Archive for January, 2012

(also see Katja Leibing’s photo gallery of the Launch, here )

“We’re going to take it now to a different level,” announced Sydney songwriter Bridie O’Brien, changing gears between songs at the launch of her album Highway Heart. “We’re all about levels… they’re also called moods”.

Newtown’s fabled Sandringham Hotel was packed to check out the first gig in a national tour to launch ‘Highway Heart’ – a wonderful album full of O’Brien’s mood pieces. The title alone is evocative – a short story in two words – and the album’s cinematic breadth would be a challenge to reproduce with a stripped down band in a live environment.

That is all worked so beautifully well was helped along by the presence of Syd Green, the album’s producer and only other muso on the recording, who played one of the two drum kits and some ethereal lapsteel slide. He also grinned a lot, as did second drummer, Nerida Wu and bass player Oliver Pieterse – and why not: out front Bridie was whipping up a storm, a joyous storm of rootsy abandon and rock’n’roll righteousness.

O’Brien is one hell of a guitar player, as was evident in the opener, ‘Since You’ve Been Gone’ – which is also Highway Heart’s atmospheric opener –ominously building layers of looped Stratocaster shards and blues lines which fuzzes out in its own fog of beats and chanted vocal.

The power of the two drummers lifted the whole thing off the stage over the next two pieces  – ‘Lonely’ and ‘Disco Lights’ – melding into a funky skin and wood machine of irresistible force. Then O’Brien took it to a ‘different level’ – clearing the stage and working through the title track, ‘Highway Heart’ with only her guitar and the plaintive cello of Kate Adams beneath her voice. It was a good move and had a stunning effect – her remarkable voice framed by only the barest structure.

‘Violent Interpretations of Your Sexy Glance’ from 2006’s Soft Side of Dark was followed by her soulfully rootsy version of Rose Tattoo’s fuck-off mission statement (and one suspects, Bridie O’Brien’s too…) ‘Rock’n’Roll Outlaw’. Its 12 bar swagger got the room rocking and shone, like dirty chrome, with O’Brien’s tough and edgy guitar playing.

The sweet and hopeful love song ‘New Year’s Day’ – “It’s only oxygen between us” – gave way to the rattling country chase of ‘Dead Or Alive’ (O’Brien observing wryly on the fact that a song about ‘shooting fish in the back paddock’ appears to be the radio hit of the album…). Scooted along by Wu’s double-time drum groove and the hiccuping harp of guest Stu West, ‘Dead Or Alive’ reminded again me why I enjoy O’Brien’s music – so much of it harks back to pre-ProTools rock music, with all its inherent excitement and percussive acoustic flavours (superbly and intelligently captured by producer Green across the entire Highway Heartalbum).

A suitably scary ‘World’s Gone Mad’ (not as chilling as the album version but close) and then Matt Tonksgot up to guest on the chorus of Soft Side of Dark’s lovely countryish ‘Liar’ and it was all over.

But the room wouldn’t let her go, so after some hushed consultation with the band they rocked out a not-so-hushed version of KISS’s ‘(I Wanna) Rock and Roll All Night’ – played and handclapped with not the merest dot of inner-city irony. You can’t beat a Highway Heart – you can’t beat a rock’n’roll heart either, and Bridie O’Brien has one of the biggest on the block.


(Prior to the ‘Highway Heart’ Launch, I asked O’Brien a series of questions about her music, the album and her thoughts and inspirations. Here are her responses:)

1. How do you feel your music has evolved since your first album, Soft Side of Dark?

If anything the vibe has gone back to bare bones…. Bones and voice. There is more emphasis on vocal exploration throughout Highway Heart. It is grittier, my guitar playing and vocal delivery are closer to representing the wound on this album. I don’t think I will hit the mark till album 3 or 4. It is also not as instrumentally cluttered as Soft Side was.  So perhaps the evolution is evident in its stripped back approach.

