Celibate Rifles
Esplanade Hotel, Melbourne
9 October 2004


My first encounter with the Celibate Rifles was watching a Saturday morning music television show called "Beatbox" around 1986. Seeing the "Turgid Miasma" era Rifles crammed into a tiny room thrashing out "Bill Bonney Regrets" was the catalyst for a quantum leap in my musical appreciation. I realised that bands such as Midnight Oil (in those days still able to produce a sound worthy of a pub rock band) were merely the tip of iceberg of Australian rock’n’roll. The Rifles led to Birdman, Birdman to the MC5 and the Stooges, etc etc etc.

Tonight’s show was the first Rifles gig in Melbourne for well over a year. Serendipitously, the Rifles had chosen to end their national tour on election night. The presence of the Rifles – a band that was singing about the environment 20 years before Coles started selling calico bags, and incarceration policies 15 years before Australia decided to intern refugees – on election night was an appropriate coincidence.

The gig opened with "Jesus on TV", an appropriate choice given the success of so-called Christian family candidates in the election. From there on, the setlist was suitably diverse, ranging from classic older songs such as Wild Desire (which I don’t think I’ve heard live before), a few tunes from the major label "Blind Ear" album ("Johnny", "World Keeps Turning"), the vaguely autobiographical "Contemplating RD Laing" and more recent compositions such as "(We’ve all moved to) Buttland" and "Return of the Creature with the Atom Brain".

Someone recently described Iggy Pop as like an expensive leather handbag. Along similar lines, Damien Lovelock is like a well worn crocodile skin jacket. His laconic, nasal drawl is now heard discussing topics of the day ranging from soccer to environmental issues to social policy. Peter Garrett is articulate and media-friendly enough to bechased by the Labor Party, but it’s Lovelock who has genuine political credibility.

Kent Steedman is a bizarre guy. He must possess a very extensive selection of gaudy leggings. In all my years of seeing the Rifles, I’ve never seen him wear the same pair twice (and at an Adelaide show during a Deniz Tek solo tour in 1994, Tek took up the challenge to wear a pair of Steedman’s dacks, which left many of us quite bemused). Tonight he had what appeared to be crushed maroon velour leggings, and trademark bare feet. Steedman jumps around the stage like an elf who’s spent too long tied up in a garage thrashing out Stooges riffs. His duels with the enigmatic Dave Morris are a privilege to watch. Michael Couvert (sans shoes) has returned comfortably to the fold, combining with Paul Larsen to give the necessary rhthymic stability to Steedman and Morris’ frenetic tussles.

The band strayed from the original setlist to pay tribute to the recently deceased Johnny Ramone with a rollicking version of "Rockaway Beach". The Indian garage chords and astute political commentary of "Electro Vision Mantra" saw the end of the opening set.

Coming back on stage for the first encore, Lovelock said the band felt free to indulge in a few covers, before launching into Hendrix’s "Highway Chile", followed by the Master’s Apprentices’ "Turn Up Your Radio" (which is, it must be said, a very potent song) before ending the first coda with the absolutely superb "Bill Bonney Regrets".

The Rifles indulged the crowd’s yearning for more by coming back on to play "Wonderful Life" (the yuppies may have disappeared as a dominant cultural force, but their self-indulgent values live on, to the detriment of us all), and the pure rock’n’roll psychosis of Sometimes.

On what turned out to be a moderately depressing evening, this was a very invigorating gig. The Rifles were described in the late 1980s as ‘the best no nonsense rock’n’roll band in Australia’, and on the strength of tonight’s performance, that description still rings true.- Patrick Emery


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