ShareSydneysiders crap on far too much about how beautiful our harbour is. It is an obsession, even for people who couldn't find water with a GPS-equipped divining rod and a camel. On a day like this, however, with 20-something degree winter sunshine streaming down and three rocking' bands doing their thing on a hired ferry, you have to cut us some slack.
But first things first and there's a tale to the night before. I hadn't planned to drop by Mojo's, which is hands-down my favourite music outlet in a city where they're fast becoming thin on the ground, but there are two good reasons. Madrid's garage-a-go-go dudes Los Chicos were doing a free in-store and there are takeaway beers in my possession.
In-stores at Mojo's are relaxed affairs. The band sets up in a corner and you wrestle with a record rack or a pole to get prime viewing position. The sound is always great and there's like-minded company. Neville and Frank play the best sounds between sets.
Los Chicos are an unprepossessing lot, visually speaking, but there's no pressing need to dress things up. As the song says, they sound amazing but they look like shit. Bottles of 50-50 red wine and Coca Cola are in evidence, which seems the Spanish equivalent of Australian cask wine bladders with an energy drink chaser. These boys not only swing but swig hard, too.
I'd heard the compilation album ("10 Years of Shakin' Fat") on Off The Hip and it's exceedingly good stuff but it didn't prepare me for the mini-maelstrom that is Los Chicos live.
Why are they great? Having a brutal drummer like Pina who swings is one thing. There's the bedrock. Antonio and Gerardo lock in like, well, identical twins on guitar, but it's not just the playing. Los Chicos have soul - absolutely tons of it - and you just know they're having the best time since the last time they played when you clap eyes on them.
Next up is Johnny Casino & The Secrets, with the core trio now packing keyboards punch rather than an extra guitar. I can't tell you the keyboardist's name but I can let you know his textures and tone gives a different dimension to Johnny's rolled-gold songs. Cris Wilson (drums) and Michael Evans (bass) are the engine room of preference these days and the whole crew is a step above most of the competition.
The shop sets were too short but that's OK when you're already ticketed to jump on a cruise and see a full show the next day.
So as you might have worked out by now, we lucked out for weather. We're still a motley crew, we cruise passengers, as we assemble at the appointed wharf shortly after noon. Rock and Roll Grandma Robyn Watkins observes that the Night People have come out to play with some faces vaguely recognisable outside of a darkened pub room with extreme noise blaring. That'll come, soon enough.
Cruises have their good points but the cheapness of their alcohol isn't one of them. We're talking six bucks for a can of stock standard VB, folks. I take the view that if you're going to be forced to bend over and be reamed with the police officer's truncheon as in "Cocksucker Blues", it's best to get the worst of it out of the way - fast. That's why I was spotted with a handful of beer cans before the boat had got out of Darling Harbour or open band The Dunhill Blues were even setting up to play.
I happen to like this band a lot. They have a killer album out on Off The Hip. The Dunnies do the garage thing with a twist. Horns and some unconventional song structures set them up as a cross between a Salvation Army band and the Sonics, and there's a fair bit of tongue in the collective cheek. At one stage you'd swear the drummer had stumbled into a rave and over-imbibed on the green cordial, so wide is his smile.
Again, here's a bunch of players who really enjoying playing. They're not the tightest ensemble on the planet and I'm buggered if I can hear the keyboards properly. On this occasion, they probably go on a little too long. That's all quibbling because the fact is that they're a band to get most parties started.
This one's in full gear when Los Chicos kick over their motor. It's not long before they're in high gear. Vocalist Rafa spends a good deal of the first half of the set getting some of that harbour air, ducking in and out of a window behind the band proper. Half the band looks like they haven't slept from the night before (there's talk about a big dinner in Chinatown) and the other half look like they don't care. Those bottles of deep red Coke may have something to do with it.
They play like they care. And there's a special surprise in store when none other than Chris Klondike Masuak (Radio Birdman, Hitmen et al) appears out of the woodwork, guitar in hand. The Los Chicos guys are huge Birdman fans so this pre-arranged yet unrehearsed bracket in the set is something of a high point. Klondike braces himself and lays on some stinging lead guitar to meet his bandmates' expectations. You can see what transpired below:
And of course you can never go wrong with the Sonics:
Masuak departs but the fun's not done. Los Chicos come home like a yacht with a full sail and a tornado behind them. Rafa is into the surging crowd to extract even more participation. There's a repeat of the previous night, only this time on a boat, when he and Los Chicos get the entire complement of passengers down on the deck to match the rise-and-fall dynamics of "Treat Her Right". Now, as fellow traveler Bob Short has observed elsewhere, that's the sort of shit you do not see very often in staid Sydneytown, scenic harbour or not. We do not dance. We barely clap if we can hoot instead. Los Chicos had the people baying for more.
This cruise originally had the Crusaders billed and a few of us are scratching our heads wondering how they're going to fit a set into the running order. As it happens, one of the band was unavailable so they're a no-show. No-one's complaining as Johnny Casino gigs are thin on the ground in his hometown these days.
It turns out to be a classic Secrets set. You can throw in your own choices (there are plenty of options when you look at Casino's formidable body of recorded work) but this afternoon I have a soft spot for "Brother Grahame Says". The mighty "Keep On Keeping On" features Klondike as an added bonus. You can see for yourself that the proof of that particular pudding is in this eating:
The sun's sinking by the time Johnny and The Secrets summon up a magic version of Bob Seger's "Heavy Music":
Drink prices excluded, this was one value-for-money afternoon that ends way too soon. No icebergs encountered and Captain Stubing would have had a grin on his face as wide as Sydney Harbour if the same bill had played on the Love Boat.
Once we hit shore and get our land legs back, all that's left to do is adjourn to the local pub and talk about it all.