2. Who are your main influences – songwriting AND performing?

Songwriting: Sting, Frank Zappa, Prince, Ernest Ranglin, Jimi Hendrix, The Eagles, Lonnie Johnson, Eric Clapton, Taj Mahal, Leonard Cohen, Bonnie Prince Billy, Neil Young, Don Walker, Bruce Springsteen, John Frusciante, Paul Simon, Kurt Cobain, Buck 65. ——-  Annie Lennox, Johnette Napolitano, Be Good Tanyas, Gillian Welch, Fleetwood Mac, Mazzy Star, Nina Simone, Cyndi Lauper, Janis Ian. A mixture of all of the above.

Performing: Early Cold Chisel, Jimi Hendrix, David Bowie, Johnny Cash, Chrissy Amplett, Eva Cassidy, Led Zepplin, Nirvana.

3. How do you write a song? What triggers the process? How do you know when the process is finished?

I approach songs from a poetic perspective, always. The lyrics can appear mysterious, but they are just there to engage the imagination of the listener. Every lyric comes from a real experience, there is no fiction, however there is grey space.

Writing occurs when overwhelming emotion, directly attached to vague imagery and distant melody, storm.

This usually results in me grabbing a guitar and seeing what happens then and there.

Other times it happens without me really planning it. I spend all of my free time playing the guitar, hardly any singing.

In the past frustration and emotion would hang out over some beers until a caped, flaming, egotistical songwriter would smash into the room wielding a distorted guitar and proceed to sort everyone out. (Gee what a wanker). But sometimes that’s what it took. These days song writing is a strange undertaking. I am appreciating the good ones more and more as I get older. A song can trickle down from my semi consciousness over a period of days until I take notice of the leak. A good song will make me feel like I have articulated a sentiment on all levels imaginable. That is emotionally, visually, sonically and psychologically. I’m not sure one sets out to write a good song. I think the song rewards the writer when it’s time.

4. What drew you to record with Syd Green at Mononest?

Syd invited me to record my second album with him in 2009. I had met him before, but revered him as music royalty, so I was shy around him. I remember thinking, “wow… imagine if I got to work with someone like Syd Green one day”. I was absolutely shocked and buzzing with energy when he suggested we give it a go. He has since become like a brother to me. I adore him. He is much more than a gifted musician, he is much more than a cutting edge engineer, he has something that is in my opinion getting hard to find these days….that is true ‘cool’. Kind natured and humble in his manner with an all knowing smile. His creative process is intuitive, and the space to explore the possibilities comfortably exists. We soon found we worked well together. Mononest is a gorgeous place to record. The studio has ample space and an exotic array of percussive instruments on hand, as well as some interesting old amps. Syd and Elhi Green have furnished the studio grounds with magic dust. The vibe is positive and I always leave full of hope and wonder.

5. What place do you think unadorned, heartfelt music such as yours holds in current society?

I think my music is a bit of a lost puppy… *grin*.

I can’t easily define today’s society. I haven’t owned a TV for 15 months, just a record player and a computer.

I know my music will be ignored by the masses, and I am ok with that. It makes sense, because my music is very personal and probably wont resonate with many people, but maybe someone will feel a connection and when that happens it is a great feeling.

I find most modern chart topping music egregious. I didn’t grow up listening to soul music, because there was so much soul in rock n roll back in the day. I have always loved the Rock n Roll. And it was great! – but there has been a shift in what people consider to be good music.

I like music that affects me, any genre, but it has to move me. I am hard pressed to find numerous examples in current music charts. But humans need music and I need to make it, so hopefully that means there is a place for me somewhere in there.

6. Who do you imagine your songs speak to?

The broken hearted hero.

7. Can you pick three or four tunes that you will be performing at your launch (pref from the current LP) and give me a line or two about them (meaning? inspiration? insights?

DEAD OR ALIVE: This is a word for word true story of putting stranded catfish out of their misery during the drought of 1994. The song was written 2 days before it was recorded.

