There is a point during Spiderbait’s mid afternoon blistering set where the folk down in the usually sedate ‘posh’ Platinum seats start shifting the $200 seats out of their way so they can dance. People from other sections start heading down front and after some initial efforts by security to keep the sections segregated, they gave up and the premium ticket area became a United Nations of the Freedom to Rock.
This A Day on The Green (ADOTG) line-up raised a few eyebrows when it was announced. All five bands on the bill were considerably more ‘alternative’ than they usually have and there were some doubts wether it would work in the context of a destination gig in a winery. Well any doubts were quickly annihilated with one of the most enjoyable ADOTG bills ever.
Things kick off with the incredible Aussie punk rock legends The Meanies. Their place in the rock’n’roll history books has to be noted, they were a super influential band, touring constantly and supporting up and coming bands with support gigs and general camaraderie. Every other band on the bill today makes a point of thanking the Meanies for giving them their first gig, or being the inspiration to put a band together and so on. They are the first band on and within the first song they wake the neighbours, scare the birds, send the dragonflies flying and bulldoze everything in their path to a largely empty ‘premium’ section as a lot of folk were still arriving. Even after close to thirty years, The Meanies play with a dizzying ferocity that bands half their age can only dream of. Like The Ramones and The Hard On’s, their trademark sound is fuzzy pop music played at a breakneck pace in short machine gun bursts. The classic 10% Weird clocks in at a tidy one minute and thirty seconds and Gangrenous is almost a concept album at one minute fifty seven. Both these songs are highlights today as is the mighty Ton of Bricks.
Unlike the festival blueprint of old with multiple stage and a bang bang bang approach to holding the attention of the of the ‘youths’, ADOTG has half hour gaps between each band during which the festivals DJ Grand Master Baits (I kid you not), plays party favourites wearing a variety of costumes. A bit more of him later. What these breaks mean is people have time to get a drink, go to the loo, grab a curry and head back to their spot in a relatively leisurely pace.
Jebediah were a massive Triple J band in the 1990’s. Their audience was young and enthusiastic and they were much loved. Here we are 20 years later and those 15 year olds are in their thirties and determined to dance (and drink) their way back to their golden youth. They open with a rip roaring Jerks of Attention and set is packed with fan favourites. Animal and the anthemic Leaving Home are huge favourites early in the set. “What a great day,” says singer Kevin Mitchell, “..four of Australia’s greatest bands…and us!”. The audience is loving it and the triple hitter run to the end of their set of Harpoon, Fall Down and Teflon was pretty flawless.
It should be mentioned that the sound down front was pretty terrible, way too loud and often distorting. One of the problems of having all the speakers at the bottom of a hill and the mixing desk on top (it sounded much better up there – I checked later). I’m nor sure what the solution to that might be. Mostly it didn’t get in the way, but there were a lot of sore ears by the end of the day.
A bit part of the success of Spiderbait back in the day was they are practically irresistible as a live band. For a three piece they make a hell of a racket. Guitarist Damian Whitty (or Whitt as he is known) is a virtuoso player who can play quasi-flamenco one minute, turbo bluegrass picking the next, and always tenth dan black belt rock’n’roll. Janet English is a freaking awesome bass player and the songs she sings lead on can go from a baby anime nursery rhyme to shrieking wailing in a second. Always as cool as Kim Deal, she arrives on stage wearing shades that give her the air of non-plussed movie star. But as ever all eyes are on the front man that sits at the back, drummer, Kram. Part ring master, part cheer squad, part gym teacher and part Animal from The Muppets, Kram is the engine driving proceedings at a breakneck pace. During their set he is coaxing the audience to get up out of those white plastic chairs, cajoling the ones still sitting down and eventually compelling even the most stubborn to rise up and rock out.
Opening with Monty from1995’s Unfinished Spanish Galleon of Finley Lake, people are going off right away. Outta My Head and then Hot Water and Milk both with Janet on lead are fantastic. I have many conversations with people during the afternoon, which are full of effusive talk of the bands on the bill and of the music of that era. “We had proper bands back then”, “How good was it in 1995” and today is a testament to what a golden time is was for alternative music in this country. The Big Day Out had taken quirky indie bands into huge arenas as Triple J was taking that music into the radios of mainstream homes across the nation. You had Recovery on the ABC Saturday mornings giving a national audience to bands like Custard, Living End, Gerling, Regurgitator, Powderfinger, TISM and so many more. It was a great time to be a music fan. Did I say ‘great’ I meant ‘Fucken Awesome’ which today sets the whole valley into convulsive dancing and enthusiastic public swearing. During the extended and amazing Old Man Sam, Kram has the audience at fever pitch inciting the platinum’s to get out of their seat and hoist those chairs above their heads. In a moment unique to any ADOTG (or any other gig for that matter) two hundred people in the front of a concert are holding their chairs above their heads! It was breathtaking.
Where do you go after that? The answer appears to be Germany, because Janet takes lead vocals as the cover Nena’s classic 99 Luftballoons and the audience goes berserk. Barely a cats whisker before they rip into the song that won the Hottest 100 in 1996, Buy Me a Pony. Just under two minutes of riff-tastic evisceration of the music industry (that you can dance too). Twenty years on and it’s still brilliant! Calypso with it’s pretty verses and frenetic chorus follow (with the chorus played twice as fast as on the CD) before they finish up with an extended crowd pleaser in Black Betty.
Turns out this is the 400th Day on The Green, so there is some celebrations and cake and the big screens are full of testimonials from bands who have previously played the event. Good on you ADOTG. Happy Birthday!
