medical bills.
First band for the evening was Richie & The Creeps, about whom I know little except that the Richie of the title is Richie Lewis and he is the vocalist in Tumbleweed (having "done an Ashley" and slipped out from behind the drum kit of the Proton Energy Pills, out of the ashes of which Tumbleweed arose). I like it when a band makes a bit of an effort for its show and despite being "just" the opening act, the Creeps had gone to the extent of dressing up the stage as well as themselves for the occasion.
Musically the Creeps seemed to be heading in the direction of the Intercontinental Playboys, a mocking combination of smoky Leagues Club cabaret, sardonic plastic Vegas lounge lizard and country/swamp "roots" rock, although where the Playboys are garage, the Creeps are more bike shed. Of course I couldn't give them my full attention, because I had to spend most of their set keeping a watchful lookout for any sign of avenging roadies sneaking up on me from behind. Fortunately there were no indications that anyone there felt that they had a score to settle, not even those members of the Cox clan who nodded politely or stopped for a few quick words (none of which were restricted to four letters or spoken in anger, I hasten to add), so I was eventually able to relax.
Next up were the Chucky Monroes themselves, comprising Al Lynch and Simon Cox, two more members of Tumbleweed, and Murray Cox (Muzza) whom I assume to be related to Simon although, from what I could see of Al underneath his trucker's cap, he and Simon looked to have the closer family resemblance. Of course I wasn't that close to the stage and I had been drinking a little by this point. Maybe it's just because I've been listening to that Supersuckers live country album [reviewed elsewhere] lately, but I hear a little of their sound in what the Chuckies are doing. However the Supersuckers are much more laid back and casual while the Chuckies are diesel powered and full speed ahead, backed up forcefully by Simon's drumming and relentlessly propelled forward by the rumble and rasp of Al Lynch's slide guitar, grinding like the wheels of a freight train as it takes a sharp bend at well above the safe speed recommended by State Rail.
The other cheap 'n' easy reference point would have to be Tex Perkins and the Beasts Of Bourbon. Murray's vocals can certainly take on that same combination of knowing resignation, bottomless despair and foreboding menace that Tex achieves in his more extreme moments. Just imagine the Beasts' swamp rock influences supplanted by more of a backwoods country blues quality (mercifully no banjos though). While the Chuckies pay proper respect to that customary country quartet which is every cowboy's downfall: straight whisky, bent cards, slow horses and fast women, they are also capable of shedding a little light on something significantly more sinister than you'd be used to finding in the typical manufactured products of Nashville and Tamworth. No happy summer showers for these guys - dark clouds gather on their horizon, portentous and brooding, but their silver linings turn out to be no more than cheap galvanized tin which acts as a lightning attractor and when the drought breaks, there's a life threatening flood instead.
The Meek are another band that has copped a record deal ahead of the Lowdorados, even if we're all still waiting to see the fruits of their recording sessions actually made available in the shops (damn, there's even a picture of the cover on the Illustrious Artists website, so how much longer can it be?). Nevertheless I don't hold it against them, because they've been another favourite of mine for some time and are well deserving of having their music preserved on disk and shared with a wider audience that doesn't yet know what it's been missing. [ED: Now you can find out because there's an MP3 currently in our Sound Lounge for free download].
Within the country context provided by the rest of the bands this evening, you'd have thought that the Meek's explosive brand of rock would have been out of place, but if they thought so then they showed no outward signs. It seems like music is all one to them; '60s garage, '70s punk, '80s power pop and even '90s grunge merge organically into one and if there's no obvious country tinge, the audience weren't complaining (not that you'd have heard them if they did). Me, I'm always impressed by them.
With drummer Reuben handling the lion's share of the vocals, Gary and Phil (bass and guitar respectively) are free to roam the stage, letting the music take them where it will and "over the top" is where the ultimate destination tends to be. Reuben is a strange case, really driven; drumming and singing at the same time must take it out of him and by the end of each set he certainly looks like he's given it his all, but he also looks like he'd be prepared to go on for one more song if he was asked. Gary and Phil look like the boys who'd be prepared to do the asking, but as always it's that externally imposed time limitation that halts them in the end.
In between sets I managed to have a quick chat with Lowdorados frontman James McCann. James was still a little puzzled by their last appearance at the Bar, as they were the unnamed "fairly standard four piece guitar band... shades of Johnny Thunders or Bruce Springsteen at times" at the X show (reviewed here) at the Annandale a short time back. While he doesn't understand the Johnny Thunders reference at all, he thinks that the Bruce Springsteen comparison might be okay provided the author of that remark had "Nebraska" in mind as well. Since I didn't write that particular report (the Bar encourages diversity!), I couldn't help him out there...
