Sydney put on its game face for Dig It Up: Sunny skies after a night of downpours and one of the best bills you could ever hope to see – on paper. Did it live up to expectations? To paraphrase the late Don Van Vliet: “Sho’ nuff ‘n yes.”
This year’s event is again spread over multiple venues with plenty to see and hear. Notes is unavailable and getting into some of the other sideshows is difficult given their limited capacity, but you’d have to be hard to please if you couldn’t find something to row your boat, not to mention blow it out of the water.
The reformed Tumbleweed is first cab off the rank in the main room and the only thing absent from their set in the ‘90s is the pungent odour of punters smoking dope. Their brand of stoner-meets-high-energy-rock was always different from the rest. The presence of some new songs (they’re in the middle of recording) confirms the ‘Weed are alive and kicking in the 21st millennium.
The call is made that the harsh mix wasn’t allowing their groove to show through and I’d say that was fair comment from where I was standing. I do know that Richie’s gesticulations make him look even more like Frank Bach from The Up. A great way to get the show on the road.
Peter Case and band take to the stage during changeover and start line-checking their equipment while Tumbleweed’s amps are still warm. Which means there shouldn’t really have been an equipment fuck up that took out the bass for the first part of their set.
In case (ha!) you don’t know, Peter was a member of The Nerves with recent two-time tourist to these shores, Paul Collins. Their song “Hanging On The Telephone” was a hit for Blondie - which makes its absence from the bracket impossible to fathom. Case went on to produce some classic powerpop with The Plimsouls but I opt to be elsewhere a few songs into the set. Apparently I missed a lengthy end-of-set blues jam that took them overtime.
The Frowning Clouds are already up and rocking by the time I squeeze into The Sly Fox, an unfeasibly small pub for the crowd that’s already on hand. These Geelong boys play things by the book, it’s true. The tome just happens to have been written in 1965. No fuzz, valve amps and guitars strapped up around their armpits, they’re as close to real deal ’60s punk as you can imagine. Authentic isn’t always good but I’d class these guys as great. And yes it was good to grab a draught beer on tap.
Back in the Enmore Theatre, the Lime Spiders are getting their thing on. One veteran (hi Frank!) complains that it’s not like the Spiders circa early ‘80s, when they drew their inspiration direct from the “Nuggets” well-spring with little else to dilute the mix. That purity took a turn to the left as the band departed the Strawberry Hills Hotel and signed to a major label. Today’s (and the late ‘80s) version is more Black Sabbath than The Black Diamonds. In other words, a hard rock band with ‘60s roots.
Mick Blood takes the Spiders over the top. Tony Bambach and Dave Sparks follow.
”Action Woman” still resounds with fuzzy menace as does “You Burn Me Up And Down”. Mick Blood’s vocals are thankfully in fine shape, while Gen Y drummer Tom Corben (son of guitarist Ged) is right on the money. One of the many high spots of the day.
At this stage it would have been great to catch Deniz Tek in stripped back duo mode with bassist Andy Newman, but the venue (the Midnight Special) has more people lining up outside than it can fit inside.
Dom Mariani leads the Stems.
And so to The Stems. If you said: “Didn’t they break up with a farewell tour a few years ago?” you’d be right. The offer to play Dig It Up! was the chance to reverse that decision. It turns out to be an incomplete reformation, with keyboardist-guitarist Richard Lane opting to stay away. Even’s Ash Naylor is co-opted on guitar and the band effortlessly reprises some of their greatest moments with a tight and well-chosen set.
Don’t ask me how I’ve managed to miss The Buzzcocks before today. They are the template for multiple waves of pop-punk but every time they’ve come to Australia to prove it, I’ve been otherwise engaged. Today corrects that oversight – and how. Buzzcocks rip through a set whose energy levels would shame any of those bands claiming to be their offspring.
Steve Diggle takes off.
It’s all about Steve Diggle and Pete Shelley of course. The engine room comes off as solid but faceless. Diggle mugs and leers but it’s not just for show – he’s obviously enjoying being able to play these songs to large, appreciative crowds. It’s infectious. Shelley’s likewise convincing and their set’s a reminder, if needed, of how many great songs they have. Ever Fallen In Love? Just about the best on the paddock.
I’d heard less than complimentary things about the Flamin Groovies from their Brisbane show and the YouTubeage of their Japanese leg of their tour showed a band struggling to get it together. Tonight’s bracket wasn’t nearly as bad. The playing wasn’t dire but ragged harmonies didn’t do justice to the songs. Where “Shake Some Action” should have soared, it barely flew above treetop level. “I’ll Feel A Whole Lot Better?” was just OK.
George Alexander and Cyril Jordan get groovie.
I wanted to love the Groovies, having missed the ‘80s metal version of the band (Cyril and George, really)when they came through Australia. Maybe roping in Roy Loney and focussing on the band’s first two albums might have been a good idea.
This is my third dose of Blue Oyster Cult, having sipped deep with a full set in Sydney the night before and catching them at a festival in Spain last year. It’s tight and very professional in an American touring band sort of way, but Buck Dharma’s masterful guitarwork and the strength of the songs are convincing. There’s no time for guests or the indulgent bass and drum solos of the night before, just songs.
Guitar god Buck Dharma on the left, gun bassist Kasim Sulton on the right.
“Last Days of May” is the show-stopper. “Reaper” (again) isn’t paced right but “ME-262” makes up for it. “Godzilla” fairly rattles the Enmore roof. No “Dominance and Submission” or “Astronomy” but I’m otherwise very fucking happy.
“Mars Needs Guitars” is one of their most enduring albums so hearing Hoodoo Gurus play it from go to whoa is an enviable night out. The band has a lot of hard acts to follow but they own the stage towards the end. Brad Shepherd is in rollicking form, every inch the rock god on the title track and laying down his guitar to blow up a storm on “Poison Pen”.
The Gurus are in splendid form and tack a set of much loved back catalogue songs onto the second half of their set. It's game, set and match as I leave the building.