Dool is a futurist, world trundler, mystic penman, digger of life.
January 24, 2012
Pre-Australia Day, Dool ponders the nostalgic power of 1980′s Oz Rock, a reflection on sunnier, more naive days in the life of a growing nation, with a live review of one of our most cherished stadium rock exports…
Bob Hawke once said in an interview that the success of INXS was directly responsible for putting Australia “right into the center of the world’s consciousness.” In the thin slit eyes of our nations top man and drinker, INXS deserved as much praise as any other industry leader competing for Australia on the world stage.
Bob had a skinful at the time of this interview, because the 80s for Bob Hawke was one long, boozy root through the hallowed halls of the nation’s top office. With greater aggregate blood alcohol than most men combined, Hawkie showed the most astute vision in issues of great divergence. His praise of INXS was bang on—whether you got into them back in the day or derided them as pop rock pap, there’s little denying they were a powerhouse, hit writing machine that spawned some of the most cherished and radio-bashed tunes of our time.
It’s been a road of decline and plateau for INXS since their heady days of excess and influence. Considering their Icarus-esque world stadium trajectory, this was inevitable. Singer Michael Hutchence’s death in 1997 left the group searching everywhere for a suitable replacement, a journey that saw Terence Trent D’Arby, Jon Stevens, and more recently, vegas lounge singer and “Rock Star” winner, J.D Fortune taking turns at the helm. Fine singers in their own right; none of them stirred waves. Hutchence’s legacy, an unfillable canyon.
With Hawkie’s distant remarks ringing in my ears, I took a drive down the Nepean through Franga this arvo to my old man’s winery in Mornington. The old man fancies himself a bit of a burgeoning rock promoter these days, putting on a range of top selling shows to a melting pot crowd of Frankston rat bogans and upper middle class Mt Elizans and Morningtonians. His shows to date have been 1980’s throwback bills featuring the likes of Mark Seymour, James Reyne, and one unforgettable night headlined by Barnesy, who screamed red into a microphone for three hours, destroyed the PA system and rocked the peninsula to its inner mantle. With the old man’s shows growing larger, today a 3,000 strong crowd sojourned to the idyllic surroundings of Morning Star Estate for a show featuring 1980′s ambassadors, Hawkies old favourites, INXS.
There is a category of band that I frequently relegate to a bin of “guilty pleasure”, in which many outfits of the 1980’s dwell–Icehouse, Noiseworks, 1927; sometimes, with great cognitive dissonance, U2 can be found in there loitering. INXS certainly belongs here. The guilt is moderate; the pleasure frequently euphoric. In the case of the Australian rock acts, there is pride attached. Sans guilt, you get Dragon, ACDC, Mental as Anything, Midnight Oil. Here, pride eclipses all guilt; awesome reaches maximum potency.
Whether from the guilty pleasure bin or the deadset awesome category, there is something powerful about Australian music of the early and mid 80s—driving meathead kick beats, one armed reverb snare hits and regular sax offences that provide me with rushes of joyous dopamine. They are conduits to my earliest days of youth. Their cheesy, lush synth pads imbued the sound waves of my earliest childhood memories like black denim on Frankston pier. They take me instantly to days growing up in the backstreets of Ringwood, flickers of simple suburban Melbourne at the height of the “New Australian pride–”then, Dundee was the national ambassador, Oz Rock was churning out dangerous, party rock n roll; mullets were long in the party and frothy in the business end, the tall ships came to Sydney and everyone scored a shiny silver coin. I transport back to wearing small shorts and sweathog, singlets and thongs, having Portsea sand up my crack, Easters in Port Lonsdale and Cardinia, driving in Dad’s Subaru up to Sydney. These songs were always there lurking in the background, whittling away catchy grooves and gang choruses in my head, filling me with subconscious Oz Rock pride.
It’s an idyllic day at Morning Star. The mixed crowd is getting unelgantly wasted in the heat. Pushing eight, 30 degrees out under Melbourne skies, strobe lights flicker, loud booms and ominous tones set the scene. INXS walk on. They wear matching faux-communist army jackets–a fresh stage look, embracing their “old guard” status. The band chew through a barrage of back catalogue—Devil Inside, Listen Like Thieves, Suicide Blonde, By My Side. The army suit makes Tim Farris look like Luis Guzman; in red Guevara cap, Andrew Farris appears like a Mao Zedong era cartoon dictator. On a positive note, after churning through more lead singers than Spinal Tap’s drummers, their new frontman, Irish nice guy Ciaran Gribbin proves a refreshing choice, delivering delicate vocals, finesse and an approachable, inoffensive stage presence. Today was Hutchence’s 52nd birthday; Never Tear Us Apart carries additional poignance and the setting peninsula sun is evocative. Kirk Pengilly, INXS’s deviant in chief, second in sleaze only to Nick Cave, tears the ballad’s balls apart with substantial sax crime. The band throw down one of the tightest sets I’ve seen. They are a well oiled machine.
It gets cold as winds shrill off the bay and the sun’s husk grows to a weak glow over the vineyard. Gribbin’s sweet Irish voice sails across the setting night in Beautiful Girl, and poigant glimmers of Australiana fly through my mind, memories of the mid 80’s, of recent loves, spine tingles and visions where my youth and the present meet.
With the 3,000 strong crowd lapping up their own nostalgic moments, returning for a few hours to a simpler, slower past, no quantity of white wine nor bundy can is able to gloss over the lack of Hutchence. He will never be replaced. While there is a place in 2012 for acts like INXS, with enough people like me who relish (with some guilt) in appreciating live renditions of their back catalog, they are unlikely to reach the height of popularity and influence as they did in back in the day.
The same is untrue for Robert James Hawke. The 82-year old former Prime Minister was last seen at the SCG smashing free piss from punters like 1982 never ended, to the unanimous roaring approval of the nation.
Popularity like that is a rare thing.
Photo courtesy of Gary Bradshaw
If you have something to say...