HIGHWAY HEART: I visualised this song as a scene in a movie before it was written. It is a song about lost love, but perhaps the love is one’s own mind. The protagonist switches.

WORLD’S GONE MAD: I wrote this song during my 10 years of exile from my parents. It is just a homage to the absurdity of religion, sexuality and the feeling of hopelessness.

DISCO LIGHTS: I wrote the main riff and lyrics for this spontaneously during sound check at a show 3 years ago. The song evolved and is my personal favourite. It is about letting go of the child within and moving towards the fire within. The imagery is thick, discerningly abstract and personal. I wail ‘MARY’ alot in the song. This is because Mary is the middle name of all of the women in my family within 3 generations.

Published January 2012 on

The AGNSW’s current Blockbuster (that’s capital ‘B’ – this is BIG), Picasso: Masterpieces from the Musée National Picasso, Paris could be the best thing I have seen in the last 5 years. Hell, it could be the best thing I have ever seen.

Curated by the Musée National Picasso’s Director, Anne Baldassari (and a fitting swansong to retiring AGNSW Director, the urbane and sharp Edmund Capon), this huge-in-every-way exhibition is drawn from Picasso’s own collection of Picassos. These are the paintings that, out of an enormous and prolifically brilliant oeuvre of work, resonated deeply with Picasso, so he kept them. After his death, his family handed them over to the French government in lieu of punative taxes. Now, after all these years, they are visiting Australia.

Baldassari has divided the works chronologically into 10 sections which occupy 10 rooms. This intelligent template is essential here as Picasso’s work is dizzyingly fecund – in the middle of one ‘period’ there are works that are totally out of character; motifs and emblems randomly pop up here and there, sometimes with gaps of 20 years between them. The 10 rooms give a logical ‘shape’ to what was an explosive and restless artistic life, a life that changed not only 20th century Art but the 20th century itself.

We move from Picasso’s early youth – where at 13 he displayed traits of genius – to his move to Paris, through the African influences, onto Cubism and Neo-Classicism, via brushes with Surrealism (Picasso rarely joined any movement he didn’t start himself), through wartime and onto his last decades, the 60’s and 70’s.

That’s the art history timeline: the works are something else again.

“When I was a child, I could draw like Raphael, but it took me a lifetime to draw like a child.” Picasso: Masterpieces from the Musée National Picasso, Paris lays out this lifetime with work after work of stunning beauty, of stunning ugliness, of staggering invention within invention and of harrowing honesty. Picasso’s great gift to Western Art (among multiple gifts) was the miraculous twinning of great humanity with genius facility. He could paint what he felt and he could make you feel it too, till it hurt. He rarely hid behind technique, despite his technique being without match – check some of the drawing studies he made at age 13 – and equally, he never made it easy for us either (I stood next to many fellow visitors who seemed to see these paintings as a kind of find-a-word puzzle, “I think I can see the guitar… is that the woman’s head?…”)

All of it is bursting with life and a kind of vigour that speaks loud poetry into the void. Sex and masculinity pops up (literally) everywhere, yet the stupidly simplified image of Pablo Picasso as a young misogynist and later a horny old goat is belied by many tender images of his lovers. His electric yellow portrait of photographer Dora Maar, his striking paintings of Jacqueline Roque (a woman who looks as if fashioned from a Picasso painting, rather than the other way around) show a deep love and desire higher than just lust. His 1934 image of lover Marie-Therese Walter (almost 30 years his junior), ‘Nude In A Garden’ however, is pornographic pure and simple – she is reduced to a purplish-pink mound of flesh with all orifices exposed, her head arched back in pain/ecstacy. Yet the same young lover is also shown in ‘Reclining Woman Reading’, a calm study of placid beauty.

Many of these images of women hint at an insecurity – even when portraying himself as a minotaur (half-man/half bull shagging machine) as he did later in life, the women in these drawings are calmly statuesque and coolly indomitable. In fact many of the last paintings, drawings and sculptures from the last years obsess on male power, youth, energy and the young body, as his own strength waned.

