CHECK OUT THE LATEST
The line queued in front of St. Kilda’s mighty Palais Theatre, stretching past the booming, metropolis-like car park, moved briskly. Punks were slotted between goths, stoners pinched between metal heads, a quintet of rockabillies made smalltalk with a bearded albino in a three-piece suit, whose girlfriend look like a goth Julia Gillard. Above them the Palais marquee read: “ATP Release The Bats”
All of them were perched at various base camps, acclimating before making for the summit. At the peak was Deborah Kee Higgins – half of the husband-wife duo that run All Tomorrow’s Parties – and her plucky team of logistics-handlers.
Boxes upon boxes of name-labeled envelopes were handed out to happy punters, who haphazardly self-applied variegated wristbands that would determine their view of the stage once inside the sacred halls of the Palais. Fingers flicked through the pages of program guides and chatter began to crescendo as feet started moving in the direction of the Prince Bandroom.
White Walls were tasked with launching this little paper boat into the current. A Melbourne three-piece playing Goo-era Sonic Youth without the art school schtick, which, technically, would make them Dinosaur Jr. Only without the maudlin sentimentality, which makes them Sebadoh. Only without Sebadoh’s self-effacement and tongue-in-cheek-sarcasm, which makes them quintessentially Australian.
The two guitarists did battle against ambulant drum beats, coating the walls of the Prince Bandroom with the effluvia of adolescent angst. The sound of otherwise perfectly normal guitars befouled with odd tunings to – gasp! – make them sound grittier slowly coaxed people into the venue. Within the next two hours, the Prince Bandroom reached capacity.
Spinning Rooms played to a Prince Bandroom that was less than an hour from being a confined, humidity-insulated sweatbox. The crowd made bobble-headed movements to the sound of No Wave’s detritus in a head-on collision with the freight train of Australian pub rock. It was a Ballardian dreamscape of jagged, half-jazz rhythms, swirling saxophone, pounding bass and acrid guitar noise.
Shades of Sleater-Kinney and The Raincoats glimmered like flecks of gold leaf in The Twerps. The band’s melodic acumen, twinkly guitars, poppy rhythms, and indie kid charm made for an enjoyable and heart-warming union. Singer Marty Frawley addressed a crowd member’s call-out with a simple “I don’t know what you’re saying but this song goes out to you!” Their earnest song craft and on-stage patter defied you not to fall in love with them, if only for the afternoon.
At the Prince, Hoss were keeping to their unmistakable formula: whiskey-smoked, diesel-burning rawk, hotter than Satan’s sideburns and sung in the most familiar vernacular this side of a sweeping plane. Drummer Dean Muller‘s tenure with fellow Aus-rock stalwarts the Cosmic Psychos had, against all conventional wisdom, only sharpened his chops, cementing him as one of the country’s premier rhythm powerhouses.
Mick Harvey, Brian Hooper, JP Shiloh, TJ Howden, Genevieve McGuckin, Harry Howard, Craig Williamson, Jonnine Standish and Conrad Standish, launched into Pop Crimes, a tribute to Rowland S. Howard. Rowland had finally made it to the big stage as less than a kilometre away, a post-Hoss crowd refuelled with bottles of Corona and Carlton Draught in preparation for Total Control, in the venue where Rowland played his final gig.
Opening with King of Kalifornia, a selection of vocalists including Harvey, Shiloh, and Con & Jon recreated Howard’s haunting, laconic vocals, as Shiloh channeled the searing power of Howard’s guitar playing, imitating his familiar stagger-stance with every distorted note. A crowd clad in t-shirts that brandished names like Sonic Youth, The Jesus Lizard, Dinosaur Jr, My Bloody Valentine, The Jesus & Mary Chain and so on, watched as the toils of the man who gave those bands their careers swelled, cried, screeched and growled through the speakers.
Mixing it up with some clean tone, it appeared the organisers knew what they were doing when they scheduled art-rock superheroes Television so early in the day. They played the entirety of their seminal 1977 record Marquee Moon, and created an immediate surge in the crowd. Most of the elated punters weren’t even born when you could see the band play a bill with The Ramones, Blondie, Richard Hell & The Voidoids and Johnny Thunders for less than the cost of a Saturday night at The Tote.
Though frontman Tom Verlaine‘s voice occasionally faltered, it was an outstanding set. Guitarist Jimmy Rip, replacing the band’s original second guitarist Richard Lloyd, makes an excellent addition to the band, his Telecaster sounding uncannily like the very Tele that originally played the fills on Guiding Light. The band were in good spirits, mirroring the smiles on the faces of the crowd. And it was nice to finally see who did what on the record. They walked off stage to a standing ovation.
UK duo F**k Buttons then launched a vicious assault calculated to make your temporal lobes scream in horror. A dizzying, acrid, electronic scream pummelled the eardrums as virtual-reality kaleidoscopes shifted and polygons of television noise scurried across the screen behind them. It was 2001: A Space Odyssey with the boot-in-the-face brutality of the new Century. They made you wonder what all those shoegaze bands are dicking around with guitars for?
Lightning Bolt, meanwhile, were no different. While bass-player Brian Gibson turned the audible frequency spectrum on its head and dissected it like a biology class frog, drummer and vocalist Brian Chippendale was clad in what appeared to be a ragged Lucha Libre mask as he kept a frantic drum beat. Before them, a crowd writhed like zealots in a frenzy, making you wonder what all those drum and bass guys are dicking around with computers for?
As a plume of emissions so immense it would make Bob Brown blanche dissipated in the Prince Bandroom, Matt Pike was carrying his mighty belly onto the stage, a familiar wince and inebriated smirk across his mien. Not a word was said as the contorted crowd awaited the imminent aural implosion of Sleep‘s cro-magnon groove, and not a head remained still as a fearsome colossus of growling bass, head-splitting drums and fear-of-God-instilling guitar began flooding from the speakers, resounding like church bells in the ears of the crowd.
Then, finally: “Hi, Melbourne. We’re The Breeders and we’re going to play our album Last Splash for you, from beginning to end.” It was a full house for the day’s headliners. Bright, sweet-sounding melodies wrapped in cocoons of elastic bass and guitar overdrive burst from the Palais speakers.
Frontwoman Kim Deal kept interstitial chatter terse, and with good reason. She said more with her smile than any other artist could say in a Bono’s worth of spieling. She would merely ask the occasional question, spoken in her warm, endearing tone, with the cadence of a Play School host, “Looking forward to the Summer?”
The house rose to its feet, swaying and windmilling to the infectious, mobilising sounds that compelled them to move. At the end, Deal’s parting words to the enraptured crowd were as simple and melodious as her band’s songs: “Thank-you to ATP and Barry [Kogan] and Deborah for having us!” Thank-you Barry and Deborah indeed.
Photo by Nikki Williams.