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PRETTY GENIES

Icehouse - photo by Sheldon Ang
Icehouse - photo by Sheldon Ang

BY THE C
CITY BEACH OVAL
ICEHOUSE, PETE MURRAY, YOU AM I, TEX PERKINS, KILLING HEIDI, COTERIE
27 March
Photos by Sheldon Ang

By the time last Saturday’s By The C hit the shores of Perth’s idyllic City Beach, some punters had been waiting 18 months for the show to start.  Originally scheduled for April 2020 and rescheduled to November the same year, the stellar line-up, headed by Icehouse, finally made it to Perth on 27 March 2021.  One more thing COVID has taught the concert going public is patience.  So much delayed gratification!  But was it worth the wait?  Judging by the very polite choruses of, “Heck yes!” from the gathered masses when they were asked this question in various ways from the stage during the day, the consensus of the punters was, definitely.  Maybe they got swept away on a wave of goodwill that saw self-policing lines for the toilets and, shock horror, people being gently moved on by security for dancing away from their seats?  Terrible behaviour!  But this was a COVID safe event after all.

Icehouse played a powerhouse set that had everyone wrapped up in thoughts of yesteryear.  In the final analysis, if would have been enough if they had just taken us on this trip down memory lane.  It would have been rare at any stage in their career to see them play these songs so well.  But Icehouse had more in store for us.

There was a time when attending an outdoor event felt just a little bit dangerous.  I’m not sure whether it’s an age thing or just that promoters and event managers have gotten so much better at running their operations, but if you want danger at an event like By The C, you have to look for it on stage, because it’s never going to happen on the manicured lawns of a venue like City Beach Oval, where concert goers obediently set out their folding chairs in neat rows and then sat down to talk politely amongst themselves about the healthy food they’ve brought with them, not being able to get on with their multifocal glasses and wondering whether their toes have gotten fat.  The most dangerous incident I encountered was having some superannuated boomer stick his arse in my face as he set up his chair.  Oh, hang on, there was that moment, later in the afternoon, when I thought I might not have enough cheese slices for the crackers in the little snack pack I’d brought with me.  But, after an anxious recount, it turned out the numbers squared up after all.  Phew!

What about the music, I hear you ask?

Good question.  I was wondering that myself, because, apart from Perth’s Coterie, who opened proceedings like they belonged on the big stage, signalling that they’re due a promotion to the ‘big time’ very soon, you could have been forgiven for thinking that By The C was going to be a big nostalgia fest.  I’m always in at least two minds about nostalgia.  Artists that rest on their back catalogue feel, at face value, more than a bit suspect.  Rather than playing contemporary music there has to come a time when what they’re doing is living in the past.  Artists risk their relevance when they stop creating.  According to Neil Spencer writing about Bob Dylan for The Guardian, “Once you stop creating, you’re in the past.”  And, as far as rock and roll goes, the past has no danger in it, because we already know what’s going to happen.

So, with all that in mind I settled in to enjoy an eight-hour nostalgia trip and to be very polite when I wrote about it all.

Oh, what a fool I am!

Perth’s Coterie got things underway with their brand of laid-back pop propelled by booming backbeats and just the right amount of heavy-rock inspired guitar.  Fronted by Tyler Fisher, he of the voice that could fill a thousand stadiums, these guys proved that they’re the real deal today, singing songs that were, in part, inspired by the highway that snakes along Perth’s coastline.  Expect to see more from Coterie as they get to play big stages like this one more often.  They are the future calling.

Killing Heidi avoided the nostalgia act label by playing their songs like they’d written them only yesterday instead of at the beginning of the century.  Ella Hooper danced and sang her way through an energetic set fuelled by, “white wine and coffee,” and as many references to teen angst as you could fit into 45 minutes without sounding like you were repeating yourself.  She knew that that’s exactly what Killing Heidi were doing today, repeating themselves, except for when they played ‘Data Dust’, Hooper’s 2019 entry for Eurovision.  “Don’t hate me,” was Hooper’s request to the audience when introducing this one.  There was absolutely no chance of that. Killing Heidi sounded as fresh as the sea breeze that was by now cooling the faces of the sunburnt superannuants lapping up every moment of this slice of Aussie pop.  When it sounds and looks this good on stage, who cares whether it’s new?

Having just been in Perth a few weeks ago with The Men In Black, singing the songs of Johnny Cash, Tex Perkins was back, this time with his own take on dark country rock.  Perkins played a set of covers and songs from his back catalogue with seminal Aussie acts like Beasts of Bourbon and The Cruel Sea and, though he acknowledged himself that, “Daylight is not my natural environment, ladies and gentlemen,” he performed like only Tex Perkins can.  What does that mean?  It means we got 45 minutes of a performer who knows how to mesmerise sometimes just by standing still on stage; whose baritone can pierce even the hardest of hearts; and whose ramshackle approach to song arrangements puts an edge on even the best-known standards.  By the time he got around to The Cruel Sea, fairly late in his set, Perkins treated the audience to the alternative Aussie National Anthem, breathing fresh life into ‘This Is Not The Way Home’, a song that sums him up so neatly that he could have stopped right there and the crowd would have understood his majesty entirely.  It certainly put a lump in my throat to hear Perkins perform a song I thought I’d never get to hear played live again.  There must be something in this nostalgia thing after all?

