CHRIS KLONDIKE MASUAK AND THE NORTH 40
Grace Emily Hotel, Adelaide
September15 & 16, 2010
By GEOFF CAHIR
Now for the few of you out there who don't know who Mr Masuak is, here's a quick rundown of his cv: Years spent slinging away in the Radio Birdman,The Hitmen, Screaming Tribesmen and countless others. He's walked and talked it for over 35 years now and shows no sign of letting up. Tonight was the second of a two-nighter at The Grace and he played two sets.
Along with his North 40 mates (Red Porter on bass and Gerard Presland on drums) Klondike gave us the wailed out blues of ''Trust In No-one”, the foot to the floor stomp of ”Original Sin”, a truly wild take on The Hitmen's “Justice Blind”plus a great yarn after each song. This bloke doesn't take himself too seriously. The story he told about sitting in with Spanish garage legends Los Chicos was worth turning up for in itself. They sound like a wild bunch of lads.
I can't remember the name of the Tribesmen song he did at the end of the first set but it was a ripper. Nonetheless. Coupla pints during set break then off we go again, with the psyched-out blast of “Submarine”. “Stupid Planet” was in there too
with Red on bass flailing away like a man possessed and the small crowd going berserk.
It was a bit sad that over the two nights most of the town stayed at home, but the diehards that came gave it all they got.
The Hitmen gave the place a miss during their last tour. Who knows why? The band crashed their way through the rest of the set before signing-off with the cranked-up genius that is Radio Birdman's ”Steve and Danno”. A quick encore of “Route 66”, handshakes all round and off they went.
Now this was a top show from a true living legend in a great pub. What more could you ask for?
By ROBERT BROKENMOUTH
Chris 'Klondike' Masuak is a strong-willed man, although you don't notice it initially. Partly it's the rose-tinted glasses. He's behind them alright, deflecting potentially unwanted attention. Like many who've got caught in publicity's harsh spotlight, I suspect he often has moments where he feels self-conscious, like everyone's watching, though they're not.
Until he straps on one of his guitars, that is.
They come up the ramp from the Virgin Blue aircraft; long-gone is the punch-bowl haircut of Radio Birdman days and the cod-aviator shades. Rather more thankfully, also gone is the weird feather-cut of his Klondike c&w days. John 'Red' Porter is with him, Gerard Presland bringing up the rear.
We struggle through the passengers waiting to board, shake hands, comment on airline food and wander off. It's been a long time since any of them was in Adelaide; Chris doesn't recognise much of the airport even though he was only here a few years ago with Birdman. 'Think they'll fly again?'
'I doubt it.'
We talk briefly about the last album, Zeno Beach, and the lack of more 'fun' songs on the album. The surfer and TV theme seemed absent. Maybe they've all gotten grumpier in their old age.
But not Chris. He's the most down-to-earth man, given what he is. A sufi muslim for many years now, I'm sure he was no angel in the past. Formerly a gym-junkie, he's also been a naturopath for many years.
Why is the band here?
I liked the album. I liked seeing him play with The Hitmen in April in Sydney.
So I asked how much to bring the bugger over.
They played the previous night at the Sando in Sydney, three blistering sets to a crowd of die-hards who have the good taste and sense to love the man's music. They're tight. They slept in a cross-between a barrack block and a barn with not even cold water the night before. Consequently Chris and Gerrard are a bit on the ripe and scratchy side.
Worse is to follow as we pick up the guitar cases, which have been biffed, quite hard. Also, there are chunks torn from the cases. We state our complaint to the pleasant but superficially concerned damage-control expert behind the desk. 'You must see this all the time'. The look in her eyes was priceless.
Australia has a lot of training requirement hoops to jump through in order to get a job these days. Pity there doesn't seem to be one for baggage handlers. What is it about guitar cases that says 'party time' or 'who gives a shit' whenever these things come down the line to the baggage handlers? Is it that they think bands are too drugged or bombed to notice what happens to their main tools of trade? Chris is shocked, he's never seen anything like it. Red is - to say the least - disappointed, because he now needs to replace the case. Both take their instruments out and sight along the neck. They're relieved, but I'm not. I try to hide my anger and helplessness, and it seems like one of those bad omens out of a western; you know, like a crow pooping on a railing or a black crocodile crossing your path. There are times in your life when you wish you had a big, but essentially unimportant, pile of money resting in the bank, when you can whip it out and make everyone breathe a little easier. This is one of them.
