The Scientists with Pro Tools at The Governor Hindmarsh in Adelaide
Pro Tools were bloody good. Drums bass guitar. Bassist I've seen before. Guitar is now Pete 'the Stud', who is a ridiculously talented, good natured show off. And damn good value. See them if they come to town, track them down and invite them if that society wedding promises to be a bit dreary.
The Scientists at The Governor Hindmarsh. Alison Lea photo.
March 30, 2014
Now. I notice on FB that there is some dissatisfaction with the Scientists reunion.
Doesn't matter. Not the point. If these folk saw them at all in the '70s, they did better than me. Back then (shifts creaky hips on seat) we'd seen the great Australian shock of the new hopes Radio Birdman and the Saints rise to great things; Birdman plummeted in '78, the Saints were mutating.
Back then, the world was much as it is now, awash with trendies, fashion-conscious men adopting any daft style as long as it made them look interesting to the young ladies. The mainstream music was largely pap, because the 6ts revolution had failed on just about every level, leaving us with nothing much that was relevant. I didn't want to dance to just any old shit, but 'something that moved me'. The Scientists gave us all hope. For example, the Sputniks were in the audience for the Scientists in Adelaide. Dave and Clare went on to pursue greatness, and as far as I'm concerned are still up there. The Scientists' shows were part of that era, time, and emotional imperative.
And, if we recall those '80s and '90s honestly, we realise there's a lot of faces who might well still be here if it weren't for a variety of unpleasant reasons. So, frankly, it's an achievement that they're all in one piece, never mind being able to play for us again.
When the Scientists' first 7" came out I was rather captivated. It had that air of teen pop innocence, similar I guess to early Beatles and some of the other pop bands of the day, like the R**ones. 'Frantic Romantic' was a great little pop record.
When the Scientists toured Adelaide on their way east in November 79, I was studying for my eleventh year exams the following week.
So when my friend Paul went off to see them that weekend I was extremely jealous. Paul probably knew he'd fail his exams anyway (definitely the wrong subjects and it's a long story) so, well, fuck it. He went to see the Scientists, I stayed home and heard a bit about it. The legend at school grew, Paul deliberately failed his 11th year exams so he could see a band. To avoid arguments with his parents, he kipped on the band's motel floor! And on and on. When you become a legend at school, after awhile there's no point arguing.
So. At the time, the Scientists were important. Why? A) because there were so few bands doing anything like this, and this is what we wanted to hear; B) they were damn good live, and there was an excited buzz about them; C) there was a buzz still continuing within the musical underground. We were a part of it, and so were they. Word of mouth stuff. You had to dig to find the decent music. Record stores knew they sold tons of Bowie's latest rubbish, but they had to stock it if they wanted to pay the rent. The Scientists' first 7" wasn't going to pay the rent, but it got the grotty kids in and they opened their wallet and parted with their shrapnel. I can't recall whether I bought mine at Umbrella or not, but I remember Doug Thomas' little sticker on the cover, so probably at Umbrella. Their logo was great, a b/w shot of the Beatles under a huge umbrella.
Now, after many years (and certain 'musical differences'), the Scientists kept bumping into each other and, rather like the Sex Pistols' reunion, they discovered that they loved each other really. So why not tour again? Just to say they did it. 'Cause they could. So they set it up.
Unlike the Sex Pistols and Stooges reunions, this was always going to be a low-key affair; the early Scientists left behind a legend tinged with 'what if'... which I always, frankly, hate.
What if the Victims had continued and got a major record contract? Didn't happen.
What if Filth had been dragged, drunk and abusive, into a recording studio, told 'you don't eat, drink, do drugs, wash or anything else until you've recorded your set five times'? Wouldn't have happened. They woulda trashed the joint. Or deliberately sabotaged the recording process.
What if the Scientists suddenly got signed by RCA? BUT IT DIDN'T FUCKING HAPPEN.
That was then. And... now the trendies are in charge (you know them as hipsters) and music is boring once more. There hasn't been a movement, a new emotional imperative, in years. Hip-hop and raves were a life choice. Like heroin 101. Unless you know where to look.
So tonight we have the usual crop of savages in the crowd; at The Mark of Cain gig a few months back, I knew about 10 people. Tonight I recognise dozens. So, on the one hand it's an oldies' reunion. When the Loved Ones toured again in '87 I it had been 20 years. Tonight it's 30-plus.
But what will they look like? Instead of four bullfrog-like apparitions wheezily duckwalking out, all bad breath, bald heads and blinking in surprise at the bright lights they half remember, this lot all look ... well, remarkably like the last time we saw them. There's barely an ounce of fat on the string-slingers and my first thought is, 'they must be mates with Warnie's mum', either that or they've given up food for Lent...
But that's mean. The Scientists are relaxed and friendly; as I said, they seem to have rediscovered an old love. And it's really rather beautiful.
Boris and Kim dress for an evening of TV, it seems, while James wears flash '60s style gear and Roddy ... wears all-white, looks sharp as a tack (both his guitars are also white) and cuts a distinctly dramatic figure, his white seeming to engulf us all at times. Sounds great from where I am. And his hand-painted boots caused numerous covetous glances and several comments along the lines of, 'he's about the same size as me, I'm taking them!'
