+ THE BELLRAYS
+ THE PINK FITS
The Metro Theatre, Sydney
July 29, 2006
By THE BARMAN
Show number three of the Zeno Beach Tour and the third's time a charm, as the Bellrays song goes. It usually takes Radio Birdman this many gigs to warm to their task, and there was a feeling they were going to turn it on for what passes for their home town (even though half of them don't live here). You could say that's how it panned out and wrap it up right there, but that'd be cheating.
First to the supports and opening act, The Pink Fits, won a host of fans. There's something in the Curley household water supply down Wollongong way. One of the offspring, ex-Tumbleweeder Lenny, is the leader of this pack, with Karl, Padric and Karl his partners in fuzz.
The Pink Fits unleashed a self-produced EP ("Emergency Release") earlier this year that reeked of valve amps and archaic effects pedals. Wickedly distorted and rawer than untoasted muesli, it's a must track down for anyone who likes their garage deconstructed. Live, they're more R & B flavoured, but as greasy as six-day-old bacon with angular guitar and steamy harp - like the Pretty Things on cheap meth. I caught about half of their set and regretted arriving late. There are apparently a ton of tracks recorded for an upcoming album, being put together under the production hand of Brent Harrison of the New Christs. Can't wait to hear that.
There have been notable fusions of garage/rock and soul but has there been a better one than the Bellrays? It’s doubtful but if you have something to offer, you know our address. The four of them saunter on stage, announce who they are and explode like a flash bomb, all wired energy and a wonderful, powerful sound, topped of course by Lisa Kekaula’s equally powerful voice. If the Bellrays have been a little inconsistent on record, no such charge can be levelled at their live show and there were some in this crowd who turned up exclusively to see them...
The impressively-named Bob Vennum is all over the shop (in a good way), bouncing up and down one minute and Chuck Berrying across the front of the drum riser the next. He lays down a murderous groove when he and new-ish drummer Craig Waters locks in. Waters looks like a cross between Animal from the Muppets and a ‘70s porn star with his body shirt, headband, gold medallion and chest hair, but makes use of every inch of his kit and swings he like a country shithouse door in a cyclone. Guitarist Tony Fate can play the rockers and the more soulful excursions with equal panache and Lisa Kekaula is simply unbeatable on vocals. A champion combo. Even Lisa blowing a shoe at the start of the set can't throw her.
Without the keyboard or sax embellishments the band stands on its own strengths and the newer material (“Tell the Lie”) stands up as well as visceral older songs like “Street Corner” where the chugging rhythms are damn near irresistible. A hard act for anyone to follow and the announcement of a headlining show in Sydney three nights later provokes some smiles among punters who gratefully lap up the short version of their set.
Radio Birdman enters a now comfortably full venue, their flag in place and armed with the knowledge that they’re one of the few bands in the country that could follow what went before. What follows is a lean and focussed set, strongly based on the new material with all of “Zeno Beach” getting a run.
No room for surprise covers as they have ample original songs to throw out there. “We’ve Come So Far” opens the show (just like on the album). From there, the occasional oldie (“Do the Pop!”, “Endzone”, “Anglo Girl” “Aloha”) rubs shoulders with high points “Subterfuge”, “Connected”, “Hungry Cannibals”. The lighter moments like “Die Like April” and “Heyday” are perfectly paced, but “Remorseless” still does it for me as the perfect new Birdman tune, with the brutality “You Just Make It Worse” a close second (this week, at least).
Pip's surfing tune "Zeno Beach" gets itsn outing in the latter stages of the encores and is played so fast it feels like the undertow is going to pull half the punters and the band outside into George Street. "If You Say Please" had never been sighted around these parts live, so it was a welcome addition to the set.
I spent much of the set in front of Klondike’s side of stage and from that vantage point it was clear that his and Deniz’s contrasting guitar tones were perfectly yin and yang. Cheers to Klondike's Marshall/Firebird combination. Props also to Russell Hopkinson who’s a part of the band as any new member could be by now. His count-offs to bring the guitars back into “Remorseless” add a perfect piece of tension. Dr Tek is still the band leader in most senses of the term but Rusty’s watchful sentinel act from atop the riser adds the drive that gets the wheels moving, big-time.
It was a strong performance, if not as wildly ragged or energetic as some we’ve seen. Mind you, that's all by degrees. Good stage sound is a hard thing to achieve at The Metro and those crash barriers separate the band from the audience in not just the physical sense. Still, there’s no reason to complain. Each show also seems to top the last on these Australian tours - so you know what that means.
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