RADIO BIRDMAN
+ THE BELLRAYS
Peninsula Lounge, Moorooduc,
August 9, 2006


Words by TJ HONEYSUCKLE

Picture by RICHARD SHARMAN


Six o’clock on a cold Wednesday night and I’m packed into a crowded commuter train rattling through the southern suburbs of Melbourne. It’s an hour-long trip, there are no empty seats, and the greasy haired I.T. temp next to me needs a good deodorant..

This isn’t my usual trip home - this is the start of a couple of nights of commitment to Radio Birdman. Last time round I saw them locally, at the Prince of Wales, when my efforts to get out to Belgrave flopped, but this time I’m making a point of getting out of the city for at least one gig.

The Peninsula Lounge is about 45 km due south of town, beside a highway. Ooh, look out the window- a pelican. There really is nothing else out here. Ooh, look, and a cow.

The back bar has a few pool tables and about eight big screens showing sports to a handful of sluggish locals. The band room is a narrow rectangle with a small stage facing the back wall about five metres away. There’s plenty of acoustic panelling on the wall but, really, you wonder how good this is going to sound. Good thing the PA isn’t too big…yeah, I guess I’m prepared not to be too impressed.

The place fills slowly before the BellRays' 9pm start, with an odd mix of youngsters and older types, but there is only one person here I know. Lots of faded Birdman T-shirts on show, though.

The Bellrays take the stage fairly impassively, with a curt “Hi, we’re the Bellrays” from Lisa Kekaula…then, without warning they drop a fucking bomb on the place.

I have never heard anything like this before, and I don’t think the Peninsula Lounge has ever seen anything like Lisa before. Swaying, shaking and stomping & her way up and down the stage, her voice ranging from a sweeeet soul whisper to an enormous rock roar, she is completely in charge from the first note. The band has been on the road for a couple of months now, and every tune is down pat, with each beat and every riff falling perfectly into place.

The sound is better than I expected, with a decent fat bottom end and clean guitar. They tear through half the set before stopping for breath after “Have A Little Faith”. Phew. I’m not even sure I have the words to properly describe the BellRay’s live sound. They have heavy chopping and squalling guitars laid over huge thick bass and thundering drums, and tunes that change from sounding like Black Sabbath or Led Zeppelin to Memphis/Muscle Shoals funk - what is that? On CD it’s tempered with some brass, but not here.

They charge through “Pay The Cobra” and “Maniac Blues” before the crowds’ lack of response seems to rile Lisa. After the polite approach fails, she hands me her mike and uses my shoulder as a prop to clamber over the crash barrier at the front of the stage, before stalking through the room, trailing mike lead, still singing and now talking too, pouncing on those she thinks aren’t living up to their end of the deal:

“Whatcha got in those pockets? Get your hands outta your pockets, and make some noise! You, why you hidin’ back here? Get up front, where I can see you, where you can see me- we’re in this thing together tonight baby! Come on! ”

“In your face” is too weak a word to describe this tactic, but it’s done good naturedly, and more importantly, it works.  The tail end of the set seems louder, more raucous, and much more enjoyable for everyone in the room with some give and take going on.

The last Radio Birdman shows were especially great for the chance to hear new material, even though it only made up a third or so of the set list. Tonight it looks like we’re getting a pretty even split. They come on without fuss, just a few muttered words from Rob, and launch straight into “Come So Far”(which strikes me as a jagged, skittering cousin to the New Christ’s “Coming Apart”) followed without a pause by “Remorseless”. As good as they sound on the CD, these songs sound even better live- sharper, and more flexible.

“Non Stop Girls” draws loud cheers and whoops of recognition from the audience, and now the band are starting to loosen up. Pip and Deniz are pretty much hidden in shadow on stage left and right, with Rob and Chris taking the centre, just in front of Jim and Russell.

A new version of “New Race” is followed by “Die Like April” then “You Just Make It Worse” crunches out, every bit as nasty as you would expect. Personally, I can’t think of anything more uncomfortable than recognising yourself in Younger’s lyrics. I don’t know who this is about but I feel sorry for ‘em.

The crash barrier is starting to get a bit of a workout now, people here are obviously recognising the motherlode of new tunes and responding to them just as well as the classics. “Brotherhood” is one of my favourite newies, and comes across better tonight than it did back in February. “Hungry Cannibals” has Pip’s keyboards mixed well to the front tonight, sounding more Nuggets-y than ever, though the stage crew can’t still get a light on him. “Remorseless” is another reminder how crucial he is to the Radio Birdman sound, with a driving piano that recalls “TPBR Combo”. Deniz hits some technical difficulties towards the finish of the set, and ends up empty-handed during “More Fun”.

They encore with “Maelstrom”, but don’t deliver a listed “Search & Destroy”, possibly due to the problems mentioned above.

After the show, they hang out at the (very busy) merch table for a while, chatting, signing t-shirts, and generally being friendly and low key. It’s odd to think that it’s just under 30 years since they played down in this neck of the woods (at the Pier Hotel, Frankston, March 1977) and even odder to meet a couple of guys who tell me they were at that show, too.

 

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