The Tote, Collingwood

The Spanish Club, Melbourne

Friday, April 13, 2007

Spencer photo by RICHARD SHARMAN

The proposition "Spencer P Jones at the Tote" isn’t something that warrants much further debate and analysis.  It’s an axiomatic statement, a self-evident truth of what’s beautiful about the Melbourne music scene. 

Spencer isn’t exactly a rarity on the local live scene – whether it’s with his current band the Escape Committee, playing solo, as the rock upon which the lurching Beast must prop itself, or as gun for hire for anyone who’s got half a brain – but in Spencer’s case, familiarity never, ever threatens to breed contempt. 

Tonight saw Spencer return to the Tote (with Escape Committee in tow) to launch his latest offering, the extremely excellent "Fugitive Songs".  We arrived just after 9.30pm to catch the Killer Birds in full flight.  I must admit to occasional bouts of confusion with the various ornithologically titled bands around – others include Bower Birds (featuring members of Dynamo and Rocket Science) and Brisbane’s Butcher Birds – but there’s no mistaking the Killer Birds once you’ve set eyes and ears on them. 

I remember the erstwhile Mr Honeysuckle waxing lyrical in his own inimitable manner about the Killer Birds (while TJ was pondering the arrival of the next, and last, tram).  It’s a trite, and arguably sexist, observation, but the immediate assessment is a younger, tougher Spazzys (the prospect of a fight between the Killer Birds and the Spazzys would make some of the all female bouts at my suburban high school seem like a game of chess at Geelong Grammar).  Whatever the supeficial gender (and stylistic) associations, the Killer Birds packed a punch. Loud, three chord, full frontal attacks were the order of the set, and the smallish crowd lapped it all up.

As the set drew to a close I bade a brief farewell and jumped on my bike to make the journey down Johnston Street to the Spanish Club to see Western Australian band Capital City.  I’ve been spinning the band’s debut album “Bad Money” regularly at home since its release and it’s just as fresh as the first listen.  It’s punk stripped back to its 50s r’n’b garage roots with a dash of Velvet Underground and Ramones and a splash of Thin Lizzy for good measure. 

The Spanish Club is a venue that doesn’t always bring out the best in bands – if anything it presents a barrier over which many bands struggle to jump – but Capital City did everything asked of them and more.  Lead singer and guitarist Sam Scherr looks vaguely like a young Phil Spector (way before the guns and peroxide permed hair became the dominant image), his thin, wirey frame contorting to the vigorous punk riffs emanating from his guitar. 

The crowd seems to be edging closer to the stage as the set goes on, and you can’t help but wonder just how much better this set would’ve been had it been in a smaller venue – not that there was any disappointment in the quality of the band’s set.  This is a band to merit further attention, and here’s hoping they’ll be back in town very soon.

Capital City finish their psychedelic punk opus “I Felt the Light” and it’s back on the bike to see what’s remaining of the Shooting At Unarmed Men set.  There’s been some good reports circulating about this band (which features a member of McLusky), and they’re on the mark.  I catch three songs and each of them is absolutely fantastic.  A friend remarks that it’s similar to the sensation we experienced when we first encountered the Casanovas (in their original and most pristine guise). 

The last tune is a singalong of sorts – if you count school boy smut chants as a sing along – and the lead singer pogos his guitar across the stage like Thurston Moore after too much red cordial.  Later on we hear that the band’s new album is due out around August (Remote Control Records was mentioned) and we all make a mental note to keep our eyes and ears out at that time.

Next it’s the Ukeladies – three women clad in fetching South Pacific meets Parisian fashion outfits, with ukeleles in tow.  The band plays a few songs, none of which stick in my head, but that’s my fault, not theirs – the crowd enjoys every moment of it, and the brevity of the set is enough to please without detracting precious time from Spencer’s forthcoming set.

Spencer moseys onto stage before the rest of his band to set up.  There’s an initial costume change as he dons his favourite brown Greville Records t-shirt.  Spencer is brandishing his tried and tested Fender Telecaster; it’s weathered like a cricket bat that’s seen a dozen well crafted centuries, and Spencer knows every single nook and cranny of its form. 

The set is a mishmash of old and new material – highlights are Richard Hell’s “Time”, “Hot and Cold” and “Top of the World” from the new album and the always pleasing “The Bogans” from last year’s compilation.  Spencer’s happy to showcase his (relatively) young band, with Phil Gionfrido doing some wicked work on the guitar, Helen Cattanach’s bass lines impenetrable and Andy Moore showing (again) just why he’s regularly bestowed the adjective "legendary" when referred to in the third person.  At one stage Spencer chastises his bandmates for failing to remember which song they’re due to play, and while you get the impression Spencer might’ve been the most culpable person on stage, there’s a hierarchy to acknowledge and Spencer’s firmly at the top of the tree.

The band doesn’t genuinely leave the stage for the encore – Gionfrido crouches on his haunches at the back of the stage, Andy Moore takes a well earned break on the drums, panting like a dog that’s just run a mile in search of some urban prey.  Spencer strides (well, maybe it wasn’t as accomplished as that – the vodka and cokes seem to be going down very quickly and regularly) up to the microphone and eases through the Beasts’ “The Hate Inside”.  The rest of the band take up their positions for the last song, which ends up going for about 10 minutes – the last five of which doesn’t include Spencer, who makes an enigmatic departure from the stage leaving Gionfrido, Cattanach and Moore to see out the night. 

Spencer is spotted later that night revelling in the occasion, but he’s clearly happy to have the chance to sit down after a night on stage.  Spencer will be back playing live very soon, I suspect, and next time will be just as enjoyable, I’m sure.