David Bowie Tribute – A Starman Waiting in the Sky – N.S.C 7-2-16

There, in the chords and melodies, is everything I want to say. The words just jolly it along. It’s always been my way of expressing what, for me, is inexpressible by any other means” (Bowie)

Bowie often stated that he communicated more through his music than his lyrics. But I defy the notion that from the first couple of bars, (we can all immediately identify), of classics like; “The Jean Genie“, “Ziggy Stardust” or “Life on Mars“, that you’re not prompted to sing the words that are somehow indelibly etched in your subconscious, even if only a sometimes fan. Such was the impact of the thin white duke. And just as it’d be difficult to find a music lover who hasn’t had at least a feeling about a Bowie song, it would be difficult to find a musician who hasn’t been influenced either directly or indirectly by Bowie in some form, be it music, lyrics or image. He was renowned for his ability to reinvent himself as a performer both through the use of characters and his changing musical style. So it seemed somehow fitting that performers whose musical styles differed were assembled to pay tribute, including a few I wouldn’t have immediately thought would be Bowie fans.

Enter JMS Harrison, (who is also lead vocalist with Old Etiquettes), who is emerging as the “go to” guy when you want an event that will feature a diverse group of local musicians, (both within their own bands or as part of a mix), having also organised the successful PJ Harvey tribute last year. It’s not an easy task to stage manage a dozen acts over a marathon six hours, keeping the set up times to a minimum and the audience engaged. A difficult task when most acts are playing only 2 or 3 songs each. It was the diversity of the performers, many who I hadn’t heard before and the mix of Bowie songs, including some of the lesser known, that kept the audience eager for more.

A strong start with one of the centrepieces of the Ziggy Stardust album, “Starman“, performed by a band I hadn’t heard before, Closet Straights, who got the crowd singing along from the off, and definitely a band I’ll see again. Kate Lucas from Coda Chroma then smashed it with a brilliant version of “Ashes to Ashes“. Andrew McCubbin once again showed his skill on guitar with one of my favourites, “Wild is the Wind“. The first half had something for everyone with other classics; “Five Years“, “China Girl“, “Heroes” and a couple of songs Bowie had covered.

The second half of the show somehow seemed to take it up a notch. Beginning with JMS and band performing a great version of “Modern Love” along with the lesser known, haunting, “Slip Away“. Then rockers, Have/Hold turned up the volume and had some of the crowd almost in a dancing frenzy. But, it was from the first 8 well known beats of “The Jean Genie” that high energy power blues band, The Ugly Kings assaulted the stage. “The Jean Genie“, “Lazarus“, and “Rebel Rebel“, perfect choices for their powerful sound and style. The sound, played with precision, exploded from the stage, and having chosen two of the best loved Bowie hits, it took things to the next level. They absolutely stole the show. A marathon afternoon and early evening, it was left to the flawless Ash Naylor & Sun God Replica, who continued the vibe and closed the show with great renditions of “Boys Keep Swinging” and one of the best versions I’ve heard in a long time of “All the Young Dudes“.

And so ended a day of music that has endured the passage of time, a celebration both among the crowd and  musicians, of a one-off, musician, performer, chameleon and rock icon whose breadth of influence is almost too vast to contemplate.

Maybe Ziggy Stardust was immortal after all….

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JMS Harrison

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The Ugly Kings

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Have/Hold

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The Ugly Kings

 

https://jmsharrison.bandcamp.com/

https://theuglykings.bandcamp.com/releases

http://havehold.com/

https://closetstraights.bandcamp.com/

 

 

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VulgarGrad, Johnnies and Floyd – Northcote Social Club 6-2-16

Gorbachev once purported “Gentlemen, comrades, do not be concerned about all you hear about Glasnost and Perestroika and democracy in the coming years. They are primarily for outward consumption. There will be no significant internal changes in the Soviet Union

But in the 80’s, Perestroika brought musical freedom for many underground Soviet rock bands previously banned from playing live. The underground bands no longer Russian “criminals” as they could release their music officially. Last weekend I was transported back to Eastern Europe 2014, to a tiny dingy smokey cafe in Budapest and a night of frenetic Csardas dancing, Goulash, grapefruit Vodka and gypsy beats, when our local Russian “crims”, VulgarGrad, took to the Northcote stage. A night of Perestroika punk classics and blatnyak, (the songs of the Russian thieves), mixed with gypsy swing, jazz and pop followed.

