The Gaelic Theatre, Surry Hills
Saturday, December 10, 2005

Words & Pictures: THE BARMAN
Slideshow Pictures: RICHARD SHARMAN

Bigger venue, bigger crowd, and there’s an air of anticipation about as the venue (slowly) starts to fill. There’s a 2RRRR benefit on up the road that must have attracted a few heads, but there’s something extra special happening here that merits a full house.

The Survivors reap the benefit of a larger PA (and probably the biggest they’ve ever played through) to deliver another entertaining set of ‘60s Britrock covers.

They sound great with full production. It’s easy enough to forget how many fantastic songs came out of the UK 40 years ago, but bands like the Survivors (and more recently Nanker Phelge) underline it well. Am I the only person to go home and spin some Kinks the day after?

Small but useless fact: A quick flick through Andrew Stafford’s Brisbane music history “Pig City” reveals one of the few photos of the Survivors that you’ll see and apart from Greg Wilkinson’s corporate haircut, they look almost the same as in 1978.

There’s more than one punter surprised at the quality of Jim Dickson’s vocals, stepping, as he does, out of the shadows to command centre mic. Few Sydneysiders would have seen them back when these Brisbanites were a going concern (they toured outside of Queensland just once). Although there’s one live album in their legacy (plus an ordinary single) but it’s as rare as hen’s teeth and to be brutally honest, its sonic qualities make the Aints’ “SLSQ” sound like an expensive studio recording.

It’s much the same set as the night before in Newcastle but “A Legal Matter” is a new inclusion. There was a 16-track running at the mixing desk. It’s more than likely for the consumption of band members, but you never know.

It’s Gig Number 14 in 27 years for the Visitors (how many bands could say that!?) and the last, probably forever. Radio Birdman goes into the studio on Monday and the Godoy Twins are leaving on a jetplane, don't know whern they'll be back again.

The comment's made by someone with a sharp ear for The Good Stuff that the Visitors have no right to sound so good so long after their original incarnation. While that sentiment is fine in the present tense, this is a band that had no right to be as good as it was all those years ago. Consider the scenario of two of their number (Deniz Tek and Pip Hoyle) living a few hours away from the others and working 100-hour weeks as hospital interns. They had every reason to give rehearsals a miss - or consign the whole idea of a band to the Too Hard Basket. Four of them (Mark Sisto included) were still dealing with the emotional baggage of their last band imploding in a hailstorm of recrimination and bitterness and you get the picture.

But, onto the show...

The worth of a band’s performance is in the eye (ear?) of the beholder. For me, the enduring thing about the Visitors is the quality of the tunes. They’re great songs and the way they’re played with some respect for the way they sounded when recorded is a definite plus. Let alone the fact that I never thought I’d hear them played live. And of course, it helps that the core of the band are great players.

Deniz Tek looks to be fired by some extra steely sense of determination tonight that precludes light heartedness. He grimly chews gum for most of the set, exuding an intensity that translates into his guitar playing and lights up the room. The white Crestwood Epi is back and it sounds superb in the bigger room, also given extra room to move. Some of the leads exceed the sort of stuff he dished out in the DTG, when the line-up was the same configuration as tonight (sans a singer totally tied up with vocalising, of course).

Back by request is Pip Hoyle’s beret and, for a while, Mark Sisto’s wooden staff ("Spear of Destiny/"Right in my hand"). Mark may not be a trained singer in the pure sense of the term but his vocal works perfectly in this rock and roll context. Someone likened him to a performance artist on vocals and that's probably as good a fit as you could ask for. For most of the evening, he becomes a part of these songs. Can't ask more than that.

Pip’s keyboard playing, it’s often been said before, doesn’t fit the mould of what might be regarded as “rock”, either. Birdman always sounds best with his playing up front. With the Visitors, he’s simply integral to how they sound. He's a factor that pushes the Visitors out there into a different space.

The Godoy twins again don’t disappoint, bassist Art clearly relishing the extra stage space. Drummer Steve’s grin and upraised arms at having nailed various songs is a measure of how “up” the newcomers were to complete their assignment. It’s again fair to say they played the songs faithfully and well – no mean feat when you take into account that it’s music a generation removed from the classic punk form that they were raised on.

There's a poignant moment, if such things are part of this unsentimental thing called rock and roll, as the band cuts into the Stones' "The Last Time" - poignant because it probably is.

The covers are well-received, if few people pick the Seger song, but the intensity levels really kick in on the breakneck "Hell Yes" and the selection regarded as perhaps the archetypal Visitors song, "Journey by Sledge".