The Brotherhood was here

Live Club, Milan, Italy
September 29, 2006

Words by NICOLAS MONNIN of Nice, France
Cartoon by RICK CHESSHIRE of Geelong, Victoria

For a 40-something fan of over 20 years, a chance to see Radio Birdman in action is not to be missed - even if it entails driving  for four hours each way on a Friday night. Getting a friend of nearly 30 years to come along for the ride is truly icing on the cake. 

And so it was that yours truly and JM, the guitarist in my very first band in the early '80S - we did a mean "Search and Destroy", even if I say so myself - were on our way to the gig driving from Nice in Southern France to the Live Club in Trezzo outside Milan, Northern Italy. 

Being located in an industrial park by the A4 freeway, the venue is easy to find and provides ample parking. What’s more there is no risk of upsetting the neighbours as it is only surrounded by warehouses of various descriptions.

The club itself is spacious: 1000 square metres furnished at the back with metal tables and armchairs, and even pinball machines. As well as refreshments the bar serves food, which was more than welcome after the longish drive. 
JM and I soon were pondering the fact that Le Volume, the only rock venue in Nice -admittedly a smaller town than Milan- is to say the least much tinier and a lot less comfortable than that. Its programming however, is excellent: Tex Perkins and Holy Curse, artists which patrons of the I-94 bar should be familiar with, have both played there recently. At the Live Club on the other hand, October fare will consist mainly in Queen, U2 and Oasis  Italian tribute bands. Can’t have everything I guess, except when Birdman is in town.

The less said about opening Italian language hard-rock act Gerson the better; proficient, loud and well rehearsed they were indeed, but  their grating, cliché-ridden songs seemingly went on forever and each ‘heroic’ finale had us hoping they’d vacate the stage promptly only to be disappointed as they launched into yet another seventies metal retread. Italian is indeed a beautiful language but not when shouted over loud guitar noise. To describe these four scrawny guys, the word eyesore springs to mind, the drummer looking from where I was like a young Rod Stewart, complete with bleached hair and humongous hooter. Fortunately there were a few  stylish young ladies around who were easy on the eyes and helped alleviate the aural and visual sufferings inflicted by the wretched Gerson. 

After half an hour of intermission, an Italian MC full of vim and vigor  lectured us at length from the DJ booth about the virtues of Rrrrock and rrrroll - as if we needed to be told -  and announced, with a priceless Italian accent, the arrival of “Rrradio Beardman” and there they were at last, on with a bang.

"Burn My Eye", "Non-Stop Girls", "Do the Pop", "I-94"  were delivered in rapid succession with passionate fire. The six brothers in arms immediately had a large section of the crowd slamming, moshing, pogoing, jumping up and down, whatever you wanna call it, in true Birdfan fashion: chaotic, enthusiastic, energetic fun with no brutal or negative vibes at all. Neither band nor audience would let up as long as the show lasted.

On the left, Chris Klondike Mazuak sported a Hitmen-style sleeveless black shirt, red guitar and tiny sunglasses, while Pip Dr Gonzo Hoyle was  in his customary tie, still and stonefaced, eyes often closed, behind his single Roland keyboard. Russel Hopkinson and Jim Dickson were probably wishing their black shirts had been sleeveless like Klondike’s, given the heat emanating from the stage. These two share a rapport which makes them at this point in time the best drummer/bassist team one could dream of for that band. 

On the right, all sinews stiffened, Deniz Iceman Tek in jeans and a black t-shirt, wielded the white Epiphone we all have come to know and love, slicing riff after riff and squeezing out bursts of precison drilled melodic leads. As for Rob Younger he soon took off his vintage black leather coat and continuously delivered some amazingly fierce singing, in total contrast with his near shyness in- between songs. You couldn’t hear a word he said to the people screaming requests and encouragements at the band - not that they needed any.

Many reviews of RB shows since 1996 evoke being transported through time to the Oxford Funhouse or Paddington Town Hall in the late seventies. I was not there but  would surmise that Radio Birdman are now not only faster, tighter and still on the brink of spontaneous combustion but even just that much closer to vaporizing into space. It hardly seems possible that these guys sustain such levels of energy and focus through an entire 90 minutes’ show, show after show on a longish tour around the world. 

Yet they certainly did in Milan. There were very few flagging moments, one due to amp problems for Mazuak, and a slightly fluffed ending to one of the new tunes but these very minor imperfections just served to remind us that they’re only human after all, that the rock music these guys deliver is tight indeed but without being show-biz slick.

And on and on they went, alternating new songs and classics, among them a vitriolic Heyday,We’ve come a long way to be here today, an apt description of band and fans alike, You just make it worse, Hungry Cannibals with its unsettling bass intro, Subterfuge and its one-finger piano note, a full tilt What gives, Alone in the end zone, tense and dark, but not a single cover. No one would have complained about hearing a Birdman customized Sixties garage nugget, surf classic or Detroit power rock scorcher.But with a third album like Zeno Beach, they don’t really need them anymore, crowd-pleasing though they may be.

My personal high points: before the encore: that night’s truly magisterial take on "Descent Into The Maelstrom', which took us all right down there, and; their closing the set with a blistering "Aloha Steve and Danno". 

At that point the so-so PA which had been straining all night was giving signs of serious wear so it certainly benefited from five minutes’ break. 

Then it was time to wrap things up with a four-song encore.  And what an encore:

It began with "The Brotherhood of Al Wazah", off "Zeno Beach". I just love its moody keyboard fills and dark humour: Al Wazah sounds like a fundamentalist  terror group or an esoteric cult but  it is actually a brand of red tea all six were apparently sipping at one of their reunions.The band’s tongue in cheek aura of menace in a nutshell.

"Smith and Wesson Blues" and "Murder City Nights" followed, both full-on, the crowd utterly apeshit. 

Logically after such a feast, what original was left to play but "New Race"? So they did, an elungated version which included Rob Younger grafting bits of other songs at the end, to finish where the rock music  adventure began for many, with the first verse of I saw her standing there, which rounded the proceedings off nicely. 

It is well-known to fans that after Birdman, the Visitors and New Race, Deniz Tek took to flying US Navy jets, no doubt as a substitute for the thrill of playing with those guys. The Iceman himself in the liner notes to "Under the Ashes" in the late eighties made the parallel between playing high energy rock and flying low above the desert in a jet.

Many years later, 400 demented Italians, as well as my pal JM and myself would sincerely like to thank Deniz and the Brotherhood for taking us all with them for a whirl. Long may the Birdmen fly.