way with

Album Launch
Cherry Bar,
September 4, 2006


A warm spring night and an early start for the Melbourne launch gig for Spencer’s new CD, “Immolation and Ameliorations”, a collection of unreleased bits and pieces he’s accumulated over the years. Apparently it was put together at the suggestion of his Spanish record label, Bang!, but local outlet Spooky have done the right thing and given it a local airing too.

So, early doors at 6.30 tonight. There’s time to chat, to have a few free beers and rice crackers, and a chance to listen to Cobra’s Phillipa Berry spin some fine tunes. The Cherry is pretty full tonight, and there’s a distinct crush at the bar, causing some headaches for staff- and after all, Mondays are usually a night off for them

Born & raised in New Zealand, Jones has rattled around a fair bit and spent most of the '80s in Sydney before relocating back down south, yet somehow he seems as Melbourne as a tram. He’s an odd kind of guy- despite making endless well crafted, clever and catchy records for a fan base that's grown up with him, he's never been easy to slott into any sort of adult contemporary pigeonhole, the way, say, his (past & present) band mates Paul Kelly & Tex Perkins have. But he probably doesn't give a toss.

Spencer’s playing with the Escape Committee tonight- Phil Gionfriddo (guitar & grins), Helen Catternach (bass & general slinkiness) & Andy Moore (drums & hair). If anyone’s concerned about playing under the exposed sewage system of the Swiss restaurant upstairs they don’t show it. Spencer ambles up to the stage beforehand to scribble a set list, and is happy to take reasonable requests- I remind him to put “Bad Revisited” on but can’t get “Mean Arnold” added for some reason.

It’s all fairly low key as they kick off- some of the folks here are in too cool for school mode, I think- but enough people spill down to the low stage to give the place some warmth.

Tunes from his last proper album “Fait Accompli” make upthe bulk of the set. “Clementine’s”, “Wasn’t Born Yesterday”, “I Wanna Hand To Hold When I Go To Hell”, “Wherever/Whatever”-, are mixed with a couple that are new to me. “The Bogans Have All The Fun” is a tongue in cheek lament sung with a cocked eyebrow and that trademark grin. It’s a good spread of faster, choppier songs with slower more reflective ones, though with this guy the slow tunes are often the most biting.

Spencer has a very distinctive stance on stage, leaning hard into the microphone and letting his hands run with the tune on that battered old white Fender, which I think dates back to his Johnnys days. The tones he coaxes out of it range from warm and flowing, to short and biting. He’s happy to give the rest of the band room to move though, and is as comfortable upfront as he is dropping back for a while, stepping into the shadows when Phil steps up to sing “She’s Not Kidding Around”. ”Black Armband” is drolly dedicated to Steve Irwin, while “Bad Revisited” gets the traditional “ein, zwei, drei, vier!” count-in, and is stretched out at the tail end to allow a final Rothmans to be extracted from the pack and lit, while Spencer, ever the gent, attends to band intros and thank yous.

And so this early, oddly curtailed, excursion ends. Except that there is still plenty of time left to chat, even though the free beer is long gone. You know, in some countries, like France, they’d give this guy a medal. In Japan they would declare him a national treasure. In the future, New Zealand will no doubt declare his birthday a public holiday. Until someone puts him in a glass cage for his own safety, you should make an effort to see him in the wild.

Click to view Richard Sharman's slideshow