There is one painting though – the last picture in the last room – that, if your heart has not yet been broken by anything else in the show, will break it. It is called ‘The Young Painter’. Painted by Picasso in 1972 at age 91, it is a few grey and a few blue-green strokes of paint which depicts a child in a hat, holding a brush. The eyes of the young painter are wide, excited orbs; he is ready to start this remarkable life all over again. “When I was a child, I could draw like Raphael, but it took me a lifetime to draw like a child.” This is a painting of the child that Picasso worked all his life to become.

Published January 2012 on

The best music is often made in the most relaxed circumstances. Away from the production-line pressures of the next big hit, making music for the sake of it, even zillion-selling superstars can come up with some beautiful stuff.

Al Kooper and Mike Bloomfield’s Super Session was a surprise hit of 1968 – even more surprising considering it was made over a couple of stoned, late-night jams. Keith Richard’s various jam bands – including the Xpensive Winos and The New Barbarians – take the pressure off and let Keith be the team-player he longs to be, with some kickass results. The side project – such as Jack White’s Raconteurs and Dead Weather, or Nick Cave’s Grinderman – can often take on a life of its own, seducing new fans because their leaders don’t give a fuck about hits (which can make for great rock and roll).

Norah Jones, whose 2002 smash, Come Away With Me sold the aforementioned zillions, reinvigorated Blue Note Records and launched the sensitive, pop-jazz female chanteuse for the modern age (for better or worse) would know the steamhammer pressure of hitmaking more than most. And it never sat well with her (on sweeping the 2003 Grammys for Best Everything, she said “I felt like I went to somebody else’s birthday party and I ate all their cake. Without anybody else getting a piece. That’s how I felt”). So it makes sense that she had a pressure valve of her own – her sweet, clubhouse country band,The Little Willies.

The Little Willies was formed in 2003 with Jones on vocal and piano, Richard Julian on guitar and vocals, Jim Campilongo on guitar, Lee Alexander on bass, andDan Reiser on drums. The band was formed around a love of country classics and their first album, the eponymous 2006 release, contained, among a few originals, standards by Townes Van Zandt, Kris Kristofferson, Willie Nelson and Hank Williams – on Come Away With Me Jones’ cover of Williams’ ‘Cold, Cold Heart’ had been a standout track, so  country was not a million miles from her brand of jazz.

And as is the easy-going, Jack Daniels’ slow schedule of a side-project it has taken The Little Willies six more years to put out their second – For the Good Times, named for the bittersweet Kris Kristofferson cover that was a 1970 hit for country star Ray Price. And they do the song proud – Jones’ and Julian’s voices smoothly intertwining like vines of sadness around your heart. Other covers fare just as well – Dolly Parton’s wise and knowing ‘Jolene’ (also famously, if more scathingly, covered by The White Stripes), ‘Foul Owl on the Prowl’ (a leftfield cover from jazz maestro Quincy Jones – this one gets the tipsy New Orleans treatment) and Johnny Cash’s two-steppin’ ‘Wide Open Road’.

During 2002-3, when almost every speaker, muzak system or radio in town was playing Come Away With Me and we were all suffering from Norah Jones overkill, her omnipresence caused a backlash which, like most pop music backlashes, was more vicious than needed – and served to obscure her jazzy musicality and very human charm for many. A collection of songs such as For the Good Times shows off her sensitivity and warmth – she really wraps herself in the sentimental blanket of these songs and her joy is infectious. It spreads to her bandmates – though this truly is a group effort – and through them, to us.

Speaking of the laidback vibe of the making of the album, guitarist Jim Campilongo says “The recordings kind of are the rehearsals. Norah will do a song a different way every time. In 2006, when we first recorded, I was kind of taken aback, but I’ve grown to appreciate her jazz approach. It’s actually gotten easier because it really is a band now.”

