Dig It Up! Sydney

Enmore Road, Enmore NSW
April 21, 2013

Blue Öyster Cult (5) Blue Öyster Cult/Andrew Pittman

For the second year the Hoodoo Gurus turned the main street of Enmore into a day-long party zone as bands who inspired them, old mates and a few up-and-comers were invited to show their wares at Dig it Up!, an event spread across four venues with the Enmore Theatre at the vanguard. In contrast to the previous day when torrential downpours threatened to wash out the Stone Festival, Sydney turned on a gloriously sunny day and a warm, almost spring-time evening.

While it seemed way too early and impossibly bright for such things, 90s retro darlings Tumbleweed opened the day’s proceedings on the Enmore stage at 1pm, kicking off with ‘Sundial’ and sounding exactly the same as they did all those years ago: the big fat fuzzy guitars, the melodic monotone of Richie Lewis, the groovy tunes channelling all that was good about psychedelic heavy rock. Even their new songs, from an album they’ve been promising for ages now, sound pretty much like their old ones. Always a band without any pretentions, Tumbleweed did exactly what they have always done and did it well. It was a classic start to what was going to be a big day. Up the road at the Sly Fox, Canberra’s The Fighting League played some old-school snotty punk rock as their frontman gradually divested himself of his shirt, half-snarling some tuneless vocals and making idle observations between songs (“We’re from Canberra”, “That song was about the Eastern Dark”, “We’re from Canberra”). Rather good fun. The pub was already full and it wasn’t even two o’clock yet.

Full isn’t even an adequate description of the situation inside The Midnight Special, a micro-bar that had been sequestered to replace the now-closed Notes nightclub. Blackie from the Hard Ons was doing a solo acoustic set, hunched over his guitar in the corner, singing in his oddly-pitched voice. By his third song the place had already reached capacity. By the fourth it was prudent to be leaving in spite of the delightful and whimsical pop tunes being served up. When Deniz Tek came on a little later, the wait to get in was epic and pointless; unfortunately, this is far and away too small a room for this type of event. Back at the Enmore, Mick Blood was leading the Lime Spiders through their patented blend of psychedelic garage punk. While less scathing and incendiary than they were back in the day, Blood still manages to find plenty to be pissed off about but after the third or fourth display of mic stand violence it actually seemed like an affectation for old time’s sake and overall they seemed a bit flat.

Up at the Sly Fox again, Kim Salmon and Leanne Cowie were making more noise with two instruments than most full bands do, truly blasting their way through a variety of Scientists tunes with an enormous roar that was, in such a small place, a tad overwhelming. It was a stark contrast to what was happening in the Green Room, where Ray Ahn of the Hard Ons was giving his first (and, as he later admitted to our snapper Moshman, quite possibly his only) spoken word performance, regaling the audience with tales from his band’s early days. He made it work despite being clearly out of his depth although he warmed up to it as he went on; there’s unlikely to be a repeat, however.

Several generations of pop-punk bands owe their existence directly to the Buzzcocks, and on stage at the Enmore they were ripping the place apart with a passion and exuberance that would put bands two-thirds their age to shame. Pete Shelley and Steve Diggle quite frankly look their age but watching them burn through their catalogue of bouncin’, high-energy punk one could be forgiven for thinking they had just burst onto the scene yesterday as snot-faced brats. The Buzzcocks were absolutely on fire, Shelley yowling and snarling, right arm windmilling, Diggle mugging the crowd, pulling guitar moves as the likes of ‘I Don’t Mind’, ‘Autonomy’ and a string of punchy classics were eaten up by the crowd. A clear highlight of the event.

Flamin’ Groovies is a band I admit to knowing pretty much nothing about. They had the look and sound of a band that had inspired the Hoodoo Gurus but none of the energy and I took the opportunity to visit a local pizza bar until Blue Öyster Cult time. The previous night they had played a two-hour set while I’d been across town watching Aerosmith so I had to be satisfied with a mere forty-five minutes this evening; after waiting thirty years to see them, any BÖC was going to be better than none at all. From a fan’s point of view, it was a joyous moment when the chugging riff of ‘The Red and the Black’ kicked off the set, though at something of a slower pace than the recorded version. ‘Burnin’ For You’ seemed an odd choice to play next when ‘ME 262’, which followed, would have perhaps made the set flow better. Through the prism of a critical eye, as good as they were, Blue Öyster Cult were – ahem – goin’ through the motions. Buck Dharma’s much-admired lead guitar playing seemed almost reserved, really only stepping out during the extended outro of ‘Cities on Flame’; Eric Bloom’s intro to ‘Godzilla’ was ridiculous, but it was good to finally hear them play ‘(Dont Fear) The Reaper’ live – complete with Bloom on air-cowbell. Were my expectations too high? Maybe. I was incredibly happy to see them though, and I bought a new shirt to replace the 17-year old one I had at last been able to wear to one of their gigs.

As curators of the Dig it Up! event, it was now time for Hoodoo Gurus to take the stage. Whenever live music in Australia is discussed, the Gurus never seem to get the column inches they deserve. Tonight was a clear display of what a mystery this is, as they set out to present second album Mars Needs Guitars! in its entirety. This was the album that introduced me to them and the one I always come back to. And in all honesty, how could it miss with five stone-cold power-pop jangly-guitar classics right off the bat? The slow-burning build-up to ‘Bittersweet’ raises the roof and the tone is set for the rest of the evening. Dave Faulkner, who’s been running around between venues all day but looks both refreshed and energised, engages the crowd with trivia about the album and pays tribute to former member Clyde Bramley who’s been spinning discs between sets. The foil to this gentlemanly straight man is shaggy-haired clown prince Brad Shepherd, writhing around the stage wrangling Page (and Dharma?)-inspired moves from his enormous guitar, wrapping a harmonica around himself. Mars Needs Guitars! seems to be over in an instant, so out come some more – the anthemic ‘What’s My Scene’, Faulkner doing a solo rendition of ‘My Girl’ and others, closing the set with a cover of the Flamin’ Groovies’ ‘Teenage Head’ (which was on the Guitars! re-release. Who knew?) with two of the guys from that band coming out to join in. There’s nothing like watching a killer live band in full flight and the Hoodoo Gurus were that tonight, bringing down the curtain on another roaring great Dig it Up! success.