In what would prove to be a great match between support act and headline band this evening, You Am I opened up proceedings with a raw, rocking, at times shambolic but always entertaining set. This was the type of set from the band that reminded the listener of the band’s golden period in the mid 90’s, around the time of the classic albums Hi Fi Way and Hourly Daily.
There was a great sense of musical tightness to the band this evening. Front man Tim Rogers, sporting a rather impressive moustache for Movember, was definitely at his most affable, honest and charming with the crowd. Charmingly, he was trying to convince us it was Saturday and to let loose.
There were some great selections this evening during You Am I’s set, such as the almighty “Purple Sneakers”, “Cathy’s Clown”, “Rumble”, “Flagfall $1.80” (off Hourly Daily and rarely played live) and “Heavy Heart”. A wonderful surprise, courtesy of recently added keyboard player Dan Mansfield, was hearing “The Applecross Wing Commander”, one of the band’s best. A great way to finish an accomplished set.
Cold Chisel. Part of the architecture that is Australian music. The band, through no fault of their own, have been somewhat unfairly maligned and ridiculed over the years. This scribe encountered the odd experience of friends saying “Hell, no” and less polite comments when asked if they wanted to attend this evening.
Over the years, Cold Chisel have been very much linked with ‘bogan’ culture in Australia and been belittled, cheapened and demeaned somewhat because of it. This is unfortunate; people forget the brilliant elements that have produced great music over the past nearly four decades: fantastic songwriting and brilliant musicianship have produced a truly world class band.
There is a somewhat unidentifiable quality that seems to spark almost religious devotion from fans of Cold Chisel; never more evident than this evening. The band, originally from Adelaide, formed in 1974, and split up the first time round in 1983, primarily as a result of being unable to crack the American market after making a big name for themselves in Australia and New Zealand. Over the years, there have been reformation tours, such as the fantastic “Ringside” tour of 2003, where the group played in the round in the middle of the crowd.
Tonight was the band’s first proper tour since that time. It has taken on an extra poignancy since the death of original drummer Steve Prestwich earlier this year due to complications from a brain tumour. Admirably, the band have chosen to honour their fallen comrade and soldier on, never forgetting his legacy. The moment where the band performed the Prestwich-penned “When The War Is Over”, accompanied by a photo montage on screen of the man, was a moving and unforgettable moment. This wonderful song also puts a fantastic spotlight on one of the heroes of Cold Chisel, the extraordinary guitarist and vocalist that is Ian Moss.
Opening their set this evening with a rocking version of “Standing On the Outside”, the setlist was one of the best that any fan could ask for. Replacing Preswitch on drums was American multi-instrumentalist Charley Drayton, who has played with such musical luminaries as The Rolling Stones, on both of Keith Richards’ solo albums, and with Australia’s Divinyls. He proved himself to be a great fit for Chisel, bringing a wonderfully different sense of energy to the songs.
Tonight, the band kept moving from strength to strength. The crowd, in response, were almost devotional ways of singing along to just about every song. Highlights came thick and fast, showcasing the many musical sides and characteristics of the band. Fiery and incredibly angry tracks such as “Star Hotel” and the still incredibly vicious “You’ve Got Nothing I Want”, dedicated to their American record company’s mishandling of the band back in the 1980’s, sit very comfortably alongside the band at their more soulful and heartfelt, such as “Breakfast At Sweetheart’s”, about the characters that frequented King’s Cross back in the late 1970s, and the heartbreaking “Choir Girl” a beautiful and affecting track about a very tough subject: abortion.
Never ones to back away from tough material via their lyrics or musical style, it is this honesty and directness about Cold Chisel that continues to appeal to many generations. Jimmy Barnes possesses a voice that defines the words ‘acquired taste’, his detractors accusing him of over-singing and SCREAMING on every note. Unfortunately, there was a little bit of that this evening, such as his slightly heavy handed treatment of “Choir Girl”. However, he is up there with some of the best blues and soul influenced singers, such as Joe Cocker, Long John Baldrey, Eric Bourdon and Led Zeppelin’s Robert Plant. A great example of this was tonight’s heartfelt reading of “Four Walls”, about the blues of prison life.
A few newer tracks were featured this evening, many of which stood up very well against the older material from the band. These included a great version of “HQ 454 Monroe”, the downright sleazy “Yakuza Girls”, which Barnes introduced by saying that he wanted to see how many more people they could piss off with this song. Barnes is a great front man, with a candidly honest and down to earth sense of banter and repartee with the close to sold out crowd. “All For You” was another strong selection, a charmingly romantic track, preceded by Barnsey ‘s promise that the band will be recording new material in the near future.
