Say goodbye? Hunnas have still got it
Mark Seymour of Hunters and Collectors. Mandy Tzaras photo
Hunters and Collectors at the Clipsal 500 in Adelaide? Dunno about you but we started the year behind and so far we’re still behind. So we didn’t think we’d be able to go to this, and planned accordingly to see Fear and Loathing at the Metro instead.
It’s a nightmare place to navigate, is Adelaide. Circling the city are roadworks (which take four times longer to do than in Syd or Melb) and go-slower signs everywhere which result in funding for local government. This week’s big car race this week has caused 40 percent of the public transport and cars to divert, thus clogging up the rest of the roads; Festival and Fringe are cluttering up the place with doofus tourists in daggy clothing and "duh" expressions...
I know people who only visit the city between April and November because they can't stand it and are fed up with struggling through the traffic. A lot of "normal" businesses lose money because of it. And all, one suspects, to sell alcohol.
Hunters and Collectors
Baby Animals, Battlehounds, Byzantines at Clipsal 500, Adelaide
Presented by Mix 102.3 FM
March 24, 2017
Mandy Tzaras photos
More than 30 years ago, when the annual race nonsense began, the corner of Adelaide where I lived, just near the General Havelock Hotel, was a quiet, villagey sort of place. On a Saturday and Sunday, I’d get up between 11 and 3 and, clad in fragments of sleep and a raggedy dressing-gown, totter out across the road to the small shop to get the paper, milk, bread, Weetbix and whatever. I’d done this for the best part of a year, every weekend. It wasn’t only me, either. Lots of people did it, to the point where, at 3pm or so, you could see middle-aged ladies emerging from the pub clad in a pink nightie, pink dressing gown and fluffy pink bunny slippers, hair mad and skewed and fully six sheets to the wind.
One morning I emerged from my slumbers and tottered into … culture shock. Large broad Americans haw-hawed down my little street, festooned with laminates and alien labelling, all wearing the same strange uniform-like nonsense with names, I later discovered, of companies connected with cars. There was quite a crowd strutting down my no-longer-quiet backwater. They all had a good laugh watching me. And, when I reached the little shop I discovered that there was no bread, all the papers had been bought and there was only a small half-litre of milk.
As I returned across the street, a huge noise, like a gigantic swarm of irritable bees, started up.
There was only one thing for it. I went home and put on my 90-minute cassette of Lou Reed’s “Metal Machine Music”, turning it over and over, until sometime in the evening, when my neighbours knocked and asked what that horrible noise was. I was in that half-house for the next four years and that was my response to the great car race each year.
Which should give you an idea of how much I enjoy car racing and all the attendant shenanigans. I have never been to one of these races, and hopefully never will. I used to walk through the great shoals of debris after the race from one part of the city to another. And the bands they choose to end the shows… you may not be surprised to know that after thirty-some years, I have never attended one of these after-race gigs. Not once.
Now, Clipsal ain’t dumb by any means, so they routinely give out free passes to folks who work (and who probably live) on or near the track as a pardon-us-for-making-your-drive-in-to-work-more-horrible-and-unpleasant.
One of these folks gave her ticket to her dad. And dad, a friend of ours, realised we wanted to go but couldn’t, and then he found he was working that night. So he gave Mandy two tickets. I found out about this at 1.30pm yesterday, when I was at work. We had a difficult decision. We love Fear and Loathing. And their gigs at the Metro are always fun… But I realised … hell. Hunters hadn’t been here in 20 years. And it was possible that this would be their last reunion.
Anyway .. they were to go on at … 8.45pm. Rather early, in fact.
So we had a fine old scramble to get ourselves ready, in-between dealing with a couple of pressing problems. We caught the bus to the city (driving in these conditions was not a sensible option) and, after hoofing for a mile, realised that there was a band already on-stage, but they’d buggered off by the time we got there.
We missed both the support acts; Byzantines were apparently very good. I’ll have to keep an eye out for them and Battlehounds.
We got to the front, fortunately, and waited.
I have never heard this radio station before, as far as I know, but they were the in-between band … entertainment. ‘Mix’ is popular because its low on DJ waffle except in the mornings, and ‘you never know what you’ll hear next’. To be fair, yes, their range is better than the usual FM tactic of ‘more Boz Skaggs’, but I enjoyed precisely one song out … Madonna’s “Papa Don’t Preach”. And that’s smart, because so much radio is completely fucking beige. And while ‘Mix’ isn’t beige …
… numerous elbows in the ribs were accompanied by “Shut up, Robert, everybody likes this” or “Robert! Stop it you dickhead!” and finally my chuntering moans ground to a halt. Then Baby Animals came on.
Granted, there was a four or five metre gap between the crash barrier and the stage, and large boxes rising two metres on the ground for the security folks to stand between, which you’d think would be a considerable barrier for a performer to overcome and create some sort of vibe with a crowd. Also, we were smack in front of two large bass woofers, which was quite unpleasant.
But the band seemed unable to connect with the crowd, the singer doing the required moves and saying the required things. It all seemed quite perfunctory. The rock star poses. The screwed-up face guitar solo of no especial moment or meaning. There seemed to be no excitement (except with the drummer, who I thought was bloody good). It wasn’t till the end that I realised something. The blokes want to be in a hard rock band. And she takes them in another direction.