If the Chucky Monroes are country, then the Lowdorados are "country plus" or "country extra". To me, your basic country is Willie Nelson and George Jones and whole lot of other guys I slagged off recently in a CD review. However there's one guy who's as much country as he is rock and has had as much of an impact, if not more, as any of those others, but hardly seems to get a look in when country styles (and country greats) are being discussed. No, I'm not talking about Gram Parsons; I'm talking about Neil Young. Only the Beatles and Bob Dylan have had more of an impact on "modern" music than Mr Young, but while others who have gotten too close to the source have usually ended up sounding like mere copyists, the Lowdorados have drunk from the well of that same shifting rock and country and blues mˇlange and managed to make the results sound original. Whether it's the axe wielding mania of "Hey Hey, My My", the melancholic despair of "Tonight's The Night", the nightmare visions of "Revolution Blues" or the fragile optimism of "Like A Hurricane", the Lowdorados have got Neil Young pretty much covered, but not slavishly imitated.
As the last act of the night, the Lowdorados seemed to have all the time in the world, as their starting time was earlier than for a Friday night (shit, when was the last time you went out to see a band on a Tuesday night?), but the set was allowed to go to that same midnight curfew if they wanted to (and some of them did, while some of them didn't seem to, or at least not as much). Perhaps not surprisingly, tonight thus ended up another glorious shambles, with the band increasingly united in their disorder as the set progressed, letting their muse have its head while they made running decisions about which songs to play in which order and when enough might be enough. Of course when it comes to the Lowdorados, even too much is never enough (to borrow from that font of philosophy H.G. Nelson), but there were some magnificent rock moments had by all, before chaos flooded in.
By complete coincidence the Re-mains were passing through town a couple of days after the show reported above, just a quick trip down to the big smoke before heading back to their home turf to play at the Splendor in the Grass festival (Splendor in the Grass? Fuck, they've already played the East Coast Blues Festival at Byron Bay this year too!). Different night, different venue, different band, so I probably should file a separate report for them, except they're country too and now seems like as good a time as any to clear my plate, country music-wise, once and for all. Let's get one thing clear first though - these Re-mains are not to be confused with the legendary proto-garage rockers from Boston, nor with the Johnny Thunders inspired rockers from Tokyo (who subsequently changed their name to the Golden Arms), nor with the Swedish power poppers from Gothenburg (who vanished after the "Been Away" EP) and most certainly not with New York punks the Ramainz...
I was at the Sly Fox thanks to a tip off from Leigh Ivin, late of the much missed Thermals (and rumoured to be travelling under the moniker "Lethal Lee Steel" these days). He used to jam with Bones Martin at the Excelsior in various swamp 'n' blues 'n' country ad hoc ensembles, so I knew that he had some rural tendencies, but now he's gone completely rustic, swapping his Fenders for a steel guitar and even confessing to an interest in the banjo. Since he's been with the Re-mains he's played up and down the east coast, including the ancient hippie strongholds of Nimbin and Bellingen (well, not actually Bellingen; they were thrown out of there before they got to play a note, but you need to buy the band a beer to hear that tale) and yes Tamworth too, so the transition would seem to be complete, although he insists that he'd still like to get together with the rest of the Thermals again some time and that it's the others that need the persuading.
Meanwhile the Re-mains are up to their second album, "Thank You for Supporting Country Rock and Roll" (not yet in the shops but shit, does everyone except the Lowdorados have a record deal???). They're calling what they do "country rock'n'roll" and insist that it's as much Jon Spencer as Johnny Cash. Tonight they were scheduled to play three sets, but I only stayed for the first. Sometimes not even a good band can make up for a bad everything else. Unfortunately this was one of those times, but I'll save for another time my grievances about the cunts behind the bar (and certain other cunts in the audience; that's the problem with public places - you inevitably run into the public and find that many of them should have been strangled at birth). For a bloke who's not big on country music, I liked what I did get to hear. I'm not sure whether or not that's a good thing from the band's point of view; after all, they do reckon that some of what they do is country (and they do have a banjo!), but if you're a fan of teararse guitar music then you're pretty much assured of going home happy (provided they're not playing at the Sly Fox of course).
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