The Adelaide music scene: to many of you it might be little more than a touring speed bump between Melbourne and Perth but to us it's a way of life. Feast within, on all its dysfunctioning splendour, as we bring you the highly satirical, laughingly fictional and intellectually imbecile tales from our rock & roll wasteland...
LEADER CHEETAH + NO THROUGH ROAD + YOUNG HEARTS FAIL LIVE @ ED CASTLE / Friday December 12th 2008
Sometimes it's the simplest of things, in the stupidest of ways, that turn everything around. Tonight, Friday night, it all started with the rain: this insane, improbable and impossible rain. I almost forgot what it sounded like but we've been hearing this sweet symphony all day. It's been raining by the bucket, I'm soaking it in, swallowing, swimming and gargling up to my tonsils in it. Here halfway between a hammering deluge and a gentle tickling of the ivories for as long as I can remember. Here singing these sweet melodies, pulling shapes in the aggregate, forming a full moon at its perigee and washing those city streets clean again. Yes! This is what we've been waiting for, this is a sign: against all odds all things are still possible! Sure we may have boiled the oceans dry like a kettle for the last century and a half, like there were no drops left to be wrung, like blood from a stone; yet this is proof that it all comes back again, and when it does maaaan it floods! Like a pantheon pissing through a thousand sieves: just one flush of the toilet is all it takes to start this shit up again. Still I know what you're thinking: where has it been all this time? where did it all go? all this insane precipitation has to come from somewhere, flow through somewhere, be a part of someone: what is the cost when what we're drinking was once the blood, sweat and tears of a thousand fallen? not just the once but a billion times over? right back to the primordial raining on us again and again!? but that's the genius of it! Just when everything's all dead, dried and fucked up around here: the rain comes, we collect the seeds they left behind and we grow new trees maaan! Everything old is new again; our funeral rites give rise to a new wave, we're an infinite stream of consciousness in all directions ever evolving and expanding!
Still, I agree it's been getting grim out there, it's getting to be desperate, reinforcements couldn't come a moment too soon. They've been dropping like flies and I've been stepping over a growing pile of them just to get to the front door. Every December reads like a death toll: I know of three bands on the chopping block already and surely there'll be three more yet to come. There's a million excuses, pick one, even I was starting to sink under the sand. And yet from one to the next, in all the stories etched into vinyl, plastic, bits and bytes harking back to the same barking archetypes: we're learning it. From all the culture vulturing, forming frankensteins from the 60's, 70's, 80's and 90's back to antiquity, obsessing over the same pattern of pink bits: we're hoarding it. We're picking shit up, piece by piece, forming patterns in the snow you can now read from space and we're pointing the way ever upwards. Every season we map the rise and fall and yet the forest continues to grow. Everytime it rains there's always more of this shit to go around..
So as much as we may've seen it all last season (and believe me I've seen it all!): when all these bands appeared utterly at random to rise, thrive, bellyflop then disappear; only to disperse, mutate, merge then reappear. When you found the same drummer in four different bands, or two of them in tandem, maybe one of them was playing the bongos, or five of them were taking turns off mic and shouting. When everyone was called Matt or Josh, there was a chick on bass and one of them had an afro. And then they released a few EPs or an album: first it was post punk, then art rock, psychedelic, this year it was shoegaze and next year it'll be sixty dickheads sounding like MGMT with a drum machine and a horn section. I swear it's getting better, it's not the end of the world, there's more yet to come. And if the Ed Castle tonight is any indication of what we have to look forward to in 2009 and beyond? the future might still be worth sticking around for!
YOUNG HEARTS FAIL (***) myspace :: Our opening act is brand new, it's their first ever live gig tonight and we ALL know what's gonna happen next: we all know this is what Spoz's Rant lives for, this is every reason why YOU should never invite ME along to your debut set. Call it what you will: fresh fish, lambs to the slaughter, deer in the headlights, puppies to the blender, shit to the fan; chances are you're gonna need a step ladder, a chisel and a sponge to pick the "chunky bits" off the ceiling when I'm done with them! FUCK I LOVE THIS SHIT!! WOOOOOO!! Or at least that's what you've all been thinking. But it appears the Adelaide scene may finally be learning, they're adapting to this shit, they're wisening up to my terrorism tactics. This is Young Hearts Fail, they're sneaky little fuckers, they've done their research! Here's how you pull one over on Spoz: come up with a backing band of shoegazer dweebs who sound exactly like Interpol, Kasabian, Stone Roses or The Cure: we all know I'm a foaming fuckwit for this shit (it worked for Lumonics, it worked for Billy Bishop Goes To War, it'll work wonders for YOU too!); then you slap a cute girl up front to do all the vocals, then you invite me along to your artfully designed myspace and your awesome selection of tunes. Genius! You've got a lifetime of rave reviews ahead of you! YES! But not so fast Young Hearts Fail, I've done a little research of my own. What appears to be a debut band tonight is in actual fact a "reboot" of two other bands coming back for revenge, two other bands I've already faced in the heat of battle before (and with mixed results!). The first I saw back in January: Sidewalks. A totally awesome post punk performance by all accounts short of one Matt Hayward (from Central Deli Band) pulling the hilarious Humphrey B Bear shapes out front. It didn't last long, maybe 1-2 gigs at best, only to be never heard of again. Which is a pity, considering just HOW many jokes I could've written about their front man alone (aaaah fuck I love that freak!). The second I saw back in April: Love Zombies. A jarring collision in Japanese pop punk and illbient ear bleed, I think they were the nicest EVER one star review I ever gave (I think I even apologised for it!?). By all accounts it'd be a disaster in the making if ever we thought to combine both of these bands into the one frankenstein beast: and yet against all insane odds? they surprisingly really don't suck!