Jones herself adds “I always want to keep playing with this band,” she says. “And I don’t ever want to have it not be fun and just feel like work.”

And if there is one thing For the Good Times doesn’t sound like, it is Work. In a ProTooled age of almost fiscally-perfect beats and robo-tuned vocals, it is a sweet relief to let music such as this wash over one. Somewhere along the line, Music stopped being Fun and became Work – and a laour of musical love likeFor the Good Times –  very importantly – can remind us of the Good Times.


Published January 2012 on

The protagonist of Robert M Pirsig’s 1974 book, ‘Zen and The Art of Motorcycle Maintenance’ drives himself to near-insanity in his quest to define Quality. What is Quality? What makes this mountain or that taco ‘better’ than that mountain or this taco?

It is a thought that crosses my mind more than a little as I sit in the audience checking out this band or that, this artist or that – why is she so so so much ‘better’ than so-and-so? Unlike Pirsig’s poor thinker, it hopefully won’t put me in the nuthouse but it can be maddeningly undefinable – its very undefinability the very juice of art appreciation across painting, writing and, yes, music.

The thought has risen up in my head on the last few occasions I have seen Sydney’s Maxine Kauter and her Band (and hit me hard when listening to her CD ‘Alibech the Hermit’). This is Quality stuff – the good oil, the real deal, kosher, dinkum. Of course all the elements are there – smart and sharp songwriting peopled with intriguing characters, literate without being yawningly clever-clever, beautifully sung, lovingly played by the Band – none of which remotely begins to explains the music’s Quality. (Of course, part of me worries that if I do define it, the magic will evaporate – but there is no danger of that here).

Enmore’s intimate Green Room Lounge was far from intimate on the drippingly humid Thursday I chose to check them out. In fact, the hot-bodies bar-crush could be a little too intimate at times, but a good place to check first support, the fantastically named Piers Twomey whose deep songs caused ripples in my vodka and tonic.

Piers was followed by Suzy Connolly whose bright and sweet music (and good-humour) was challenged by the loud indifference of too many there. She very nicely mentioned Jeff Tweedy’s famous lecture to a chatting audience, and retained her composure when the noise didn’t die down. They really should have listened; her songs are worth it.

The Maxine Kauter Band’s full-band muscle over-rode the blabbing barflies but their Quality shut them up good and proper. Opening with the title track from ‘Alibech The Hermit’, a swinging folk-pop gem swung by the surefooted rhythm section of Shannon Haritos on double bass and drummer Stephen Beverley, the set moved from mood to mood, all of it entrancing.

Kauter’s songwriting touches on folk, pop, rock and so-called ‘roots’ music but, like all truly gifted songwriters, her songs create and inhabit their own world, one we are invited to peer into from odd angles, sometimes through coloured-glass windows. Often the mood is made from two or three repeated chords but, like the best country music, the music is never allowed to break the spell of the telling. The Neil Young-like darkness of ‘Slow Reveal’, the humid eroticism of ‘My Maria’ – with a popping and moaning double bass solo from the always-happening Haritos – the irresistible pop choogaloo of newie ‘All Of This’; it is a jewel-box of a set.

A just-for-fun cover of King Missile’s 1992 hit ‘Detachable Penis’ – Kauter having some gender fun as well as belly-laugh fun – roils with electric guitarist  Peter Holz’s reverb-a-grind Stratocaster. Over the remainder of the set Holz plays with a gift for atmosphere: chiming jangle here, a touch of aching slide there, very tasty.

Through the surreal glass garden of ‘Going Down’ and out through the rocking ‘Hey’ – the explosive ending a showcase for snapping drummer Beverley  – and we wake up in Enmore’s Green Room, out of a dream it seems.

In dreams, as in Art, the definition of Quality is as meaningless and ephemeral  as the band’s last trailing dying note. I don’t worry about it anymore; I know what it is without knowing what it is, and that is enough.

