Geoff Holmes of X.

X, Ed Kuepper, Ups & Downs, The Moodists, Virgin & Rumour, Lighthouse Keepers
The Metro Theatre, Sydney
May 24, 2003

Funny the sorts of shows that draw and the ones that don’t. Maybe the line-up was a little on the eclectic side, but The Metro was only half full for this, the official launch of the double compilation of Aussie underground singles from Feel Presents. It couldn’t have been the competition - there was bugger all on in Sydney this night - and the TV guide sucked, big time.

Certainly the likes of Sekret Sekret (from whence David Virgin and Danny "Cruel Sea" Rumour sprang) and the Lighthouse Keepers weren’t renowned drawcards back in the day, but the presence of the Moodists should have brought the curious out, seeing as they spent more time living on the breadline in London than they did playing Sydney. Relocated to Brisvegas, Ed Kuepper rarely gets out these days (well, down these parts anyway) but has a dedicated following, and X are in something of a live ascendancy, gigging every two months or so, to rapturous reception…

I hate those reviews where the writer apologises for missing the supports, so I won’t detail why I wasn’t present for the sets by Virgin & Rumour and the Lighthouse Keepers. (If you’re going to badger me, it had something to do with prior engagements and alcohol, OK?) The Lighthouse Keepers never did much for me when I saw them back in the ‘80s anyway and I never caught Sekret Sekret live. Good judges tell me I missed something worthwhile this time around with the laid-back, moody set by Virgin & Rumour. The epithet "Velvets-like" was being tossed around.

The Moodists, on the other hand, I did catch tonight and they were something else. Dave Graney has long moved on from the so-called punk genre and re-materialised in his own customised musical space, but his sense of the musically off-centre had its origins in this band (and an earlier outfit called the Sputniks). Graney's partner Claire Moore is, as always, rock solid on drums and anchors the whole thing down superbly with a great sense of feel.

The band’s amazingly together for something that’s only been reconstituted for a handful of shows. No idea of the set list as I’m unfamiliar with most of their recorded output but the surprise bonus of Kim Salmon on guitar made for something special. Dave’s leather bodice was something of a fashion highlight too. (We’d show you but a defective memory stick in the digital camera means the images are lost forever). The surprise Scientists inclusion in the set, "We Had Love", positively steams.

Ed Kuepper’s in stripped-back mode on the second stage (inside the Roma Room, now re-dubbed the Departure Lounge) which means him, a drummer and a bunch of effects pedals. I haven’t seen him with his full band for a few years but every Kuepper show is a delight, whatever the configuration. The fact is that Ed’s shown more musical movement in a forward direction than a barnful of Christians at a progressive square dance, and tonight’s a mix of new songs and the usual broad catalogue of familiar ones pleases most people.

Ups & Downs never occupied much of my time as a punter a decade-and-a-half ago and seem competent enough but uninspiring as they deliver their set on the main stage. They’re also the only band here to have had anything approaching mainstream chart success (their "Lit by the Fuse" and "Moments Away" single being the ‘hits’). Can't quite put my finger on it but they're OK, just nothing special.

X bassman Ian Rilen.

Quite special, on the other hand, is the presence of X in the Departure Lounge, these days boasting a second guitarist in Geoff Holmes and a new drummer in Cathy Synnerdahl. Recent reviewer in these pages, Richard Sharman, made a sage observation, post-gig: Without playing down the contribution of the new members, X is essentially Steve Lucas and Ian Rilen whose interaction is, by now, almost second nature. Holmes and Synnerdahl play off them, but it's Rilen and Lucas who are the heart and soul of the band.

At various times in the past, X live has been a shambolic experience. Line-ups threatened to (and did) fall apart, such was the state of relationships (and band members). Things are obviously relaxed right now. Rilen and Lucas exchange grins throughout and embrace towards the end of the set. It's touching, but the pair does have a special bond.

Up close and personal with X's Steve Lucas.

This is a controlled, focussed X, maybe more so than at any time in the last decade. The sheer visceral nature of the music has always been compelling, but it's tight and powerful and more direct than a knee to the balls (and much more enjoyable).

And fucking loud.

Ian Rilen gets "The Feel".

What to say about the set? "Mother" remains a chilling piece of angst and should never leave the playlist. "Where Did I Go Wrong" (from the new E.P.) and "I Love Rock and Roll" (the title tune) are intense. "Dipstick" remains iconic. No demeaning former drummer Cathy Green's contribution over the life of the band (or the late Steve Cafiero's pounding work either) but Synnerdahl seems to contribute the best of both worlds, with swing AND power. And second guitarist Holmes fills the guitar gaps nicely.

From "TV Blues" at the outset to a stinging "Sad Day's Girl" towards the end, this was a tour de force. These guys are playing better than ever.

My ears are still ringing two days later but I'm not complaining. - The Barman