Share STEAMING AT THE OPERA HOUSE - Billy Thorpe & The Aztecs (Aztec Music)
A song called "Oop Poo Pa Doo"! Three drummers! A drum solo! And a gig that included a mini rock opera! Aren't these why they invented punk?
There are ample reasons to hate this album, a re-issue of an impossibly rare 1974 live record on the label of Aztecs drummer Gill Matthews. Thorpey and Co dumbed down rock and roll to the point of lowering its knuckles far enough to scrape on the ground, but they also inspired a wave of pride in the local musical variant. Rock wore a blue collar for a while and some people never got over that.
This is a document of a landmark gig. The newly-minted Sydney Opera House had never hosted a rock band. The Aztecs were top of the Australian tree, probably past their high-water mark musically but still looking for new ways to deafen and delight audiences. Why not symbolically storm the Bastille and stick it up The Establishment? If you need to put it all in context, their next studio album was called "More Arse Than Class."
Before we get all misty-eyed about the days when rock and roll had wide relevance, let's look at what's in the CD player. It's the usual Aztec Records treatment: Re-mastered and spread over two discs, with extensive liner notes and nice packaging. This is a label that never cuts corners on presentation. Their releases sound great, and "Steaming" is no exception.
It reprises the original album, throwing in a bundle of extras. First, there's the ragged acoustic set that was the backbone of the original LP, plus the brief rock opera "Pig's War" (read: rambling songs interspersed with sound effects.) Two acoustic cuts left off the original album fill out disc one.
Disc two goes full-on electric with ex-Aztecs Lobby Loyde, Johnny Dick and Kevin Murphy joining in. Billy Thorpe's voice is the star here and the playing is fairly loose. Why they needed three drummers is a mystery - although of course the answer is: Because they could. On that score, Murphy apparently fell in so hard with the grog monster that he spent the last part of the set in the paid seats, watching the performance from the crowd. All part of the fun.
If you're not a hardcore fan, you might find it a bit hard going. I did. It is, however, hard not to love this searing version of Loyde's "God", as played by the Coloured Balls and Wild Cherries. It's not far short of matching the Sunbury version. "Time To Live" and "Ain't Going Down Again" have an in-your-face quality. On the other side of the ledger, "Oop Poo Pa Do" might have been a signature tune but that still doesn't make it right. "Most People I Know" didn't get a look-in on the night and that's a pity, but the Aztecs must have played it often enough by then.
Of course, there's nothing particularly ground-breaking. It's Billy Thorpe & The Aztecs as they liked to be i.e. no airs and graces. It's for completists or those for whom the re-issue of "Live At Sunbury" wasn't enough. It's also as Oz Rock as it gets. That will be a good thing for many and send a shudder down the spine of others. Make your choices and take your chances. - The Barman
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