Harbord Diggers Club
Saturday, October 18 2003
WORDS & PIX: JOHN McPHARLIN
Forgive me Damo, for I have sinned. It has been fourteen months since I last sang the praises of the Rifles, at least publicly on this website, and even then that was in reference to support gigs (but it was supporting the Dictators, so surely that must be worth some bonus points?). Since then at least half a dozen headlining gigs have gone unreported, though not of course unseen, nor unenjoyed. However tonight a line has been drawn in the sand (or at least in the spilt beer and cigarette butts on the dance floor) and the recalcitrance has come to an end.
I had not been to the Harbord Diggers Club before, though as it turned out it was only a couple of k's down the road from the Manly Fishos, site of so many memorable Rifles gigs. The club itself proved to be mammoth. I once (in a previous Rifles' despatch as it happens) likened the Crest Hotel to Gormenghast, but you could fit the Crest into the Harbord Diggers and still have room left over for further poker machines, plus more than enough extra nooks and corridors in which to lose yourself while trying to find your way back to the car park after the gig... but I am getting ahead of myself there.
The first thing I noticed was that all the bands and crewmembers were wearing laminated passes. Sure we're accustomed to seeing those at the bigger, purpose built venues, but not at your suburban pubs and pokie parlours. Where next, the Annandale? Presumably this is a sign that the Harbord Diggers has long term aspirations when it comes to the staging of rock extravaganzas.
When I arrived the Volts were already giving their all in front of a sparse but appreciative crowd. The club's performance area is named the "Arena" and it's a weird, asymmetric design which is part disco, part Greek amphitheatre and part Roman coliseum. No sign of any chariot races or lions devouring Christians tonight, but there was a punter who periodically got up to dance in a style that was part terminal electrocution twitch and part falling over and then racing to get his feet under his descending centre of gravity before he hit the floor. Surprisingly he never did hit the floor, but later when the Rifles are playing, another punter attempting something similar did end up flat on his back... All of which just added to the party atmosphere.
On the wall behind the band was a big screen, not exactly the jumbotron but still pretty impressive. For the Re-mains and the Celibate Rifles this was just used to show a band logo, but as the Volts apparently don't have a logo yet, the screen showed live footage of the band instead, giving a very stadium Rawk Godz slant to their performance.
I'm told that the Volts consist of ex-members of High Society, Supermodel and Sux, but since I'm only familiar with High Society, their former bass player was the only one I recognised and he was wholeheartedly throwing himself into the action in typical fashion. The Volts' members may not have been familiar, but their music was, for it bore the unmistakable marks of Oz rock writ large; Stones and Kinks influences colliding with shock waves from everyone from the MC5 and SRB to a less stoner and more hard rock Monster Magnet (and maybe even a Ramone or two peeking out from behind the speaker cabinets to see what all the noise was about).
In between bands I ran into the Meek's Gary Lockhart at the bar. He was another one right down the front at last night's Turbonegro show and we had ample time to compare bruises while the trainee barman took what seemed like forever to prepare two mixed drinks for the punter in front of us. Fuck, most university students sitting the practical section of their final year chemistry exams don't put half as much sweat, concentration and painstaking attention to detail into what they're doing as this guy devoted to those two drinks! Anyway, it helped to while away the time until the Re-mains came on.
This isn't the first time I've mentioned the Re-mains. They refer to what they're doing as country rock and you might think I would have been studiously avoiding hoedowns and hootenannies and anything else smacking of hayseeds and straw since my recent disparaging remarks on the subject of country music. You'd be right too, but then I always have gone out of my way to avoid rustic gatherings like that, so no change there.
The point is that I don't much like country music, the vast majority of it anyway, but I do like what the Re-mains are doing, which is a lot more rock than it is country. What you might call trucker's country, as opposed to cowboy country. So that's good news for me, though maybe not such good news for them, if country truly be their aim and Tamworth be their ultimate destination.
Don't get me wrong, there is a definite country flavour to their music; they even have one guy who plays banjo - all the time, not like in the Working Class Ringos where Charlie Owen picks up a banjo now and then, but at other times plays other instruments. This guy only ever plays the banjo and it's not buried down in the mix either, it's right up there with the guitars (and fuck me, it transpires that it's Shaun Butcher, one time guitarist in Nunbait; what dark desires and twisted influences these musicians do turn out to have buried inside them).
Despite all that, I end up buying their CD are their set. Their music goes down pretty well with the rest of the audience as well, several punters even getting up to dance in a variety of interpretive styles according to their differing abilities and states of sobriety, or the absence thereof.
Finally it's time for the headliners. There's still no sign of any lions mauling Christians down in the arena, but the Rifles roar just as loud. They're on home turf, firmly and securely amongst the faithful and the fanatical and they know it. Tonight the Rifles are on fire and the audience gets right into it, fueled by a volatile mix of enthusiasm and club price drinks (actually, come to think it, the drinks weren't particularly cheap, but that didn't seem to have held anyone back).