There was a very funny moment where he talked about the cover for the band’s breakthrough album “East”, from 1980. The cover features a sleeping, half naked Barnes in a bathtub, wearing a Japanese kamikaze headband, which over the years has become his very distinctive visual trademark on stage as part of Chisel. Apparently, a decade after “East” had been released, a fan told him that he was wearing the headband upside down and looked like a dickhead. This was a beautiful lead in to a charged version of “Rising Sun”, about Barnes trying to woo his girlfriend (now wife) Jane back from Japan.
Highlights came thick and fast this evening. “Cheap Wine” had the crowd singing loudly and proudly to one of the band’s all time great tracks, and one where many discovered Chisel for the first time. Tim Rogers joined the band for a sensational version of “Houndog” -no, not the Elvis one. It was really nice to see two periods of great rock produced by this country represented on stage. The band proper were joined by two additional musicians: Dave Blight on harmonica, and Andy Bickers on saxophone. To their eternal credit, Chisel were one of the few bands in the 1980s that used the saxophone for good and not for evil. Bickers did a great job on “My Baby”, with his wailing sax giving the lovely, romantic song its beating heart.
It was amusing to see nearly the entire crowd rise to their feet to dance and sing along to what many have called this country’s unofficial national anthem, “Khe Sahn”, the bands first big single when originally released in 1977. Accompanied by words and images on the screen backdrop, this was a fantastic bonding moment during the concert, where complete strangers threw their arms around each other and sang along. It is always a heartening sight to see people bonded by music.
Cold Chisel even managed to pull out some nice and unexpected curveball choices this evening, such as “Merry Go Round”, off one of the band’s earliest EPs with the spectaularly provoking and politically incorrect title of “You’re Thirteen, You’re Beautiful And You’re Mine”. Cold Chisel were never a band shy to get up people’s noses. Anyone who remembers their demolition of the stage at the 1980 Countdown Rock Awards will definitely attest to this. The aforementioned “Four Walls” with Barnsey at his most soulful and a gorgeous gospel-infused backing vocal from the band, was another unexpected delight.
One would be remiss to talk about Cold Chisel without mentioning both keyboard player Don Walker and bassist Phil Small. The two help form the backbone, in different ways, of what is a truly great band. Walker has always been the band’s primary songwriter, as well as truly defining their sound with a fantastically versatile keyboard sound that can swing from the delicacy of “When The War Is Over” to absolutely stomping “Rising Sun”. Small, with his varied and rock solid basslines, has always been the enigmatic quiet achiever of the group. He brings such a solid grounding to the band’s overall sound, and locked in beautifully with Drayton this evening in regards to creating a fantastic rhythm section.
As mentioned previously, “When The War Is Over” was an absolute high point this evening. Written by Steve Prestwich, the song took on an extra sense of meaning, beautifully rendered by the band in semi-acoustic mode this evening. More than a few people were visibly moved by the song this evening, singing along impressivly in key. If this is their former drummer’s legacy, it is a truly powerful and affecting one.
One thing this scribe has always loved about certain Cold Chisel tracks is the way that the musical contrast and counterpoint between Barnsey rough, growling vocal style contrasts markedly with that of the more earthy, bluesy vocal style of Ian Moss. Some of the most compelling tracks of the band are when the two vocal style are combined. This was never more evident this evening than on the incendiary and blistering version of “Bow River”. A wonderfully slow burning blues track ramped up Chisel-style, it was also an incredibly spotlight for Moss’ blistering guitar style and a great chance for harmonica player Blight, who really impressed with a harmonica/guitar face off with Moss at the beginning of the track.
One does forget sometimes what a truly incredible guitarist Ian Moss is. Watching him play this evening was an absolute sight to behold. Witnessing and listening to his way with an instrument and the sense of tone and instinctive playing he possesses reminds you that he is, without a doubt, one of the finest this country has ever produced. He is definitely part of the glue that makes Cold Chisel what they are. It was really heartening to watch how Moss and Jimmy interacted with each other this evening. There is obviously a very strong bond between the two, having played together on and off for nearly forty years.
This fantastic night concluded in fine fashion with a four song encore that included “Saturday Night”, complete with the crowd singing the accompanying ‘doo do do’, and the classic “Goodbye (Astrid Goodbye)”, a stomping, venomous kiss off to a former girlfriend – one of those tracks that, lyrically, you’d hate to be on the receiving end of.
This was a great night that served to remind people of one of the best bands that this country has produced in its musical history.
– Neil Evans