RADIO BIRDMAN
+THE BLACK FURIES
+ THE SERMON
Great American Music Hall, San Francisco
August 31, 2006

 

Words by JAIME SUNEN
Picture by REBECCA & DAN SCHULTZ


Unlike Australia and Europe, where Radio Birdman’s records have always been available in one way or another, the American cult of the Living Eye has always been one floor down from the underground. The Sub Pop compilation, fanzine championing of the band and Yep Roc releasing Zeno Beach notwithstanding, all things Birdman are mysterious here. Somehow that seems appropriate.

I remember first being exposed to Birdman as a teenager in Spain and how the cloud of haze surrounding them, no doubt part of the appeal, vanished with the succession of reunions and reissues. Don’t get me wrong, I’m as happy as the next man about all of those things, but part of the dark surprise and private mystique went away. The San Francisco show brought it all back. This was no European festival with two dozen bands on the bill, but the promise of a strike like those we had fantasized about when Radio Birdman were men of mystery.

First on the bill was The Sermon, which I remembered as top purveyors of rock action from an opening slot with the Lyres and a riotous, exultant record that Alternative Tentacles released a couple of years ago. Faced with an audience in the dozens and a stage they did not seem able to fill, the band went through their usual set of MC5-inspired garage rockers but never caught fire.

Next were the Black Furies, another local band with a Detroit fixation, and boy did they rock! Although heavily reminiscent of the Sonics Rendezvous Band and the Hellacopters of old, they are no mere revivalists. They sounded as tight as a fist about to punch and the precise musicianship and blistering solos never fell into the baroque pyrotechnics that have been the pitfall of many bands in the genre.

By the time Birdman hit the stage, flag in place, the crowd had filled every corner of the Great American Music Hall, a mid-sized venue that doesn’t sell out too often. The band opened with a rapid-fire "Burned My Eye" and "Do the Pop", the latter reaching a level of intensity that set the first rows into a crazed, if middle-aged, pogo dancing that did not stop until the end of the show. After that it was mainly vintage Birdman with a few detours into "Zeno Beach". It is amazing -and a testament to the powers of a band that was nothing like the old glories some unsuspecting punters might have been expecting- that they were able to feed this high energy vortex through the rest of the night.   
 
A vitriolic, white-hot "Descent into the Maelstrom" followed by the propulsive "I-94" was one of the highlights of a show that left many. "Murder City Night" also got an outing in a supercharged rendition and roaring versions of "We’ve Come So Far" and "Hungry Cannibals" were greeted with surprising enthusiasm considering the record only came out domestically a week ago.  

The whole band looked relaxed yet excited, even the sometimes grumpy Deniz Tek took the lone technical mishap of the night (a busted amp head at the start of Hand of Law) with a smile. The Tek-Masuak axis worked on full power through all the set, as did a rhythm section strong enough to stop the sunset. Rob Younger, intense and laconic as ever and almost vaudevillesque at times, was quite a sight amid the art-deco columns and drapes of the Great American. After an hour or so, they rip through "Aloha Steve and Danno" and leave the stage.

"Connected" is the first song of the encore, followed by a jubilant "Zeno Beach" and a truly explosive "Search & Destroy" that has Tek and Masuak trading licks that burn like napalm and Pip Hoyle in crazed bar-room piano mood. After that, "More Fun" and "New Race" were almost redundant, although they did send the pogo dancers into frenzy and caused the only serious attempt at stage diving of the night.



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