Reach out and touch somebody

It’s nearly 200 years since Darwin first came up with his theory of evolution and yet, even now, evolutionary scientists can not fully explain how new species arise.

In the 1980s in Australia, there were reported sightings of a previously unknown animal. These reports increased throughout the decade, probably because the creature was easily identifiable due to a unique combination of traits, particularly the sound it made.

By the late 1980s, anywhere you went in Australia, whether hiking in the bush, mucking around at Bondi Beach, or trekking by camel across the remote sandy desert, sooner or later you would stop, and turn your head towards the breeze, on which you could faintly hear, wafting, the melodic strains of this distinctive creature, floating through the air.

Sometimes a new category of species is created through breeding processes, and although it was still 20 years before we would all go crazy, mating our labradors with the neighbor’s poodles to make a batch of warm, fluffy labradoodles, it seems that some sinister laboratory cross-breeding experiment went horribly wrong and resulted in a new species that was a cross between UK band Simple Minds and Aussie band INXS.

The newly-emerged creature was a specific category of male homosapien, about 6 feet tall, with dark hair, that was always curly – if not genetically, then through chemical means – usually worn in a long mullet. The creature’s normal garb was black leather trousers and a black leather jacket, and his natural habitat was on a stage in front of a drummer, a bass, lead and rhythm guitar, and – since it was, after all, the 1980s – the optional but highly likely additions of a synthesiser and a saxophone.

These creatures seemed to be capable of multiplying at an astronomical rate, and during this period, a plethora of Aussie bands flooded the airwaves with the Simple Minds-X-INXS sound – much as, 20 years later, dog-rescue centres would be flooded with an oversupply of labradoodles, cavoodles, schnoodles and schmoodles.

Anyone who has studied the history of this animal (the mullet-headed band leader, not the poodle-cross) knows that the most significant practitioners of this sound were two particular Aussie bands, Noiseworks and Boom Crash Opera. (Another trait these bands had in common, apparently, was to ensure that loud noise was synonymous with their very identity.)

Below follows a taste test, so that you can make your own decision about the similarities. First, the originals:

  1. INXS – Melting in the Sun (1984)

 

2. Alive and Kicking – Simple Minds (1985)

 

And next, their progeny:

Boom Crash Opera – Great Wall (1987)

 

Noiseworks – Touch (1988)

 

Anyone interested enough to check out a portion of each, will find evidence that definite cross-breeding occurred.

Inevitably, just like a labradoodle, Boom Crash Opera and Noiseworks never quite managed (in my humble opinion) to reach the same level of success that their forebears had. Back in those days, I loved INXS (did I tell you about the time I met Michael Hutchence?) and I guess I liked Simple Minds well enough. Whereas to me, the most interesting thing about Boom Crash Opera was that one afternoon in 1988, guitarist Richard Pleasance called hello to me and a friend from the window of an upstairs apartment in St Kilda. Despite the thrill my 19-year old self felt at that event, the relationship between myself and Pleasance never progressed any further, and nor did the relationship between myself and the music of Boom Crash Opera. As for Noiseworks, I was never interested in their sound. It was not that I had developed more sophisticated taste by then (I hadn’t) but just that in 1988 I preferred the gentler melodies of The Pet Shop Boys and Aussie/New Zealand band Crowded House.

Nevertheless, despite the fact that they only ever seemed like a weak imitation of a better band, and even the fact that a few days after starting this post I thought of at least 2 far better songs with the lyrics “reach out” in them, it was the Noiseworks song above that I thought of when I received an emailed response to some negative feedback I’d given about a food product I’d ordered.

Aha! You thought this was a post about 80’s bands, but it’s really about corporate catch-phrases. Gotcha!

So anyway, three days after I sent my feedback, I’d received three emails from this company. The first was an automated reply to say my feedback had been received and that they’d be in touch with me shortly. The next email, about 48 hours later, was to say that they’d received a high amount of contact this week and there would be a further delay in responding to my feedback. The third was an actual response, written by a human being, that opened with the line, “Hello. Thank you for reaching out to us.”

