The Corner Hotel, Melbourne
Friday August 4, 2006


This was quite possibly the most eagerly awaited line-up in recent memory.  Interest in a Radio Birdman gig is what we in the bureaucracy refer to as a ‘no-brainer’, and the long awaited release of Zeno Beach confirmed there’s life in the mythological creature yet. 

Rumours of a Bellrays tour have swept through local circles over the last 18 months like the tide at Bell’s Beach, yet have disappeared just as quickly as the sand dunes continue to disappear from sight and memory.  Confirmation of the tour – albeit in a supporting role – was enough to bring a warm and fuzzy feeling to many a dedicated rock punter.  And Eddy Current Suppression Ring – if you’ve seen them live, no explanation is required.  To have each of these bands on the one line-up was comparable to being confronted with a middle-order batting line-up consisting of Brian Lara, Sachin Tendulkar and Ricky Ponting (apologies for anyone who neither understands, nor cares for cricketing metaphors).

It was only the build-up to this gig that allowed me to get out of the door in time to see Eddy Current’s warm-up set.  The band set up on the side stage of the Corner.  The venue was probably less than a third full, yet the overwhelming majority of the punters present were drawn close to the stage.  If you haven’t seen or heard Eddy Current, just close your eyes and think of The Kingsmen transplanted to the Melbourne inner-city music scene. 

Mikey Young has an amazing ability to carve out licks that are so crisp and clear anyone could churn them out – and therein lies part of the band’s attraction.  Brendan Suppression sings to Mikey’s riffs, invoking a manic style that’s devoid of any skerrick of pretence.  Rob Solid’s bass lines are impenetrable – you could aim a truck at them and still the bass line would remain standing.  Dan Helada on drums looks occasionally like he’s barely raising a sweat, yet equally he’s thrashing his kit like a man working off an insult.  The band plays most of the stuff its released so far on 7”s – “Precious Rose”, “It’s All Square”, “Get Up Morning” – plus a selection of unrecorded (or to be completely accurate, unreleased) stuff, including the wicked “Insufficient Funds”.  Sadly “Noise in My Head” is left off the set-list, but it’ll be back soon.  Look out for the Eddy Current LP due out in October on Dropkick Records – possibly the most eagerly awaited local release this year. 

The Bellrays ambled casually onto the stage about 10pm, to a very enthusiastic audience.  The Barman’s commentary on the band’s coiffure is spot-on – Lisa Kekaula’s bouffant ‘do generates such comments as “do ya reckon that’s real?”, “geez, that makes Wolfmother look like a spotty teenager” and “fuck, what a haircut”.  Bob Vennum is compared (harshly, but fairly) with Garth from Wayne’s World and Tony Fate is the bloke who should be working on your car (and doing a damn fine job, too).  Early on in the set I’m concerned that Fate’s guitar isn’t hitting the mark; not long after any doubts have been belted into the ground.  Kekaula is prancing back and forth across the stage, daring to anyone to ignore the rising tide of rock’n’roll excitement. 

It’s the call and response crowd theatrics that the Bellrays – and Kekaula in particular – have become legendary for.  There are moments when I believe firmly that Kekaula could have led the entire crowd down the streets of Richmond like the Pied Piper leading the children Hamlin to faraway lands.  The opening chords of “Sister Disaster” send a tingle down my spine; the contemporary revolutionary rhetoric of “Revolution Get Down” could take the most conservative Tory and turn them into a flag-waving insurgent.  The counterweight to the LA freeway-flavoured rock attack is the band’s celebration of soul, illustrated by “Tell The Lie” and “Have A Little Faith”.  At the end of the set I had two regrets – firstly, that my recent trip to Sydney was a day too early to allow me to catch the band’s only headline show at the Annandale, and secondly that the band didn’t have the time to slot in a gig at the Tote.  As I’ve said to plenty of people since this gig, if I’d seen this gig at the Tote I reckon I would’ve broken down and cried. 

Radio Birdman turned up about 11.15pm.  If there was a symbolic statement in this set, it was the playing of the usual crowd pleasing anthem “New Race” about four songs into the set.  Birdman will never throw off the shackles of its past (or stop playing a selection of its greatest hits – the depth of which still gives it plenty of opportunity for variety) but it is certainly hell-bent on championing its recent material.  “We’ve Come So Far” opens the set, with “Remorseless”, “Connected” and “Locked Up” among the many highlights during the set.  A personal favourite (from the album, and especially in a live setting) is “The Brotherhood of Al Wazah”, with its subtle crescendo climax.  There’s a higher than usual moron quotient in the front rows, with a few punters getting a bit too excited and forgetting the unwritten rules of the moshpit.

The older stuff is always good to hear – “Anglo Girl Desire”, “Smith and Wesson Blues”, “I-94”, “Aloha Steve and Danno”, “Non-Stop Girls” – though the version of “Descent Into the Maelstrom” late in the set (during the encore, from memory) is a bit lumpy and lacks something.  

Rob Younger is, well, Rob Younger, grimacing and gesticulating in his idiosyncratic manner.  Chris Masuak eschews the prescription shades tonight in favour of ‘normal’ glasses and appears to be genuinely enjoying himself.  Deniz Tek is wearing a shirt that I’ll only describe as iconoclastic, and spends much of the night with his back to the crowd thrashing his guitar like he’s strangling a struggling python.  The set concludes with a ferocious cover of “Search and Destroy”, and for a few moments we’re all the world’s forgotten boy, the one who searches to destroy.  Cries for a second encore are unrequited, but all good things come to an end. 

Click for Richard Sharman's slideshow from the Hi Fi Bar show