(Above - Cosmic Psychos | Photographer - Joshua Pike)
Heritage rock. Is that even a term? I’m sure it is, though I haven’t bothered with specifics (ahem, research). I’ll coin it if it’s up for grabs… well, actually, a friend of mine can claim a 50/50 split on all proceeds as it was he who blurted out the term while I was ranting over a cigarette at the Manning Bar last Friday night. Hey, I’ll hijack the term and eschew its precise meaning for the purpose of this review. Yep, this was a night of heritage rock (by my definition).
Speaking of cigarettes and all things unhealthy, we were deckside when the first band started to play. A strong female voice, a lead singer with hints of Gwen Stefani (I’m using her as a reference point, if just for the first song. You know that song ‘Ex-Girlfriend'? That’s what I’m pointing to). Jumpy, friendly pop-rock. The kind of rock that tickles your ears when you’re talking crap in the rain (as we were). I wasn’t aware three bands would be performing on the night. I was all geared up for a Cosmic Psychos Vs. The Dune Rats event. A fight to the death! (okay, I’m adding the ‘vs’ in there for effect. If anything, the cartoonish tour poster depicts more old school bad influence over the new. No indication of violence). Anyway, where was I? Yeah, heritage rock and the vocal stylings of Gwen Stefani. More specifically, the stylings of Mis-Made, a local four piece that have their own family tree of rock wonder. You see, lead singer Jess is ex-Nitocris and rhythm guitarist Jess is ex-Bitchslap. How cool is that? I mean, seriously, can I say it? ‘Oh, what a pleasant surprise!’ There’s heritage right there. And there’s talent, too. Loads of it. The Gwen-cameo vocals came and went (hopefully I’m forgiven for making that reference) and Jess powered on, supported by one of the best bassists on the live scene: Rexy Yasa. She’s tops, she is. The mix was just-so-right and Ms. Yasa’s bass could be heard perfectly, an effortless drive. Mis-Made are a powerhouse of a pop-rock act, armed with a collection of songs free of dip. A give all performance, one that purred evenly. ‘Fountain Street’ was the strongest example of the Mis-Made musical purr… an engine riding even, never struggling in the red. Dead on. Bitchslap Jess (sorry for the title… but, hey, when you have two Jess’ in a band…) performed vocals on the Bitchslap carry-over song ‘Red Eyes’. A shift in gears, a change in sound. All good. I’d be lying if I weren’t a little saddened (I wasn’t crying or anything, honest) by the thin crowd. I guess it comes with the territory of being the ‘ring-in’ band on a two band tour. Had Mis-Made been on the poster (or advertised specifically for the Sydney shows) I’m sure the crowd would have been thicker from the 'first band' start.
Magic happens… one cigarette later and that crowd appears…
I was a little surprised when the Cosmic Psychos took to stage. No, not because they were sans shotgun and all wearing shirts. I was surprised that they were the next band on. What happened? Had the Dune Rats missed the gig? Were they okay?!? Were we up for an extended set from THE Cosmic Psychos? I’ll cut to the chase, letting you know that I later discovered that the Dune Rats would be playing last during their Sydney shows (Mona Vale was next up). Anyway, it was straight into it with ‘Nice Day To Go To The Pub’ and the much stronger (in numbers) crowd were enthusiastically receptive. Hell, this is what it was all about… turn up the raucous and let loose. Well, sort of. I mean, there’s only so much a crowd can do circa 2015 – young or old. Hell hath no fury like a security guard scorned. I probably am using the term ‘heritage rock’ incorrectly (actually, technically, I’m sure I am) but here’s where my use really comes into play. As many would know (should know) these guys have influenced a great many bands over the years. And they’ve always ridden the cusp of all-out fame, a sort of right on the edge of dominance. But that’s how it is, how it should be. They are in the shadowlands of Australian rock. I mean, they were never looking to conquer the world (I’m guessing) yet their sound has influenced hometown acts and those abroad… if not by musicianship (they’re experts) but by their sheer step-outside-the-lines approach, the very ping of punk. And if the influenced haven’t followed their path to a T, they’ve deviated only in sound and held true to the natural approach. You dig? Anarchy. (and perhaps, locally, anarchy for the sake of anarchy: all in good fun). It’s that stuff in the brackets that’s seen the evolution of ‘yob rock’. That colloquialism. That, ‘hey, have a beer and have f*cking good time.’ You still digging? Sure, there were some (tame) political digs, a shout out to Tony Abbott just before ‘Come on K*nt’… but it’s the energy of it all that keeps you smiling. Throw in some interstate rivalry and you’ve got yourself a damn fun night, young and old offering one fingered salutes to a lead singer/bassist (Ross Knight) who still delivers the goods. A shift in gear saw guitarist John McKeering on vocals during ‘Fuckwit City’, a mellowed out track delivered in beautiful drawl. Yep, the crowd kept the peace and not one bone cracked… it was, dare I say it, a happy affair. The young couple in front of me were beaming and the older woman resting against the guardrail was watching on… reminiscing, I’m sure. Oh, the inevitable joke was made by Ross... something about how nice it was to be back at University. I should have put some money on it. Thank you, Cosmic Psychos.
