Adelaide often gets short shrift when it comes to touring bands. South Australia is routinely left off the touring schedules of interstate and International touring artists for a myriad of reasons. Logistics, scheduling, but more often than not it is because promoters are no longer willing to risk bringing a show to a city where people traditionally don’t buy tickets in advance, and often not at all. A complacency and lack of engagement that means even a big show can’t be guaranteed to sell the right amount of tickets at the door to not put the profitability of an entire tour in jeopardy, on the off chance that it will break even or make any money. Sometimes it’s down to population or unemployment levels, and concert tickets are more expensive than ever before. In February / March a lot of tours skip SA because the fight for limited entertainment dollars in Adelaide is largely won by The Fringe and Adelaide Festivals, and it is just a neck sticking out game that can rarely be won.
Sure 60,000 tickets for Adele or Ed Sheeran will sell out in a few hours, but many of the people going to those shows are not ‘gig’ people, they are going to an event like they would the Royal Show or Oakbank, and it maybe the only concert they have ever been to, or will go to for two years. Sadly down the other end of the gig spectrum it can mean great bands coming and playing fantastic gigs to piddly crowds and it costing them a pretty penny into the bargain. And for Adelaide it means they will often miss something un-fucking-believably good.
Saturday night saw the ferocious HITMEN TDK hit the stage at the Governor Hindmarsh to what we shall euphemistically refer to as an ‘intimate’ crowd. The Hitmen were alumni of Radio Birdman and the Oxford Funhouse scene, and fronted by charismatic rock’n’roll soldier Johnny Kannis. They have over the years boasted several Birdmen in their ranks and released a fist full of great punk rock records. The current line up boasts members of The Psychotic Turnbuckles, Lime Spiders and The New Christs. Punk rock royalty in many respects and a killer band in total. But let’s not get ahead of ourselves.
Proceedings are kicked of by Adelaide’s The Meat Beaters come from that Cosmic Psychos school no nonsense foot down smash ’em punk, politically incorrect (self proclaimed Kings of Tardcore), couldn’t give a fuckness. They roll over the crowd like a drunk tank driver with songs like I Don’t Know What’s Going On and Motorhead’s Overkill.
Next up is The Pro-Tools, lead by ex-Blood Sucking Freaks front man and ego on legs Pete ‘The Stud’ Howlett. Against the odds, in some people’s minds, Pro Tools have become a shit hot, super tight and powerhouse outfit. They play loud. And they play fast. They are old school Aussie punks and the songs are also not likely to be winning any ‘PC’ awards anytime soon. The hilarious You Make Me Wanna Cheat on My Girlfriend, kicks off the set and then they plunge right into Flying Fuck. Stud is playing guitar behind his head and shredding licks like his life depends upon it. Guitarist Sean Tilmouth hidden in a mess of hair like Cousin It, but slaughtering on his axe. Justin McDonald (from The Convulsions) is a powerhouse and smashes the absolute crap out of his kit. The whole thing glued together by the kick ass bottom end bass from Andy McQueen, formerly of the legendary Exploding White Mice. Like The Meanies or Numbskulls I find myself marvelling at how anybody can play that fast and still make noise that good.
After a fist full more songs including the second Motorhead song for the night All For You, out from the wings walked Paul Gilchrist original vocalist for The Exploding White Mice. Hello? What’s going on here? He walks up behind Pete ‘The Stud’ Howlett, taps him on the shoulder and points to the left with his thumb, indicating he should get off the stage. Meanwhile Mice guitar player (and later front man) Jeff Stephens plugged in and everybody in the room moved forward. The Exploding White Mice originally got together to play at a party in 1983 playing covers of Stooges, MC5, Ramones, New York Dolls.
People seemed to like it and before too long they were paying regularly and putting out records. Their first EP, Nest of Vipers remains one of the greatest Australian records of all time and each of the four full albums they released is fan-bloody-tastic. They broke up in 1999 and a Stephens fronted version reformed to play Pete The Studs 40th birthday party. But Gilchrist hasn’t fronted any version of the Mice in maybe TWENTY YEARS and here they are.
They let rip with a white hot four song set featuring Pills (Bo Diddley via New York Dolls), their version of The Stooges Down on The Street, Burning Red (A Nest of Vipers) and winding up with Fear (Late at Night) the opening track of the Mice’s Brute Force & Ignorance album from 1988. The crowd went absolutely nuts to see catch this rare outing by The Exploding White Mice. Stephens guitar work is amazing and Gilchrist’s voice is excellent. Four songs whizzed by and left everybody hungry for more. There were a lot of very happy faces during the break. It was incredible and I never thought I’d see that band do those songs again, so fucking great! However the party was far from over.
The HITMEN TDK come out all guns blazing and I have to say they were one of the best bands I have seen this year. They smashed every song with power and energy bands half their age might dream about being able to find. It was a small crowd, but they went for it nonetheless. Kannis in a Scarface t-shirt and denim waistcoat (Birdman patch and punk badges) was all over the stage, off the stage, surfing on the fold back wedges, standing on tables jumping off the stage and getting people in the audience to sing backing vocals arm in arm with him.
If Radio Birdman ever came across as a bit on the studious or serious side, The Hitmen were like their younger party brothers. They are a party band. A very loud, fast party band, but still. They opened with Big Love the song that opened their first album in 1981 and smashed through Rock’n’Roll Soldiers and So Hard. When they start I Want You with it’s anthemic sing (yell) a-long chorus people are kind of losing their minds. The Flaming Groovies Shake Some Action has never been in safer hands than it is tonight and Didn’t Tell The Man a single from 1979 is great and was later recorded by Birdman in the Living Eyes sessions as was 15 Hours which got an airing later in the set.
And so it went smashing out great song after great song, with a focus on those first couple of albums. Mercenary Calling, Oh No, In Your Eyes and the absolutely fantastic I Don’t Mind all from the self-titled debut. I Don’t Mind is sonically the equal of the best of Birdman, killer riffs, the call and response, pounding beat and containing the classic line “I don’t mind a t-bone steak, YEAH YEAH a big fat t-bone”. California Sun is in there too, originally by Joe Jones in 1963 made into a hit by The Rivieras in ’64 and made a punk classic by The Ramones.
The set ends with Solid as a Rock and is it white hot stuff. They return for a (relatively) subdued Sharpened Spear. Punters join the band (along with Gilchrist) for an all star Elvis classic Suspicious Minds. After being a little disappointed at not seeing it on the set list (I had a peak so sue me) I was ecstatic that the end of the set was his debut solo single King of The Surf. A punkified version of the 1963 hit from The Trashmen, the Johnny & The Hitmen version came out in 1978 and was essentially a Radio Birdman record with Kannis on vocals (all of Birdman play on it minus Rob Younger). It is frantic, fantastic and an incredible end to an amazing night of dirty rock’n’roll for the lucky few who were there.
Live review by Ian Bell
Big Love (Hitmen 1981)
Rock’n’Roll Soldiers (I Don’t Mind b-side)
I Want You (Hitmen 1981)
Shake Some Action
Didn’t tell The Man (single 1979)
15 Hours (It Is What It Is 1982)
No Clue (It Is What It Is 1982)
Mercenary Calling (Hitmen 1981)
Oh No (Hitmen 1981)
In Your Eyes (Hitmen 1981)
I Don’t mind (Hitmen 1981)
Solid as a Rock
King of the Surf