Radio Birdman
+ The Specimens
Corner Hotel, Richmond
Saturday July 30, 2005


Radio Birdman appeared in Melbourne on Saturday night for the first time in three years. The gig was sold out prior to the show, and a quick survey of the audience suggested at least a quarter of punters had seen Birdman in their 70s heyday. Years ago – shortly after Birdman announced its reunion shows – a friend and fellow Birdman fan mused about the Birdman myth in the context of Jungian philosophy, noting that Birdman possessed many of the attributes that Jung associated with characters in classical mythology – except such characters did not make comebacks after their peak period. But since that 1996 reformation Birdman has managed to transcend those who would suggest they have nothing to offer but their recorded legacy and live mythology.

Due to a last minute change in the support band schedules – apparently because Birdman decided late in the week that they were feeling – and playing – good enough to play a 2 hour set – the Lords of Gravity’s dual set appearance was cut down to a single set, which concluded just as I alighted from the Swan Street tram. If I’d been forced to choose a band to miss tonight, it certainly wouldn’t have been the Lords. But shit happens, I suppose. Anyway, there’ll be other times to see this very, very impressive Melbourne garage outfit.

The Specimens came on stage around 10.15 to an enthusiastic, if not definitively loyal crowd. This is the fourth time I’ve seen The Specimens and each time I’ve had the same reaction – the music is tight, the songs pack a punch but at the end of the set there seems to be something missing, either sonically or aesthetically. But to give the band their dues, it’s no mean feat playing second fiddle to Radio Birdman and they certainly knew where they stood in proceedings.

After The Specimens’ departure we fought our way to the front region to obtain a prime viewing position. With minimal fanfare the current line-up of Birdman filed on stage. Physically they looked better than I’d remembered them last time – Deniz Tek has committed some shocking fashion faux pax in the last 10 years, but tonight there was nothing garish about his appearance that threatened to detract from his playing. A string broke on Tek's weather-beaten Epiphone early in the set but thankfully it wasn't an omen of any negative currency.

Pip Hoyle – Tek claimed late in the set that Hoyle is known around the Royal North Shore Hospital as “Dr Surf” – is the quintessential square peg in the rock’n’roll circle. Chris Masuak still has a bit of the rock god thing about him, but when you can play guitar like he can, all power to you. Jim Dickson is unassuming but robust (not to mention ubiquitous), while Rusty Hopkinson’s youthful appearance defies his history and pedigree in things Australian rock’n’roll.

And then there’s the indefinable and indefatigable Rob Younger. There are many ways of characterising Younger – Nosferatu meets Iggy Pop is just one of them. His bent arm finger-clicking dancing is worthy of intellectual property protection – and what other lead singer can captivate the audience just by staring blankly into the distance of the crowd without opening his mouth? And for the first time in living memory I could actually understand some of his comments to the crowd (rather than the usual mumbling).

As with other shows on this tour the band started with the newly penned What It’s For, before raiding the back catalogue for such gems as "Do the Pop", "I-94", "Non Stop Girls", "What Gives?", "455SD" (not sure if I’ve seen that live before), "Aloha Steve and Danno" and the romantic existentialism of "Anglo Girl Desire". A number of old tunes were given a contemporary make over. In some cases (viz. "Hangin' On", "Smith and Wesson Blues") I'm not entirely sure the re-interpretation worked perfectly, but the free form jazz jamming intro to "Man With Golden Helmet" added another layer to an already brilliant song.

As expected the gig showcased some new songs, my personal favourites being "Remorseless" and the Rob and Deniz-penned "Heyday". But all of them sounded like Birdman songs – without being superficial re-workings of Birdman 101 texts.

The first encore began with "Monday Morning Gunk", finally placating the punter adjacent to me who’d requested it repeatedly during the first hour of the set (Younger was at his most mischievous during the opening chord progression, muttering the lyrics to the Beach Boys’ "Do It Again"), before closing with the incendiary "Burn My Eye".

The second encore started with "Heyday", before jumping back 40 years for "Waiting for the Man". Not surprisingly, proceedings concluded with the anthemic "New Race". I've heard this song live quite a few times, but I can't think of another time when the crowd itself has whipped up the Yeah Hup chant without any assistance from the band.

While this show wasn’t quite as awe-inspiring as the band’s last Melbourne show at the Prince of Wales in May 2002 (something I'd put down to the absence of Ron Keeley's flourishing style, and the fact I had a cold this time around), it did demonstrate – if proof positive was needed – that Radio Birdman remain a force to be reckoned with.

Set List
What It's For
Do the Pop
Non-Stop girls
Rock Bottom
Aloha Steve 'n' Danno
Alone in the Endzone
Search and Destroy
Man With Golden Helmet
Hangin' On
More Fun
Anglo Girl Desire
What Gives?
Hand of Law

Encore 1
Monday Morning Gunk
Smith & Wesson Blues
Burn My Eye

Encore 2
Waitin for the Man
New Race