You Am I wandered onto stage, strapped on their guitars — Tim Rogers looking like a time travelling dandy in his purple jacket, red strides and white cowboy hat, and his co-conspirator, guitarist, Davey Lane, looking like a Dickensian street urchin via Pete Townshend, dressed in blue overalls and a flat cap — and rumbled into life.  I’ve seen You Am I play some legendary sets, some of them I can even remember.  Initially, I wasn’t convinced that today was going to be another one, but this was a day for defying the odds.  Part way through their set, Rogers announced a new song off their upcoming album, sounding pretty bullish about it, and then leading his cohorts into what sounded like classic You Am I to me; the You Am I that I can’t remember, the band that dissolves every song into a massive guitar wig out, all feedback and mortal danger.  That’s the band Rogers brought with him today and, by the time Davey Lane had kicked his Telecaster into his amp at the end of set closer, ‘Berlin Chair’, and Rogers had, slightly more sedately, laid his against his amp, so the quartet could walk off stage in a blaze of feedback, you could have been in no doubt that they still meant it.  New songs, same attitude — fuck yeah!  Am I allowed to swear in this review?  Fuck it, who’s going to stop me?

Pete Murray rolled up next and showed us just why his first three albums all hit the top spot on the Australian music charts.  He’s definitely got the songs, the band, the voice; and he flexed all of these tonight.  Maybe Perth was a bit too laid back for this Byron Bay artist, a little bit too influenced by sun, wine and having missed their afternoon nap time?  He stopped a few times along the way to try to spur them into life.  It’s a cultural mistake I’ve seen a few overseas and interstate artists make over the years.  Just because we’re not roaring with applause, it doesn’t mean we’re not digging what you’re doing.  It turned out OK in the end.  By the time Murray got to ‘Better Days’ and ‘Opportunity’ we were singing right along with him as he played through sunset and moonrise.  Talk in the very well-behaved line for the toilets after his set was that Murray was a winner, although I’m not sure that potentially alienating 52+ per cent of your audience by repeatedly calling them “sexy” is the smoothest of moves these days, Pete.  Just sayin’.

Icehouse had me nervous.  Everyone else on the line-up had found a way to breathe enough life into their performances such that nostalgia was held in its rightful place.  What could a band that had formed in 1977 and hadn’t really produced any new music since the 90s do to keep things fresh and dangerous?  I needn’t have worried. What they did was play a set that ended up making 1977 sound as relevant as if it had happened only yesterday and, in between, they powered through a songbook that, even though we all know the statistics, still surprised, with every song a bona fide smash hit.

Having dispensed with the gothic bombast of ‘Icehouse’ first up, Iva Davies and his band then went on a procession of absolutely bloody magnificent hits including ‘Electric Blue’ — at which point my companion said, “I can’t sit down!” and disappeared to join the other illegal dancers never to return again — ‘Walls’, ‘Hey Little Girl’, ‘Crazy’, ‘No Promises’, ‘Touch The Fire’, ‘Street Café’, ‘Man Of Colours’, ‘Don’t Believe Any More’, ‘Great Southern Land’, ‘Can’t Help Myself’, ‘We Can Get Together’ and, to close out the encore, ‘Nothing Too Serious.’  My photographer colleague had to step away from his duties during ‘Crazy’ and ‘Man Of Colours’ so moved was he by proceedings.  And he wasn’t the only one. 

Icehouse played a powerhouse set that had everyone wrapped up in thoughts of yesteryear.  In the final analysis, if would have been enough if they had just taken us on this trip down memory lane.  It would have been rare at any stage in their career to see them play these songs so well.  But Icehouse had more in store for us.  The songs might not be new, but tonight’s approach to the songs and their history put new twist in Icehouse’s tale.  Early on in their set Davies talked about the snippets of lyrics showing on the big screen as part of the absolutely stunning visuals Icehouse brought with them tonight.  He’d recently rediscovered them in a notebook from 1977, the year it all began.  So, after ‘Great Southern Land’, Davies and his band hearkened back to their early days playing covers in pubs with a more than capable rendition of Bowie’s ‘Jean Genie’. 

But wait, there was more. 

They tied it all together and wrapped it up in bondage tape with a cover of Sex Pistols’ ‘Pretty Vacant’ first up in the encore, causing my arse thrusting neighbour and his elderly colleagues to break out into the most raucous sing along.  It was priceless and, while we shared a moment of coming full circle as we sang along together, I forgave them their inane chatter and we were as one for a few moments.  Icehouse took us there, proving definitively that the past is the future and we’re all still part of it.  It was punking wonderful!

Thanks to Zaccaria Concerts and Menard PR for having us along for the ride, it was definitely worth the wait.

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