The Monarchs + Jet
Friday October 4, 2002
Words and Pictures: John McPharlin
This was an evening that left me full of questions. Like, are the Monarchs breaking up, as claimed, or not? Are they carrying on with a new bass player, as rumoured, or not? Can it really be that there was once a time when I was less than 100% convinced that the Monarchs are (were?) a fuckin' red hot live band?
All that and more later, but the first question of the night was, "Who the fuck are Jet?". I was running late as usual and the first band had already departed before I arrived. However, I wasn't that late. Jet were still setting up their equipment, yet the crowd was already up to the back wall and spilling out the door past the bar and the poker machine filled foyer. What the f...? Since when have support bands I've never heard of been capable of drawing a crowd like this?
Using my patented crowd sleazing technique, I wormed my way up to the foot of the stage where there's normally a bit of spare space, even when it looks like the place is packed, since the cool people up the front don't like to get too close to the stage, at least not before the main act comes on. Only there wasn't any spare space tonight, the place really was packed. What the f...?
Apparently Jet have been getting plenty of airplay on JJJ. If I hadn't given up listening to JJJ some years ago, I'd probably have known already that Jet are the Next Big Thing. Later it turns out they are so much the Next Big Thing in fact, that there is already a sizeable backlash building against them. As I write this, six months later, Jet have subsequently played Homebake and supported the Rolling Stones on several shows of their recent tour, to wild acclaim in some quarters of the local musical community, but to mumbling, resentful dissension in others, so that backlash must be enormous by now and ready to burst out like a particularly juicy pimple.
Personally, I came away pretty damn impressed. I'm not completely convinced that they really are the Next Big Thing, but they are extremely entertaining in a late sixties Stones-riffing-behind-Beatles-harmonies sort of way, with a tincture of the Kinks for good measure and without allowing themselves to be sucked down into the quicksand of pastiche and slavish imitation).
However the night really belonged to the Monarchs. After they imploded back in May 2002, having knocked back at least one chance to support Radio Birdman, the rumours were soon flying freely. Firstly that it was all Brad's doing, the result of a self-indulgent dummy spit over the lack of an overseas record contract for the band. Next that it was all Andy Kelly's doing, the result of too much success in unrelated business dealings outside the band... Names were even being thrown around for replacement bass players, with Kendall James (Crusaders/Persian Rugs) and Bill Gibson (Pyramidiacs) seeming to be the two favourites...
Far from being a first outing for a new line up though, this was another (a last?) outing for the old line up. The official line for the evening was that nothing had changed and that Andy Kelly just happened to be in town briefly, so they'd seized the opportunity to get together. However I couldn't help noticing Kendall James lurking at the side of the stage, looking like he was waiting expectantly for an opening to present itself.
In the end I came away none the wiser - Andy Kelly played it like he meant it, but not necessarily like he was giving it up and this was his last hurrah (but at no stage did he leave his bass lying around anywhere near Kendall). In fact, six months down the track, there's still no sign of either the old or a new line up (re)-emerging, but there's no danger of their album turning up in the discount bins any time soon either.
Of course all that was swept from my thoughts the moment the Monarchs got up on stage, got down to business and got all round righteous. Brad seemed to have gone into super testify mode the moment his foot touched the stage and the rest of the band weren't too far behind him, then and subsequently as the night wore on. Hmm, maybe they were thinkng of it as some sort of farewell show after all. The way the band attacked every song, you could certainly say that it was like it might be their last chance to take it around the block for a spin. If so, they were obviously very keen to ensure that they left a good impression. It worked, they sure impressed the shit out of me for starters!
Tonight was the best show I've ever seen them give, harder and sharper than anything that had gone before. It was hard to tell what was flowing faster, the music or their sweat, as they blazed through most of the album and a couple of well chosen covers, including a burning rendition of Brad's seemingly favourite Sonic Rendezvous Band song "Earthy" and an encore that fused "Jumpin' Jack Flash" and Spirit's "I Got A Line On You" into a singular testament to the redemptive power of rock'n'roll.
Getting back to my opening remarks, yes there once was a time when I was less than 100% convinced that the Monarchs are (were?) a fuckin' red hot live band. I once said "I'm still not completely convinced that their rock doesn't have a soft centre". On another occasion I also confided that there was "a lingering splinter of doubt in my mind regarding the band's true gravitas". Fuck, I even suggested once that "their performance contained more than just a hint of You Am I playing at being Radio Birdman" (that was in the ellusive lost review of October 2001 - you never saw it, it's reproduced below this one after being lost in Cyberpsace for an interminable period - but I still know I said it and the time has come to atone for my obvious lack of belief and failure of faith).
What the fuck was I thinking at those other gigs? Maybe it's time to move me to a quiet corner at the back of the class with the other slow learners. Okay I may be slow, but I do get there in the end. Of course by then usually the party's over and everyone's leaving. It's a burden I'll have to bear.
