+ THE DRAGSTRIPPERS
Wickham Park Hotel, Newcastle
Friday, November 26, 2010
+ DECLINE OF THE REPTILES
+ LOLLIPOP SUGAR
Excelsior Hotel, Surry Hills
Thursday, November 25, 2010
By BOB SHORT
Photos by EMMY ETIE
When it was suggested I should write a diary for the Simon Chainsaw tour, I wasn't sure. Let's face it, I'm the guy in the band you least want to hear from. There's Simon, Chris Masuak, Murray Sherpherd and what's his name. I am "what's his name". Then there is the fact that I don't have any Viking tales of rape, plunder and debauch to share. There is no backstage bitching or cat fights. No massive egos. No bad behaviour. It's basically just four guys who seem to get along and work pretty damn hard because they want to see people dance. Who is going to want to read about that?
Halfway through the tour, I decided that anything I can write that might get one more punter through the door would have to be a good thing. That's certainly not for the money and it's not for the fame. It is because this is simply a great band playing great songs and it will only be around for another two gigs. If I wasn't in them, I'd tell you to see them. I'd tell you that you would regret it if you missed this band quite simply because so few people are doing stuff like this. Okay, my cards are on the table. Now let me see if I can spin this out into a reasonably interesting tale.
I'll start this somewhere unlikely. A couple of years ago, I saw Johnny Casino supporting Pierced Arrows at the Annandale. Due to a family tragedy, his band had pulled out from underneath him. Suddenly, it was just him on the big stage with a guitar singing Big Star's "Thirteen". I thought that was some brave shit. It made me ask myself if I'd have the nerve to do something like that.
Two months back, that question came back to bite me when Johnny announced on Facebook that he was playing solo at the Sandringham and called out for people to come down and sing with him. Sure, I said. I'll do the Velvet Underground's "Pale Blue Eyes". I figured that would have to be the scariest song to play in front of a crowd of hard core rock and rollers. Funnily enough, scary turned out to be fun and I began seeking out new challenges.
Back on Facebook, I saw Simon Drew (aka Chainsaw) is looking for a bass player for four gigs. Now it had been a while since I last played bass in a band but I kind of remembered it being fun. I visited his Myspace page and listened to his Ramonesafied version of the La's "There she goes". Punked-up but still poppy, I thought "I can relate to this stuff" and I signed on. I'll be your Dee Dee. Sight unseen, I found myself in the band. Whoah, I suddenly realised what I had got myself into.
Of course I knew about Vanilla Chainsaws but I didn't really know what Simon had been up to since then. People go overseas and they can have whole careers you might never hear of. Simon went to Brazil and pumped out a pile of albums. Good albums. Enough good albums that he can come back to tour a greatest hits package. By the time I had downloaded the tracks he sent me to learn, I was stunned. How can someone be this good and nobody has heard it? How can I not have heard this when I'm always out on the listen out for stuff like this?
Then there is the matter of the other guys in the band. Chris Masuak is playing guitar? Holy shit. For over 30 years Chris has been proving he is one of the best guitarists alive. He plays a wide range of styles too but my personal favourite is when he plays pop. When he has those strong melodies and confined places to play in, it brings out those tricks that no-one else can do (with the possible exception of John Perry from the Only Ones). I listen to Simon's CD and I imagine Chris playing guitar and I know the band is going to be good. Scary good.
Initially, it was going to be Stu Wilson from the New Christs on drums. Stu is one of those drummers that, if you heard him playing on his own, you would still know what song he was playing. They are a rare breed. When family commitments meant Stu had to pull out, there was a very short list of people who would capable of filling that chair. A list of one, I'd probably say. Fortunately, Murray Shepherd said yes. If you have any questions about Muzz's drumming, I'd refer you directly to the Niagara and the Hitmen album. He knows how to both rock and roll.
Shit. Suddenly I'm playing with the big guns. Fuck, I had better practice. I had better practice a lot. That pile of CDs the Barman gave me to review? Put them up on the shelf. Until this tour is over, there are only 19 songs in the entire world and they are all on Simon Chainsaw's CD. I pause only to check with original versions of covers. Focus. Focus. Focus.
Finally, rehearsals begin. It is solid serious rehearsing. No-one drags in a slab of beer. Methodically we work through the set until the studio throws us out. We go home. We do day jobs. We come back and rehearse again. Chris drives three hours south, clears a field and drives back. I go home and deliver two thousand newspapers and come back. We all look like death warmed up. It's not as if we're going to be making thousands of dollars. We're doing this because this is what we do.
At the Excelsior, the crowd is thin but enthusiastic. I apologise to "The Decline of the Reptiles" and "Lollipop Sugar". Usually I like to see other bands but I'm terrified I'm going to let another song slip inside my head and forget one of the ones I have struggled to learn. After soundcheck, I go home to listen to the CD again. And again.
We're about 95 percent towards what we'd like it to be and that's pretty damn good for a first gig. We run out of time and don't get to play our encores. We have only gone through the Stooges' "I Got A Right" once at rehearsal and it sounded so unbelievable that I wanted to hear it again. I really wanted everybody who was there to hear it too because I needed someone to tell me it hadn't all been a wonderful dream. That would have to wait until Newcastle.
The Wickham Park Hotel is located just outside the centre of town on one of the corners of a five-way crossroads. There are pictures of old blues legends posted on the wall. I figure it's the kind of place you go to sell your soul and I like that. Chris and Simon go to the dressing room to put on the stage clothes. The dressing room in question is the space between two parked cars in the street outside. Murray and the Barman roll up having done the Sydney-Newcastle thing in well under two hours. Murray, feeling particularly at home, drives up on the footpath and reverses so his tail end is beside the stage. The night is ready to kick off.
The Dragstrippers are a seriously good band. Next time you see them on a bill, you should go. There is nothing better in this world than having a really good band play before you go on stage. It reminds you that you have to be at the top of your game. We get on stage and the place just goes wild.
Newcastle must be one of the best places to play. The room is full of bourbon drinkers who like to dance. The first half of the set is stuff off of Simon's greatest hits album. The second half is tracks from his album of cover versions of Aussie punk songs. If you thought the night was going well before we played the Thought Criminals' "Fuck the Neighbours", let me introduce you to the word berserk. We follow up with the Psychosurgeons' "Wild Weekend" and the dance floor is literally writhing. I feel the bounce in the floor right through the raised stage.
Okay. That's what I've been up to for the last couple of weeks and why you haven't been seeing me around town. See more at Mojo and then at Jets. Really. It'll be great. Come and see it despite me.
Simon Chainsaw and all-star band (including their talented bassist) play a free in-store set at Mojo Music, 42 York Street, Sydney on Thursday, December 2 from 6.30pm and back-up as main support on the Back To The Bowery show at Jets Sports Club on Friday, December 3. Doors at 8pm and admission is just $10.