Roddy busted a string inside thirty seconds of the first song, 'Girl' which caused the usual ironic applause. He scampered out and returns with Guit #2. Which has a busted string already, so off he hurries, along with James, leaving Boris and Kim to entertain the crowd for something like a good 10 minutes, which is a long time when you haven't got a handful of dirty jokes.
Kim and Roddy compare non-broken strings. Alison Lea photo.
But we love them, and finally everyone is onstage again. They rip into Sympathy for the Devil which I don't recall from the dim dark days of yore, yet it's an appropriate song for them - and I reckon Kim's voice is better than Jagger's, so there. And the set ploughs forward through a variety of sound and string problems (a total of four more busted strings for poor Roddy), plus various plugs slipping out and an overly-amorous woman (ahem) heaving about beneath Kim and occasionally fondling his barnet (oo-er!). This is what the set list was supposed to be:
Girl/ Sympathy/ Looking for You/ Teenage/ Sorry/ Frantic/ Last Nite/ Drop Out/ Slow Death/ She said she loves me/ Pissed/ Plank/ Shake/ Baby // [encore] Swampland/ Chinese Rocks
As I recall the 1979 Scientists live tapes of the era, they played for about 90 minutes, including encores. And they had bags of attitude and piss and even vinegar. A good 50 percent of the set were covers, too, like Another Girl, Another Planet (which seemed to have been written for them). I don't know whether it was the succession of problems which made them work 'harder' than they did interstate, but it really doesn't matter. We got to see chinks in their professional armour, flickers of the personalities who (albeit inadvertently) helped shape a generation. Wonderful. I never thought I'd see this, and I'm really rather chuffed. 'Baby' was one of numerous stand-outs, what with Kim eating the mic and all.
They all came close to being seriously big stars; Hoodoo Gurus almost made it, y'know; the Beasts might've too if they could've toured enough overseas; and don't get me started on the Johnnys and the Dubrovniks - and what a hoot if James Baker's I Can't Control Myself/ Born To Be Punched 7" had gone 'viral', a freak hit world-wide. Listen to it again - what a great song. Kim - fuck, where do you start? Almost blew U2 right off the stage... Alright, have you heard the Surrealists' LP 'Essence'? Tony Cohen's production makes Kim into what he always was, a pop star.
Roddy I haven't seen onstage in yonks, his style remains sturdy and studly. He reminds me of one of those immaculate '50s rockers, everything's neat and precise as a new pin (except for the bloody guitar strings). He's clean as a '50s kitchen advert, dammit. He works hard, superb control of feedback, gets the sounds he wants.
James is a famous name, but he's under-rated as a drummer. He's a solid backbone. And it's a treat to see him play some of those great songs he wrote with Kim, rather than only have the rather scratched vinyl.
Boris has a great, cool attitude onstage. Relaxed and casual here, the band know they're among friends.
And Kim, well, he works his arse off. Really puts out. Leaping and swaggering, pushes out the lyrics, makes it look easy. Now, because there's barely a twenty-sumfink in the joint (apart from the bar staff) I will say that if the trendies saw a 25-year-old Kim performing so tuff they'd soil themselves in the rush to emulate him (possibly even acquiring ill-considered hair transplants). Mind you, when we wuz twentysumfinks we wouldn't have wanted to see crusty old geezers in their fifties; hell, if Elvis himself hadda toured in '76 a lot of us wouldn't have gone because it wasn't in our immediate realm.
I confess it's more interesting watching these personalities at play, rather than the music bouncing off each other - but then I spent the entire gig with a huge stupid grin plastered all over me mush, so much so that the next two days I had a huge headache (from muscles which had forgotten they were muscles).
I heard the occasional whinge afterwards. Drop Out and Swampland shouldn't have been included. Nah, why not? They were written not too long after the Scientists this reunion looks at, and for all I know they may have been written during that period, too. Drop Out certainly fits the attitude the band had at the time, and Swampland is as romantic as Last Nite or Girl. You can't go back, nor should you try. The times were different, and what we're seeing tonight is outside of these guy's emotional, artistic imperative.
Boris looking cool. Alison Lea photo.
So: are they gonna set the world alight? No.
Could they? Probably not, not unless some kind Hollywood producer puts Pissed On Another Planet or Last Nite or Shake (Together Tonite) in a movie, and they can follow it up.
There's still stuff in the vault - plus recordings of the current tour - so, should it all be released in a a fluffy dice-kinda box? Sure. Why not? Special edition to have plastic figurines of the main characters.
Should they think about reforming and doing it all over again? I can only shrug and think that James and Kim could still write well together. But it would be nicer if they could get their stuff straight out into the wider world market this time, and tour Europe and the States. Just for the fuckoffedness of it.
That we all turned out on a bloody Sunday night is a modest testament.
Another modest testament is how the rather knackered-looking Kim turning up at the merch stall, right by the exit, chatting amiably to all-comers. I don't think I've seen such a 'legendary legacy' worn so casually. He seemed happy to meet people.