The scariest thing on reading this was, that this was the second time in one week, I’d been thanked for ‘reaching out’. The other instance was equally as ridiculous. At work we use Dropbox for all our electronic files, and I knew our Dropbox Business Account was due to be renewed, I wanted to confirm what the charge would be, so I checked our account online, where I could see our 15 Dropbox accounts – and the total cost that we paid last year. I thought there might be an increase in the cost for the next financial year, so I filled out the online form to ask what the cost would be this year. In response, I received an email from a staff member at Dropbox, that began, “Thank you for reaching out. I understand you would like to know how much your annual charge will be” – and then pointed me to the link I’d already checked, to our account, showing me what the current charges are.

From these two emails I gather that suddenly we are not able to simply “ask how much our bill will be” or “give some negative feedback”, and heaven forbid we should be perceived to be “making a complaint.” No, all of these interactions and more can now be summarised under the touchy-feely, feel-good umbrella of “reaching out.”

This is where we come to another, more insidious sort of cross-breeding, that of terms and concepts from psychology and psychotherapy, bred most unfortunately with terms and concepts from New Age theories, for the purpose of creating a brand new Marketing and Communications Strategy.

The result is watered-down terms that have lost their original meaning. To describe someone as “reaching out” traditionally implies that they are asking for help in really dire circumstances. If you Google “reach out” in Australia, the first page of links are all for a youth organisation called Reach Out. That makes sense to me, because community organisations encourage people to reach out for help or support in a time of need.

It’s now common in Australia, that after any story on TV, radio or in print media that touches on topics like depression or anxiety, suicide, mental illness, or any other issue that could cause distress, phone numbers for organisations like LifeLine are listed, along with a message that says “if anything on tonight’s program has caused concern please phone the numbers below.” That’s because we try to encourage people to reach out, and let someone else know that they need some help. It’s a phrase that relates to circumstances a million times removed from checking on an annual bill, or complaining that a meal was not edible.

So I really find it repulsive that corporate-type companies have begun to take over the term “reaching out” and use it, apparently, for any and all customer contact. On both occasions, my reasons for contacting the companies in question were mundane, and it is a manipulative use of language to describe those interactions as me “reaching out,” as if I reached out needing help in a time of distress, or perhaps just needing some friendly contact to stave off loneliness, and, lo and behold, these corporate-type companies came to my rescue.

I’m glad to report that I’ve unsubscribed to the first company. I can’t unsubscribe my workplace from Dropbox but I’ll avoid “reaching out” to them again if possible.

If I do feel the need to reach out to somebody, I’ll probably start with my family, my friends, or even write a post here, as writing a post feels far more personal than emailing a supplier to ask how much my bill will be.

Or maybe I’ll just put on some bad music from the 80’s and imagine I’m reaching out to touch somebody.

*

“Reach out, reach out, reach out and touch somebody.” – Noiseworks, from The Noiseworks Marketing and Communications Strategy, 1988.

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The Sound of the City

Yesterday I read a post by a fellow Melbourne blogger, on her site Sampling Station, where she asked, what does your hometown sound like?

I started to write a reply in the comments section, but of course, that became too long very quickly and I realised I would have to reply via a post instead.

Perhaps I should begin by clarifying what town I’m referring to. I grew up in a small country town about 1.5 hrs away from Melbourne, so strictly speaking that small town is my “hometown”. But I’ve already written a post about the soundtrack to growing up in a country town in regional Victoria in the 1970s so there’s no need to cover that ground again. I don’t get sentimental about my hometown – my affection for Melbourne is much stronger – so on this occasion I’ll be exploring the soundtrack to the town I’ve lived in for the majority of my life now, ie, the fair city of Verona Melbourne, Victoria, Australia.

Before I lived in Melbourne, it was always the city that I aspired to get to. My main goal in life was to leave home, and get the hell out of the country.

