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17-HOUR PARTY PEOPLE

A couple of weeks ago, Around The Sound spent time on the road with Melbourne’s The Bennies and Perth’s Axe Girl. It was pretty much exactly like the movie, Almost Famous, except without the angst and soul searching. So, quite different, really. Here’s a little bit of what took place.

Melbourne foursome, The Bennies, are a band that thrive on their reputation of being a gang of hard-partying troubadours, criss-crossing the country, and now the globe, to bring good times to all who get sucked into their orbit. I don’t want to dent that reputation at all, but this foursome is also very serious about being good at what they do. And that’s what makes them so fucking great!

We’re about 10 hours into a road trip to Dunsborough, in Western Australia’s south west. Special guests, locals Axe Girl and Abbe May, have done their thing on the Dunsborough Tavern’s stage, and The Bennies are in the green room getting themselves ready for go time. We’ve been here for a good few hours now and there’s been bike riding, tequila shots, lots of beers, perfunctory food and a bit of sleep. As well as banter of the sort that can never be repeated outside the walls of that hallowed space where performers eke out time before the show.

I’m fiddling with my camera, trying to be unobtrusive. I hitched a ride on the tour bus earlier in the day and I’ve been attempting to keep a low profile ever since. Next thing I hear is singing. Not unexpected in a room full of musicians, I guess, but this is a cappella, four-part harmony. Looking up, I see The Bennies standing in a tight circle, eyes locked, singing to each other. It’s one of those hairs-standing-up moments and, though I had a camera in my hand, it felt so private that I couldn’t bring myself to take a single photo.

It was right then that I knew that The Bennies were the real deal. Not that they’d given me any opportunity to doubt it, it’s just seeing them get right on their game like that – it was so serious, so heartfelt, so tender and, well, musical. You don’t get to be able to do things like that unless you’re incredibly good at what you do.

Then they were gone, heading for the stage and moments later it was back into full-on party mode for another adoring audience.

Rewind about 24 hours and I’m witnessing The Bennies for the first time at the side of stage in The Rosemount’s main room, Perth, Western Australia. Before The Bennies even arrive on stage, the audience are whipped into full on sing-along mode by Ah Ha’s Take On Me and DJ Otzi’s take on Hey Baby. By the time The Bennies wander on out and strap themselves in, the whole of the sell-out audience is well primed for what comes next.

With The Bennies, every chorus is bigger than the last one. Hell, some of the songs are all chorus and they're shout-along good. This is modern music hall, a good old fashioned 21st Century knees up. It’s sweaty and raucous and a fabulously good time. Everyone went home satisfied.

Towards the end of The Bennies’ set I’m at the back of the room, getting my instructions on the itinerary for tomorrow’s trip down south. Pick up tomorrow at midday. Check. Leave the next morning, Sunday, at 5.00 am. ‘5.00 am?!?’ I mouth, holding up my right hand, fingers splayed, just to make sure I’d heard correctly over the rumble of the closing song. ‘Yep,’ was the reply, a knowing smile on the messenger’s face.

Rock and fucking roll! Better get home for a bit of sleep.

Earlier in the evening, before the carefully-curated tracks that heralded The Bennies’ arrival, Axe Girl and then Abbe May had taken to The Rosemount’s stage.

Axe Girl are a band I thought I knew from having last seen them a few years ago at The Bakery. Remember The Bakery? If you’re of the same mind, think again! Sporting a revamped line-up that sees front woman Addison Axe mostly sans guitar and freed up to prowl the stage like a Siren on continual fast forward, the current-day Axe Girl are a whole new proposition. The songs still make sense looking back, but they’re just ... better. And the performance. Oh! The performance! It’s mesmerising, dangerous, slinky, in your face, cheeky and deadly serious all at the same time.

This band is the real deal. Cutting into a deep and rich vein of pop/punk/pop, Axe Girl are an outfit to watch out for, because they’re going to climb the ladder of success real quick from here on in, and you’re going to want to be able to say you were there when things started to really kick off.