Please forgive me but I must be up front and confess to being a You Am I fan boy of over two and a half decades standing. They are, without doubt, one of the finest, rockinest, take no prisoners rock’n’roll bands that have ever walked the earth. Tim Rogers one of the best songwriters ever and a front man par excellence, full of passion, swagger, vim and vigour and humour. I’ve seen members of Oasis standing side-stage slack jawed at their explosive energy. Drummer Rusty Hopkinson is my favourite Australian skinsman, channelling Keith Moons massive attack and playing with drum twirls and gestures and pulling the best ‘drummer faces’ out there. Andy Kent is a mighty bass player always looking non-plussed by the proceedings, but always a thunderous, stylish player. And Davey Lane joined in 1999 after being a fan and getting in contact over the internet. His taking over on lead guitar (and today organ) has left Tim free to roam free as a front man and changed the recipe of the music to a whole new level of nuanced yummy.
They have always been about bringing the rock show, with a constant attitude of, ‘well these fine people have paid their hard earned bucks to see a rock & roll show, so let’s go’. Before they hit the stage a huge arena style You Am I backdrop is raised. Tim and Rusty march on stage wearing powder blue jackets, similar designs but individual. Rogers is wearing what looks like a mystic turban (it’s actually a t-shirt with a broach on the front) and for the first couple of minutes the two of them are vamping on Baby Clothes, from the classic Hourly Daily record from 1996. Andy and Davey join them and join in sending the energy level up more notches. And then they are joined by a two piece horn section and the fabulous Wolfgramm Sisters on backing vocals. When they kick off the song proper and the horns kick in, holy crap, that’s how you open a rock’n’roll show people.
For the next hour the You Am I rock & soul review kick out the jams with a hit heavy collection of crowd pleasers and fan favourites. Minor Byrd from Hi-Fi Way leads into the impressive double punch of Beehive and Two Hands from their latest Porridge & Hot Sauce. Rogers is cracking jokes about how every other band ‘does it better than we do’, but that false modesty is fooling nobody. The title track from the 2002 album Deliverance is next and a reminder of what a killer record that is.
When #4 Record came out in 1996, You Am I were Kings of the World. Straight in at Number One and jam packed with classic pop rock songs, in the tradition of The Beatles, The Kinks or The Who. A record of well crafted characters and stories, classic melodies a sixties beats and that are great to dance to. Soldiers brings back so many memories of that golden era of Australian Indie music. Them selling out Thebby, them playing live on Recovery. It is an absolute classic! Junk from #4 Record is a great inclusion for the die-hards but I wasn’t expecting their sterling cover XTC’s Senses Working Over Time. A medium sized hit for the quirky UK quartet in 1982 Tim and the co nailed it. Great stuff. Two more singles from Hourly Daily in the shape of the fantastic Mr Milk (Whoo Whoo’s echo through the valley as everybody is joining in) and the epic Trike.
If the XTC cover was a surprise, the sight of You Am I cranking out Nutbush City Limits, with the Wolfgramm’s on lead vocals s the progressively drunken audience struggled to remember the Madison was a highlight of the day for me. Heavy Heart is a more upbeat version than normal segueing into My Girl by The Temptations. There is a rollercoaster ride to the end of their set with Rumble, Cathy’s Clown and How Much is Enough (another welcome album cut from Hi-Fi Way). Good Morning is an explosion of power chords, bombastic vocals and titanic drum rolls. They finish with Berlin Chair and it is white hot.
During the break before Something For Kate – some of the crowd take issue with the bar being closed at 8:30pm. I am sure it is a licensing thing but there is a noticeable amount of unrest in the bar area. DJ Grandmaster Baits has returned to the stage dressed as David Bowie and proceeds to play bits of about 20 (I lost count to be honest) Bowie songs. At first it’s good because, well David Bowie, but the chopping and changing was wearing on people after a while with a young lady near me sporadically yelling “THAT’S NOT HOW YOU DJ!” at the top of her lungs. Soon enough though it was time for Something For Kate.
People ‘kin love these guys. The suns gone down, it’s getting a bit chilly, the bar is shut but there is nothing but warmth and excitement aimed at the stage. Paul Dempsey is wearing a Bernie Sanders t-shirt (in the style of the Black Flag logo). Bass player Stephanie Ashworth, just as she always was 20 years ago, is barefoot with her face often hidden behind her waist-long hair. Clint Hyndman on drummer still solid as a rock. they open with Captain (Million Miles and Hour) from their 1997 debut album Elsewhere for 8 Minutes, everybody is singing along and punching the air. Cigarettes and Suitcases from Desert Lights leads into Three Dimensions from Echolalia. Echolalia was the album that sent them into the stratosphere after being indie darlings for several years.
Dempsey is in fine voice and much of the crowd is enraptured. Newer songs from their 2012 Leave Your Soul To Science album, including Survival Expert and Star-crossed Citizens, peppered the set and were well received. But the biggest responses was for the Something For Kate classics, like Monsters, Say Something and Deja Vu. Finishing with Electricity from Beautiful Sharks, this Day On The Green gig was testament to the power and impact of these Australian acts. Possibly my favourite line-up ever. All the bands were fantastic, humble of both the other acts and the organisers of the event itself. All the bands did signings at the merch tent. People were well behaved for the most part and as the music faded and we left under the veil of bright stars in the clean Barossa fresh air everyone was buzzing and happy after a great day.
Words by Ian Bell