Overseas success may have eluded them, but The Hoodoo Gurus were one of the few Australian acts of their time to fully crossover from the underground to the mainstream scoring a series of home country chart hits during the ’80s and ’90s. In doing so the band’s ’60s infused garage-pop not only successfully straddled the chasm between suburban beer barns and inner city dives, but also helped turn a generation of young ’uns onto The Flamin’ Groovies, Sonics and other greats via well chosen covers and name dropping in interviews.
Thirty years after the release of the band’s first single ‘Leilani’ the Gurus recently put together a national tour that saw them not only team up with ’60s garage legends The Sonics, but also play their 1984 debut long player Stoneage Romeos in its entirety. As a bonus the Melbourne and Sydney shows were multi-venue Cavestomp style all-dayers featuring a host of their Aussie contemporaries (Died Pretty and Hard Ons plus solo, duo and band spots from members of Radio Birdman, Celibate Rifles, Beasts Of Bourbon and The Scientists), a few of the current crop of revivalists (Frowning Clouds, Straight Arrows, Murlocs, etc) and some overseas acts they’d shared stages with over the years (Fleshtones, Red Kross, Steve Wynn, 5678s).
Between one thing and another I was only able to make it to make it to the evening section of the Melbourne spectacular. Having never been a big fan of Red Kross or The Fleshtones I wasn’t too fussed although it was a shame to miss the fabulous 5678s and disappointing that Tek and Younger from Radio Birdman weren’t scheduled for the Melbourne leg.
Unsurprisingly the crowd was definitely in the 40+ range with more bald heads and grey hairs than long hairs. Nevertheless there was an enthusiastic air to proceedings that belied the tired, nostalgia trip that proceedings could have easily degenerated into.
Sadly the sound quality was, as is always the case at this venue, fairly dire. The Palace Theatre’s three stories allow for plenty of vantage points to watch performers from, but the high roof and layout of the venue has resulted in a gutless, cavernous drum sound and muddy mix at every show I’ve seen there. Depending on where you’re standing various instruments also become inaudible. On this occasion after wandering around I was able to find a point close to the front of the stage that wasn’t too bad, although the bass was still fairly absent.
Okay, onto the music itself. The first act I caught was The Died Pretty, a band whose key members, like the Gurus, first emerged in the wave of ’70s punk that followed the emergence of The Saints and Radio Birdman. I’m a huge fan of their, to me, career defining album Free Dirt’s pastoral psychedelia and intense wigouts (check out the excellent Aztec reissue), but like many lost interest in the late ’80s as a string of coulda-been-a-chart-contender singles saw them to head into ever poppier territory. Shorn of their glossy production values songs like ‘Sweetheart’ and ‘God Bless’ impressed in a live setting with the band, who only play occasionally every year or two, powering through their set and hitting an extra gear during soaring takes on ‘Springenfall’ and ‘Life To Go (Landsakes).’ The sight of a wizened Ron Peno intermittently grabbing his crotch, engaging in unique dance moves and stalking the stage appeared to leave some of the younger and previously uninitiated members of the crowd bewildered, but the singer’s unique Dylanish vocals were powerful and affecting.
Next up were the band that I suspect a good deal of the audience were primarily here for, The Sonics. Having read a lukewarm review of their initial comeback in Shindig! a few years ago my expectations were fairly low, but all the touring they’ve done since then has clearly brought them up to match-fitness. They may now be in their ’60s and early ’70s, but, lacking any more suitable descriptor, they rocked! Excepting the occasional lapse into blooze solos from Andy Parypa, the band’s sound was as primitive and hectic as one could wish for, particularly on ‘He’s Waitin’ and their Troglodyte take on ‘Louie Louie’ (my all time favourite version). The addition of former Kingsman Freddie Dennis on bass a few years back was clearly an inspired move as handing him occasional vocal duties allowed front man/keyboardist Gerry Rosalie to rest his voice and save the all-out screaming for the finale. No slouch in the screaming department Dennis also possesses a mighty howl with his tonsils appearing to be in A-1 shape. If you ever wondered what Roky Erickson fronting Tacoma’s finest would have sounded like, well now you kind of know. ‘Strychnine’ and ‘Have Love Will Travel’ predictably had the whole venue singing along, but the band’s frantic take on ‘Cinderella’, with the aforementioned bassist hollering up a storm, was astounding. Check out the live version on the band’s recent 8 E.P. You won’t be disappointed.
And onto the curators. The preceding acts had been tight and energetic, but as a band who have regularly been headlining venues of this size and bigger for decades, The Hoodoo Gurus were always going to come off as the most polished. Slick and seamless their performance may have been, but it was far from soulless as they clearly enjoyed blitzing through their first album. Performing an album in its entirety always runs the risk of exposing songs that haven’t stood the test of time, but other than ‘Zanzibar’( which everyone seemed to just want to get over and done with) Stoneage Romeos is a trashy classic which both the band and the audience revelled in revisiting. There were a few anecdotes about the past and singer Dave Faulkner initially sported the fringed jacket he’d worn on the band’s first video clip, but as mentioned previously there was less of a sense of harking back to the glory days and more one of celebrating the fact that the band are still capable of giving these songs urgency and life in the here and now. After ripping through the album and some other early tracks we were also treated to a version of ‘Television Addict’ (from Faulkner’s pre-Guru’s punk band The Victims) as well as a four five other numbers from more recent years including a blistering take on ‘Be A Woman’ (from the band’s retro side project The Persian Rugs). The only disappointment came at the end when despite the house lights being left down for 10 minutes and the crowd roaring for more the band failed to reappear for a second encore and play out the full 90 to 120 minute set they’d variously advertised in the festival program and running sheets around the venue. On the night I figured time had not stood still and the weariness of age was probably showing after all, but the Gurus issued an apology the next day saying that backstage they’d been unaware that people were still cheering and figured everyone just wanted to head home after a big day.