KB Hotel, Surry Hills
Sunday, August 29 2004

The irony of the Rifles playing one of Sydney’s smaller, but friendlier, live music venues was probably lost on most. Yes, the Cellies might have cut their teeth in pubs scarcely bigger than this more than two decades ago, but the 40 or so punters here for this unannounced tour warm-up just wanted the band to rock.

And they did.

Sublimely well.

Two sets of songs, old and new. Just enough to shake out any cobwebs and give the lucky few a taste of the tour.
It’s like one of the band’s legendary Harbour Cruises, on dry land.

If you don’t know the KB Hotel, it’s relatively small and remains firmly entrenched in the ranks of traditionally-styled Sydney pubs. There are no polished wooden floors - and not a lot of polished brass. We’re talking tiled walls and cheap beer company posters here. Carpets and a black backdrop (shielding a couple of windows) are the only obvious real concession to acoustic refinements.

The band sets up in a corner – just like in the old days – and usually plays at manageable volume levels. There’s a vocal PA and foldback (mixed from behind the snack bar), and not much else. It’s intimate, and a four-can lightshow casts a stark ambience.

It also makes life tough for a photographer - but who’s complaining when you can see the Rifles up close and personal?

“Jesus on TV” goes out first and mows us all down with its stuttering riffs and over-the-top finale. “We All Moved to Buttland” isn’t far behind in the running order and is already approaching “must-hear” status live.

Songs from “Beyond Respect” are prominent, naturally enough, and the slower pieces like “Alhambra” seem to grow another leg when heard in-person. (Fuck, if the band wrote that one in their sleep, as speculated in our recent album review, they must have good dreams). There’s even a work-in-progress aired.

No “Salute” tonight but a “Return of the Creature With the Atom Brain” that packs a timely punch.

The point’s been made before, but bears repetition because close observation highlights it even more: Guitarist Dave Morris and bassist Michael Couvret work amazingly in tandem. No taking away anything from Paul Larsen’s dynamism on drums, but they’re right at the heartbeat of what’s happening here, with an understanding from years of playing together.

The fact that the new album is on the racks doesn’t mean dips into the past are out of the question. “Wild Desire” pops up, hard on the heels of a punter’s request. “Johnny”, with its grinding rhythm bed and snarling guitar line, a frenetic and apparently unrehearsed “Paddo Sharps” and the explosive “Sometimes” all burn bright.

It wouldn’t be a Rifles gig without the odd cover, dodgy or otherwise. “Highway Star” gets a warm reception, despite its false start. Damien Lovelock is relegated to tambourine and beaming grin when Dave Morris and Kent Steadman swap alternating lead vocal lines for the Sonics’ “He’s Waiting” (itself prompting a call for “She’s a Witch”). Nothing wrong with tonight’s take on “Turn Up Your Radio”, either. Did I mention Iggy’s “Five Foot One”? More false climaxes than a cheap porno, it ends up so long it’s back-announced as “Five Foot One and a Half”. Very cool.

Tonight might not rate as high on the Celibate Rifles Intensity Scale as some gigs - it was a pretty laidback and easygoing affair. But it's not every night you get to see the Rifles playing in a setting akin to your loungeroom (give or take a few tiles and substitute tap beer for bottles).

Let's be frank - the Rifles might have been around forever but that won’t always be the case, so get your ase out and support them. Let Triple Jay know they ought to be playing the new album too. Why they’re not headlining Homebake ahead out Jet and about 50 others bands is beyond me.
The Barman

Fri 3-Sep Cambridge Hotel, Newcastle NSW
Thurs 9-Sep The Footy Show (NSW)
Fri 10-Sep Mona Vale Hotel, Mona Vale NSW
Sat 11-Sep Annandale Hotel, Annandale NSW
Fri 17-Sep Woonona Bulli RSL, Woonona NSW
Sat 18-Sep Caringbah Bizzo's, Caringbah NSW
Sun 19-Sep Bondi Hotel, Bondi NSW
Fri 24-Sep Fowlers Live, Adelaide SA
Fri 1-Oct The Rev, Brisbane QLD
Sat 2-Oct Great Northern Hotel, Byron Bay NSW
Sat 9-Oct The Gershwin Room, St. Kilda VIC