Celebrating it’s tenth anniversary Sounds On The River have kicked off their 2019 season with one hell of a shebang in Mannum. A week earlier the forecast was for a punishing 40 degrees but on the day it was pleasant 29 with quite a lot of shade from the trees surrounding Mary Ann Reserve. The reserve is a riverside park, so the site is long and skinny with the river on one side and a bunch of houses on the other. The local residents in those houses are having a fine old time watching the whole gig from the comfort of their own balconies and front porches. As are a bunch of people camping on the roadside hill over looking the site. The format of Sounds By The River is not dissimilar to the successful A Day On The Green shows, a big concert out in a regional area with some rock legends. There are a couple of noticeable differences though. There are designated smoking areas that people pretty much stick too. The VIP area is a riverboat (and the dressing rooms for the talent are two luxury yachts – which is pretty cool). But the thing I loved the most was the fenced off area right in front of the stage, not as is often the case for the cashed ‘platinum ticket holders’, but rather a GA standing only (i.e. no chairs) area for people to get close to the stage, dance and have a good time. This immediately makes the front much more of a party than many of the similar all day festivals which can be stringently policed to stop people dancing in the not-so-cheap seats for fear of upsetting people behind you that have paid the big bucks for the fancy seats. Also having a standing area is excellent at this event because if there is 10,000 people here, probably 8,500 of them have brought beach chairs.
We arrive with local cover outfit The Badlands is warming up the crowd with Joe Cocker songs and other rock classics, they are about to release an album of originals. After a short break Chocolate Starfish take to the stage and kick things off by playing the title track of Meat Loaf’s legendary Bat Out Of Hell record. They play the heck out of it. It shouldn’t be a surprise that they open with a it in some ways they sometimes tour performing all of INXS’s Kick album, and they did do a one of gig playing Bat from start to finish. What was a bit surprising was that track is eight or nine minutes long and they only had a forty minute set! In the remaining half hour they cram in crowd favourites Mountain, Farmer Loretta, Head Right and Four Letter Word before winding up with an extended version of Carly Simon’s You’re So Vain (a hit for them in 1993) which becomes a medley including George Erza’s Shotgun and 4 Non Blondes What’s Going On. Singer Adam Thompson easily wins best boots of the day (see the photo gallery).
Richard Clapton is one of this countries finest songwriters. He plays a bunch of his best known songs like Capricorn Dancer, Girls on The Avenue and Deep Water. The band is tight and his voice strong but the set is perhaps slightly downbeat after Choccy Starfish’s bombastic set directly before. He finishes up with I am An Island from 1982’s The Great Escape.
Diesel is up next and it’s been quite a while since I last saw them. I had quite forgotten that he is a magnificent guitar player, the tight three piece rip through a set of rock songs, blues licks, past hits and favourites. When Mark Lizotte launched his Johnny Diesel & The Injectors record in 1988 they were a huge hit right away. Their sound was the poppy end of that John Cougar Mellencamp sound that was huge at the time and I absolutely loved their first single Don’t Need Love. Super catchy song and today they give it a blues rock overhaul with Diesel wailing away on an acoustic with a metal slide. It’s an early highlight of the day for me. He smoulders on Just My Imagination and Tip Of My Tongue, the later of which could be easily mashed up with Sweet Home Alabama without too much trouble. An extended Cry In Shame brings his set to a close.
The standing area in front of the stage is PACKED for The Living End’s dynamite set. They hit the stage and do what they do best, they kicked our collective arses for an hour. What a ‘kin great band. Such a powerhouse, brilliant songs, riffage, sing-a-long anthems, astounding musicianship. With a crowd pleasing set full of Living End favourites Roll On, All Torn Down, Wake Up and the massive Second Solution early in the set which saw Chris Cheney mid song saying ‘Listen mate this song is twenty years old there is no excuse to not know the words’. That bent my brain a bit. Twenty years old? Really? I’d better check that. See I didn’t think that was right, it’s not twenty years old – it’s actually twenty TWO years old. The crowd is jumping up and down for Prisoner of Society and counting to three really fast (I count to three, ONETWOTHREE) and the song building and building til it’s explosive end and everyone is spent.
There is a quick dash to the bars and the loos, because everybody is pumped for what is coming next.