And so the baton was passed… The Dune Rats were full of energy, peachy keen and many a brain cell in between. Yeah, I’ll give them that. Sure, they may be a band that exudes a sort of sloppy-laconic demeanour, but they’re smart (I said that, too). Full of youthful cheekiness, they were all out to work the crowd into a frenzy. What surprised me was their musical chops. They can play. I’m not sure why I was so impressed with their musicianship. Hell, I’ve heard their tracks. But this was LIVE and maybe I was expecting something more… well, something more befitting their style? Hell, even the Sex Pistols could play… (okay, maybe not Sid… actually, Sid was crap). The Pistols were conscious of their place, their audience. But the Pistols also had a bigger axe to grind and The Dune Rats have… well, they’ve got songs about pot and beer and generally having a pretty good time. Nothing wrong with that, of course. And, don’t get me wrong, I liked their sense of fun. Actually, I think I’m talking about two completely different monsters, but looks are definitely deceiving. A tick for musical chops. Anyway, their cover of ‘Blister in the Sun’ was a nice touch and ‘Dalai Lama, Big Banana etc’ was schoolboy funny (harmless). Take this with a grain of salt, but I just couldn’t help thinking that these guys were sort of like the Monkees of today… a skewered Monkees, yes, but a Monkees nonetheless. I could see them riding around in some van, having adventures and all that jazz. Maybe that’s the pitch they’re truly looking for. A TV show… solving crimes, helping old ladies across the road and proving that they’re more than just cheeky, troublemaking slackers (why, when they put their minds to it... they can do anything!). Because, yep, they’re smart. They also reminded me (and, again, call me crazy) of Supergrass… only Australian (of course) and heavier on the lyrics. More in approach than sound, really. Actually, scratch calling me crazy… strip away all the ‘vulgarity’ and add the Australian sound and you do have Supergrass (sorta). I could mention Frenzal Rhomb but I won’t (would it have been overkill with Frenzal as part of the lineup? There’s a thought). Hey, if the Dune Rats ever do that TV show I’m suggesting ‘Dr Dr’ as the opening credits track…. it’s infectious.
So, that’s it. I admit, I went a little wayward. And, again, speaking of all things heritage… let’s run some numbers (just to show age and the strength of social media). Currently, The Dune Rats have something in the ballpark of 55,000 likes on Facebook… the Cosmic Psychos have 4,117. Put it down to Cosmic fans getting older, shaking off youthful sound (no!), not knowing how to use a komputa or something else… So maybe there’s some technical wizardly The Dune Rats can lend to their older tour-mates. Maybe a one hour refresher course after the first morning beer.
Oh, that whole deal with the term ‘heritage rock’… just look it up on Wikipedia. Something to do with rock station formats, more an American term. Etcetera, Betcetera, etcetera.
Written by D.L. Bugeja
COSMIC PSYCHOS & DUNE RATS | THE MANNING BAR (SYD) | 19.6.15
Photographer: Joshua Pike