Empire Hotel, Annandale
February 7, 2004


Something of a different night for Sydney’s self-appointed Home of Da Blues. The return to stages of Chris “Klondike” Masuak, supported by a strong undercard, is enough to get a few different faces shuffling in the door and gives the night a harder, rocking edge that might usually be the case.

It’s certainly a loud room with a flying wedge pretty high in the ceiling and not a place I’ve been before, except for Irish beers on St Patrick’s Day about a decade ago. It’s probably an under-utilised room as far as The Rawk goes, though Pubert Brown Fridge Occurrence did give it a work-out a few weeks before.

First band The Meek do a sound-check of three songs before more than a handful of people are in the door and even allowing for the absence of punters to deaden the sounds, it’s pretty raucous with lots of sound spilling off the stage. Showtime is actually about 9pm, which gives the growing crowd time to grab a few drinks and settle in.

The Meek vs Barnesy and the Banshee loses on a TKO.

The Meek’s singing drummer, Reuben Shipp, is recovering from food poisoning but throws himself into his work with no consideration for self-preservation. Bass player Gary Lockhart and guitarist Phil Ashbrook lock in on some sizeable grooves.
The Meek ain’t pretty to listen to but your life is somehow lacking if they don’t grab you in some way, shape or form. Their “Interstellar Madness” album on Illustrious Artists is more than worthy of cocking an ear to. This is sharp, angular rock and roll delivered with angst and an awkward style all their own.

No idea if the Shipp patter about “Domestic Bliss” being on high rotation on Radio Fbi is true - I do listen, buit not nearly enough - but the station could do worse and the song gains heavy crowd support tonight. So does “Matchbox”, an angular piece of angst from the album. Also a winner: The Meek’s rippling cover of “Leaving Here”. You’ll have to grab Illustrious Artists’ “Playing favourites” compilation to hear it.

New flash: Jimmy Barnes was forming a band with Deep Purple and Ozzy Osborne players and wanted to call it The Meek. Slight problem: these guys beat him to it. My opinion is they should have made the screeching banshee pay, big-time. He’s gone and called it Big Noise or Big Joke or something. It figures.

The Sheek tells it to the hand.

Sheek the Shayk is tighter than in last month’s comeback show, churning out a similar song selection but with a noticeable degree more focus. Tonight finds the Sheek again in Senor Johnny mode (the Arabian nights get-up apparently having been given the flick) and to paraphrase one of their best songs: he gives the sign and the crowd is into it.

It’s been said before – they put on an enjoyable, if predictable, set of trashy rawk, rarely letting anyone down. A good mate of Peter Tillman actually momwentarily mistakes the Sheek for the Lipstick Killers frontman – quite a compliment, although the Sockman has a distinct edge in the vocals department.

There's some suggestion that the Sheek and Co might feel they've run their race with nowhere else much to go. In fact, one band member confided 18 monbths ago that their recent album might never be released. He was wrong on that score, but you can't help feeling a bit mopre work and the sniff of some international travel might rally their flagging bones - there are only so many places you can play in Sydney. Hopefully, it's all talk. This town needs more obnoxious rock.

And so to the main event, Klondike’s North 40, and the name might have changed but this band has been sporadically about with (mostly) the same personnel for a few years. Tonight’s the first outing since sessions in Electric Avenue for an album with Rob Younger in the production chair. There’s a sizeable crowd in place when the Klondikes make it onto the stage.

Van the Man - sorry, Matt, emotes.

It has to be said: vocalist Matt Sulman has big shoes to fill. Past, and current, Masuak bands have boasted the likes of Rob Younger and Johnny Kannis up front – neither a slouch in eliciting audience response. So try as he might, he’s never going to outdo them. He puts in the effort and has a great set of pipes with nice range, but he’s definitely low-key in his dress sense and stagecraft, looking as if he walked in from an office barbecue where the accountancy firm’s boss specified “smart casual” as the dress of the day. There’s a passing resemblance to Van Morrison, though Sulman’s younger, trimmer and probably nowhere near as mad.

Maybe relaxed and casual is the desired approach. No-one on stage seems too worked up about anything except having a good time. No idea about the singer’s prior offences but the rest of the band are old hands – bassist Red Porter’s a survivor of the latter-day Juke Savages and hard-hitting drummer Gye Bennetts hails from a Hitmen DTK line-up and did time (musically speaking) with Roddy Ray’da. They’re a formidable engine room, nice and tight and allowing their guitarist to indulge as he sees fit. Bennetts gets right behind the beat and pushes things forward. And indulge the guitarist does – reeling off those familiar licks and choppy riffs, just like he always has.

Klondike’s never been too precious about covering his own back catalogue (or anyone else’s) so the “hits” have a prominent place. In fact, seven of the 18 songs belong to other bands (two Birdmen tunes and a Hitmen song among them). At least no-one can claim a lack of familiarity with the tuneage.

Sounds of Wailing?

Of the covers, “Book Him Danno” probably sounds better with twin guitars, but “Shake Some Action” is justifiably a centerpiece – it’s simply one of the best pop rock songs ever. “I Don’t Mind” cries out for a Hitmen reunion – not as far-fetched a proposition as it might seem – and the North 40’s take on Sonic Rendezvous Band’s “Electrophonic Tonic” is mighty fine. “City Slang” is a little light on for guitars but any band with the good taste to cover it, and cover it well, deserves acclamation.
And the originals? I’ve heard a few of these before (and now I’m cheating because a tape of the Empire gig has fallen into my hands). Expect a hard-edged blues-rock feel when the album makes it into the shops later this year with hints of all of Klondike’s previous bands. Apart from dabbling in surf rhythms when behind the traps for The Raouls, Masuak took a detour into Texan rock back in the early ‘90s with his underrated Juke Savages. The North 40 are true to those roots, but with a tougher edge.

“Traffic Jam” has the hint of an Eastern raga, “Stupid Planet” is a straight-forward mid-tempo pop-rocker. “Original Sin” is a singalong that kicks; “Recipe for Disatser” and “Sounds of Wailing” would have sat well in a Hitmen set. “Sad Sad Prison” and “Voodoo Weatherman” are two songs I know from a previous encounter and detour into Johnny Winter blues territory.

Minimal persuasion draws the band back after the end of the set proper. “We know we’re cheap” comes the quip form onstage and we’re treated to Bro Wayne’s “Dangerous Madness” and the aforementioned “I Don’t Mind”.

It's not faultless with a touch of rust showing here and there but the new songs sound fine. No-one seems to go away too unhappy anmd that ain't a bad thing.

Klondike and Co are playing out this year in the run to their album being released. Set your compass toNorth 40 for party time and a good night out.

SET LIST: Traffic Jam; Stupid Planet; City Slang; Original Sin; Shake Some Action; Sounds Of Wailing; Sad Sad Prison; Smith & Wesson Blues; My Song; Mother's Children; Recipe For Disaster; Voodoo Weatherman; Trust In No One; Gershwin May Consider; Aloha Steve And Danno; Electrophonic Tonic; Dangerous Madness; I Don't Mind