Posted March 12, 2009

X's Cathy holds the feel, Steve feels the noize.

The Empire of Annandale Hotel, Annandale
Saturday, March 7, 2009

Words & Photos by THE BARMAN

Melbournites are being positively spoilt for X shows right now. Just enough to peak the interest, not too many so as to wear out the welcome. So would the band's birthplace and spiritual, if not actual, hometown welcome them with open arms? You bet.

Two sets of X. All the "hits" and more. But more on that in a minute. The undercard was also shaping as pretty special.

Decline Of The Reptiles were one of Sydney's most promising acts in the mid-'80s. as much hard-psych as straight-up rock, they owed more to the Visitors than Radio Birdman with a beguiling blend of guitars, keyboards and blues-tinged melodies. Two EPs and a single were their recorded legacy and there's plenty who'll tell you that's still lamentably way less than they should have left behind.

So could they cut it after nearly a quarter-of-a-century on the de-commissioned list?

Sho' nuff.

Anticipation hung in the air like cigarette smoked used to before the laws changed and the room was about two-thirds full when DOTR ambled on. Lots of diehard fans in tonight, including journalist and "honorary Reptile" JJ Adams and Oz-punk-history-in-progress author Andrew Stafford (down from Brisbane.)

This is a re-tooled version of the line-up that recorded "Too Much Armour Not Enough Brains" (one of the all-time great EP titles.) New members were Andy Newman on bass (ME-262 and late of the Visitors) and Derek Tinworth on drums., joining singer Mark Roxburgh, guitarist Dean Coulter and keyboardist Bruce Tatham. The "Don't Look Down" was the opener (and only inclusion from "Too Much Armour") in an all-too-brief 45-minute set.

I don't recall as much as the finer detail as some from seeing the band back in the day, but I do remember Roxburgh's intense stage presence. In moccasins and slacks tonight and wearing close-cropped hair, he comes on like a golf pro who's stopped at the 19th for a quick couple before joining the house band for a blow. Admittedly that's a harsh call from someone who was told his dress sense qualified him as an accountant before he left home (a damned lie - I'm innumerate) but the point made is that the unassuming demeanour of the man is at striking odds with the music.

Decline of the Reptiles: Mark Roxburgh vocalises. Derek Tinworth drums. Dean Coulter is loud.

Sure enough, before long the vocalist is teetering on the lip of the stage, prowling up and down, and shimmying back and forth, all smooth-soled cool with a dash of focussed detachment. Roxburgh's voice teeters between bluesy baritone and flat-out bellow and has retained its dark-stained glory.

Dean Coulter's guitar-playing is characteristically something special but he's too damn loud tonight, relegating Bruce Tatham's keys to the aural equivalent of Christmas Island. There was also a comment that the band played a few songs much too fast but if that's the case then adrenalin might have had a hand in things.

With my memories hopelessly biased by exposure to the studio recordings, my only gripe is an apparent reluctance to play most of them with newer and/or unrecorded tunes prevailing. You're doing well when you can leave out "Time Stands Still" and "Mother Christ".

Mark's sister Amanda Roxburgh lends a very capable vocal assist on a couple of songs, most notably the Coulter-penned "More". DOTR always impressed as mixing their sound around, so a leavening of the vocal load makes perfect sense. I'm later reminded Amanda had a killer post DOTR band with Bruce Tatham and Dean Coulter called the Baby Ice Dogs.

The brutal funk feel of "Clubland" rings in these ears long after the set-closing B-side "What I Feel" and its A face, "Flesh" are over. "See you again in another 23 years," quips Roxburgh but the set was so well-received that within minutes the band was press-ganged into a return appearance. Watch this space. You'd be foolish to miss it.

Tonight's also about X re-launcing the spruced-up Aztec re-issue of their "seminal" (now there's a word to hate) debut album "X-Aspirations" and we're dished up a generous, two-set serving. The first is drawn the first album, the second and longer bracket mostly from "At Home With You".

The first thing that needs to be said is that X shows in the '00s are usually at least good and more often great. It's all by degrees but the band has a sense of professionalism that would have been unthinkable in its ragged, narcoleptic days. This gig often approached greatness, only to be dragged down by distractions.

If Dean Coulter was loud during the Reptiles, X bassist Kim Volkman upped the sonic ante by some decibels. It's an especially rugged second set in more ways than one with Volkman's on-stage antics also going over-the-top. He mugs, leers, spits beer, but when he forgets to plug his lead into his overdrive or momentarily stops playing to do the verboten and light a smoke it's like he's trying too hard to live up to the legacy of the departed Ian Rilen.

Kim Volkman gets puffy-chested.

A lot happens in the space of a year and where he meshed as an integral part of the X team at the start of the band's re-birth, tonight Volkman seemed to be out on his own. His behaviour bordered on parody and seemed to put off Steve Lucas. If Cathy Green still managed her quota of beatific smiles, it may have been the glasses of white spirits cutting in.

It was a show for the ironed-on fans. I admit to being one, so I took away some choice moments.

The opening howl of "Waiting" blazed like a petrol bowser with a match applied and the fave raves like "Dipstick" and "I Don't Wanna Go Out" were explosive. It wouldn't be an X show without "Degenerate Boy" but on this occasion it didn't seem to hit the mark. It may be imagination but it seems a century since "Dream Baby" was played live.

"Going Down" was a predictable but welcome encore and a bustling "Hate City" brought down the finito sign, proper. More power to it.