Let’s face it, as a young kid, and then teenager, growing up in a small country town, in a working class family that had to pack 8 people into a mini-van in order to take a family holiday to Mildura, it was pretty unlikely my experience of cities was going to range any further than the capital of my own state, so I didn’t exactly have a wide repertoire of cities to draw on for my choice. When I was about 14, a one-off trip with a cousin to stay with some distant relative of hers enabled me to add one more city to my list: Sydney. But Sydney was a long way away, and no-one I knew lived there. Melbourne was only a few hours drive away from home, and I knew people there. As a kid, it was my relatives, then, as a teenager, a friend moved there with her family, and after finishing high school, most of my friends moved to Melbourne to attend various universities and colleges there.

Through my childhood, I associated Melbourne with a sense of freedom and a cool, sophisticated lifestyle. To my 12-year-old mind, freedom and a sophisticated lifestyle meant moving out of home and listening to rock music without parents around to switch it off and give me a lecture on its evils. This was because my own very strict, religious parents disapproved of any rock or pop music written after the mid 1960s, and would frequently remind me of this if I was ever caught listening to it on the radio. Most of my older cousins lived in Melbourne, and when I would stay with them, all they talked about was the latest record they had bought, and what bands they had seen on Countdown! that week.

300px-CountdownLogo

Pic: Wikipedia

One of the songs that sticks in my mind from those days, which I associated with Melbourne, is actually by a New Zealand band, Split Enz. They were a quirky, new-wave (sometimes described as “art rock”) band in the late 1970s and early 80s, a time when film clips were new, and you can tell when you look at them now! But I recall sitting in the lounge at my grandmother’s house in Reservoir, in the northern suburbs of Melbourne (back then, an outer suburb with a high population of first generation Greek and Italian families), surrounded by heaps of cousins of all ages, and watching the entire clip of I Got You, by Split Enz and thinking it was the coolest thing ever.

(No doubt I was probably caught by my parents and kicked out of the room shortly afterwards, missing the second half of something like Tired of Toeing the Line by Rocky Burnett. This is why I’ve never seen the clips that everyone else has seen.)

At the time, (around 1980), this clip was very arty indeed: note the billowing curtain, the mod-ish, stylised look of the band, the special effects (as witnessed at the line “Sometimes we shout” at about 32 seconds in). Now, of course, it is amusingly B-grade, and I love it all the more for that.

Fast forward to the late 80s, when I was 17, and Australian film director Richard Lowenstein released a film about musicians living in a shared house in the inner Melbourne suburb of Richmond, named Dogs In Space. My friend Jane and I managed to see the film, which was R-rated, at the cinema. Our main reason for being interested in it was because we loved Michael Hutchence, from INXS, who starred in it. (I’ve written previously on this blog about being a huge INXS fan as a teenager.) I’m glad we did see the film when it was originally out at the cinema, because it has become a cult classic. It’s centred around the “little band scene” – the thriving post-punk band scene in Melbourne in the late 70s. The soundtrack was great, although it was more about setting the scene than highlighting the local “little bands” featured in the movie, and included Iggy Pop, Brian Eno and new material written for the movie by Michael Hutchence and Ollie Olsen, along with a few bands who were actually from the scene, such as the Primitive Calculators. (Olsen was part of the original little band scene.)

Jane managed to find the soundtrack on a record in a dusty old record shop somewhere, and I taped a copy onto cassette. I still have that tape, and so far, I’ve never found that soundtrack in any other format. This soundtrack introduced me for the first time to Nick Cave, via the song Shivers, recorded with The Boys Next Door, the band that Cave fronted with Rowland S Howard, who I’ve written about previously. Howard was the one who wrote Shivers but it is the version sung by Nick Cave that most people are familiar with. In this clip Howard can be seen to the far right, barely more than a kid, playing guitar. This slow, melancholy song is not really typical of The Boys Next Door, but I’ve stuck with it because it was my introduction to Nick Cave, and also because back in the 80s, there were plenty of goths around Melbourne who idolised Cave and this song.