Published January 2012 on

The balance between style and substance has always been a wobbly one in popular music. Duke Ellington’s urbane sophistication drew him an audience that his genius and artistry allowed him to then maintain. The Beatles were always ahead in both the style stakes and the music stakes. And for all his musicological importance, we would have never heard of Elvis Presley had he been a toupee’d dwarf instead of the Tupelo honey we all know and love.

The byword of the 80s was style – a glossy, shiny, bloodless chic that never seemed all that bothered with substance. This style carried from fashion to lifestyle to drugs to music and beyond into all aspects of popular culture. Icons abounded as the fashionista denizens of the 80s flitted from shiny thing to shiny thing.

The Nigerian-British singer Sade was an embodiment of that iconic style. A startlingly modelesque performer – her oval face and languid exoticism were just made for MTV – Sade first came to notice with her eponymous band’s debut album, 1984’s ‘Diamond Life’. The hit single ‘Smooth Operator’ epitomised her appeal, her style and her era – a light latin rock beat with some bluesy sax and Sade’s sung-whispered vocals over the top. As the lyric of the songs itself says: “He moves in space with minimum waste and maximum joy”. Effortless cool.

The full-house crowd at Sydney’s cavernous Entertainment Centre were obviously there to worship and adore and Sade gave them the full goddess treatment. Under a projection of storm clouds and the sounds of battle a fan of light burst from the stage and up rose that familiar silhouette – still amazingly lithe almost 20 years on from ‘Smooth Operator’. Her band rose up around her dressed, as she was, in black military fashion, and it was ‘Soldier of Love’ from her 2010 album of that name.

Under full lights her beauty is completely intact, the oval face, the lack of  expression, the too-cool “minimum waste and maximum joy”. We were all awestruck, but snapped out of it by ‘Your Love is King’ from ‘Diamond Life’. Her slicker-than-Steely-Dan eight-piece band was entirely on the money, moving through their choreographed steps without dropping a beat.

Each and every song was dressed in some of the most extremely theatrical production I have seen (maybe I should get out of the tatty jazz clubs and grungy rock pubs more often…), with images and projections crossing the huge LED screen at the back of the stage and a rising and falling gauze curtain at the front. The video set-up for ‘Smooth Operator’ took longer than the song itself – a filmlet encompassing all things noir and ‘jazz’ (inverted commas intended). This was to allow the band time for a costume change (one of several) into gray suits; Sade herself appearing in a man’s grey waistcoat and trousers.

This heralded the ‘jazz club’ part of the show, with the band theatrically lounging around a suddenly intimate part of the stage and culminated in Sade kneeling on the edge of the stage, emoting the torchy ‘Jezebel’ from 1985’s ‘Promise’.

It was around this time that I found myself thinking what hokum this all was – the double bass, the wailing ‘bluesy’ (again, inverted commas intended) tenor sax, the ‘jazz’ guitar. In fact you could put inverted commas around all of it; it all seemed a synthetic simulcrum of something real. Sade and her robotically choreographed team had plunged us into a phantasy world of replicant cool, of airbrushed style – yes, we were back in the 80s.

What did I expect? This is what she does and with album sales of 110 million to her name, she must be giving us what we want. And is the Sade phantasy of sultry noir jazzclub cool any different from the schlock-horror phantasy of an Alice Cooper show, the Dante’s inferno phantasy of a Nick Cave show or the Daddy’s Bad Girl phantasy of dear departed Amy Winehouse? It’s all good fun, and an integral part of pop culture of any stripe – rock’n’roll outlaw or pure pop for pretty people.

Of course, it goes without saying that the Entertainment Centre’s Sade Squad loved every highly polished minute of it. By the time she appeared clad in a white cocktail dress, all cleavage and ebony coiffure, to sing ‘The Sweetest Taboo’ the fans all around me were going wild – or as wild as a strike-the-pose mood of a Helen Folasade Adu OBE concert would allow.

Published December 2011 on

Years ago, when I was a jazzhead serious young insect, I used to cringe when reminded that Australia’s major contribution to contemporary rock music was Pub Rock. Nowadays I glow with pride.