Conventional wisdom says that "it ain't over till it's over", but local licensing laws say "it better be over by midnight". On this night, it was only the full force of the law that could have stopped them and it did (though their reluctance was palpable). On the Citadel Records web site, the entry for the Monarchs now reads "They broke up for a while but now they're back", so maybe it's not over yet after all. I'm ready when they are.
The Monarchs + Youth Group + Roger The Engineer
Saturday October 13, 2001
Annandale Hotel, Sydney
Over on the Divine Rites mailing list, this show seems to have divided up the subscribers like no other in recent memory. The moment the band came out on stage in their matching black military-style shirts, festooned with Monarchs badges and patches, apparently some started thinking "neo-fascist", while others were brooding indignantly over "sacrilege". Personally, my first mental connection was with the Doug Anthony All Stars, whose similar black uniform jacket and badge look prompted one commentator to describe them aptly as looking like a boy scout troop lost for some time in the bush and gone feral.
However long before that there was Roger The Engineer. Once again I'd left home slightly late, then realised that I had almost no money beyond the bare cost of entrance. Knowing full well that this was also an album launch, I detoured via the nearest ATM (which was nowhere as near as it used to be, but I've covered that situation in previous ramblings; at least this time I didn't waste any precious time chasing after the ghosts of ATMs past). Unfortunately by the time I got to the Annandale, Roger The Engineer were up to what turned out to be their last song, a credible cover of Keef Richards' "Happy".
There then followed the usual standing around until Youth Group fired up. Funnily enough, while they were in mufti tonight, the last time I saw them they were also in uniform (a kind of beige Boer War ensemble), though that time the effect was more Monkees than militaristic. Challenger 7 front man Ian Underwood (a bloke who definitely knows one end of his pop from t'other) once described their style as "post-You Am I", which may or may not be helpful, depending on your opinion of You Am I. While not attempting to be as melodic as the Pyramidiacs (for example), nor restricting themselves just to orthodox power pop, their sound is at once raw and tuneful and their stage presentation is never less than energetic, even if their attempts to walk a tightrope between rigid discipline and a little ad hoc extemporization do see them plummeting earthwards occasionally.
After a suitable interval, the Monarchs began their reign with Brother Brad once again testifying in righteous fashion before us all, which then led seamlessly into the opening "Give It Up For The Band". I immediately started having a flashback to the Excelsior, a little over 12 months ago, where they opened with this same one-two punch. That time some of the songs didn't work well for me and their performance contained more than just a hint of You Am I playing at being Radio Birdman. Since then the band seems to have refined its sound and fine tuned its stage dynamics considerably. While they still paid homage to all the right influences, both indirectly through their aggressive stage presence and directly via covers of "Earthy" and "Not Right" (which in their hands became less of a lament and much more of a badge of honour), the real change seemed to be in their attitude. Okay there was still some posing with guitars up in the air and/or players down on their knees or bent over backwards, but the dominant theme was clearly the business of hard rock rather than the casual pursuit of pop.
Since the Hoodoo Gurus broke up, I suspect that Brad has had something of an uphill battle to re-establish his rock credentials after a decade (well, closer to two decades) of top 40 pop and constant exposure on commercial radio. Some commentators seem to forget that before he was a Guru, Brad was a Hitman (which counts, even if the Hitmen might have played the Dave Clark Five or the Tremelos to Radio Birdman's Beatles) and his music has always been more about punch and less about pop hooks (making him Lennon to Faulkner's McCartney, to continue the Beatle motif?). But even before that, both Shepherd brothers used to be Fun Things!
Tonight there was plenty of sweat and honest exertion in evidence, with guitarist Greg Hitchcock throwing himself right into the thick of the action, in a way that he never seemed to do that much during his stint in You Am I. There was nothing mannered or held back in his playing this time. While the band dug for diamonds, he lashed the pit ponies into a frenzy, nearly causing a stampede (do they still have pit ponies in diamond mines? did they ever?).
Maybe it wasn't Radio Birdman or the New Christs, but it could almost have been the later Lime Spiders, only backed out of the garage and speeding down highway I-94 with a full tank, mag wheels and only an expired registration certificate (honestly officer, the renewal's in the mail). However you want to think of it, it was certainly a damn fine, rockin' night out; the sort of night out that people who don't go out any more continually tell me can't be had any more - so it becomes kind of a self fulfilling prophecy.
Just to prove that they didn't have things all their own way, they even had a heckler; some idiot who started calling out for them to "play something heavy". Unfortunately by the time he got going they'd already played "I'm On Drugs", otherwise I'm sure they could have worked him into its introduction.
In a final ironic twist, this was yet another CD launch without even a hint of any CDs for sale, despite the fact that the disc was supposed to have been available in the shops for almost a week. On top of that, a goodly number of the audience were wearing brand new Monarchs tee shirts, but there were no signs of any tee shirts on sale either (actually I never wear tee shirts, but in a democratic society surely I should still be given the opportunity to decline to purchase). As the philosopher Bertrand Russell (or perhaps it was Rob Younger) once asked pointedly, "What gives? What gives?".
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