And then there was Abbe May, who finished off her set with her cover of Ginuwine’s Pony, which in May’s hands sounds somehow even more dangerously sexy that the original. Well, the audience finished off the song for her, relishing the salacious sing along, while May urged them on. It was quite the moment.

Abbe May is a bit of an enigma. Somehow, she can be both aloof and close to her audience. She’s the sort of performer who notches up the air pressure in a room just by walking on stage. You know she’s there even if you’re not looking. And she’s got the songs and performance capability to back it all up.

Towards the end of her set, May wields her guitar like a weapon of mass seduction. She’s here to shoot us down and build us all back up again in her image. At the time of writing this it’s a couple of weeks since the gig, but that visual and accompanying guitar mayhem are still very much with me; and I’m pretty sure I wouldn’t be the only one.

Next day, the tour bus leaves at midday promptly. This is a well-oiled machine. On board are The Bennies and Axe Girl. And me. Today is the first time I actually meet The Bennies. Asked what I do (translate as, ‘What the fuck are you doing here?’), I pause for a bit and say that I’m Axe Girl’s admin assistant. Quick thinking, eh! The answer seems to have satisfied Dan, The Bennie’s tour manager, but then he is busy corralling up nine musicians and trying to keep the show on the road. Literally. No mean feat. Something about cats and herding comes to mind, but these people are tight, more like a pack than individuals, so the feline metaphor doesn’t really work. The Bennies and Axe Girl have been on tour together before, so there’s a lot of love and mutual admiration in the bus. And fun! Pure unadulterated fun.

Not much more than 10 minutes into the journey, the oil in the machine begins to coagulate a bit. We stop, ostensibly so that The Bennies’ guitarist, Jules, can do an interview on Triple J, still the national tastemaker after all these years. The rest of the entourage do a quick run to the bottle shop and then spend the rest of the pit stop listening to Jules while trying to goad him into testing the seven-second delay and laughing uproariously every time it’s mission accomplished.

That was the first of more stops than I thought it could ever be possible to make in one three-hour journey and still actually arrive at the intended destination. The Bennies had christened their tour manager Jean Claude Van Dan, but that moniker didn’t even go near the endless patience he would show over the next 17 hours. Every time we’d pull out of a roadhouse, maybe five minutes or so down the road, someone would call out from the back for a toilet stop. Every time! And Dan would just pull over and wait. I would have been tempted to just drive off, or maybe not even stop at all. Maybe that’s why I’m just the admin assistant.

At one stop a member of the touring party asked me where we were, how long to go to Dunsborough. I looked up and realised I had no idea where we were and not much sense of how much time had passed. This was going to be a lost weekend.

But we made it and, as Dan backed the tour bus, including trailer, up to the door of the venue, I understood I was in the hands of a real professional. I would have fallen apart under the barrage of cat calls, but he just kept on going until the job was done. That was Dan through and through and I salute him and all who do his job.

The rest of the day was a rinse and repeat of the day before. Load in, sound check, down time, frivolity, fun and, then that sublime moment when The Bennies locked in with each other just before they went on stage.

Axe Girl and Abbe May (this time solo) turned it on again. Different venue same quality performances. What a treat for all the senses.

Then The Bennies whipped the audience into a 90-minute frenzy and left them dazed and feeling just fine thank you very much, before wandering nonchalantly back to the green room like just any old band could do what they do. Na ah! No way!

“We are The Bennies, we’re here to partaaaaaay!” is how their front man, Anty, starts their shows. They sure are a Party Machine, just like the song says. After the show and some hours spent finding someone in Dunsborough with an air compressor to pump up the tyres of the tour bus that some kindly local let down during our incarceration in the venue, the party carried on. Until, just after hour 17, Dan the tour manager returned to our digs and announced it was time to go. The collective musos from both bands scurried to collect their gear like wayward kids late for school again, leaving behind just one wallet that was returned all contents intact a few days later.

Is there more to the story than that? There is, but sometimes the gaps are the best part.

All in all, it was an exceedingly good excursion.

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