THE SCREAMING TRIBESMEN
+ THE COOL CHARMERS
+ SMITTY & B.GOODE
Sandringham Hotel, Newtown
Sunday, September 25, 2011
Words JJ ADAMS
Photos: KYLEIGH PITCHER of Songbird Photography
Share I know the "big" night of the ScreamingTribesmen's two night stand at the Sando was the one previous to this. And I know they had the awesome support acts of the Dark Shadows and my ever-beloved Decline Of The Reptiles featuring Assoc Prof Mark Roxburgh upfront (I kid you not! Shows that not all of us rawknrolers carnt reednrite!) but hey – to refute an awesome DOTR number - sometimes time (doesn't) stand still, and I had other places I was forced to be.
No matter, cause in rolling up on Sunday I still got to enjoy the always sardonically barbed wit of one Andy Newman (bass man about town) who, when he's not on stage himself with The Reptiles and too many other bands to mention, is always there to support those who are. And I got to be one of the handful of lucky punters who fronted early enough to catch a remarkable duo named Smitty & B. Goode.
Yes, you read that correctly, a duo. And since the writer is old enough to remember when the mid-80s rise of trios (Hard-Ons, Eastern Dark being but two examples) was enough to throw the rockin feline amongst the pigeon punters – a big discussion of the time being: could three really create sonic jihad as masterfully as four? – she was thrilled to discover proof again that a tornadic two can equal three, four or even five in both intensity, melody and style!
Gloriously eccentric, a lesson in minimalism in a world obsessed by maximism, singer and (from the neck up) Buddy Holly lookalike Smitty's restless guitar is matched only by leonine drummer B.Goode's wall shaking percussive power (and brief but impressive demonstration of his mastery of Mongolian throat singing!) It doesn't surprise me to discover these guys have reportedly played in New York City, as their sheer daring and – let's say it, and mean it in a complimentary way – weirdness kept bringing another daring duo to mind, namely the Big Apple's own Suicide.
Despite mutterings of them being "White Striped to the max", Smitty & B.Goode seem to me to as much influenced by (or picking up the cosmic vibes of) eccentric Australian acts of the past as by more recent Detroit scenesters.
Their media release claims debt to "Meet The Beatles", Elvis Presley's debut album and "Highway To Hell". But with CD's titled "The Banned" and "Hello Rock'n'Roll" – and songs like "Just Like A Comet, Gonna Rip Your World To Pieces" – Smitty & B.Goode (even in just their name) bring to mind the Aussie humour of bands of old like Co(mpany) Caine and The Pink Finks. Could even see em doing a version of "The Day Superman Got Busted"…!
I really liked and admired these guys, even while knowing the notoriously conservative average punter will sadly dismiss them as a gimmick act - just like the rightfully legendary Hard-Ons (with whom Smitty & B.Goode will be playing soon) were also dissed as a few decades ago when they emerged to knock a few sensibilities about…
"Cool Charm?" a friend reminisced. "I remember that stuff. The smell clung to you for ages, and it sure got under your skin – giving you a rash to remember for weeks!"
Likewise the Cool Charmers (who may or may not have been named after that cheap brand of girl's deodorant but are old enough to remember it!) are not easily forgotten.
I won't even attempt to add up their combined centuries of stompin' the boards, but when you combine former members of The Johnnys, The Huxton Creepers, Psychotic Turnbuckles and Sheek The Shayk, we ain't talking new kids on the block. Singer/guitarist Hoody nailed it nicely when he opened their set by stating the bleedin obvious, namely "we reek of rock'n'roll – in fact, we STINK of it!"
But hell, these veterans play with such energy and enthusiasm that you'd swear they were straight out of the garage. Gray hair and an uber relaxed professionalism reveal they may have physically left their youth behind them, but their set list reveals the soul of the eternal teenager still rages within…60s punk classics like "13 Wimmen", "Move It" and "Got Love If You Want It" jostling for space alongside an impressive number of originals, my particular favourites being "Do You Know What I Mean (Ode To Pete Wells)", "Miss Sogynist" and "Roll On Cool Charmers".
Hated the product, but gee I love the band that bears its name!
