Excelsior Hotel, Surry Hills, Sydney
Saturday, December 4, 2004

Words and pix: THE BARMAN

Bummer of a night to be an indie band playing almost anywhere in Sydney, with the annual Homebake festival scheduled for the same date. Admittedly, that event's dominated by mainstream acts, but it does tend to pack 'em in from all ranges of the gig-going spectrum anyway. Under the industry music radar and without a hint of commercialism, The Crusaders were playing only their second Sydney show in six years at the Annandale (headlined by Homebake attraction The Spazzys) , while Booby Traps were heading a cool '60s flavoured bill at Spectrum. Asteroid B612's late deletion from the Excelsior line-up (for reasons still to be explained) was a blow as well.

Good nights often rise up in the face of such adversity, so it was with little hesitation that I set a course for the Ex, one of Sydney's best small venues. Pre-game beers are a must and there was no trouble being served - you could have shot a cannon through the public bar before the first band went on.

Speaking of, Beware of the Dog opened proceedings. With amps on 11 and a guitarist/vocalist sporting a Megadeth T-shirt, B.O.T.D. churned out a short set of fairly rote heavy metal. They were probably good at what they did but what they did was of no interest to me, so I stayed firmly planted in the public bar. Odd choice of support. Was that really a Christina Aguilera cover tucked in there? Those of us who passed up the Dog experience in person had to be content with an AccaDacca DVD on the big screen, sans audible soundtrack, though the Jed Whitey guys seems transfixed by a Regurgitator special on MTV on the other TV.

Jed Whitey burst out of Perth a few years ago as a three-headed rock monster that defied pigeonholing. Equal parts speedcore, punk rock and pisstaking, they produced an EP ("Superfly Bigmuff"), album ("Mongoloid Cage Match") and the odd split single before fading from sight, in no small part due to the odd member moving to the eastern Australian states for work.

The good news has been that Jed Whitey have been playing sporadically in recent times, with guitarist Luke Marinovich later explaining that half the band is now based in Sydney and the other half in Melbourne. (Just as well, because the commute to and from Perth is a killer.) The better news is that they've signed to a US label, have a producer in tow and are ready to record their second album.

On the strength of this show, it should be a killer. "Are You Ready to Hate Us?" is unfurled as the set opener and from then on it's a runaway train ride full of layback leads, tight riffing and dynamics that most bands would give their back teeth to borrow, let alone own.

The line-up's been augmented by a second guitarist, Luke Margetic (who hails from the very cool and heavy Fourstroke). He lays it on thick while the other Luke trills and drills his way through some spectacular six string action. Bassist Louis Dunstan handles most of the vocals while newish drummer Greg Eshman pounds skins like they raped and pillaged his village, insulted him and then made off with his first-born and his collection of Gene Krupa albums.

There's a generous serving of songs from the album as well as a handful of newer ones. Needless to say, "One Trick Pony" (with its stylish count-in: "1-2-Fuck-You") gets up and is a personal fave. "Pull My Finger", which dates back to the band's early days, is there, as well as "Private Altamont" and "I'm OK, You're Fucked". A newie, "Sex Impediment", is dedicated to Beware of the Dog (although judging by a couple of their female supporters who managed to turn up AFTER the band had played, at least half the band are doing OK in that regard.)

All in all, a great set that should have been enough to convince the audience member who tagged Jed Whitey as "Hellacopters impersonators" that his call was well wide of the mark. Ray Ahn of the Hard Ons was one of the faces in the thin crowd (and does the band's cover art), by the way.

The Reverend Ashley Thomson.

Headliners Rollcage had a hard act to follow but gave it a good shake, reprising songs from their "Whole Summer of Pussy" album as well as their forthcoming "Underwear Beach" long player.

Rollcage are built around the axis of founder, I-94 Bar columnist and general pervert-around-town Ashley Thomson. Rollcage is an altogether different beast to the bands that shared tonight's bill. More trashy garage than punk or metal, they're sometimes a little understated, especially when there's not a second guest guitarist on deck (Stew "Leadfinger" Cunningham filing that role in the past).

When you're down...

...and out.

You could sense Ash was pragmatically resigned to it being a flat sort of night, especially as a handful of punters filtered out when Jed Whitey was done. Still, the band's off to Europe in May '05 with an extensive tour of all over arranged, so things are looking pretty good. He might have to work on some multi-lingual patter to sell it to the Europeans, although "pussy" is pretty well recognisable in most languages.

Tonight's set had a big percentage of newer tunes which probably suffered from lack of familiarity. Nevertheless "Drop the Bomb", "Long Way Down If You Want to Rock and Roll" and a sensitive ballad (whose name I've forgotten) about living in a psych ward on a sunny day caught the ear. The old "Bris Vegass" is prominent and still counts as a Rollcage signature tune (although "Blow Job Queen" and "Best Looking Women on William Street", both missing in action tonight, come close.)

A word about bassist Sabina Collins (above), the ex-Harpoon member who joined Rollcage after Carl Ekkman jumped ship. She brings with her one of the beefiest sounds around and a fluid, relaxed style of playing that suits this band to a tee.

There's a surreal moment when, having already broken a string on his guitar-of-choice, Ash springs another on his spare. What follows is a frantic string change (there's never a roadie around when you need one) that sets off an extended Sonic Youth-style coda of feedback, mid-song.

The guitarist from Beware of the Dog even kindly offers up his own flying V, only to break the news that it's tuned down half a notch, in true death metal style. About the only thing missing to make it a true Spinal Tap event is Scotty on the drums exploding.

You had to be there, folks - and most of you weren't.