The Passengers in action live for the first time since 1979.

Iguana Bar, Kings Cross
Friday, April 28, 2006

Blurry recollections by THE BARMAN
Pictures by RICHARD SHARMAN of Blackshadow Photography

Baby steps for the Passengers, stylistic explorations for Vindicator Smooth. As for me, I was taking two steps backwards and three forwards after a prolonged, work-related but ultimately self-inflicted bombardment of the synapses with alcohol, so what follows will be piecemeal recollections, at best.
You’re excused if you don’t know of the Passengers, especially if you’re part of Generation Y, or whatever the demographers are labelling under-40s this week. They were a relatively short-lived (1978-79) and exclusively Sydney outfit, growing out of Radio Birdman’s fanbase but taking a markedly more soulful approach, due in no small part to the stunning vocals of Angie Pepper.
Tonight was their first gig since late ’79 and Angie’s first appearance on an Australian stage (at least in front of a paying crowd) since 1992. The band’s now down to the core membership of Angie, Jeff Sullivan (guitar) and Jim Dickson (bass), as geographical reasons made it impossible for Brisbane-based keyboardist Steve Harris and a new drummer to be part of things. That'll change when the time is right and the core members feel comfortable with new players, meanwhile, there’s a mix of the curious and the committed to see what gives.   

At least part of the enduring cult status of the Passengers might stem from a glowing review in the local music press, reproduced in Clinton Walker’s “Inner City Sound” book back in the ‘80s and recently re-printed. The critique within was maybe the band’s only significant write-up when they were a going concern – and cruelly, it had to be of their last show. The other factor is the 1990 release of eight of their songs by French label Revenge, subsequently re-released in re-mixed and re-mastered form by Citadel, with additional tunes from the subsequent Angie Pepper Band. There's a solo Angie album on Career too. Well worth procurring.      
There’s no fuss, just a few cheers as the band lines up and launches into “Miss You Too Much”. At this stage I'm still semi-coherrent and have to say that it sounds sensational. Jim Dickson’s bass is its usual melliferous self and a familiar bedrock for audiences of countless Sydney (and a few Brisbane) bands down the years. Jeff Sullivan strums along and Angie Pepper unleahses THAT voice, a pure, haunting instrument that sounds every bit as good as ever. "Love Execution" is next, lacking the bite of keyboards but impressive, all the same. From then on in we're on unfamiliar ground with all new tunes that were skeletal but nonetheless strong.

Sullivan contributes vocals to one song and wrote the bulk of them, if not all. The attachment of all members to the songs is apparent. There are plans to record and let's hope they progress. The Passengers really are special.

I was going to retrospectively slag some of my fellow audience members at this stage for not keeping a bit quieter during the set but I realised I was probably one of the prime offenders. The power of the performance kept most of them rapt. No mistaking the strength of the protracted demands for an encore at set's end, although all the trying in the world couldn't bring the Passengers back this time out.

It has to be said that opening act Madeleine Chase is no slouch in the vocals department either but if I was dragged out of the nearby Mansions Hotel in time to catch her mini-set that opened the bill, I have no recollection. She does a turn as backing vocalist on a couple of Vindicator Smooth's numbers but at this point of the review, the going gets tough.

Vindicator Smooth is Vindicator Electro in slightly more sedate mode than usual. The core of the band is tonight Mark Sisto (vocals), Chris Masuak (back on guitar from drums) and Andy Newman (bass). Dave Alexander (no relation to the departed Stooges bass player) mans the kit tonight. No sign of a holidaying Steve Lucas on guitar or Bruce Coulter on keys.  
The band is re-grouping after the departure of guitarist (and songwriter) Dean Coulter and the setlist runs from mellow pop rock to quirky out-and-out rockers. This band’s chameleon-like in its ability to pick up and run with different styles. There's a sprinkling of songs from the recent "Manifestations" mini-album (Atom Action", "Look and Turn" and the very cool "Eyes Freeze Time") as well as a couple of Groovies pop numbers from the middle and late stages of their career ("You Tore Me Down" and "Way Over My Head") more or less bookending the set, plus some other even more obscure covers.

(Pssst: Sisto was concerned, post gig, that they'd padded the set with too many covers. No shame in throwing in a few other people's songs if they're done with care and attention to detail, and with enough cvonviction that they could be your own. Apparently that didn't stop me from urging a fellow Barfly to urge the band to rock out a bit more, but that that stage of the night it really was time to find a cab or a soup kitchen.)

He may be very attached to his drumkit but it's reassuring to see Klondike doing what he does best with six strings. What's more, he seemed to keep the volume to an adequate level (but it could have been that my brain had turned to blotting paper by that stage). The finer details are hazy.

Q: What was the difference between Andy Newman's bass and The Barman?

A: Andy's bass was upright most of the night.

Hey, pictures always tell a thousand words, so here's RICHARD SHARMAN's sublime slideshow to tell the rest of the story. I'm off to tell mine to AA.