The Tote, Collingwood
Saturday 18 September, 2004


The tension of tonight's second (Australian Rules) preliminary final between the Brisbane Lions and Geelong kept me in the front bar during Devil Rock 4's set. The game was tight, and (I was reliably informed by others witnessed the Devil Rock set) so was the gig.

I haven't followed Ritchie Lewis' work since the dissolution of Tumbleweed (I'm currently re-reading Craig Mathieson's illuminating narrative of early 1990s Australian independent music, The Sell In, which details some of the reasons for Tumbleweed's change in commercial and audience fortune). But tonight he was back on stage fronting Ritchie Lewis and The Creeps. Like Tumbleweed, Lewis' current project celebrates the 1960s fuzz garage sound. Initially it seemed on the verge of a Stems tribute hour, but as the set went on, the aesthetic crept closer to early the pre-commercial pop of Le Hoodoo Gurus, with occasional flirtations with the swampy garage country rock of the early Beasts of Bourbon.

The non-Ritchie guitarist's appearance (eye make-up, greaser hair and sidies) suggested the love child of Johnny Thunders and Elvis c1974, while the bassist had the Kim Gordon thing downpat. Ritchie is still disguised by a wall of hair, which can be seen as a neat metaphor for the wall of sound he brings to the stage. Apparently the band has a CD in production, but details (including label and release date) remain sketchy. But look out for it – if the live sound is anything to go buy, the studio recording will be worth a spin.

Next up was Salmon. I first saw Kim Salmon live play with the first (and arguably best, and probably most volatile) line-up of the Surrealists (incorporating the pre-incarceration Tony Pola, and charismatic and lanky Brian Hooper) on the Sin Factory tour (I can also remember the very young Scientists playing "Last Night" on Countdown in 1979).

The Salmon sound at the time of the Pola-Hooper Surrealists was dominated by thundering wah wah filled riffs, ear piercing screams and a overriding sense of chaos (albeit controlled chaos). Since then Kim has variously embraced country ("Hey Believer"), soul flavoured rock ("You Gotta Let Me Do My Own Thing") and accoustic ("E(a)rnest") genres – but it's his rock roots that devoted fans yearn for.

What I like about the Salmon concept – and it is a concept show – is its celebration of rock through the ages, underpinned by a distinct sense of artistic irony and fun. Rock music is too often performed without irony by wanna be Jimmy Page artisans.

Tonight the hard rockin' septuplet that is Salmon was back in action at the dirty, stinking, filthy Tote Hotel. The Tote revels in its beer-stained history, the walls decorated with rock'n'roll concert memorabillia (the signed You Am I Coprolalia poster being a personal favourite) and the atmosphere drenched with the memories of thundering power chords.

The Salmon show celebrates and exploits rock through the ages. There's bit of Led Zeppelin (but thankfully no self-indulgent double guitar solos), a bit of 1970s English glam rock (Mott the Hoople and Marc Bolan, and a brief cover of Blue Oyster Cult), a healthy dose of CBGBs Noo Yawk additood rawk, and some late 1980s Olympia contemporary garage punk rock. Kim Salmon conducts proceedings via his sample filled keyboard and bulging suitcase full of mind blowing riffs.

Dave Graney's stage moves (legs astride, shuffling awkwardly) are as idiosyncratic as his choice in clothes. At the Ding Dong Lounge gig, Dave's ubiquitous stage presence dominated over his musical prowess. But tonight it was his guitar work that laid the foundations for the show. Drawing on his pub rock heritage, Dave churned out chord after power chord, defying his post-Moodists incarnation as soul pop performer.

And what else needs to be said about Clare Moore? If rock'n'roll performers could be categorised in a caste system, Clare Moore would be unattainable (the opposite end of the spectrum to untouchable). Her drumming leaves absolutely nothing left to chance – her dominance of the opening to Kim's scream-filled "Punk Fatwa" is particularly enjoyable.

Ash Naylor and Anton Ruddick revel in the fun of it all – Ash taking delight in raising his guitar vertically in the choreographed style of many a suburban axe legend. Penny Ikinger stands to the edge of the stage, aloof from the masculine guitar theatrics, but united in the axe wielding excitement of it all.

Michael Stranges again adopted the pirate hat and patch look – I'm sure there's some story and/or purpose to this gimmic, but so far it eludes me. In contrast to the Ding Dong Lounge, Stranges fed from Clare Moore's lead, creating a pummelling rhythm on songs like "Punk Fatwa".

The set list wasn't far removed from the Ding Dong Lounge gig, but with some minor variations. The song titles are illustrative of Kim's sense of occasion and humour - "Axes of Evil" (with its corny, video arcade game vocal introduction), "Guitaronomy in D Major", "Speed Metal Rocker". The penultimate tune was a cover of the Surrealists' "Non-Stop Action Groove". Rarely has a title so appropriately described the dominant physical aesthetic of the song, as the band lead the audience on a gyrating journey through the world of funk pub rock.

This was the last Salmon gig for a while, as Kim heads off to Europe for a Scientists tour. Hopefully those outside of Melbourne will have an opportunity to see the Salmon performance. Some would call it a self-indulgent wank to develop a stage show centered around power chords – and maybe there is an element of that in it all. But it's bloody enjoyable nonetheless.