The Tote Hotel, Melbourne
November 28, 2006


It was about a year ago that I noticed a major fuck up in one of Melbourne’s main metro newspapers. The entertainment section had run an early photo of the Hoodoo Gurus - circa “Stoneage Romeos.” The shot rightly featured the Gurus drummer at the time James Baker, but credited him as M. Kingsmill. “Oh the humanity” I thought, “Would this shit ever happen to great guitarists?”

I’ve got nothing against Kingsmill, he’s a fine drummer, but in my opinion that first Gurus line up was The One. Like most Australian bands from that era, that first release has stood the test of time. So it was with good humour and extreme prejudice that I emailed the editor to explain the obvious error.

For me James Baker represents the quality, style and continued potency of many of those seminal Australian artists. His trademark big primitive backbeat has always been at the core of all the bands he’s played in. So it was with excitement and fascination that I headed down to the Tote on a quiet Tuesday night to check out this new venture, the two-piece that are The Painkillers.

I arrived to catch the last couple of tunes of Brian Hooper’s set. His sound reminded me at times of a fucked up early Bowie. On stage with him were Spencer P Jones on guitar and cigarettes, and Steve Boyle crouched over the keys. Next up was James McCann’s Dirty Skirt Band that played a set of rocking country to an appreciative crowd.

A lot of publicity surrounding The Painkillers has been understandably directed at James Baker, however it didn’t take long to appreciate the vocal and guitar package of Joe Bludge. The Painkillers’ guitarist announced this was the final gig of their tour as they tore into tracks from their CD “Drunk On A Train”, (which has the best cover artwork I’ve seen in a long time).

The live sound for this two-piece has a helluva lot more muscle than the CD, the guitar in particular, but ain’t that always the way? Bludge’s bluesy folk vocals sit atop his mean and full acoustic guitar sound and Baker’s steady rumbling drums. It’s a strange, old school combination, acoustic guitar and driving trash rock drumming. But the old adage “less is more” works well here - the distinctive melodies and drum fills held everyone’s attention from song to song, with the CD’s title track and "Redfern Girl" being highlights. I’m looking forward to what they come up with next.

So here’s my prescription, take two Painkillers and go to the bar, you’ll have a bloody good night out.