Radio Birdman live in 2014: Two perspectives

emmy-manning-wideEmmy Etie photo

The tour is almost over and the verdicts are in following a re-tooling of the line-up with the controversial omission of guitarist Chris Masuak. We present divergent views of the sold-out Australian run of Radio Birdman shows.

Go here to read an appraisal of the Adelaide gig by Robert Brokenmouth and here to read Edwin Garland's read-out on the band's two Melbourne gigs. You can leave comments on both reviews. Photos are by Emmy Etie and Kyleigh Pitcher. 

A Fistful of Desert Blues - Lydia Lunch and Cypress Grove (Rustblade)

fistfulThe cover - taken by Lydia Lunch - shows the ruins of an ancient desert city. Could be Jericho. Whether Jericho is in the Mid-East or the West of the USA makes little difference. We’re dealing with perennial humanity in a perilous place with a mythological backdrop. But, you know, the Israelis and the Palestinians are still killing each other, and as I say, it’s a big thing on a big, operatic stage with no solution and no apparent beginning, never mind end…

… and there are plenty of abandoned towns in Australia… it doesn’t take much, just a bit of intolerance and a bit of ignorance, and idealism for a hopeless, not very sensible cause…

If Footmen Tire You - The Bloody Hollies (Alive Naturalsound)

bloodyholliesjpgIf one of those great, booze-soaked rock and roll weekends like Garage Shock or the Las Vegas Shakedown were still a going concern (correct me if I'm wrong and one of them still is ) the Bloody Hollies would have been one of those bands that came in unheralded, blew everyone away and sold a ton at the merch table. And anyone who picked this album up would have been plenty satisfied 'cos it's 30 minutes of fire-breathin' punk fury.

Saudade - Mark Steiner and His Problems (Plug Ugly)

saudadeThe battle-lines used to be clearly drawn between Sydney and Melbourne. Sydney was the home of high-energy guitar rock in its many variants, many of them Motor City-derived, while Melbourne spawned an artier, darker strain of music with one foot squarely planted in territory that became known as junkie rock.

These days Sydney’s musical crown is less faded than displaced. Melbourne is in the ascendancy. Its thriving music scene retains an artiness but it rocks as well. The place still does darkness better than most but its palette seems broader. Its tentacles seem to spread further than any other scene in Australia.

Norwegian-American Mark Steiner has visited Melbourne and gulped hard on water drawn from its musical well. He did an Australian tour a few years back but the influences were obviously already in place. There’s a Bad Seeds/Rowland S Howard/Wreckery streak several kilometres wide running right down the back of his bluesy music, but it’s marked by poise rather than self pity.

(When The Sun Sets Over) Carlton: Melbourne’s Countercultural Inner City Rock Scene of the ‘70s - Various Artists (Festival Records)

sun-setsFirstly, a big thumbs-up to compiler David Laing who is very much responsible for bringing us old bastards the best Australian ‘70s and ‘80s sounds that need to be re-issued (think “Do the Pop!” compilations, the Hitmen and Screaming Tribesmen reissues.)

Laingers (as we call him) has moved HQ from the “indie” Shock Records to the multinational Warner Music and has already unleashed cool comps of ‘60s Aussie garage (“Down Under Nuggets”) and 70s Aussie hard rock/ blues (“Boogie”). Now we have this fine collection of ‘70s Melbourne treats.

Hurt Me - Johnny Thunders (Easy Action)

hurt-meThe back catalogue of Johnny Thunders is way overdue for re-issue treatment. It’s coming up to 24 years since the talented but terminal ex-Doll checked into a New Orleans hotel and checked out on life. "ho better to revive his recorded legacy than Easy Action?

Whatever your stance on how the media portrayed Thunders, the guy was a walking contradiction. When it came to his image as Rock’s Most Wasted Human Being (aka The Guy Who Makes Keef Look Like a Schoolboy), he alternately kicked against it or embraced it with open, track-marked arms. “Hurt Me” was a poignant collection of stripped-back covers and standards - and a departure of sorts for JT, coming as it did five years after the bleary-eyed party that was “So Alone.”

Fiona Lee Maynard & Her Holy Men (independent)

holy-menThis review could start with a pithy line about Melbourne cornering the Australian market for bluesy, ballsy female vocalists but it won’t - even if it might just be true. Let’s just say that Fiona Lee Maynard and her band, The Holy Men, face stiff competition in their home city, but manage to be at the head of the pack.

You might know the singer’s name from fronting In Vivo, the outfit whose ranks included Dave Thomas (Bored!) about 15 years ago. She was also in the more mainstream powerpoppy Have A Nice Day. The Holy Men are a lot more “street level”. Think of an Antipodean Johnette Napolitano with an Aussie pub-honed band behind her.

Banks of the Lea - Stiv Cantarelli and the Silent Strangers (Stovepony Records)

banks-of-the-leaIt’s evident that Italian-born Stiv Cantarelli is a musical creature of his environment. Basing himself in the US in the ’00s, his records reeked Americana and a return to Tuscany in 2012 spawned a dirty alt-country album (“Black Music/White Music”). 

Fast-forward a couple of years. “Banks of the Lea” finds him relocated to London with a reconstituted Italian band and churning out urgent, punky blues rock with a dark streak. Music of a time and place.

It might be a prime tourist patch but when you scratch the surface, London is just another very big city. Cantarelli immersed himself in the everyday ordinariness of Hackney, of all places, and this record is the result.

The Man Who Rode The Mule Around The World – John Schooley (Voodoo Rhythm)

muleAustin, Texas, resident  John Schooley was a substantial blip on the I-94 Bar radar in the mid-1990s when Australian label Dropkick put out one of his records (“ You Won't Like It ... 'Cuz It's Rockn'Roll!”) with his band The Hard Feelings.

Here was a guy who crunched rootsy Americano with raucous garage grit in the most emphatic fashion. “You Won’t Like It...” even scored a write-up in Rolling Stone - but died a comercial death when the label head was struck down with cancer and couldn’t press up any more copies. Thankfully, he recovered - and Schooley, too, is still kicking. Like a mule.