HiFi Bar, Melbourne
August 11, 2006

Pictures: JULIAN WU

The HiFi is a cavernous underground space right in the centre of town, opposite the Town Hall, that drops down on a few levels with hidden steps. It pays to keep your wits about you on the way back from the bar, unless you like your ankles sprained.

I arrive there a bit late, with only time to catch the last four tunes from local support Eddy Current Suppression Ring. They come across as young, snotty & energetic, with a hyperactive frontman and a spiky 1977 guitar sound that sounds like they’re going to burst into “White Riot” any second. Will be seeing them again soon.

The ‘Rays are out to raise the roof tonight. It’s their last night on the tour and they’re determined to go out with a bang, before hooking up with Birdman in LA in a few weeks. I don’t get a setlist tonight, but it seems to be pretty much the same as Wednesday night, a mix of old and new, but played with even more intensity. Rob Vennum seems to revel in the bigger stage, duckwalking, pogoing, always moving. He handles that big white London bass like it weighs nothing. Tony Fate is soaked three songs in, sweat flying from his hair and dripping from his tshirt as he alternately caresses his guitar or tries to rip it’s neck off. Drummer Craig Waters is a force of nature, counting ‘em in at the start of each song, setting cymbals flying. And Lisa…well, tonight she has a bigger, more responsive crowd to cajole, and the give and take just keeps on building. “Snotgun” and “Detroit Breakdown” in particular are amazing.

They close with thanks, and then come back on to give us an encore. Not just any encore, mind- we get their take on “Highway to Hell. Yes, THAT “Highway to Hell”, turned into a drawn out slinky funk/metal monster. The crowd goes off as soon as the riff is recognised, of course - hey, this show is going on a few metres away from AC/DC Lane, on the very street that Bon, Angus and Co. travelled up in their “Long Way to the Top” film clip. I don’t know where this choice came from, but it is inspired.  They are planning on coming back for a longer tour soon, possibly before the end of the year, so if you missed out this time there’s still hope.

And so to Radio Birdman. Their big black & red banner has been hanging ominously at the back of the stage all evening- now the lights dim to red as they saunter on. Again, the entry is low key, but from the first notes it’s clear they too want to wrap up the Melbourne leg of the tour with something memorable while enjoying the moments themselves, too. The crowd has swelled, and is pressed up pretty hard against the front. Younger is in top gear from the first line of “Come So Far”, really opening his throat and letting himself go. Deniz and Chris are workhorses when they need to be, but tonight they seem to be adding extra flourishes to nearly every song. Pip is in his fashion plate best Kraftwerk red shirt and tie tonight. Jim and Russell hang together towards the back, locking everything down.

The songs are the same as Wednesday night, with a couple of minor changes in the order, and again, the new material gets just a big a response as the old stuff. Which I guess is what you would expect when a band can follow “Anglo Girl Desire” with “Locked Up” and then head into “Aloha Steve & Danno”, all of them clearly drawn from the same well despite the difference in their respective ages.

The bouncers are low key tonight, so I slip up to watch from inside the barriers, feeling the sound through every bone in my body.

They give us two encores tonight, concluding with a red-hot “Search & Destroy” played almost twice as fast as the original, which ends with Younger basically howling “Forgotten boy!” repeatedly over a thundering blast of guitars, feedback and all-round beautiful primal rock noise.

Look, I have seen some tight bands in my time, but this is pretty much flawless. The one minor letdown is that they didn’t do “Zeno Beach” on either night, but really that’s nothing in the scheme of things.

This is the sight and sound of a band that never needed vindication, getting it in spades. “Was everything enough?” Yes, thanks.

Click for a slideshow of Julian Wu's shots from the Hi Fi Bar and The Corner Hotel shows