Chris has something no-one else seems to be doing right now - good solid songs, hooks, tunes, a great and expressive voice and fingers that dance like a butterfly over the fretboard. On the first night, a large percentage of the audience, who haven't heard him before, scurry up to get the CD, "The Straight Path".
We get to the venue, pause in the breeze for the owner to let us in, examine the guitar cases and lament. Me, I shuffle my feet and feel guilty and dreadful. Once the door has been unlocked, I show them the facilities within. Chris has a shower; Gerard declines, claiming that it will just make matters worse. Right.
The gear won't arrive for a few hours so I decide that a stride through Adelaide could do some good. When we're more or less human, we first visit Billy Hyde to see if we can get a decent replacement bass guitar case for Red.
Inside, I pause many times, often in awe. On the other hand, "There's a lot of shit out there," Chris comments as we pass the obligatory case of dozens of effect pedals (which to me just look like more pedals). I'd previously expressed a surprise at discovering Hendrix' rig; even a four-year-old would be startled at its spartan utility. Chris points out the pedals Hendrix would have used. Clunky, but beautiful, like a weary old steam train is beautiful.
We gawp at guitars like tourists; me like a tourist in a foreign land, staring in perplexed astonishment at something I don't understand. Chris admires a cherry red semi-acoustic Gretsch with a look of distinct longing. He looks almost in pain as he pulls his gaze away. Not for the first time, and certainly not for the last, I wish I had a small pile of money in the bank that didn't matter to me. By way of self-consolation, Chris remarks: "Can you imagine the handful of matchwood that the airlines would turn this into?"
We resolve to return the next day and head off through the city. It never ceases to amaze me how 'rock stars' (as I believe the breed is called) amble unremarked through the city by day yet can cause utter mayhem onstage and within a venue that night. I always expect squeaks of recognition; they rarely come. Of course, this is my cue to name-drop, but - fuck it.
The main drag is filled with the usual - those intent on their errand, those intent on their self-importance, those intent on their internalised neurosis. Is anyone innocent?
At various points Chris and I ponder on the nature of risk, and the nature of what our lives should be. Why we get angry and depressed when we're not risking at least something. The quality of life. Themes which run through his album, incidentally.
We visit Brunellis, a popular Rundle Street cafe. I buy a decent local red and they're chuffed. I discover that Gerard's wife runs a fine Italian restaurant in Sydney, and that he has a successful business. Chris of course has run his own naturopathy business, and I find that Red also runs a business in Thailand. So these are not just, as you might have guessed, grubby rock'n'roll outlaws one step ahead of the Star Force who don't deserve respect from the toilets posing as venues throughout the land, but creative, useful members of society, successful in several fields. They pay more tax than I do.
We tuck in to the usual superb, and priced-right fare. Red's looks like a small aircraft carrier and we watch, awed, as he doggedly carves his way into it. The band express distended satisfaction and relief courses through me. We leave, waving to the proprietors. They head off back to the Grace, I head off to my workplace to collect a few posters for next month's gig and I traipse back to the Grace.
Chris and Red are conked out on their bunk beds, waiting for their dinners to somehow digest. Gerard meanders about and discovers the bar. I leave to collect my fiancee.
When we arrive to arrange our door table and posters, Gerard and Red ask me about the rider, which has been plunked on the stage. Magically, and all by itself, it disappears up the stairs in the direction of the band room.
There aren't as many people in the place as I'd expected. Concerned, I go ask Chris what he'd like to do. "Well, we're here, they're here, and we'll play." So I walk back and, in between manning the door, watch as Chris, Red and Gerard casually rip into a the first of two sterling sets of rock'n'roll.
