The Tote, Melbourne
Monday 11 October, 2004
The Scientists remain one of the most important, if undervalued,
Australia rock bands of the last 25 years. From their genesis in
Perth in the late 1970s as a three-piece punk tinged pop band to
their various reincarnations (with associated line-up changes) in the
1980s, The Scientists managed to challenge, and frequently offend, the
The last version of The Scientists called it a day in 1987, shortly
after the release of the Human Jukebox album. Since that time
there's been a few 'reunion' shows, including a one-off reformation
gig in 1995 (the first sighting of James Baker and Kim Salmon
together since Beasts of Bourbon days, and the first time they'd
played together in a Scientists gig since the late 1970s), and some
shows in 2000 and 2002 (which included guitarist Tony Thewlis) to
promote the release of Scientists compilation CDs.
Kim Salmon has now gathered together another Scientists line-up to
take on tour in Europe. The 2004 version returns to the original
three piece incarnation, with the line-up comprising drummer Leanne
Chock (a member of the band in its latter years), bassist Stu Thomas
(ex-Surrealists and Business, and general man about Melbourne band
town) and, obviously, Salmon himself.
Tonight's gig at the Tote Hotel in Collingwood was a warm-up for the
European tour. In its heyday, Salmon’s manic shrieks, dischordant
fuzz chords and reject shop fashion statements dominated the
Scientists aesthetic. Tonight the dress sense was fairly bland (save
for the self-indulgent wearing of the 2004 tour t-shirt, something he
apologised for), but everything else was still there, albeit with a
bit more polish that 20 years ago.
The show opened with Travis, a dark pyschotic narrative influence by
De Niro’s character in the Taxi Driver. The gig (consisting of two
separate sets) traversed a wide range of Scientists tunes and eras,
including the slightly unnerving ode to subjective happiness, "Happy Hour", "When Fate Deals Its Mortal Blow", "High Noon", "Brain Dead", "Murderess in a Purple Dress", "Human Jukebox", "Solid Gold Hell" and "Set It On Fire".
The single guitar line-up does tend to lighten the band’s sound slightly, although equally it gives Salmon more opportunity to dominate the band’s sound. Stu Thomas’s bass playing is ruthlessly tight, while Leanne Chock showed little or no negative effects of her 15-year sabattical from drumming duties. Some technical glitches (in fact, a dodgy fuzz box) hampered the opening set, but with minimal practical impact on audience appreciation. It was amusing to hear
Salmon’s various screams, shouts and wails, only a few weeks after the Salmon concept show, where the same cacophony was present, only produced via computer sampling.
While it’s the more swamp-stained tracks that the Scientists tend to be remembered for, some of their earlier material (especially the James Baker era songs) remain classic pop tunes, full of superficial lyrical observations about life, love and girls. The juvenile\ simplicity of "Frantic Romantic" ("Met her at a dance/it was romance/took her hand/it was romance/told her I loved her/it was romance") is ironic pop at its best. "Last Night" (which I can remember a very young Scientists ‘playing’ on the national pop show Countdown in 1979), while "Pissed On Another Planet" is an amusing narrative of
alcohol fueled interstellar travels.
"We Had Love" – quite simply one of the greatest Australian rock’n’roll songs ever recorded – saw the end of the second set, before the band returned to play "Last Night" (and one other song, the name of which eludes me).
In some ways, this is another example of heritage pub rock – a charge that could equally be laid at the feet of many other bands in Australia that have returned to the fold after a long sabbatical. But such an assessment would only be made by critics that choose to ignore the Scientists' ongoing legacy.
The simple fact is – The Scientists have released some of the best music in Australia rock history, and were not given appropriate recognition outside of relatively narrow section of the music supporting public. Their music stands the test of time, and should (must) continue to be celebrated. - Patrick Emery
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