Wig Out Festival
The Stems
+ Even + The Cants + The Stoneage Hearts + Dollsquad

Corner Hotel, Richmond
Friday 12 November, 2004


I was looking forward to this gig with eager anticipation. The line-up was stellar, promising more fuzz action in four hours than you'd get if you distilled every lost drop of garage decency from the all the summer rock festivals. For reasons that are largely irrelevant to anyone reading this review (but for any parents out there - suffice to say it involved temper tantrums and projectile vomiting), I was in serious, serious need of some thumping great noise in my ears tonight.

I'd spent the previous few days thrashing the Stoneage Hearts' new CD on my stereo, and the prospect of seeing any of those songs performed live was enough to send shivers down my spine. And ever since I saw the last half of the Cants' support for the Dirtbombs' gig earlier this year, I'd been hanging to see a full set (and The Barman is correct in noting their very positive press south of the Murray River, including from people who generally have opinions worth valuing). I missed the last Stems' reunion shows last year due to a combination of financial and
logistical issues, and I was determined not to make the same mistake again.

With such excitement, things were looking very, very good. But life is cruel. The Melbourne spring weather is a volatile creature, and tonight the heavens opened up and dumped bucketloads of rain across the city. This not only meant I got sopping wet on the three-minute walk to the local tram stop, but also meant that Yarra Trams decided in its infinite wisdom to completely wipe a scheduled tram service from its books. So I spent 45 minutes swearing and muttering (like some deranged 1960s acid casualty wandering the streets of Hamburg waiting for a Beatles reunion show) before finally a tram arrived. You try to do the right thing and utilise public transport, and this is how you’re rewarded.

By the time I got to the Corner Hotel it was 10.15, and Dollsquad had finished (damn), the Cants had played (bugger) and The Stoneage Hearts were concluding what was by all reports a powerful near-debut show (fuck, fuck, fuck). At this moment I felt sure I was condemned to go to garage hell (where the soundtrack is Pat Boone and Michael Bolton trading Sonics' covers), so I sought out Mickster Stoneage and offered not only my profuse apologies, but also to sweep the floors of the Off The Hip store as some small pissweak compensation. In the end we settled on the purchase of some merchandise and a year probation

Somewhere else I have written my very positive impressions of the "Guilty as Sin" album, and I reckon it must be physically impossible for any live set containing any songs off that album to be anything other than superb, and a fitting tribute to the world of fuzz boxes, wah wah pedals and garage pop sensibilities. So I'm prepared to go on record and say The Stoneage Hearts rocked like nothing else on the night.

Even were next on the bill. My first taste of Even was at the Meredith festival in the late 1990s, when their cover of Fleetwood Mac's "Don't Stop" caused me to realise that beneath the gratuitous cocaine laced production lies the beating heart of a very good pop song.

But it’d be highly offensive to only associate Even with a Fleetwood Mac cover – their performance tonight indicated that their brand of pop, while not oozing the power commonly associated with the garage genre, is tight, and dare I invoke a weak pun, very even. Ash Naylor’s rock god moves have evolved nicely following his appearance in Kim Salmon’s concept rock extravaganza. And was that a riff modelled on the Rolling Stones’ "Bitch" that I heard late in the set?

The Crusaders followed. I’m not at all familiar with the Crusaders’ work, but I was warned immediately prior to their entry that this would be a decent gig. Clad in costumes that the Baron Knights could have been proud of, and wearing eye masks of a quality a 10 year old art student could have constructed, the Crusaders pummelled raw riffs like there was no tomorrow. The primary vocalist – equal parts Pete the Stud (Bloodsucking Freaks) and Grenville Dietrich (spot the Adelaide footy reference) – seemed to take delight in taunting the local crowd.

At one stage the band made some derogatory commentary concerning Melbourne crowd appreciation of rock'n'roll - to which my band-watching colleague remarked "That bloke's got it wrong. Melbourne crowds love rock - but we don't like theatrics". Ignoring the obvious contradictions to this observation - TISM, and the size of Kiss' local fan club - it does lead to an interesting, if futile, point of discussion – why do some bands revel in Sydney, but not in Melbourne (and vice versa)?

Years ago during a visit to Hobart, I found myself discussing the Birdman legacy and its relationship to the prevailing culture in Sydney and Melbourne. The theory put to me – and I was sufficiently inebriated at the time to think it worth mumbling agreement – was that Sydney, with its ‘colourful’ inner-city culture breeds potent, raw pub rock bands whereas Melbourne is better at the slightly arty, occasionally intellectual, and not infrequently
pretentious, rock bands.

But such analysis is a matter for either a PhD thesis, or a drunken discussion at the pub. Suffice to say, the Crusaders had enough in their repertoire to make for a highly entertaining half hour set. The music was definetly generic, but when the genre is the world of the Sonics and beyond, generic is a synonym for enjoyable.

And that led to the Stems. I never saw the Stems in their prime – my first taste of their work was the songs featured on the better than excellent Citadel compilation "Take Everything Leave Nothing", and I’ve never forgotten the sensation the first time I heard "Make You Mine". Dom Mariani is undoubtedly a legend of Australian rock’n’roll. Not only does he have a unique ability to make his guitar sound as dirty as an Eastern European waterway, but Mariani’s sense of pop is so good it should be bottled and shown to aspiring musicians the land over.

Complementing Mariani is the equally brilliant Richard Lane. Whether it be keyboard rushes and lines, or dazzling the atmosphere with feedback fuelled riffs, Lane’s grimacing garage excitement augmented was a sight (and sound) to behold. The setlist traversed the Stems’ career, including "Mr Misery", "Rosebud", "Move Me", "Never Be Friends" and "Golden Heart".

The extended jam of "Make You Mine" was a personal favourite – if that song isn’t one of the great Australian garage songs, I’ll eat a mouthful of fuzz. The go-go dancers took the stage for a few songs, giving a slightly cliched authenticity to the band’s 60s aesthetic.

Ash Naylor joined the band on acoustic guitar for a soulful rendition of "At First Sight", before the second encore concluded with the Easybeats’ classic "Sorry" (for mine, a better song than the more heralded "Friday on My Mind").

The film footage shown as part of the evening’s festivities was intriguing and amusing. We spotted a young, pre-plastic surgery Cher, an early 1970s Linda Ronstadt, and Hugh Hefner hosting some serious Bacchanalian parties.

There’s a line in The Great Gatsby when Jay Gatsby asserts vigorously that it’s entirely possible to recreate the past. He’s wrong of course (Gatsby is shot not long after), but you can organise a suitable celebration of the best parts of bygone eras. Tonight’s gig was a fitting celebration, and one well worth attending. All commendations to the organisers and promoters for putting it on.