Sandringham Hotel, Newtown
Friday April 15, 2011

Words: THE BARMAN (on the headliner) & K.T. (on the main support)

So rock and roll is viewed as anachronistic. Tell me something new. What is odd is that this prevailing view isn't just because rock's in its twilight years. No doubt there's a dash of nostalgia talking but it also that because it's the old bands who nail this music best. Case-in-point being tonight's bill.

I'm not going to dwell on main support Decline of the Reptiles, due in no small part to a vested interest and the erudite correspondent whose copy follows doing such a great job. Sorry to have missed most of Trench Gashes due to being otherwise engaged, but I caught enough to say they put the post into post-punk. Let's face it, two-chord thrash has its place but gets old quick. In the end it was really Happy Hate Me Nots' night with the launch of their new album and they revelled in that.

So let's briefly flick the switch to looking backwards and say HHMNs were a stand-out on a crowded Sydney scene around the time when the mid 1980s merged into the early '90s. Paul Berwick's songs welded punk's energy to pop's melodies, in much the same way Social Distortion did in Southern California before they turned to smack, rehab and country music (in that order.) In Australia, HHMNs defined what's since been tagged pop-punk, although they never diluted it like some who followed.

Even as the band called it a day after losing focus, the HHMNs were as good as it got. I remember one of their last shows (at Sylvania in Sydney's south) where they blazed brightly in front of a sparse crowd. They reformed a few years ago and have been chipping away at a new album for a long time, Tonight is the launch of "Time And State."

Cut me some slack for not knowing the names of the newies or grabbing a set list. Of the old tunes, the skittish "Angel" and the multi-tiered "Blue Afternoon" still resonate best (although I had a mental blank on the name of the latter for a minute.) Paul Berwick and new recruit Matt Galvin mesh brilliantly well on dual lead guitars (always a strong point for this band) and the former's criminally great vocal has lost none of its edge.

Mark Nicholson is "on" behind the traps and Chris Houllemaire's beefy but melodic bass-lines provide the driving undercurrent that keeps things fresh. The addition of a Billy Ray Cyrus lookalike on keys adds texture. (A full horn section a la back in the day would have been expensive but a guy can dream.)

Of the new tunes, most keep up with the old stuff and a few take things in different directions. There's an acoustic guitar cameo, but in the main it still rocks. The common denominators are energy and high dynamics. You can't ask for much more than those two. Youngsters: take note.

Matt Galvin of the HHMNs.


Decline of The Reptiles waited about 25 years for the perfect rhythm section and it was worth it. The "new kid" Derek Tinworth on drums gives Andy Newman just what a great bass player deserves - pace, precision and more pace.

Fortunately this wait didn't come at the cost of losing anything up front. Mark Roxburgh can still sing and move in a way that suggests Dean Martin, Mr Prince and James Brown all had a hand in his genetics as well as his dress sense. Dean Coulter was, is and always will be the best guitar player in town. He collects guitars (see the list in the liner notes of the new CD when you buy it here) the way a head hunter collects heads … some sort of semangat goes on and he extracts the skills of the previous owners.

Bruce Tatham's keyboards have magic too … there was a moment's silence mid set last Friday night and as Tatham hit the first chord of "Closer" my mind spun backwards like a 70's digital clock finally landing on a languid Saturday afternoon: Doctor Goldfoot and The Bikini Machine on Channel 9…chord repeated and thankfully my mind spun a bit further forward landing somewhere between the Vulcan, the Leichardt Hotel, the Phoenician Club and the Trade Union Club… and then, third time lucky with those notes and I land back in the here and now upstairs at The Sandringham as the rest of the band powered into a longtime favourite that has never sounded better. That's the thing really - the old songs have never sounded better and the new songs work too.

Roxburgh and Coulter.

Highlights of the too short set apart from "Closer" were Clubland - very smooth, you could take this song anywhere; and a punchy "She Hurt Me" and "Where The Action Is." The latter was dedicated by Coulter to James Darroch (this is perhaps where the Vulcan came into things …the first time I saw DOTR play was at the Vulcan in early December 1983 with, from a somewhat hazy recollection, I think The Eastern Dark and Died Pretty supporting …others in the audience last Friday night were there that night too).

Sentimentality is inevitable when what was originally created all those years ago produced so many nights of boundless energy on stage and off but what makes the current configuration of DOTR so worth seeing is the combination of the enduring songwriting skills (N.B. the songlist at the Vanguard last time was perfect - suggest it gets another run) and on stage execution that's technically pretty well faultless but with plenty of thrills and spills, mostly intended … hope Roxburgh's back fared better than Coulter's beer !



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