+ THE BARBARELLAS
+ 25TH FLOOR
Sandringham Hotel, Newtown, Australia
Saturday March 6, 2010
Words: THE BARMAN
Photos: CAROL SLATER of Carol Slater Photography
Rock and Roll has a lot of servants but only a handful of masters, and one of them is Technology. This particular Saturday at the Sando underlined – no, amplified – the fact that Technology can be a cruel taskmaster.
There was a distinct Sunset of the ‘80s/Birth of the '90s feel about this show’s line-up. Headliners Voodoo Lust were one of the (many) high-energy bands to carve out a mark on a very crowded Australian underground music scene back in the tail end of '80s and very nearly crossed over into the overground mainstream.
Success in hometown Brisbane spurred a move to Sydney. Strong, melodic songs and the engaging presence of frontman Gary Slater had them poised to climb off the second rung but they never quite went on with it. Slater went on to a short-lived Trilobites line-up while bassist Steve King and guitarist Tony “Houndog” Harper made marks in The Raouls and New Christs respectively.
The Barbarellas were born in 1990 and didn't last that long but why they never kicked on is perplexing. I only saw them a handful of times but the massive voice of Eleanor Rodgers set them apar from their peerst. Although I don’t own their records, the recollection is that the songs were all pretty good and they klicked around on radio for a time.
While 25th Floor can’t claim collective heritage of the same vintage, their setlist (“In Homage to Patti Smith”) has the 1980s written all over it, that being the decade when La Smith really made her commercial mark. So you can appreciate how tonight will appeal to a fanbase of a particular age.
Said fanbase doesn’t seem to realise the starting time when 25th Floor kick off proceedings, but they start to file in midway through the set. 25th Floor sounding the best I’ve heard them, with guest mixer Mick Quinn in total command of the new Sando PA.
Yes, they 25th Floor play covers but the songs are all good ‘uns. I don't hold with people who hold that Smith was just a poet trying to play rock and roll. There's a sense of her lyrics exploring places the unaccompanied spoken word can't go and if her latter-day Earth Mother schtick doesn't row my boat as much, there's a substantial body of work in the back catalogue to say she's earned her spurs.
As for 25th Floor, if you're a Patti fan, you’ll probably like them. They don't play the songs straight, but throw in some variations of their own. Tonight, they sound supremely powerful with the Gods of Technology smiling ever brightly.
The secret is in the engine room with veteran (he revels in this word) bassist Andy Newman meshing neatly with Ludwig-loving drummer Andi Jackson, whose work ethos quickly requires he ditch his trademark bushman’s hat. Guitarist Ned Alphabet is on the money, as usual, and vocalist Tiffany Palmer delivers her best Patti-isms with added confidence.
A consummate powerpop-rock band with a few cheesy bits around the edges, The Barbarellas have done the reunion thing once before but tonight is all about their 20th anniversary. At one stage guitarist Matt Galvin lets on that this is the end, nada, finish etc. and there will be no more appearances. If that rings true, it's too bad because The Barbs are on fire.
Galvin's guitar-playing remains a thing to behold and it takes Rodgers about half a song to kick-start her pipes and lay waste to the room with that killer voice. The Sando is by now packed with diehard fans , a good proportion of whom appear to be women aged around 40 - just as it was (with that number adjusted down) in the '90s.
"Dying Inside" and the mid-set pause of "Always Be Around" are put out there and lovingly embraced. Eleanor's enthusiasm is a focus - and it's pretty hard to ignore her get-up of a corset, lace gloves and boots. Singers with personality and a distinctive voice always beat singers with a distinctive voice.
But it's all about the music and the band either put in a lot of time in the practice room or the chemistry is still there in buckets. Stand-in drummer Peter Kelly is not so much a surprise packet as a racing fuel additive to the pop-rock mix. The Barbarellas stole the night.
To my shame, I hadn't managed to see the reformed Voodoo Lust over the cast few years so I'm looking forward to the headlining set,although not as much as self-avowed VL fanatic and former Radio Birdman unofficial site webmaster, Greg Bowen, who's come all the way from France. Things begin promisingly enough - i.e. guitarist Tony "Houndog" Harper and bassist Steve King manage to plug in their instruments and drummer Phil Jacquet is behind his kit - and then Technology steps in.
"Peter Gunn Theme" is the instrumental opener and the Houndog is nowhere in the mix. Nothing to worry about too much usually, but the equipment worries dog him for the rest of the set. That tragic because his playing was one of the biggest things VL have/had going for them.
One of his amps is fingered as a dud, and even when he continues on half-horsepower a dodgy effects pedal somewhere in the scheme of things is the ongoing culprit. The Voodoos swing into "No No No No" (from their first single) early in their set and rarely has a song title rung so true. The fact King's trebly bass is so in-the-face (in a good way) just underlines the problem.
Singer Gary Slater is in fine mettle, leaping and shaking it all over the place. If the stage sound is a hindrance to him, it's not evident. The band is in lockstep behind him, which belies any fears of the Voodoos' part-time status being a hindrance.
"Jezabel" slides into a re-jigged cover of Ig's "I'm Bored" that growls and swaggers and when Technology smiles and the pedal problem finally goes away, there's a noticeable lift in the crowd energy levels as good old saturated guitar sound starts streaming out of the PA.
In fact, Houndog's sound is back just in time for "Shake Shake Hey Yeah" to take us by the throat and give us a good throttling, but it's hard to duck the conclusion that a spirited set has had the legs cut from under it by technical troubles.
And that, ladies and gents, is Rock and Roll. You pays your money and you takes your chances. See you next time.
Gary Slater of Voodoo Lust.
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