by Chris Familton
Artist curated events like this have been extremely popular overseas in recent years, primarily due to the success of All Tomorrow’s Parties. Unfortunately here in Australia similar festivals have been few and far between with the most notable being the 2009 ATP shows in the hands of Nick Cave. The Hoodoo Gurus have sought to rectify the situation with Dig It Up! – a celebration in style marking their 30th anniversary with some of their favourite bands.
With the Enmore Theatre as the centrepiece bands also played the smaller stages at Notes Live and the Sly Fox with the more intimate Green Room Lounge hosting DJs and comedy. Kudos must go to the organisers under the all seeing eye of Tim Pittman as it was an exceptionally well planned event. Queues were minimal and using a city venue(s) with existing facilities meant that there were bars, eateries and toilets aplenty.
Kicking off proceedings were Hard-Ons, still shirtless and shredding guitar strings and drum sticks as they have done for the past 30 years. Surprisingly this was the first time they’d played the Enmore Theatre and even though the crowd was still rolling in at the start of the day they played like it was Saturday night at the Sando. Blackie was a blur of hair and fingers as he threw out his best rock moves while the rhythm section laid waste with their pummeling mix of metal, punk and hardcore that made for a nice palette cleanser to start the festival.
At Notes Live, Straight Arrows christened the PA with one of their tightest sets in recent memory. Touring has honed them into that kind of band that can sound effortlessly locked in with each other, creating that illusion of controlled chaos as Owen Penglis and Alex Grigg lurched and thrashed around the stage sharing vocals and garage rock riffs. From the tripped out bass groove of Haunted Out to the all out effervescent chant of Bad Temper, Straight Arrows proved to be one of the highlights of the day.
The Fleshtones have been around since the 70s and have obviously honed their craft with exceptional attention to detail. There were choreographed spins, guitar dips and regular crowd visits and while they sounded great and were somewhat endearing their shtick wore thin pretty quickly. There seemed to be little impromptu rock n roll action amid their glam power pop set but the crowd lapped it up as the band exited the venue through the crowd and the foyer.
Local psych pop exponents The Lovetones and Belles Will Ring share some similarities in sound and band members yet they are traveling on different musical tangents. Matt Tow’s Lovetones took things into a more ethereal and dreamy headspace with his 12 string electric and some wonderfully ‘lose yourself’ song arrangements. Belles Will Ring on the other hand have mastered a unique take on dark psych pop complete with flute and trumpet. Their sound was enhanced by the great mix at Notes and they were one of the most rhythmic and pop heady acts of the day.
Undoubtedly the most anticipated (and worst kept ‘secret’) of the day was the reunion of The Sunnyboys (under the pseudonym Kids in Dust) in their first live show since the Mushroom 25 Concert in 1998. There was quite the communal feeling in the theatre as Jeremy Oxley and the original lineup of the band took to the stage and transported the crowd back to their youthful days sweating it out at venues like the Trade Union Club. There were tears, there were arms in the air and around mates shoulders as the band knocked out all the classics like the seminal Love to Rule, What You Need, Happy Man, Show Me Some Discipline and Alone With You. After a slightly nervous start any doubts about whether they would still sound good were alleviated. Oxley’s vocals were as strong as ever, the guitar lines sounded clean and sharp and the rhythm section still kept things concise and punchy. The band seemed to having a blast with family watching from the wings and an audience giving them an overwhelming ovation as they left the stage.
The tougher end of the musical spectrum was strongly represented by Tek & Younger playing a muscular set of the highlights from their shared careers. New Race was fast and bruising and though it lacked the full band punch of Radio Birdman the sounded tough and menacing with Rob Younger showing just the right amount of disdain and snarl that has made him one of the greatest frontmen to come from these shores.
Redd Kross last toured Australia in 1994 with Hoodoo Gurus so it was fitting that they return to play with the same hosts. Still looking like they hadn’t aged in 18 years the McDonald brothers and band played the tightest set of the day with songs like Switchblade Sister and Lady in the Front Row and Jimmy’s Fantasy from their classic Phaseshifter LP alongside songs from their forthcoming new album. Their drummer was highly entertaining with his stick tosses into the Enmore rafters and a catch and drop ratio that got better as the set progressed. Redd Kross mixed power pop with camp garage rock n roll perfectly and stood out as a strong crowd favourite from the response of the punters.
A quick dash back to Notes Live to catch the end of Royal Headache’s set and a characteristically frenetic one at that. Shogun was bounding and pacing like a caged animal while the band studiously built a frantic wall of guitars and drums around him. The soul element of Shogun’s voice is what makes their sound unique, highlighted by their closing version of Womack & Womack’s Teardrops which is quickly becoming a crowd favourite.
Another time slot, another seminal Australian act, this time it was Died Pretty fronted by the enigmatic Ron Peno who makes for compulsive viewing with his gyrations, mime-like gestures and crotch grabs. The man is a weird amalgam of Iggy Pop, Mick Jagger and Roger Daltrey yet his voice has its own singular identity. The band was made up of their definitive line-up with Brett Myers’ guitar a particular standout on tracks like the anthemic Sweetheart. Died Pretty continued the theme of the day that bands may split up and go their separate ways but it takes the individual identities of those bands to really make the original songs come back to life again.
One of those bands that surprised many by re-emerging from the past in recent years is The Sonics. Their peak was in the mid 60s but 45 years later they showed they can still deliver some searing rock n roll and garage rock with shared vocals from the Bon Scott-like bassist Freddie Dennis and keyboardist Gerry Roslie. Their set was padded out with a few classic covers like Louie Louie and Have Love, Will Travel but they really hit their stride with the closing trio of hits Strychnine, Psycho and The Witch. Not many acts can do that.
It was left to our venerable hosts the Hoodoo Gurus to close out the night with a full run-through of their first album Stoneage Romeos flanked by inflatable palm trees and with a blow-up Tyrannosaurus Rex looking over drummer Mark Kingsmill’s shoulder. Leilani, Dig It Up, My Girl and I Was A Kamikaze Pilot all sounded fantastic and even though they returned to the stage for a bunch of their other hits it was the Stoneage Romeo section of their set that was the most rewarding. Like Wow Wipeout and Bittersweet sounded like permanently ingrained alternative national anthems as the band left the stage grinning in the knowledge they’d been able to indulge in their own musical passions, play with some of their heroes and and give the crowd a thoroughly rewarding day of rock n roll both old and new. People were calling for them to do it again next year but special events like this are best left as one off moments enabling those that were in attendance to say “I was there…”.
this review was first published on FasterLouder