Punters in radioland don’t want endless hard rock. They like a bit of that sort of thing. But not all the time. So successful songs tend to have a bit of this and a bit of other stuff. And I’m sure it isn’t easy to keep a band together for years and years. Everyone wants something different. So it’s an achievement to not only rise to a peak, but to stay together.
But by god, I found them a strain. I was almost glad when the Mix came back on. Then I remembered and copped a few more elbows. ‘People are enjoying this! Look around!’
So I looked around, and lo, there were people with genial expressions. And a few smiles.
This feels strange. And then I realise.
Back in the ‘70s, ’80s and ‘90s, summers in Adelaide were unrelentingly hot (and who knows, probably for decades prior). 34C+ days for weeks at a time. A heat wave was 38C and rising for days at a time, followed by a cool change at 32C. Patches of road would become large thick rubbery slicks. Brawls started with little or no provocation. Alcohol is a mysterious and wonderful substance, especially on a hot day. Are you with me?
The last three years, we’ve had mild summers. This year, we’ve had a very small burst of heat a few days ago, followed by a few 30C+ days, but … nah, this is nothing. And crowds in front of stages are basically standing in a paddock in the full sun. Beer follows beer and there’s usually trouble.
"This is it folks...over the top": Barry Palmer ponders why Hunters and Collectors don't play covers of Angels songs.
One reason why the Big Day Out folded, I think, is cause they didn’t attract enough geezer attendance. Geezers like me don’t want to stand for hours in a fucking paddock. We want to walk in, see maybe two bands if that, then the main one we want to see, and fuck off. Without getting heatstroke or too drunk to remember our names because it’s so hot. Once bulk festivals became reliant on the youth rite of passage (“I’ve seen the post-punk world, it was awesome, let’s go clubbing”) they were sunk.
But one-offs like this seem to work. And the usual car race weather was quite moderate, so everyone seemed more human than usual. More forgiving.
Mind you, for some reason I really hate big crowds. One reason why I like to be up the front to see a band.
Over the years I saw most of Hunters’ gigs here in Adelaide. Watched them develop through every phase. Saw their last gig here, which was very good (though I recall thinking that their rendition of “Talking To A Stranger” that night didn’t really work).
So it’s been about 20 fucking years since I’ve seen them. Yes, they’ve done a few reunions… but never to Adelaide.
Here’s the setlist…
Stranger/ Blindeye/ Fireball/ Tears of Joy/ This Morning/ Where do you Go?/ Stuck on You/ Crime of Passion/ Dog/ Say Goodbye/ Back in the Hole/ Holy Grail/ Everything’s on Fire/ When the River Runs Dry/ Do You See?
And the encore:
42 Wheels/ Head Above Water/ Arms/ Skin of Our Teeth/ Slab
A re-recorded rendition of the opening theme of “Assault on Precinct 13” starts them off; they used to use the original.
The band walked out and you could see it just in the way they walked, particularly Mark Seymour. They had the same unity of purpose they always had when they walked onstage. Instant rapport with the crowd. The huge five-metre gap between them and us was simply not there. They projected.
So many personalities, such unity of purpose. I can’t imagine how they held the outfit together for so long. Certainly the band broke up after only a few years of what was an obviously popular trajectory and then, instead of collapsing into a puddle, reformed in a completely different, yet identifiable, way - an amazing recovery. And they had such a swag of new material … they’d known they couldn’t continue ‘as is’, but had to develop and change… that they did so, making memorable, meaningful songs with complex and simple music as they went … hell.
No, they didn’t play the songs like they used to. But the power was there, all of them; those slightly off-kilter horn tones (such a simple element to Hunters, yet it makes them such a bigger outfit) the emphatic synth, Archer’s precisely rumbling bass and Seymour’s lost-man tones. In fact, Seymour’s vocal was especially moving.
What I’m saying here is that here are these guys, playing for two hours, a bunch of songs which are very much part of Australia’s musical, emotional, political core (personally I think H&C’s politics are far more poignant than the Oils but I s’pose that must be me because everyone else disagrees) with more intent, more sense of purpose, more cohesion than we have any right to expect. And what’s more, they seem to all enjoy being on a stage together. They shouldn’t, surely. It’s an amazing achievement.
So. Here’s the thing.
Was last night merely an offer they couldn’t refuse, come out of the shadows one more time, just to add a bit of prestige to that quintessential Aussie thing, a car race in a town whose car manufacturers have packed up?
Nah. They seemed to have far too much fun onstage. This wasn’t cynical. They all loved doing this.
The rumour mill says this really was the last gig Hunters and Collectors will ever do.
Well. We’re not to know.
Will they take another stab at it? Go into the rehearsal rooms and work up … maybe an ep, just to test the water, followed by a tour? They know so much. Their take on things is so real, so un-rockstar-ish. Could they do it, find a way to delicately walk around all the families and kids and mortgages and day jobs and shove their slate out on the pavement again?
As long as I’m not exposed to the Baby Animals and the Mix again, I’ll be happy.
When I got home I listened to Sandie Shaw, and “Faust IV”. Hunters and Collectors were inspirational last night. It would be great to see them off the leash again.