RADIO BIRDMAN
+ THE HARD ONS
+ THE DEAD SET
The Roadhouse, Yallah, NSW
Friday August 11, 2006

Words & Pictures: THE BARMAN

First to the venue and hasn't this joint come along in leaps and bounds? Located an easy 20 minutes drive south of Wollongong (itself 50 minutes south of Sydney), it's a vastly expanded and reconfigured room that I'd guess would squeeze in as many punters as the old Waves venue at Towradgi in the same region. There's less emphasis on the shearing shed antiques on the walls and more on the room as a functional place for medium-sized bands. Plus, those open fires do a good job on a chilly night.

So did local lads The Dead Set - or so I'm reliably told. The horribly early start time of 8pm was unfeasible, given that my road trip partner, Ash, got lost on the way to my place and we lob just as the final chords are being played out. Haven't seen these guys since their righteous Rob Younger-produced album came out, but the intention is to right that wrong, soon.

The Hard Ons step up to the plate next and even in their Keish-less configuration they still crank out a helluva bitter-sweet noise. I have to admit to not owning the last few albums and criminally missed their 21st anniversary tour, but I can still crap on about how they still deliver the goods in a more straight-ahead way.

Only a couple of oldies make the set - "Just Being With You" is still a killer and it's not a Hard Ons show without "Suck 'n' Swallow" is it? - but it's annoying when you hear people complaining about what this band is not rather than praising what they are. Pete Kostic doesn't play the same way on drums as Keish but so what? Blackie and Ray still write some good 'uns too.

Ash is old enough to remember when they were teenage Kelpies fans (come to think of it, he's not the only one either, me having first-hand experience of some Sutherland Royal shows that looked like a demolition party) and he reckons he enjoyed tonight more than ever. Catch 'em if you can.

Also playing different songs that they used to are headliners Radio Birdman who seem to have benefited from shows around Victoria and in Canberra since their last outing at Sydney's Metro Theatre (or whatever it's called this week). The traditional tour opener, "We've Come Too Far", gets things off to a rollicking start.

There are some superb edges to this set, none the least of which is a slightly slower airing for "The Brotherhood of Al Wazah" which I thought was played too fast at the Metro show. There are a few oldies (a sizzling "I-94", "Anglo Girl Desire", "Aloha" and "New Race", both of which are obligatory) but Yallah gets the entire "Zeno Beach" album. Not a bad thing if you know the songs but I can't help thinking that the band might have to run a few of the vintage songs up the flagpole in the
US of A and Europe, just to keep people happy.

You can't wipe the smile of Jim Dickson's face as he hammers out that incredibly heavyweight bassline in "You Just Make It Worse" (and of course I forget to ask him if it's now his fave when I see him post-show). It's up with the faves there for mine. Likewise, "Remorseless" (now launching off the back of a second intro chord, instead of just one) and the shakedown of "Connected".

Have "Maelstrom" and "Golden Helmet" been retired? Not quite, with the former featuring in Melbourne, but "Remorseless" and "Al Wazah" respectively seem logical successors. The irony is that it's an oldie, "New Race", in which there's a small clanger dropped.

The reasonably-sized crowd is right into it but you can't think that the attendance might have been better if the Roadhouse was more accessible. There's a shuttle bus (not free) and only one road in, so getting to and from the venue needs careful attention to detail (i.e. a designated driver). No fault of the room and you can always crash in the adjoining
bed and breakfast rooms, if you're from out of town.

The Radios sound sharp but Russell Hopkinson is actually doing it tough on drums, with the lingering vestiges of a nasty bronchial infection hitting him hard. It's self-evident that medical advice is never far away and his praiseworthy showing earns an on-stage acknowledgement from Dr Tek.

The sound seems a step above the last time out even if the band still doesn't get off on the on-stage acoustics. With Caringbah Bizzos (August 26) and Manly Fishos (August 27) being the last Australian shows until who knows when, Sydneysiders with any sense would be making a beeline for either venue (or both).


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