Already much has been said by me about the opening act of the night, troubadour, poet and swashbuckler adventurer,(as evidenced by his lyrics), Floyd Thursby. I could say I’m almost a regular, and each performance brings something a little different from the last. He set the stage for the night with a tight set, a mixture of ballads sprinkled with anecdotes. From the gentle tale of letting go of love, “You’ve Gotta Fly”, to the lyrics that belie the dreamy beat of, “All The Towns Asleep”. Add the toe tappin, truckin,”Eight Days”, which has one of the best song lines, “And Oswald killed the President Like JFK killed John Wilkes Booth“, and perfect for the overall feel of the night, “The Thief“. But it was a new song he penned for the upcoming Australian movie “The Death and Life of Otto Bloom“, (a story of a man who experiences time in reverse), called “Forget the Future” that held me captivated.

The night was also my first experience of Johnnie and the Johnnie Johnnies. A great name, I was expecting a great band and I wasn’t disappointed. I can easily say that I haven’t recently heard anyone do 60’s go-go, surf, beatnik, garage beats better. And with band members names including; Pope Johnnie Paul II and Johnny Hot Pants Boogaloo, I liked them even before I’d heard a note. They burst onto the stage, drums, guitar, bass, keyboard and sax’s, and I was almost scanning the crowd for Annette Funicello and Midget Farrelly. The songs are infectious, with that 60’s surf guitar twang that I love.
Every song is perfectly danceable and the band showed their versatility mixing it up with 60’s surf beats, cha cha and even 7/8 time. Favourites; the cha cha funky “The Black Flamingo” and one I now have on repeat, the 60’s surf sound of “Mao’s Party Room“.  I definitely want to be at that “party”!

A short break, the curtains opened to VulgarGrad and the crowd surged forward. As the band assembled on stage in their convict style striped shirts, trumpet player Adam Pierzchalski, trumpet in one hand, bottle of Vodka in the other, there was an unspoken camaraderie, perhaps a joke in progress that we were unaware of, anticipation grew among the crowd. From the first bars, the gravelly vocal, (that immediately reminded me of a Russian Tom Waits), of charismatic singer, Jacek Koman had the crowd buzzing. This was not an audience unfamiliar with the songs. Jacek directed, the crowd followed, with sing-a -longs to a couple of the songs, including a rollicking version of “Oy Oy Oy“, and at one point he conducted the entire 200 odd crowd dancing in unison.

Having experienced VulgarGrad only once before, (and all I can remember is that I drank too many vodka shots and danced until I could hardly walk), most of the songs were relatively unknown to me, apart from “Oy Oy Oy” and “Zhopa“, both songs which beg you to sing along. Highlights; “Super Good” and “If I Were a Sultan” followed, then a favourite, “Limonchiki“, which has a swing/ska style and supposedly tells the story of growing lemons, growing them on a balcony etc. But understanding the lyrics is not the point of VulgarGrad, they are an assault on the senses in the best way possible. You simply must sing and dance and although you are watching the musicians play with precision, skill and humor on a stage, you feel as though they are among you, Ruska Roma, joking, disorderly, and swilling vodka.

Not so much a performance, more a celebration. A celebration I didn’t want to end!

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Jacek Koman – VulgarGrad

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Adam Pierzchalski – VulgarGrad

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VulgarGrad

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Floyd Thursby

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Johnnie and the Johnnie Johnnies

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 https://soundcloud.com/buniola/rock-and-roll     (Mao’s Party Room)