Still The Same

Tex Perkins has played a key role in Australian music, and has heralded the emergence of an entirely original yet archetypically Australian sound. (1)

Last Friday night I went along to see two of the stalwarts of Australian music, Tex Perkins and Charlie Owen, play together at The Substation, in Newport, a suburb in the inner west of Melbourne. It’s been a long time since I’ve seen  these two play together – the last time was with Don Walker, as Tex, Don and Charlie, back in the mid 90’s. I vaguely recall thinking at the time, that gig was one of the best I’ve been to – but I’m pleased to say that last night’s could easily be put into that category too.

As the two worked through an impressive and varied repertoire, including some lovely renditions of songs by Don Walker and Townes Van Zan, I was reminded once again that both of these musicians should be included any list of highly respected singer-songwriters such as Paul Kelly and Don Walker that have contributed to creating music that is quintessentially Australian. (Owens may not sing lead vocals, but his contribution to this same body of Australian music is significant.)

Now, I don’t want to get all patriotic on you, but I’m definitely drawn to any artform that captures a strong sense of place, ( at least, when it’s a place I’m interested in), whether it’s Manhattan in the 1960s, the slums of Sydney in the 1930s, or the Australian landscape – and to me, their music captures the latter.

Back in the 80’s and 90’s, Perkins’ band, The Cruel Sea, released albums like Down Below (1989), and This is Not The Way Home (1991), which did indeed herald a new, and quintessentially Australian sound. The producers of Aussie cop drama Blue Heelers, (1994 – 2006) clearly recognised that this music captured something about the country (in both senses of the word), when they chose to use the track, Reckless Eyeballin’ as the theme music for what became a very popular, multi-award winning TV drama about a police station in a small country town.

Perkins’ musical collaborations with Owen have a different, perhaps more reflective, quality to them, but it’s still a sound that evokes the  Australian landscape.

Tex Perkins

Image: Texperkins.com.au

Owen’s slide guitar evokes a sense of space, and the spaciousness of this country, the loneliness that it can contain, and sometimes, the eeriness, like a deserted town in the middle of nowhere. Other pieces capture a sense of movement, like a rollicking roadtrip along endless highways. Together, their sound ranges somewhere between country (with a complexity that avoids the corny sentimentality that the worst of the genre contains) and blues-influenced rock, or, as described on Wikipedia, a distinctively Australian country-blues cocktail.

Perkin’s lyrics are often in the tradition of the story-teller musing on his failures in life and relationships (I Must Be Getting Soft, Fake That Emotion, Still The Same). They are full of visual imagery, evoking cold rainy nights, seedy hotel rooms, long distance phone calls, long-suffering women, and men who drink themselves to sleep, and don’t very much like the person they see in the mirror in the cold hard light of morning.

Back in the days of dyed black, spikey hair and heroin, Perkins looked a bit scary (well the first time I ever saw him sitting on the floor of the Sarah Sands hotel in Brunswick – which no longer exists – bellowing into a microphone he looked kinda scary, anyway), but these days he is a mellowed and charismatic performer – always the best type! – and the audience at the gig last Friday were highly entertained between numbers. His between-numbers antics included “fighting” with some “unwilling” guitars that would not stay in tune, telling the audience that he had hoped that Owen would cover for him, “in fact I always hope that”, and announcing (before launching into a song by Don Walker – sorry, can’t recall which one it was, probably Redheads, Gold Cards and Long Black Limousines), “it’s really a Don Walker Love-in here tonight!”

The only blight on this gig was the sound mixing – at times Owen’s keyboard seemed to unnecessarily drown out everything else, including Perkin’s vocals. Besides that, it was a great gig, at a great venue, small enough to feel intimate,  and with seating for those of us who were standing up at gigs in the 90s!

So – close to perfect.

(1) Substation – publicity blurb

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