Around 1987, Australian singer-songwriter Paul Kelly released an album with a band known at the time as The Coloured Girls (later changed to The Messengers to avoid any racist connotations). The album was Gossip, and went on to have track after track of hit singles. Now, I’ve never called myself a huge fan of Paul Kelly’s, but in the same way that I’m not a huge fan of Bob Dylan or Neil Young – it’s not like these people need my endorsement. I can recognise that these singer-songwriters are hugely talented, and that their songs capture themes and imagery that resonate with many people. It’s just that I always choose other music before theirs, when I feel like listening to music. Perhaps all three are just a little too folksy for me. Whatever the reason, some Paul Kelly songs made it through my “folk” filters, and one of those, from Gossip, was Leaps and Bounds. If you lived in Melbourne at the time, which I didn’t, it must have seemed like an anthem.

I’m high on the hill

looking over the bridge 

to the MCG

and way up on high

the clock on the silo 

says eleven degrees

I picture a sunny, but frosty, winter morning, at the bridge near Punt Road in the inner suburb of Richmond. Punt Road is like Melbourne’s artery, the main road to get from the southern to the northern suburbs, and usually a traffic nightmare at peak times as it’s just a two lane road in parts. Back when this song was written, (and indeed right up until the existence of the Western Suburbs reached the general consciousness in the past 10 years or so), Richmond really felt like the centre of Melbourne as it had a major train station, and it’s easy to navigate from Richmond via road or public transport to the Northern, Eastern and Southern suburbs. The Nylex tower (with the clock on the silo) is recognised by anyone who has ever caught a train at Richmond station or driven up or down Punt Road. Even apart from the inclusion of the historic MCG, Melbourne’s cricket ground, it was an image of Melbourne that was of its time.

In the early 90’s I went to a nightclub in Prahran called IDs, and discovered a live band playing there, with the rather poetic name of Not Drowning Waving. I immediately became a fan of their melancholy sounding music that combined beautiful strings (violin and later cello) with a huge percussion section (live they usually had 3 to 4 people on percussion, or sometimes everyone!) I’ve written a post previously about Not Drowning Waving. Many of their songs and instrumental pieces were, by that time, about the landscape of Australia, and its troubled treatment of indigenous Australians, however they also wrote songs that were lyrically similar to another Aussie band, The Go-Betweens, in the sense that they captured the ordinariness of life in the suburbs and the quiet despair that is sometimes hidden from view.

Not Drowning Waving’s ode to Thomastown resonated with me because I had cousins who lived in that suburb. Coming from the country, Thomastown was all that I didn’t like about the city, and probably why I’ve always been adamantly against ever moving beyond the inner suburbs. It was a depressing suburb of bright orange seventies brick houses, surrounded by cement and ashpalt, with huge electricity pylons running down the centre of the main roads. My cousins’ front yard consisted of a cement path with little white pebbles on each side of it, bordered at the front by bright orange bricks. Even as a kid I found it a bleak and disheartening environment.

Well, dear reader, as I could have guessed would happen, my word count is already too long and I should wrap this up before anyone who has actually made it this far falls asleep, yet I’m barely even into the 90s with my soundtrack of Melbourne. Oh dear. Let’s call this instalment side 1, dedicated to those who recall a time when albums had 2 sides and you had to physically get up and turn them over (or wait for the cassette to get to the end and start up on the other side) before you could hear side 2.

So stay tuned for another instalment, when I will honestly try to select only a few more tunes, for Side 2 of the soundtrack to my hometown!

Soundtrack to Melbourne:

Side 1:

Split Enz, I Got You (c1980)

The Boys Next Door, Shivers (c 1979)

Paul Kelly and the Coloured Girls, Leaps and Bounds (c 1987)

Not Drowning Waving, Thomastown (c 1989)

Check it out now, the funk soul brother

For once, a brother-themed post is not about my own brothers!

Instead, it’s about three films I went to see recently for the Melbourne International Film Festival (MIFF). Some friends and I get together every year to see a few films during MIFF and this always includes some of the music documentaries in the Backbeat program.

