The Empire Hotel, Annandale
December 10, 2004

Words and pix: THE BARMAN

A night to bid goodbye to one band and say hello to another. There were three outfits on the bill - two of them into presentation (to varying degrees) to enhance their songs, the one in the middle relying overwhelmingly on the strength of their tunes to be compelling. If you couldn't find something to delight, entertain, inflame or otherwise occupy your time, you just weren't trying.

There's a healthy crowd already on hand when Vindicator Electro take off about nine-ish. Built around the songs of Dean Coulter and the vocals of Mark Sisto (ex-Visitors), they cut a mean jib on their debut outing.

Considering his time away from Australian stages (seven years or so since semi-regular shows with The Manifestations), Sisto is in fine form, mixing his James Brown shimmys with parries of the mic stand and handclaps. His dramatic vocals also suit the material perfectly, some of which is drawn from the days of Slaughterhouse Five and Decline of the Reptiles.The 11 originals are lean and well-crafted - a little country (as befits Coulters' Johnnys-style cowboy hat), and a lot rock.

Dancers might be thin on the ground - it is early and the Coulter clan do more than enough boogieing to make up for the rest of us - but the Vindicators are received adoringly, considering the unfamiliarity of the material. Half of it is drawn from foirmer Coulter bands (Decline of the Reptiles most notably) but unless you were around then AND have a particularly strong memory, they're mostly "new". From the mean town rock blues of "Mau Mau" to the downright poppy "Dusted", this is excellent stuff which is varied and doesn't catergorise easily.

The band seems at ease with the material with the confidence that only experience brings - which is no shock when you realise that old stagers like Coulter, bassist Andy Newman and keyboardist Bruce Tatham have been around the block a dozen times. On the other hand, the sight of Radio Birdman guitarist Chris Masuak behind a drum kit may be an unfamiliar sight for most, but you'd never guess by the rock solid way he plays.
There's also something classy about keyboards in rock, when done well. There's enough room in the arrangements for Tatham's keys to bleed through and fill the spaces without overdoing things.

Sisto joins us in the bleachers while Coulter momentarily takes the microphone for his own composition "Princess", having deemed the lyrics too much of an ask for someone else to learn at short notice.

No Visitors songs are forthcoming but we do cop a Johnny Cash cover, "When The Man Comes Around", to close the set. Midway through, Coulter and Sisto leap off the stage and join us on the floor, the frontman playfully barreling a handful of punters out of the way as the guitarist gets down on his knees and rings his guitar's neck. elevating things to another level.

The barely controlled chaos finally yields to silence and, befitting his sense of occasion, Sisto delivers a biblical quote to bring down the curtain:

"I heard a voice in the midst of the forth beast say 'Come and see' and I looked and hehold a pale horse, and the name that sat on him was Death, and hell followed with him..."

It's from Revelations 6: 7,8 and is quoted in The Man in Black's song. At the risk of hyping a band that's only played once (our pre-emptory interview is here), you're strongly advised to look for another appearance early in '05.

Coulter and Sisto mix it with the punters.

I'm already on record as giving Asteroid B612 the title of "Sydney's best band" (titles like that and three bucks will get you a cup of coffee.) That's not to say I resile, it's more to underline the fact that this opnion doesn't mean much and they probably share that rating with the Celibate Rifles. Who's counting votes anyway? Let's just say you need to catch both bands whenever they bob up

Asteroids' Scott Nash on bass.

Now seasoned veterans and a world away from the young band that had international success at their feet a decade ago, the Asteroids would have it that they don't take anything much all that seriously. Granted, they probably haven't seen the inside of a practice room since Jet were in nappies, but that's not the point. Some bands know each other so well they don't need to work at any formula. Live, there also might be an air of perfunctory resignation about Asteroid B612 at times, but it's balanced by the fact they're also so besotted with rock and roll that they ought to marry it. Plus they play like motherfuckers.

Eschewing a rigid song list, the 'Roids just amble onto stage, plug in and get on with it. Tonight, they deliver an economical set of shock and awe. The energy levels are formidable, the impact enough to sit you on your arse, asking for more.

With all due respect to former singer Bullet who used to spend a lot more time on the floor, I reckon Grahame Spittles has been hanging off that mic stand in his own laconic way for so long that he's now the definitive Asteroids frontman. He's also come along as a singer, wrapping himself around a song like "Are You The Problem?" like he owns it. The guy that does, his bro John, could probably reference another dozen tunes in the band's extended work-out of "Final Solution" and we'd still want more. Tonight's version notably touches "Born Out of Time" and rises like petrol prices at school holiday time.

If an earlier comment in this review made you think Asteroids were a band totally devoid of presentation, think again. There's plenty to appreciate in the look of bliss on his face as Johnny Casino shreds notes into the air, his fingers a blur across the fretboard, or in his brother breaking another microphone stand like a dying chicken's neck.

Johnny Casino, a guitarist with feel.

With his solo album still in the pipeline, Johnny later says there's vague interest in the band doing some European dates in '05. Let's hope that translates into a concrete tour offer because rock and roll needs these guys to maintain their enthusiasm and continue kicking 'em out.

Sheek the Shayk seem like they've been around the Sydney scene for 100 years (it's actually a touch over seven, even if the mysterious Sheek's age has been put at about 3000) and can always be relied upon for a sonically satisfying night. Determined to go out with a bang, the band lays on a 27-song set over two hours, drawing from all phases of their career, and no-one leaves disappointed.

Senor Johnny (as the Sheek prefers to be addressed these days) does his usual progressive strip tease, peeling down to a red Pismo Beach T-shirt but keeping his face obscured by a variety of devices.

(It's only at the death of the set - and in response to calls of "show us your holy grail" - that we catch a fleeting glimpse of the enigmatic vocalist's dial, hidden behind a giant pair of sunglasses.)

The Sheek unmasked!

If Sheek the Shayk had dud songs or were inept players you could dismiss them as just another piece of schtick, but the fact is they have no problem delivering over the course of a night. Their album probably turned out better than the band members thought it would be (and will still stand on its own rights years down the track), so they're a band worth enjoying in their own right. It's just a pity more people didn't take notice and, just perhaps, they were born 15 slightly out of time.

The big thing is that their swagger is always counterbalanced by a healthy sense of irony, and a great deal of fun. Equally importantly, the frontman's melodramatics never overshadow the fact that this is a also rock solid outfit, doing justice to '60s garage/acid punk material like "Half Ape Half Girl", the driving "I Want That Woman" and "69 B.C."

It's not high art, but then that's its strength. Dumb lyrics about making chicks, no pretenses included. Dumbness as an art form.

A rumoured guest appearance by Johnny Kannis for the Hitmen's "Gonna Be Late" never transpires, but the band does a good job of it anyway. Unless the big fella was lurking in the audience and missed his cue ("paging Zeus") or suddenly developed into a shrinking violet, we can presume he wasn't at the venue.

Steve Lorkin works for his money.

Just about the band's entire recorded output makes it into the set, plus some covers released only via a limited edition disc given away to the first 100 punters. Tonight's take on one of them, The Creatures' "Ugly Thing", is a particular stand-out. Heard one after the other, the trashy quality of their originals is only more apparent.

By close to 2am it's time to draw stumps but the crowd ekes out as many songs from the band as they can. There's even a take on the Psychotic Turnbuckles' "Groove to the Eye" that brings back memories (a couple of this crew having a lineage going back to that band.) It is, in fact, the final song this band plays.

So the Sheek goes out on a high - and the Sydney scene's just a little less colourful for his demise. We all go home late and satisfied. Can't do better than that.