AC/DC, Cold Chisel, the less arty side of Midnight Oil (who came up in the blood-and-sand pubs of Sydney’s Northern beaches), The Angels, The Radiators – hell, even Jet – have proven it and a thousand unknown but bullets-sweating guitar bands prove it every Saturday night. Even with a band as ‘grown up’ as Powderfinger it is just below the surface (vis a vis ‘Got You on My Mind’, pure and perfect pub-rock). The populism and boozy hedonism of Pub Rock also extends into Australian Hip-Hop, Blues and Country. Like it or not, it is a musical reflection of who we are and who we want to be – informal, inclusive and wildly colonial. And we do it so fucking well.

But none do it better than Australian hard rock’s once and future kings, Rose Tattoo. Formed around 1976, Rose Tattoo have never diverged from the path of perfect, flint-hard rock and roll. Styled from the start in the outlaw/bikie mold they have never become a cartoon of themselves, as AC/DC have, nor have they craved the stadium lifestyle (despite playing to hundreds of thousands in Europe where they are particularly revered). The slide-guitar (originally of Pete Wells RIP, and today of Dai Pritchard) has been a feature of the band since day one, linking their sound to the dark church of the blues as it howls and moans through their music.

Earlier this year, Rose Tattoo played a couple of shows at Newtown’s Sandringham Hotel. Fans couldn’t believe their luck – here was a band on par with AC/DC but in a pub, up very close and very personal. This says as much about the band’s street ethos as it does about how they see their connection to fans – stadiums are fine but you can’t touch the people. The shows were such a success that they repeated them on December 9 & 10 at the iconic Annandale Hotel.

The December 10 show that I caught was warmed up by The Corps (square-jawed punk with Oi flavours) and Black Label (superb blues-rock royale, a little Thin Lizzy, a little Led Zep, a lot tough as nails). During their last song I remember thinking that Rose Tattoo couldn’t possibly be more filthy, more urgent than what Black Label were putting out. But if course I couldn’t have been more fuckin’ off the money, as Angry might put it.

No announcement – what could you say? – and there they were, larger than life, black, dirty white and chrome, grizzled road dogs to an illustrated man. As the guitarists plugged in, Angry Anderson took the mic by throat, berating us all with a fuckin’ this and a fuckin’ that, bourbon in hand. Over the next hour and a half, he would throttle that mic to within an inch of its life, shredding it with his paintstripper voice (a national treasure in itself). There has recently been another man out there called Angry Anderson who has dallied with questionable right-wing politics; this Angry Anderson was a different animal, a tough little dog, seemingly three feet shorter than the towering guitarists around him and yet King of this leathered, bearded, boozed up domain. All hail!

There is a particular intersection of ecstacy where all your senses are filled up to the brim and, instead of panic, you just float. When the Rose Tattoo rock machine, counted off by drummer Paul De Marco, starts to roll, you either swim or sink. At asphyxiating volume, with the twin banshees of Anderson’s voice and Dai Pritchard’s slide eating at your vitals, it is a ride like no other in rock. The swagger and loose-limbed animal grace of their grooves is up there with the Stones and the songs are deceptively simple but brilliantly built – everything paired away for maximum dramatic effect. The storytelling blues “The Butcher and Fast Eddie” reaches back to the roots of their roots and the quieter, almost country “Stuck on You” (…stuck on you, like a rose tattoo…) shows some really tasty musicianship. With lyric vistas of bad boys (Ian Rilen’s “Bad Boy for Love”), jailhouses, violence (“Black Eyed Bruiser”) and honour over the top of these irresistible anthems, the effect is one of enormous liberation. For a few hours in our dulled lives we are Rock and Roll Outlaws and we never needed anyone.

Is it stupid? Is it art? Is it the cause of the decline of Western Civilisation? Oh what a pleasure it is not to think, but to feel and to wildly chant along to “We Can’t be Beaten” because for those three minutes, we can’t be. Rose Tattoo have allowed us to join their gang and we can face any-fucking-thing.