It has been a VERY long time since Joan Jett & The Blackhearts played in Adelaide. The Runaways legend first played Thebarton Theatre back in 1982 and didn’t return until a tour with the Divinyls in 1995. She played Lorne Falls Festival 2010, and there has been a couple of tours that were announced and then fell through (The co-headlining tour with The Darkness would have been insane!). But this is Ms Jett’s first gig in South Australia in twenty four years. As people are awaiting her arrival the in-house music starts playing the opening chords of I Love Rock’n’Roll, clearly a mistake and quickly corrected but then the fiercely proud New York band are introduced as being ‘All the way from Los Angeles’. Oops! Joan makes the correction as soon as she is at the microphone. Her super cool band are not about to let any glitch derail the The Blackheart Express and they power into Victim of Circumstance from the I Love Rock’n’Roll record from 1981. It was a huge record in Australia and everybody knows it. The Runaways classic Cherry Bomb is next and everyone is punching the air on ‘bomb’, while Joan is bathed in cherry red spotlights. Joan’s solo version is not quite as ‘chuggy’ as the original version but it is rockin’ nonetheless. Her version of Gary Glitter’s Do You Wanna Touch Me (Oh Yeah) is next and followed by the breakneck Bad Reputation. She introduces the first song she wrote for The Runaways when she was just 15 or 16 years old You Drive Me Wild. Like a lot of rock stars were doing in the 1980’s Joan tried acting and made a movie in 1987 called Light of Day co-starring Michael J Fox. The title song was written for Joan by Bruce Springsteen and it’s great to hear it today. Fake Friends is a corker as is Love is Pain.
I was surprised to see the guy behind the keyboards. Could it be? Yes it turns out to be Kenny Laguna. He is a really interesting cat. He co-wrote and produced Joan Jett’s early solo albums and started Blackheart Records which has release a lot of great noisy guitar pop records (usually with girls out front) like the excellent The Eyeliners personal faves The Dollyrots. But way before that his pop credentials were being honed in the 1960’s were he was a songwriter and producer for Katsenetz & Katz’s legendary bubblegum label Super K, were he wrote songs for The Lemon Pipers, Ohio Express, 1910 Fruitgum Company and he played keyboards on the original Tommy James and The Shondells Mony Mony single. Plus he released the best novelty single of all time Stairway to Gilligans Island with the Led Zeppelin classic as the bed for the TV shows theme song lyric. Zep sued the single was pulled but you can find it if you look hard enough. It’s genius. So a couple of times through the set Kenny tells little stories about this song or that. I found it pretty interesting but I suspect others were confused by it.
Mainly sticking to the classics, it’s actually great to hear a couple of newer songs too. Soul Mates to Stranger from 2013’s Unvarnished CD and a brand new song Fresh Start, from The Joan Jett documentary Bad Reputation which released in Australia shortly.
The Blackhearts have never had a problem taking a song making a cover 100% their own. Their version of Love Is All Around, the theme from The Mary Tyler Moore show was recorded for the Drop Dead Gorgeous soundtrack and it’s a total diamond today. The whole of Mannum is on it’s feet for I Love Rock’n’Roll. Like a lot of Jett’s most popular songs I Love Rock’n’Roll is a re-working of an existing hit, originally a single by UK three piece Arrows released in 1975. Today under the beautiful clear blue skies, between a river and some houses, nobody cares about Arrows. From the iconic drum intro there are 20,000 hands in the air and people are singing at the top of their lungs. Fan-fucking-tastic! Like all the covers they have handled (Nag, Crimson & Clover, Bits and Pieces, even Little Drummer Boy, Roadrunner, Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap), they all dipped in the bad ass Joan Jett magic and the results are usually more delicious than the originals. The tail end of the all too brief set was Crimson & Clover, I Hate myself for Loving You and Johnny O’Keefe’s The Wild One. It’s my suspicion that Joan Jett & The Blackhearts will be back in the not too distant future.
The sun has gone down and the can’t-believe-this-living-legend-is-still-kicking Aussie Working Class Man, Jimmy Barnes hits the stage. The band is ferocious and Jimmy is stalking every inch of the stage, constantly prowling front to back side to side. They are opening with I’m In a Bad Mood, a brand new song from his new album My Criminal Record which is released in May. If the clutch of songs previewed from it tonight are anything to go by this is going to be a killer album. Bad Mood is a song of warning, and he strides the stage like a man who ‘needs to be left alone to get shit done right now’. Barnes is a crowd pleaser though so no need to worry about the set being full of new songs you haven’t heard before. It’s a skilful balance of his entire career, there are Cold Chisel classics like Nothin’ I Want, solo anthems like No Second Prize, Ride The Night Away and I’d Die to be With You. And new songs like Shutting Down Our Town and My Criminal Record fit into his canon with ease. It’s a family affair with his wife and daughters on backing vocals. In fact the whole day has connections within line up. Diesel is Barnsey brother-in-law and and he produced an album for Richard Clapton and Chris Cheney from the Living End has written a song on the new Barnsey album called I Won’t Let You Down. There is also a cover of a John Lennon classic which means we have The Working Class Man singing Working Class Hero. Barnes delivers everything this enthusiastic crowd could want and more.
And then there’s fireworks!
Well done Sounds by The River. Happy tenth Birthday and here’s to many more.
Live Review By Ian Bell