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TRIBUTE

Australian Monsters of Rock
Australian Monsters of Rock

AUSTRALIAN MONSTERS OF ROCK
PREMIER HOTEL, PINJARRA
16 JANUARY
Photos by Andrew Thompson and Jess June

As I arrived at the venue, early enough to see headliners, End Of Fashion, run through their soundcheck, some of the event crew were stringing a rather large Aussie flag to a tree in the middle of the outdoor area where things were due to take place this afternoon/evening.  I thought to myself, this could all go south very rapidly.  Had I travelled all this way only to get caught up in the middle of some bogan fest where Southern Cross tattoos are mandatory and things would inevitably get more that a bit untidy once sufficient VB had been consumed?  I had a strong urge to head for home.

Three sets in and I realised I was enjoying myself. 

What felt like hours later, I looked up as the emcee took the mic to get things underway and saw, to my great surprise, James Reyne sitting centre stage, acoustic guitar strapped on and ready to rock.  A double take told me it wasn’t he of the garden furniture, but someone who looked very similar/familiar.  Hearing the emcee announce that Anderson was here to regale us with some covers of Aussie rock classics didn’t help my facial recognition computer one iota, but as the bloke with the acoustic guitar broke into a rendition of Paul Kelly’s ‘To Her Door’, it began to dawn on me where I’d seen this performer before.  This was Andy Smith, front man with Perth hard rock outfit, Sister Switchblade.  Only, he’s traded in his boot black hair dye for what I assume are his natural grey locks and he’s owning it like an absolute legend.  Better than that, after a few Aussie rock covers, as announced, he went off piste and played a selection of unexpected covers, including a rendition of Depeche Mode’s ‘Just Can’t Get Enough’, which put a massive grin on my face.  Maybe things would turn out OK after all? 

In his guise as Anderson, Andy Smith has some surprises coming up this year and, based on what he did in opening Australian Monsters Of Rock, he’s well worth keeping an eye on.  At this point in proceedings, he’s my saviour!

One of the questions I couldn’t answer when preparing to come and review Australian Monsters of Rock was what could I possibly write about a cover/tribute band?  I’ve seen and enjoyed many in my time, but never reviewed anything but original music, until now.  It was a daunting task and one that I still hadn’t figured out how to approach when Even Flow hit the stage to pay tribute to Pearl Jam.

Fronted by Dan Connell (Amberdown, Hailmary), Even Flow got to the heart of Peral Jam’s material a helluva lot quicker than did Pearl Jam themselves when I saw them years ago at Subiaco Oval.  They took the songs by the scruff of the neck and gave each one of them a good shake and, with Connell out front, showed that they have the charisma as well as the technical chops to pull it off.  Close your eyes for a moment and you could be right there with 20,000 people willing Eddie Vedder to climb the lighting rig and dive into the open arms of his people.  But, why would you want to close your eyes, when you have Connell to look at?  Even with a raging hangover, Connell performed his Reebok Pumps off and, man, what a set of pipes!  How come he doesn’t sing like that all the time?

Turns out I could find something to say about a tribute band after all.  Even Flow were superb.  They didn’t try to emulate, they just ripped Pearl Jam’s greatest hits a new one and then left the stage with cheesy grins on their faces and the ‘follow that’ cockiness of a band that knows they’ve done good.

Except for guitarist, Chad Wetton, who turned right back around to front next band on the line up, Faith No More trubuters, The Real Thing.  It’s a dirty job, but I guess someone has to do it.  In fact, Wetton wasn’t the only one who backed up in multiple bands at this event.  I won’t try to name them all, because I’ll only leave someone out, or get the band genealogy wrong, but playing back to back sets is a major feat of stamina and musical prowess, so kudos to all that did it on this day and who do it most weekends year in year out.  It’s no easy life that of the jobbing muso.

The Real Thing picked up right where Even Flow left off, doing more than sufficient justice to the polymath rap rock of Mike Patton and his compadres.  By the time they closed their set with, inevitably, ‘Epic’, the crowd was right on their side, having been a bit unsure for a few moments during this set, not because they didn’t appreciate the showmanship, but because they didn’t find all of what they heard instantly familiar.  Let’s face it, audiences come to see tribute/cover bands to get a dose of what they know.  Most of us like to stick with the familiar rather than be that annoying person who’s always trying to get their homies to listen to the latest thing.  It was obvious that a lot of the people who’d gathered in the afternoon sun only knew a couple of Faith No More songs.  It was testament to The Real Thing that the crowd stayed the journey with them and their reward was the response to ‘Epic’ which was, wait for it…rapturous.  Job done!

The Real Thing’s set did raise an existential question when they covered ‘Easy’, doing true justice to Faith No More’s cover of The Commodores’ original.  A tribute band doing a cover of a cover.  Would it cause a singularity?  Would the world end as spacetime collapsed around us?  We seemed to survive the experience but thinking about it kept me amused for a few moments.

Three sets in and I realised I was enjoying myself.  Although I was still nervous.

Next up was Electric State.  Original music at a cover/tribute event.  That would never work, would it?

Except it bloody well did! 

Electric State are one of the cheekiest, hardest rocking, audience friendly bands going around in Perth right now.  They write great songs, they rock out like there’s no tomorrow and, led by front man, the rambunctious Rob Viney, they can whip an audience into a lather of rollicking good times.  I needn’t have worried at all, Electric State had the audience eating out of their hands before the drone of the siren that opens their sets had even died down, before had properly clattered into their opening song.  There’s just something about these four that attracts attention without them even having to play a single note or open their mouths.  But, when they start playing, it opens up a vortex of hard rockin’ sounds that only a dead person could resist.  Electric State are the real thing and the Australian Monsters of Rock crowd loved them right down to their little cotton socks. 

