The Palace, St Kilda
Sunday, October 9, 2005

Pictures: JULIAN WU

This is the way to spend Sunday - lying in bed, watching South Park, eating a Big Mac and sipping on a few Coopers. But duty calls, so late in the afternoon we haul ourselves upright and walk down to the Palace. It’s a big ugly box of a place, with smelly toilets, sticky floors and no vibe. But today it has the honour of hosting Melbourne’s Pete Wells benefit, so we can overlook some minor flaws.

Dave Hogan had the unenviable job of opening the session at the very un-rock n roll hour of 5.00pm. With the crowd still thin on the ground he had to work his harmonica laced Chicago blues hard. Guest pianist Lucy De Soto closed the set with some classic barrelhouse blues shouting. Sorry if this sells him a bit short, but this was settling-in time.

Then the (growing) crowd shuffled across the sticky floor (I swear, everyone who came in spent the first 10 minutes checking their boots for errant blobs of chewing gum) to the small rear stage for Penny Ikinger. She only got about 25 minutes, and initially the poor mix swamped her breathy, inflected vocals, but the sound came good and the band really hit their stride with “Poison Berries” and “Shipwrecked” in particular. Out of all the guitar players on stage tonight, she is the only one who treats her instrument as an extension of herself, rather than a well-handled piece of equipment, never having to work to coax out that just-right tone or effect, but rather seeming to effortlessly reach for it. It’s all there - restrained picking, droning or howling feedback, or enormous slashing chords. That copy of “Electra” is now out of the CD rack and back on high rotation at home, and her date with the Holy Curse on 27/10/05 is firmly penned into the diary.

Bad Boy For Love Ian Rilen

Then it was back across the room for Ian Rilen and the Love Addicts. They opened with “Booze To Blame”, and were unstoppable from there on. The songs they play are classic primeval rock and roll at it’s best- loud, bass heavy, full of riffs…and Rilen plays guitar exactly the same way he used to play bass, leaving space when needed but coming in with full on strokes to drive the songs forward at just the right time. Cathy Green on bass seems to be enjoying herself hugely, and Kim Volkman plays like a man possessed. They throw in “Nice Boys Don’t Play Rock n Roll”, the temperature in the room starts to rise…and then their allotted 30 minutes ends. Bugger.

Photographic proof that Don Walker does not use Grecian 2000.

Tex Don & Charlie and a few guests set up while all this was going on, and started a mini-stampede when the opening bars of “Redheads, Gold Cards and Long Black Limousines” rang out. I’ve never seen them play before, so this was always going to be a real treat, but when they have Mick Harvey on drums and Jeff Lang on slide, you know it will be something really special. Tex seems in good humour, coping with minor equipment problems, sharing the spotlight freely (except with Charlie, who is frankly squashed in a corner on stage right) and even getting Harvey to sing a few verses of “Louise”, while he simultaneously keeps the beat going with one hand. Don Walker is a substantial presence, perched unmoving and magisterial beyond his keyboard, letting his fingers and his rich voice do the talking. It’s compelling stuff.

Which brings me to another point - this is delicate music, not full on chugga chugga, so why do so many people insist on talking all through the set, to the extent that even though I’m up against the monitors, I can barely hear the vocals over the unwanted noise of the chattering mob behind me? It’s all well and good watching Charlie and Jeff trade haunting slide guitar chords, but the effect is spoiled when some twat behind me rings his mates to ask what time they’re gonna get there, and THEN holds his phone out in front of my face so his (unknown, unknowing) buddies can hear what’s going down on stage. Anyway, they bring the crowd to life, and finally the first sincere calls for more are heard. But not delivered on, because…

Turn Up Your Hearing Aid: Jim Keays in full flight.

Over on the big stage, MC David Graney is introducing the Masters Apprentices with a tale of seeing ‘em play in his old hometown of Mount Gambier in 1973 for the princely sum of 50c. I’ve been hyped up for this all day for some reason. Oddly, while the pick up band of youngsters backing him are crap, Jim Keays turns out to be great. Years of touring small clubs and RSLs have given him a great line in shtick, and a personality that’s hard to dislike. And no, he didn’t even have to pull out anything from the “Starchild” period, or his early ‘80s comeback attempt.

They run through all the MA hits you’d wanna hear - “Undecided”, “Elevator Driver” (which I’d forgotten was one of theirs, and which sounds great), “Living In A Child’s Dream”, and that “do what you wanna do, be what you wanna be, ooooh” one, all interspersed with Keays’ brief autobiographical notes- “Yeah, we wrote this one in 1968, we were in London with the Easybeats, takin’ a lot of acid…groove on brothers, awright!” They close with “Turn Up Your Radio”, and if it sounds a bit flat (could use another guitar, maybe some keyboards) it’s still a kick ass slice of rock, and it does the soul good to hear it played.