Young Hearts Fail. They're what happens when you get Dan Kessler from Interpol on guitar, Mike Dempsey from The Cure on bass, Matt Tong from the Bloc Party on drums (in the body of one of the freaks from Devo) and then get Noodle from cartoon band the Gorillaz to front it. They're tragically shoegaze, morose, maudlin, impossibly shy and scenster "fashionable" in ways that only a Sydney "haircut" band could ever get away with, but with rose colour glasses on I can see some real promise here. As a backing band they channel the layered guitars of Interpol, The Editors and The Cure combined with Bloc Party's "Silent Alarm" in urgent rhythm and spidering percussion. On vocals (and shrinking ever further away from the microphone) they're a voice that flits between Hope Sandoval from Mazzy Star, Juanita Stein from The Howling Bells, Sienna Lee from Love Outside Andromeda, Beth Gibbons from Portishead and a teeny tiny bird nursing a broken wing (awwww!) not so much for sounding like ANY of them individually, but more so for sounding like all of them combined, drugged out on chloroform. Still it's a hypnotic bliss, you're hopelessly drawn, you're mesmerised, captivated and in a trance; and you're holding your breath for four minutes at a time right till the very end. They're songs that build without chorus or verse, sustained, building tension, sucking the oxygen out of the air. You buy into their desperation like a cult. And as long as Xixi Cao can get over her intense need to run the fuck away and hide? there's a good chance that this could be THE band in 2009 to light fifty candles, fill a bathtub, overdose on valium, slash your wrists, call 000 and form a midnight vigil for. Oh yes! You have been warned!
NO THROUGH ROAD (****1/2) myspace :: Brightening the mood somewhat in act two is No Through Road. They're the rainbow at the other end of the storm. They've been trying to kill themselves off for years now and damnit it just never seems to stick! Just ask Matt Banham their lead singer: he would know more than any of us, he's been writing woeful anthems to self loathing for a good part of a decade now, before this band, back when he was a solo act. You can find hints of it on their first album "Too Much Or Not Enough". It's right there in track one, Helicopter #1 when he moans: "seeing you is like walking helicopters and being blown to bits" and it just gets messier from there. And yet no matter what this lunatic does to himself, just like Groundhog Day, he just keeps on coming back for more. He's tried everything to off himself, he's coming to the realisation that he's damn near invulnerable and now he's really starting to enjoy it. It's in the way that he always carries himself on stage (and oft times falling right off it), careening off kilter, shirt and tie askew, like an office christmas party gone horribly right: equal parts Bill Murray, Sir Les Patterson and Ricky Gervais with a microphone swinging and karaoke singing: "I've just quit my job, I'm burning my bridges, I just don't give a fuck no more!". If Young Hearts Fail in act one sounded like a coiled spring, cradling back and forth and stroking that razorblade wishing for sweet relief; then No Through Road in act two sounds like Pandora's box let loose on the world. They're a band with NOTHING left to lose. Nothing is quite nearly as terrifying. Nothing is quite nearly as awesome to drink yourself comatose to!
No Through Road. They're the five to six times over the legal limit you get when you combine The Violent Femmes, Baby Shambles, Tapes N Tapes and Pavement into the one carbonised can, shaken vigoriously, stabbed with a knife then shotgunned in full. They ain't going anywhere (excuse the pun), they're here for the long haul and they're popping pills down that highway well into 2009; they've even got a new album to release.. shit yeah! They're Adelaide's most beloved crash test dummies to inebriate excess, swerving into incoming traffic, strapping their seatbelts in and bracing for impact again and again; but tonight is still a bittersweet affair. Being Matt Banham's backing band is part battering ram, bull in a china shop and Irish wake. They're a hard act for anyone to follow, let alone swallow in pints imperial or yard glass; we're talking iron lungs, dialysis and waiting list material here. Occassionally members need to leave the room, wait till the walls stop spinning and seek next of kin. Such is the case for Stephanie Crase tonight, the mischevious imp on guitar and drums. It's her very last gig with the band, she's seeking slightly less suicidal sanctuary with Batrider in London and No Through Road sure as fuck ain't letting her leave this place without taking the whole building, brick by brick and collapsing rubble with her. It's one helluva send off, dangerously close to flying off the rails, but by the seat of our pants and the skin of our teeth, we more than happy to join her for one last rollercoaster ride!