And finally to The Screaming Tribesmen, another bunch of survivors who fought the good fight against the jive and were able to walk away unbowed if not unbloodied.
One of the proudest moments in my life – pathetic though it may seem to some – was the 1983? 1984? night in London's Dingwalls nightclub in when, alone in a packed house waiting to see The Barracudas, I heard "Igloo" wafting from the PA system (perhaps courtesy of Aussie Jim Dickson?)
Faint as it was above the noise of gossiping punters, it was still audible enough to have people around me slowly hushing and wondering what the hell they were hearing. "It's called "Igloo" by the Screaming Tribesmen – and they're an AUSTRALIAN band!" I patriotically yelled at those standing nearest to me.
I tell the story to illustrate to those who don't know exactly how powerful this and so many other Tribesmen tunes were and are – and in pondering yet again the fates which conspired against this shamefully underappreciated group to prevent them reaching the international cult success of compatriots like the Gurus, Spiders etc.
Once their line-up settled into the fab four performing tonight – Fraser/Masuak/Medew/Wackley – you had a bunch of intelligent, funny, good-looking guys performing perfect timeless power pop ballads, handfuls of them. And roaring out of the blocks tonight with "Casualty Of Love" and "you'd Better Run", they proved to the initiate and the novice alike just what a world-class act they were (and are!).
Medew (one of the sweetest human beings you are likely to ever meet) was looking the best I'd seen him in years as he soared into "This Is My High Time", with Masuak's "mature blues Professor" look contrasting with drummer Fraser's un-nerving youthfulness (I hadn't seen Fraser in probably 20 years, yet he was looking younger than he did then!). Bassist Wackley had also drunk from the same youth formula, looking and acting barely changed from the cheeky young chappie I first used to see around North Bondi way back in his Grooveyard days.
And the band's vibe was intense happiness, mixed with awe, that their wonderband had not been forgotten. More than one member of the Tribesmen was clearly teary at points throughout the evening, as were many punters. I sadly reflected how the illness which prevented me from gig-going for many years had robbed me of the chance of seeing the Tribesmen in their later appearances, and that many audience members I didn't recognize may have been fans from this period just before their star dimmed and faded.
Onstage the pages kept unfolding, each one of them containing a work of art such as "Girl Of My Dreams", "Move A Little Closer", "Infidel" (a personal fave), "I Got A Feeling", ""Don't Stand A Chance", "Top Of The Town"…all awesome songs which most bands could only dream of creating just one of – but the Tribesmen's repertoire boasts dozens!
By the time a red telephone appeared – and a comedy piece in which Medew handed it to Wackley saying the call was for him! – I was so lost in singing and remembering times past that I didn't twig the reference until the once heard never forgotten notes of "Igloo" started, to a roar of appreciation. Ah yes, the red telephone at the polar zone!
Could this be topped? Well equaled perhaps with "Date With A Vampyre", but by then and the encores that followed, the abandoned love affair between the Tribesmen and their Sydney followers had well and truly been rekindled. But when, if ever, will the lovers meet again?
I went home to a sleepless night, the Tribesmen's songs echoing in my head, sadness in my heart and the afore-mentioned query as to why they never rose to the heights for which they were so rightfully destined. And the only answer I could then – and now – come up with is that the Australian music buying masses just don't get power pop, then or now. They get soft rock and they get pub rock and they get piss ant pop and that hideous creature known as the rock ballad, but they don't get power pop.
Not to say that the Tribesmen ONLY fitted the power pop category – part of their problem was the inability to be easily categorized, especially when they threw in covers such as "Two-Headed Dog"! And I suspect that many a pub going, beer drinking bloke was made uneasy by hearing the Tribesmen's songs about the complexities of love, rather than the usual ham bam thankyou ma'am simplicity: in fact, this band with a delicate looking and speaking singer upfront, veered dangerously close to sounding and acting like the feared Sensitive New Age Guys. The fact that the little girls understood and liked it probably added to many a male's resistance!
But fuck the detractors – and the guys who used to spend most of the Tribesmen's gigs I attended talking about Masuak's guitars rather than listening to what they were creating (get a life, I say, and live dangerously – talk to a girl!). Then (and now) say it loud and proud: ALL HAIL THE TRIBESMEN!