The Beasts of Bourbon in Sydney (original line-up)

Factory Theatre, Marrickville, 27 August, 2013

If you had to pick one word to describe the Beasts of Bourbon, that word would be "dirty". Dirty, sleazy, no-good-for-you rock and swampy roll.

They've been around for 30 years in various incarnations, but tonight was all about the original line-up kicking out the jams and showcasing their first three, seminal, albums. I was a tad too young to catch them the first time around with this stuff, and although I've seen them many times since I was old enough to sneak into a gig, I've always felt that I'd missed something, "The Axeman's Jazz", "Sour Mash" and "Black Milk" are three of the finest albums you could hope to hear, if your tastes run to the evil side of the swamp.

It would be fair to say that the crowd were largely the sort of grizzled rock (and roll) heads you wouldn't see this side of Mount Rushmore, but once the band ambled on stage we were reduced to giggling schoolgirl status - even those who were old enough to know better. The Beasts' original lineup, doing a show devoted to their first three albums, was like a call to arms for the dirty rock brigade to crawl out from under their own personal stones and relish a trip back to the gutter where it all began.

I should confess at this point that the first band I ever played in covered both "Evil Ruby" and "Drop Out", so my hopes were high for a night of rock debauchery with a little nostalgia on the side. I wasn't disappointed. I'd also never seen James Baker thumping the tubs, or Boris Sudjovic cranking ugly tones from his bass, so my personal air of anticipation may have been even higher than that of the older brigade who were looking to relive their obviously misspent youths.

The band arrived on stage within a few minutes of the advertised kick-off time, and launched into Evil Ruby. What more can you say than that they totally nailed it. A sordid tale of man/locomotive love was exactly what the crowd were looking for to kickstart their night, and nobody was disappointed.

To quickly run through the onstage lineup would be as productive as viewing a police lineup after being beaten with a baseball bat, but it must be done. Tex, Kim, Spencer, Boris and James were up there delivering the goods. Kim Salmon's slide guitar was a highlight of the night, Spence was his usual solid-yet-jagged counterfoil, mostly rhythm but with plenty of searing and spiky leads when he stepped up to the plate. The Sudjovic/Baker rhythm section were on the money all night long, and Tex Perkins simply dominated the stage as only he can. When the lighting was right, it was the 1980s all over again.

In true Beasts style, Evil Ruby had barely kicked off before Tex was ditching his mike stand and making it clear that this wasn't just a vocalist's fashion statement - damn it, he wanted something that would do a job, and this thing wasn't up to it. The hardworking roadie did his best, and might as well have been dubbed "The Sixth Beast" for the amount of onstage work he had to get through.

The Beasts alternately raged, growled, and grooved their way through a highlights package that most bands would give their left nut(s) for. It wasn't always tight, it wasn't always in tune, but it was a slap in the face to anyone expecting slick professionalism - if anyone there would have fitted such a bill. Tex Perkins absolutely owned the stage, and even during the long and tedious tune-up session that preceded Door To Your Soul, he held the crowd in the palm of his hand. His early struggles with the foldback, and later ones with feedback, were a masterclass in how to get things fixed and keep the crowd on-side.

The first time I saw the Beasts, they played a sloppy-yet-killer set which culminated in an on-stage punch up. But that was 20 years or more ago, and these days a break in the musical action led to Tex addressing the crowd in a cheery way, until Mr Salmon was ready to proceed with yet more scorching guitar work. Messrs Baker and Sudjovic provided a rock solid groove, while Spencer Jones rocked a white hat which presumably came from his days in The Johnnys and didn't lose his shit-eating grin all night as he held it all together and propelled the band into the stratosphere.

Thankfully, the venue was packed, because this was a show not to be missed. Any band that can run a trifecta of "Psycho", "Drop Out" and "Hard For You" in the first few numbers means business.

To wrap up, given my alcohol intake and the time of night, can I simply say that the Beasts were as raggedly glorious, sloppily serious, and powerfully destructive as you could hope any band could be. They ruled the stage from go to woah. You may see other sensational rock bands this year, but they won't be better than The Beasts of Bourbon.

Set list (or as near as I can remember):

Evil Ruby
Love And Death
Graveyard Train
Psycho
Drop Out
Hard For You
Playground
Door To Your Soul
Black Milk
Cool Fire
Place Called Bad
Let's Get Funky
Hard Work Drivin' Man
Find Your Way To Heaven
Execution Day

...and then a truly tremendous take on Ten Wheels For Jesus to wrap it up. Tex's fifteen kinds of diseases didn't' stop the band from cranking out the dirty rock from start to finish, and the crowd (eventually) went home full of the true rock and roll goodness.

Tags: live, beasts of bourbon, kim salmon

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