Although most of the folk here I know aren't familiar with the songs, new songs from his almost-finished CD rub shoulders with a few from The Juke Savages, a couple of Screaming Tribesmen, Radio Birdman and a clutch from "The Straight Path" CD. There's more, but there are two points. First, the crowd got into this in a big way. I don't mean wienie stuff like crowd surfing or slamming or gobbing or any other nerdy behaviour that excuses violent stupidity. They paid attention, listened, danced a little, dashed back and forward to the bar, actually hurrying back lest they miss another minute. Klondike's North 40 weren't cavemen, they played structured, smart, clever songs squished into a tight, non-repetitive format and you wanted more, more, more. The break between sets was far too short. They knew they were good. Of course. But the understated leader of the pack, Chris, couldn't have been less full of himself.
Let's go back to that first impact. Chris's voice is remarkable, that's the first thing that strikes you. His high, yearning power is a perfect pop voice, there's a shininess to it, with a brittle, vulnerable aspect. There's a liquid quality about it too. Kinda takes you away, makes you want to sing along (which some of us do). Radio should love it.
Flicking back over his lengthy history, I realise what a breadth of vocalists Chris has played with. Mick Medew's voice is an adventure in itself, so only a couple of Tribesmen songs make it in. So, while it would be nice to hear 'Igloo', it ain't going to happen. Which, from the perspective of paying respect to the past without digging into it like it's a forgotten piggy-bank, is a mighty savvy thing to do.
There's a disgusting tendency in rock'n'roll these days to look back and hero-worship so-so material and goggle at the survivors like they were Tut-ankh-amen in the flesh. We don't like to miss out on a good old-fashioned fake-nostalgia trip - "I'm here because I was there even though at the time I wasn't but now I wish I hadda bee"' ... you know the sorta thing. I reckon Ozzy Osborne draws that kinda crowd. The Zep Boys. What's wrong with that? Ah, well, it's just that bloody herd mentality. Can't stand it. Call me peculiar. Millions of people can't be wrong?
What you really don't notice at first, unless you're paying attention instead of dancing, which most of us are doing by now, is that Chris rarely looks at the fretboard, and when he does, it's a casual glance now and then. His fingers dance over the strings like a butterfly, his touch is contradictorily light and incredibly powerful. Quick runs and spatters of chords lick out, punctuated by bright shards of notes. He seems to be playing a mixture of rhythm and lead. His precision is remarkable; and, not for the first time, I reflect on the difference between hearing music from speakers and seeing the construction of it live. If you need to see what I mean, a damn fine example is the Clint Eastwood film 'Bird'.
At one point I stood next to a scruffy old guitarist (ex Screaming Believers, Exploding White Mice, now in Molting Vultures) who stood happily watching Chris play, loving the spectacle of him apparently effortlessly run through songs of considerable complexity. Indeed, he remarks that he doesn't really like what Chris plays, but loves watching him play. He turns up again the next night, loving every minute.
There's a unique quality to the Radio Birdman-era, never mind Younger's striking, angry vocals, so when the two songs do bounce out, the commercial, fun side of Birdman pokes its nose out for the first time. I recall hearing Birdman for the first time (a friend had the "Burn My Eye" EP - still has), and I remember feeling utterly outraged that this band weren't on a major label and all over the radio and telly (okay, I was young). Chris' attitude, his voice, the excitement when plays to people who get it, all brings back that surfer, fun, dance-like-a-monkey thrill that we all hear when we hear great rock'n'roll.
All too soon it's over. We part, exhausted, emotional, and we make arrangements to meet up the next morning to do a radio interview.
While we got ready the second night, I was told the police had popped in the previous night, and there'd been a noise complaint from the new flats nearby. Blimey. I had a word with Chris, who looked confused. I mean, he ain't Spinal Tap; his amp had been on 4. So, regretfully, he reworked the night's set down a tad. In the front bar, the landlord comments 'they're just a really loud live band'. I express surprise, and explain about notch 4. Everyone looks a little astonished.
I won't go on unless the Barman demands it. Suffice to say, the second night was in some respects better than the first, although I preferred the first night.
Just by way of comparison, Powderfinger and Regurgitator, neither of whom I rate particularly, both played Adelaide over those nights. An extremely popular local band were releasing their cd and expected, at a tenner to get in, to pack their particular joint. Chris Masuak pulled more than they did, and we were charging more.