Published December 2011 on

D.I.G – Directions In Groove – hit the stage of The Studio at Sydney Opera House, hard and tight at the tail end of their national tour to promote the new album Clearlight – their first studio album in thirteen years.

After a warm up set from the unique Abby Dobson (accompanied by Paul Mac), the room darkened into sea greens and acid purples and Clearlight’s ‘Pythonicity’ boomed through the PA. One by one the band came on stage and seamlessly merged with the recorded track until they were playing it, live. As a piece of theatre it was rivetting and something few ‘serious’ jazz flavoured groups would think to do – but that is D.I.G, never running with the pack. And D.I.G fans love them for it.

Keyboardist Scott Saunders announced the next piece, ‘All Is Quiet’, jokingly chiding us in the audience for being a little too quiet and ‘well behaved’. The featured soloist here was guitarist Tim Rollinson who rippled and howled over the band with fluidity and fire. (I caught a showcase gig that D.I.G played earlier this year at Newtown’s NOTES and Rollinson’s solo there was brittle and a little hesitant – tonight, toughened from touring, the guitarist – and indeed the whole band – was unstoppable).

Saunders introduced new D.I.G vocalist, Laura Stitt and they went into Clearlight’s opener, ‘Strangers Talking’. A sharp and hooky (almost) pop track, ‘Strangers Talking’ serves as a bright wake-up and a statement of intent for D.I.G’s new, evolved direction. Stitt – the latest in a line of enviable vocal collaborators such as Inga Liljestrom and Michelle Martinez – possesses a voice and style that work perfectly within the D.I.G sound-world; just like the band, her approach evokes jazz (tasty little Billie Holliday phrase endings), trip-hop, soul and the best of contemporary pop.

Stitt stayed onstage for ‘Upside’ and the surreal dreamscape of ‘Rumour Has It’ from 1998’s Curvystrasse, which took us into the new track, ‘Sunnyside’, a wash of synths with Stitt’s sky-clear voice floating disembodied over the top. The whole room held its breath until we were safely back to earth.

‘Bassick Insync’ serves as a vehicle for the joyfully funky bass of Alex Hewetson. Together with the astonishing Terepai Richmond on drums, they form one of the most intense and truly funky rhythm sections around today. And it is a funk that breathes – even moving in and out of tempo – rather than a funk that suffocates, which sadly every Saturday night brings to damp rooms all over Sydney. It is the jazz at the base of their playing that keeps the groove always moving forward, light and delicious.

A case in point is the Scott Saunders-rapped ‘Two Way Dreamtime’ from 1994. The groove is sinuous and preciously held all the way, allowing tenor/alto saxplayer Rick Robertson to paint lines and dots across the music. Robertson opens the following ‘O’Cumbaya’ with an ancient-sounding motif, a timeless African blues line, in the vein of Weather Report’s global voice. Whether playing simple three note phrases or free-jazz squalls, Robertson expresses it all with a great respect for the material and an obvious joy in his instruments’ voice.

By the time Laura Stitt returns for Clearlight’s title track, the natives at the bar are growing restless, whooping and clapping along. Closing number, ‘Re-Invent Yourself’ from 1994’s Deeper seems to flip a switch that says BOOGIE and the stagefront is filled with dancers. And I am reminded again what a great dance band D.I.G is, and just what groove truly is for. The track finishes and the band leaves the stage but the dancers will not allow this coitus interruptus and cajole D.I.G into just one more: ‘Favourite’, also from Deeper ignites the room with its ass-shakin’ riffing.

Music for the head, the heart and the ass. All the greats – Miles Davis, The Rolling Stones, T-Bone Walker, Wes Montgomery et al – know how to give us this anatomy lesson so well. D.I.G speak this language in a voice that will have us coming back for more and more. Long may they groove.

Published December 2011 on