I’ve never had the time or energy to keep up with Tim Rogers’ output, and tonight I’m afraid he and the Temperance Union play a set that pretty much passes me by. Yes, he’s got charisma and chops to spare, but frankly he left me cold.

Tex exercises humility.

The Beasts of Bourbon take the stage in dribs and drabs. Spencer looks like he just woke up, and for a couple of songs he and Charlie just don’t seem to click. It’s a shortened version of the “Low Road” set tonight, pretty much one they did at the Brian Hooper benefit a while back, only tonight the man himself seems in much better shape. “Low Road”, “Chase The Dragon”, “Bad Revisited”, all are present and correct. The high point is Pete Well’s appearing on stage to join Tex at the mike during “Ride On”. The sound on the bigger stage is excellent, the band finds their groove, and everything is perfect. Except, except…

For some reason Tex now seems wound up, in contrast to his earlier appearance, frustrated at something. After letting loose some abuse during the set, aimed at “all those cunts that aren’t here tonight” he takes a moment after the set closer “Dropout” comes to an end to call those of us who ARE there cunts as well. Boo hoo- I’m a big boy, and if memory serves I’ve called him worse in my time. But it still hits a sour note.

I think his issues may stem from the fact that the gig has taken a while to warm up, and while there’s an expectant, good-natured vibe in the air, often at these kind of shows you get a feel that something special is going to happen, but that’s absent tonight. With only two bands to go, no-one has climbed up to guest with anybody else, and nothing has really gone off. It may seem churlish to say it, but with so much talent all pulling together for a good cause, a lot of the crowd expected or hoped to see something really extraordinary here - Penny Ikinger, Spencer Jones and Paul Kelly jamming with Tex and Angry on “The Butcher and Fast Eddy”, say. But no, it didn’t happen. Anyway…

Paul Kelly damns himself from outset, by announcing, “The Beasts of Bourbon - I’ll never be able to follow that”. And he’s right. By this stage, there is a decent size crowd in the joint, and like many other people I spend his set wandering round, catching up and drinking beer with old friends.

Finally it’s time. A bunch of us have been discussing the imminent appearance of the Tatts, and surprisingly, despite the fact we all grew up out in their suburban heartland, none of us has ever seen them. All those missed gigs at the Village Green, the Pier, and the Sandown Park…sigh. This rose-tinted 20-20 hindsight conveniently overlooks the fact that back in the early 80s we were happy to brave Fitzroy St. to get to the Ballroom, but would never have dared wander the streets of, say, Frankston, after dark.

They stride on like men on a mission, and immediately Angry becomes the focal point. He’s a little tubbier than I remember, but otherwise doesn’t seem to have aged a day. I guess that’s one of the benefits of not having any hair to go grey or fall out. He lets loose with a great stream of rock n roll swearing, “Yeah, g’day, we’re fucking here, we’re all fucking here for fucking Pete, so let’s play some rockandfuckingroll!”, before they launch into “Bad Boy For Love”. Boy, these guys are LOUD, your can feel the bass in your gut and the drum beats rattle your fillings. The song stretches out into a long loping blues/rock beast of a thing.

Pete Wells

Angry brings Ian Rilen up for a chorus or two, to roars of approval, that get even louder when Rilen leaves and Pete Wells slips onto the stage and grabs a guitar for a vicious, stinging, beautiful solo. He takes a bow, looking almost embarrassed at the attention, and waves goodbye. There is a surprisingly large lump in my throat, watching this talented and dignified man take his leave on his own terms.The rest of their set, frankly, can’t live up to the charge of this moment. They play a few oldies, like the aforementioned “Fast Eddy”, but no “Branded”, no “Can’t Be Beaten”…most of it seems to be from the latest LP “Pain”. Many of the crowd are clearly old fans, and relish every second.

And so the night draws to an end, a loud and defiant end. I’ve done my bit for an old trouper, seen a lot of old friends, felt once again the reaffirming life force of all that’s good about rock, and had a few beers, too. As we stroll home, I am reminded that this is about as good as it gets. Salut!

* TJ Honeysuckle is a former fanzine writer and RRR and club dj, who was “Minister of Offence” for GOD during much of their career. He roadied on the first Seminal Rats tour to Sydney just so he could see the Celibate Rifles for free, and later moved to Sydney just to see the New Christs more often. Unfortunately he went insane in 1990 and moved overseas for more than a decade. Lives in: St Kilda. Interests: home brewing, women with pink hair. Well, one woman with pink hair in particular.