I didn’t realise ahead of time, but this year, all 3 music documentaries I selected turned out to feature brothers. It seemed a funny coincidence to me, so I thought I’d share these musical brotherly connections with you all.

Mistaken For Strangers – This was a documentary about US band The National, on their 2010 tour.  Matt Berninger, lead singer of the band, invited his younger brother Tom, to join them as a roadie for the tour, and Tom decides he will make a documentary about the band. I like this band, and the promise of an entertaining story about the relationship between two brothers added to the attraction.

Not surprisingly, this film was my favourite of the 3 documentaries.

As described by an interviewer at the start of the doco,The National is a “band of brothers” – there are 2 sets of brothers in the band, and Matt Berninger. The same journalist says to Matt, “what about you Matt? You’re the band member who doesn’t have a brother.” Matt replies “I do have a brother, but he’s more of a metalhead….he thinks indie rock is pretentious bullshit.”

Cue our introduction to Tom, possibly mid 30s and apparently still living with his parents. All I gleaned about his occupation is that he had made some really bad “slasher” films. As the metalhead  “no-hoper” brother, Tom was too good to be true – Jack Black couldn’t have played him any better. (See the link below to a review and trailer, and cut to 34 secs in, where Tom, driving his car, grins into the camera, and takes both hands off the wheel.) On tour, he proceeds to annoy everyone, forget his responsibilities, create mess, miss the tour bus, and is seen constantly sticking a camera in people’s faces and asking them what they are doing, or arranging to interview people and then waffling, with no plan of what to ask them. His older brother, and the other band members, appeared to be surprisingly patient with him, but the tour manager is less so, and finally (spoiler warning!) he is kicked off the tour. I couldn’t help but find that moment a bit sad. Tom seemed a directionless, disorganised person with very little insight into himself, but he was also genuine and enthusiastic, and therefore not unlikeable.

In the end, Tom finished the documentary off after the tour had ended, with the assistance of Matt and his wife. It is hard to know how much of the film was really spontaneous documentary and how much was scripted later, to fill in or create a storyline. For example, right after Tom is kicked off the tour, we see footage of him drowning his sorrows at a bar. If that footage was really filmed right at that moment, who was filming it and with what purpose in mind? But in the end that doesn’t matter. Tom was the real thing, and that was enough to make me believe that most of the scenes we saw were the real thing too. Add to all that, footage of live concerts, and this was an enjoyable film from start to finish.

You can read a great review of this film, and check out the entertaining trailer here.

The Sunnyboy – this film was a documentary about Jeremy Oxley, lead singer of an Australian band called The Sunnyboys, a post-punk band from Sydney, active between 1980-84. I knew nothing about this band before seeing the film. I don’t remember being aware of them in the early 80’s (although I do recognise the hit Alone With You). Apparently they were very big in Australia for a few years, but broke up at the height of their fame, due to Jeremy’s struggles with what was later recognised as mental illness (and later still, diagnosed as schizophrenia).

Jeremy’s brother Peter was also in the band back in the early 80s. Peter made efforts to help his brother around the time the band broke up and later on, but it is only in the past few years that Jeremy has started to take medication and get his life back on track again. Recently Peter, along with Jeremy’s new partner Mary, has been able to get Jeremy to take an interest in playing music again, and in performing in front of an audience. In the past few years, the Sunnyboys have reformed and played some gigs.

This was a lovely film because it was very matter of fact about Jeremy and his life, and also because of the hopeful turning point his life has recently reached. It seemed as though the director had been very open minded, and not approached the film with an agenda to portray Jeremy, or schizophrenia, in any pre-defined way.

ABC episode (takes about 5 minutes) on the documentary here.

Artifact  The final film was a documentary about Thirty Seconds To Mars, a band I knew nothing about. I chose this film because it was about the band’s fight with their record label EMI, who had sued the band for $30 million for trying to exit their contract. The “David and Goliath” aspect of a small band fighting a legal case against a giant like EMI sounded potentially pretty interesting.