When Viney called for volunteers to yell into some of his seemingly never-ending collection of megaphones during a mid-set rendition of new single, ‘Fed By The Algorithm’, the audience just about rushed the stage.  Who cares that they scared the shit out of the sound engineer when they almost blew up the PA, it was just so refreshing to see a band capable of inciting mayhem and surviving the experience without collapsing into an incoherent heap.  If you like to have a good time and your rock and roll a little bit on the dangerous side, Electric State are for you.

Coincidentally, due to some late changes in the running order, Electric State played the festival breakthrough spot, the one that bridges sunset, starting in daylight and finishing in the dark.  It’s a spot that’s launched a lot of bands to enormous things, and Electric State owned it tonight.

Next up was The Australian Angels Show, with the event’s promoter and showmaster general, Michael Madigan, on bass.  By now I was beginning to understand the true genius of the line up, so props to Mr Madigan for his insight and acumen. 

His band continued the high quality, high volume energy that is Australian Monsters of Rock.  There’s no pretence here, just a bunch of people out to have a good time with some of the best bands and greatest rock and roll music going around.  Of course, The Angels were one of the best loved of all the Aussie pub rock bands and will for ever hold a place in our collective hearts, so paying tribute to their music is not to be taken lightly.  Get it wrong and you’re likely to be lynched, or at the very least turn the mood of the audience, which by this stage of the evening was permanently set to exceedingly happy.

We were in very safe hands.  The Australian Angels Show blew the non-existent roof off the venue with their musicianship, stagecraft and heart.  A proper tribute this was and one that had the audience singing back every word of hit after hit from The Angels’ songbook.

Last of the tribute/cover bands was XLR8, unusual among their ilk tonight in that they played songs from a range of bands, including the likes of Rage Against The Machine, Soundgarden, Nirvana and The Living End.  Every single song they played was a solid gold hit and every single version was true to the original while filled with XLR8’s remarkable on-stage energy.  This band is more than solid, they’re fucking great, which is why Madigan stepped on stage towards the end of their set to announce that they’d be back to the Premier hotel in March.  Can’t say better than that.

Mentioning the venue, I’m moved to say that this slightly down at heel country pub nestled on the banks of the Murray River did us all proud today.  The staff were friendly and efficient, the drinks weren’t eye-wateringly expensive, the food was carb heavy and filling — just what you need to keep energy levels high while doing the equivalent of running a marathon — and there wasn’t a single queue in sight.  Thanks for having us, Premier Hotel, I’m sure most of us and more will be back next year.

Ashes Of Autumn are just about the best hard rock band doing business in Perth right now.  No, strike that, they are THE best.  So, for those in the know, anticipation was high as they moved about the stage in semi darkness getting set to launch.  The rest of the audience didn’t know quite what to expect, but, based on today’s performances so far, they must have known something special was about to happen.

From the opening notes of current single, ‘Supernova’, to the heart-rending truths of ‘Refuse To Break’ and the high energy, chorus heavy, ‘Let Go’, Ashes Of Autumn did not disappoint.  Led by singer, Melanie Flynn, who has a voice that goes for miles and a heart that could reach the back rows of any stadium anywhere in the world, this is a band that knows what it takes to put on a show.  Their performance showed that, no matter what an audience came to see, put a great band in front of them and they will lap it up.  With bands as good as Ashes Of Autumn, familiarity does not matter at all, they carve their own path into their audience’s soul.  I’ve recently predicted greatness in Ashes Of Autumn’s future, I saw nothing tonight that made me want to revise that prediction.

Now to headliners End Of Fashion.  By the time they hit the stage I only had one question, outstanding:  how would this band go down topping off an afternoon and evening of hard rock and metal?  You can have twelvty million ARIAs and still tank on the wrong line up in front of the wrong audience.  I needn’t have worried.  Turns out all my fears about this event were completely baseless.  (Note to self:  refresh that CBT course.)  End Of Fashion can rock it with the best of them.  When I reviewed them at their ‘BreakThru’ single launch a little while ago, I was moved to dub them the “heavy metal Beatles” and it was this approach to their songs that stood them in good stead in front of tonight’s audience. 

But it was far more than that.  End Of Fashion have the sort of stature that only years of being at the top of your game can give you.  Tonight, it was a little bit like watching the grownups do their thing after all the kids had had a go.  With some bands, experience wins every time.  It doesn’t hurt, of course, that End Of Fashion have the back catalogue as well as a bunch of new songs that are timeless classics.  Justin Burford knows how to write a pop song like the best of them and, with this current line up of End Of Fashion, has an outfit that can punch them into all sorts of unexpected and jaw droppingly pleasing shapes. 

Then there’s the voice.  Burford can sing!  Can he ever!  He has the power, the control, the capacity to take an audience through every available emotion.  Vocalists like him are the reason why pop music was invented.

End Of Fashion smashed it tonight.  I couldn’t think of a better choice of band to close the evening.  What a monster of a day topped off by a monster of a band. 

Bring on next year’s event!

Indigo Blaze photo by Isabelle Haubrich Indigo Blaze photo by Isabelle Haubrich

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