Normally Michael Couvret is my favourite Rifles subject, 'cause I tend to be a bit slow getting myself organised to take photos and he doesn't move much, which means he's the easiest to keep in focus, while at the same time he's clearly putting everything into his playing. So if you do it right you get that look of intense concentration in the photo, incontrovertible evidence - as if any were needed - that the old rock'n'roll magic was happening at the moment that the shutter opened and this wasn't just some publicity shot artfully stage managed in front of any empty venue during the sound check (which, cynic that I am, is how I suspect a lot of rock'n'roll publicity photos get taken).
Tonight is a different story however. Throughout the set Mikey makes no secret of the fact that he went to see the Hellacopters earlier in the week and that influence, combined with the stadium style back projection, has him making stadium style rock gestures for most of the night - lots of holding the guitar up in the air and striking rock poster poses (though it's clear that his tongue is pressed firmly into his cheek, so the earnest rock'n'roll soldier effect is dissipated slightly). Unfortunately he doesn't seem to have grasped that the secret to a successful rock poster pose is to hold the pose long enough for the photographer check light settings and focus properly (a procedure which the Hellacopters have got down pat, seemingly always anticipating that their photos are being taken).
The average punter could be forgiven for thinking that the Rifles must be on the cusp of some sort of breakthrough right now. After being pretty quiet for most of the year, this is their third gig around town in eight days and their episode of Studio 22 finally went to air at just the right time to lift their public profile for the wider Oz Rock audience (and about fuckin' time too - according to my notes Thursday 19th April 2001 was when that show was recorded!).
Not only that, the first of the band's recent shows (at the Annandale last week) drew a large and enthusiastic crowd, despite strong competition from the opening match of the rugby world cup. That, combined with the record bar takings during their last Boxing Day show, has seen the Annandale's publican become such an ardent fan of the band that he's been talking about starting some sort of a breeding program to ensure the continuation of the band for generations to come...
This year's Boxing Day show will feature "Spaceman In A Satin Suit", so it's not surprising that "Kathy Says" and "City Of Hope" got another run tonight (both were in the set at the Annandale last week). This will be the last opportunity for a public workout before the festive season is upon us in full force, though as always some songs on the night will not have seen the light of day for many years.
Perhaps to maintain a balance, "Dream Of Night" and "Groovin' In The Land Of Love", both highlights of last year's "Heaven On A Stick" show, also got another outing tonight. Still no sign of that new album hitting the stores just yet, but "Welcome to Buttland" (or is it "We're All Going To Buttland"?) and "Creature with the Atom Brain" both sound like old favourites already and they gave us an epic "Oceanshore" as well.
The action was not just limited to the stage either. There was enough gyrating on the dance floor to leave the Solid Gold Dancers in need of oxygen, CPR and maybe even a little shock treatment. However it wasn't all beer and skittles (well to be honest, there was an awful lot of beer, but I didn't see too many skittles). In amongst all the wild abandon, one punter near me accidentally knocked over another punter's beer and an ominous calm descended on that tiny section of the dance floor; it was like suddenly finding yourself in the eye of a hurricane.
The perpetrator seemed too stunned at the unintended outcome of his actions to be able to summon up an apology, while the poor punter whose beer was knocked over picked up the empty cup and held it before his eyes with a expression on his face that combined abject horror and bottomless despair. I doubt that even Jesus on the cross could have looked half as betrayed and forsaken in his final moments. A fight seemed inevitable as they silently confronted each other eyeball to eyeball, but then somehow it turned into one of those quintessential "I love youse, mate" moments as they both ended up crying over the spilt milk, er beer.
Later there was a quick fight between some other punters. As it happened I was looking down at time, changing the film in my camera, so I missed most of it. When I looked up the combatants were already being dragged off each other by their respective mates and by the time the bouncers got there it was well and truly over. So too and all too soon was the set.
The band repeated the encores from the Annandale, a rousing cover of Dave Warner's "Just A Suburban Boy" and a characteristically aggressive take on Petulia Clark's "Colour My World". What with this and the Pubert Brown Fridge Occurrence adopting "Downtown" into the fold, I can't help thinking that all it needs is for someone to latch on to "Don't Sleep in the Subway" and we could have ourselves a full blown Petulia Clarke revival on our hands!
According to the setlists they intended to play "Electravision Mantra" on both nights, but they ran out of time on each occasion, so it missed out (as did the audience). However nobody was complaining too loudly as "Back in The Red" got an unscheduled run instead (both nights? yeah, I think so; of course I might just be have an alzheimer moment...).
But my night wasn't over just yet. The door that I came through when I arrived, direct from the car park, turned out to be locked when I tried to exit the same way and I spent several confused minutes trying to find a way back to my car that didn't involve leaving the building and walking all the way around the outside. Finally it turned out that there wasn't one (or if there was, its location remains a well kept secret, at least from me).
On the way home there was an ominous flash from behind me as I flew round a corner, so to top things off I may have driven through a speed camera trap as well. At the moment I'm still saying that the show was worth it, but of course if there's a big fine heading my way in the mail, the full impact of it hasn't hit me yet...
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