LEADER CHEETAH (****) myspace :: Which brings us to our final headlining act: a classic character study of before and after, and what it takes to triumph against all adversity in the Adelaide scene. It's the faces of crystal meth. It's Smeagol and Gollum. It's the Christian Bale crash course diet from Batman Begins to The Machinist. It's the world weary look of Dan Crannitch on leads tonight, eyes rolling back well to the whites, inches from death, midway between a matyr complex and a mental patient. Wow.. who would've thought? He used to be in The Pharaohs, Adelaide's most annoyingly awesome, angular, indie angst band; and just look at him now! he's so deleriously happy, he's right where he wants to be, he's home at last! (and if someone would only give him a tall drink of water and a fist full of vitamins he wouldn't look nearly as dead!). Leader Cheetah. It's been a strange journey to get here, stranger than most. I half imagine him crawling, crazed and bedraggled through a scorching sun, a sea of sand like a frying pan, bleach cattle skulls, rattle snakes and vultures circling, days lost in the desert, days without water, dazed and delerious with arms outreached. Then just when it was looking all too desperate for him, like it could've been closing credits and a curtain call, along comes a UFO to pick him up in it's high beams, it spits him up on a live stage to a crowd of onlookers and then someone hands him a guitar. Fuck yeah! And short of a lapsed record contract, Triple J high rotation, a band member leaving for Sydney and a drastic change in direction; that shit wouldn't be far from the truth. Sometimes it takes more than just one band to find the truth. Sometimes lighting strikes in the same place twice. Sometimes you truly have to go through hell and back again (and a bartending job at the Exeter) just to find yourself again..
Leader Cheetah. Like a quavering dentist drill with a nose attached they're the lovelorn song of a road well travelled, inches from sweet salvation. They're a mix tape, half molten on the dashboard mixing all the best moments of American gothic laced with lashings of tumbleweed torpor: from Neil Young's "Harvest Moon", through to Dinosaur Jr's "Feel The Pain" to The Arcade Fire's "My Body Is A Cage" all filtered through the voice of a Vegas drag queen. They're every reason you wanted to bitch slap Eddie Vedder upside the head when he went astray throughout the recording of Pearl Jam's "No Code" and every reason you come back blithering and broken to thrash that Radiohead record one more time on a Sunday. They're a grim survivalist journey against all odds more harrowing than the hollow lines etched into Clint Eastwood's face. They're Burke And Wills long gone and disappeared. They're Sisyphus pushing that boulder up that hill. They're Nine Inch Nails' "Hurt" reinterpretted by Johnny Cash, one whiskey bottle tipped, one ashtray filled, one life long lived in sweet despair. Whoaaa! It's weird to think they swapped Pharoahs for THIS shit, but I agree it's much more honest. I may have had my doubts once, but its growing on me like a five o'clock shadow, like the smell of smoke, like a fine layer of dirt and me waking up in a ditch. It's a wealth of experience. It's waiting it out for weeks at a time, hoping one day the rains will come. I'm right there with them, half crazed, howling the blues, and I'm singing that song..
And so there we have it. When a littany of reasons fly at you every day, to turn tail and run back through that door from whence you came; there's yet more to keep pushing through to the other side. For all these chance discoveries, these golden exceptions to the rule, these mad science experiments when one breaks off, collides into another and makes new rocks to orbit, inch by inch through experience it all grows. There are cycles within cycles here, like rings to a tree, drink your full maaaan there'll always be more to come! Which is every reason why I'm here at Supermild (again) to drink myself retarded, just to see if I'll regenerate when I reach the light of dawn (and of course provides absolutely no reason why, for all my drinking to excess, there's absolutely NO photographic evidence to show for it! wow, who knew we'd actually dodge a bullet for once!?).
Yup, I'm close to the finishing line now. I can smell it. I can see over that horizon. The worms in the earth all sing in unison before me. They do not mock me, they fertilise the mind and then I'm full again. I watch the forest grow around me. When the real rain comes, I'll be right where I want to be. There is no sixth extinction here, there never was: just as surely as the dinosaurs once roamed the earth; they never left us, now they sprout wings and take flight before me. I follow them laughing into the sunlight to join them. Live long enough and you'll see it too. Sure you'll be as batshit insane as I am from experiencing it all, but you'll be all the wiser for it too!