The Empire Hotel, Annandale
Saturday, March 18, 2006

There’s something reassuring about a Crusaders set. Sydney’s best trash punk band is Ramoneslike in its ability to punch out offensively loud and paint-peeling three-minute classics in all their Sonics-drenched glory, without needing to advance their clocks one day past 1966.

The Crusaders are rounding off two nights of similarly-flavoured rocking good times. It’s a two-day festival (“Shake It”) to fly the flag for Off the Hip Records, with Barfly Promotions working the logistics. A heavy week and a mild dose of flu precluded attendance on Night One (featuring The Booby Traps, Lords of Gravity, The Intercontinental Playboys and the Dolly Rocker Movement) but it was apparently well-attended and eminently, er, shaking. The Lords got to trot out some of their new tunes, the Boobies got to launch their debut album and the Playboys were well-received despite some gear troubles.

Word gets around and there’s another big crowd in for Night Two when Sydney Garage Band of the Moment, Mink Jaguar, hits their straps to open proceedings. Regular drummer Joel Ellis is MIA with a prior commitment so journeyman Peter Kostic (Front End Loader, Hard Ons) steps into the breach. A few of the songs race through at double-quick time, but it’s great that the band can call on a quality replacement at short notice.

As observed here before, Mink Jaguar aren’t big on theatrics. They stand and deliver their ‘50s rockabilly-derived music straight from the shoulder. Billy Quan plays chunky chords and has a fair set of pipes. Ariel Ellis lays down chunky basslines that coagulate and fill the air with that warm, comforting rumble. It’s probably fair to say Mink Jaguar's best songs are other people’s but the playing is heartfelt and uncomplicated.

The Alohas are next with their solid brand of dirtied-up surf instro stomp. I haven’t seen them for ages but all that seems to have changed is their mode of dress (T-shirts made up to look like tuxedos being standard issue tonight, instead of Hawaiian shirts).

It’s hard to do much with surf music. It’s a genre pretty-well defined by its rules and there aren’t many places to go. The Alohas play it reasonably straight but eschew the clean lines of so many others. They surf a foaming reef break with lots of dark water and kelp clouding visibility. They take a while to warm their audience but win generous applause by the end.

You’d have to be living under a rock if you were a Sydneysider who liked the music on show tonight and hadn’t struck Johnny Casino in one of his incarnations. Joining Johnny is Mick Poole on guitar, the bass player from the local version of Johnny Casino's Easy Action and (I think) Ben from the Asteroids on drums.

Shame on me for losing the set list (but if you want a structured and sober review, go read Drum Media). There’s a smattering of Easy Action songs (“Roy The Boy”) and some supercharged new Casino compositions. There’s also a stand-out stab at one of Dylan’s most bitter and charged songs, “Ballad of a Thin Man”, that drips with bite and not a small degree of irony and wit. And all on the smell of four rehearsals. Hopefully, this wasn't a one-off because the whole combo has promise (well, as much as a bunch of old stagers can muster). The pairing of Poole and Casino could become a guitar fixture worth catching, if they can play a few more gigs. Band of the Night, for mine.

The Crusaders aren't launching anything in particular tonight (although their 'best of the rest' compilation on Rastrillo is on sale and doing good business). It's just a chance for the band to remind folks they're still around, working on a half-completed album and still drinking the Townie Hotel in Newtown dry.

A mate said during the week that he was "well and truly over the Crusaders thing" and I admittedly had fleeting reservations before heading out, but once the masks go on and the amps start buzzing it's truly fun-time again. OK, there are absolutely no redeeming elements in what the Crusaders do if you're into meaningful lyrics, intelligent repartee or incisive social observation. But if all of that's your bag, fuck off and watch Pete Murray or the Whitlams.

If anything, audience-baiting's at a modicum tonight (Mickster no doubt still rueing the tossed glass that cost him a chipped tooth at their last Sydney outing, and even Sir Kendall is relatively well-behaved) but who's really here for that shit? If I want to take my life in my hands, I'll go to the Sharks-Bulldog rugby league match at Shark Park (and as a lapsed Cronulla fan, I may as well get beaten up, as the home side will inevitably choke). "Wave to the Grave" may be the band's theme song but "Deep Shit" is fast replacing it, judging by tonight's reception.

Call it garage or just rock and roll, night's like these are life-affirming as far as the Sydney scene (as disparate as it might often be) is concerned, and for two successive evenings at a central and pretty comfortable venue like the Empire to draw OK augurs well. An indoor-outdoor festival over a whole day during the summer, anyone? - The Barman