Now, for those who, along with me, have been living under a rock, the band Thirty Seconds to Mars is led by Jared Leto. Leto is apparently famous as an “indie” actor, for films like Fight Club and Requiem for a Dream. (I don’t remember him in Fight Club and haven’t seen Requiem For a Dream.) His older brother, Shannon, is the drummer in the band. The relationship between the brothers was not a big feature of this film, but I noted with interest that Jared, the younger brother, was the frontman and singer/songwriter for the band, and, on film at least, leader in all creative decisions for the band, as well as in all talks with the lawyer and manager about the lawsuit. Older brother Shannon depicted his life prior to becoming a drummer, as filling time with “criminal” activity. Shannon comes across as bad-guy-made-good, a quiet guy who leaves the talking and decisions to his younger brother, and concentrates on practising his craft. As far as I could tell, he was a very skilful drummer.  Jared, on the other hand, came across as the penultimate metrosexual man: good looking, intelligent, articulate, able to play piano and guitar. The man can sing, write songs, drive a car while issuing directives on the phone to the band’s manager or lawyer about the lawsuit, and, when needed, muster up a very soulful stare over the lights of LA at sunrise, for the purposes of making his documentary that bit more heartfelt.

This film was my least favourite of the 3. This is not to say it’s not a good film, or that it’s not worth seeing, just that I personally connected more with the music and people in the other two films. It didn’t help that, as it turned out, I didn’t like this band’s music. But this film is worth seeing, whether you like the music or not.

Artifact was a really interesting insight into the music industry. Scenes of the band working on their next album in their loungeroom, with a lawsuit hanging over their heads, were interpersed with soundbites from interviews with music industry professionals.  These, and a graphic presentation, highlighted how bands who land contracts with major labels are likely to end up being totally screwed. The figures put forward, on how much the record company takes out of album sales, were outrageous. In summary I think they said that if a band sells 500 000 copies of an album, they can probably expect to end up with a debt of approximately $75 000. Because they are under contract, that debt is to be paid off with the next album. Only of course, if the next album sells the same amount, that means the debt will accrue to $150 000. And so on.

We also heard how availability to music and technology via the internet has disadvantaged bands. Record sales have plummeted in the past decade now that people can illegally download and burn music so easily. Add that to the fact that about 85% of sales will go to the record company. (see above). The reason Thirty Seconds to Mars had wanted out of their contract was because, despite platinum sales for their previous album, they had not seen a cent of royalties. This documentary really made me feel like buying some actual, physical albums, just to support bands. (I don’t do illegal downloads but I am definitely guilty of burning CDs).

Although at times I felt that parts of this documentary were contrived, who can blame Leto for using his skills – and profile – as an actor to create a vehicle to get this story heard as widely as possible. And also, perhaps, to help raise some funds.

The irony in the final scene of this film nearly made me a bit teary, believe it or not. (Warning: spoilers). After we’d witnessed the band’s struggle to create a new album with no finance from their record company, and under the stress of a lawsuit, Thirty Seconds to Mars had triumphed: EmI had negotiated a new contract, their album had been released by EMI, and they were touring the album. We see Leto, now sporting a mohawk, performing at a live concert. The audience is going off, Leto is going off, and the film cuts to an aerial shot. We can see probably about 2000 people on the floor, in a venue that holds many more. Jared calls out to the audience, “hands up who’s got our latest album?”. As one, 2000 hands go up, amidst screams of hysteria – YEEAAAAHHHHH!!! He calls out again: “Hands up if you stole it off the internet!”  More screams, YEEEEAAAAAHHH!!!! – and 2000 hands go up again.

(Idea for Thirty Seconds To Mars – set up a stand outside cinemas and sell your CDs there….I dare any fan to come out of the documentary and NOT buy one.)

(* Final note – if scheduling had allowed, I would also have gone to see The Punk Singer – a documentary about Kathryn Hanna, founder of the riot grrrl movement in the 1990s – I couldn’t make it to the session times. Not sure if she had a brother.)

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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