Pat Benatar at the Melbourne Palais

heat of the night by pat benatar

Andy, I think you would’ve loved it. We already had a bit of a thing for Pat Benatar, didn’t we, harking right back to that punk-lacy 80s heyday and tracing back to In the Heat of the Night: that debut that put that unmistakable voice on the world stage (and the guitar of songwriter Neil Giraldo, not to be forgotten).

She’s still got it, mate. In spades. Even if the mix at the Palais on Wednesday night felt at times as if I’d put my head inside a Rotorua mud pit. Her voice, all mid-tour husky but still hitting and holding the highs, a little croon here, a snarl there. OK, not so much of the snarling, 58 next January and all, and dressed in a suit with white cuffs, barely raising a sweat I shouldn’t think with that stage saunter. But she can still belt it out: All Fired Up to open, Love is a Battlefield to close, a trail of major and minor hits in between.

She and Giraldo have got the husband-wife banter down pat (no pun there, don’t hit me, damnit), as you’d expect after 29 years of wedded togetherness. It came to the fore when they straddled stools and “Spider” swapped his electric for an acoustic and, well, there was a feel, he said, like we were all sitting in their lounge room, which was on the money but also weird, given that when they’d finished passing the water cup back and forth, they belted out their trademark power pop: You Better Run, if I remember, and definitely I Don’t Want to be Your a Friend. Banter-rock-banter-rock, a tale for almost every song: that’s how the night went, never really finding any momentum but fun all the same.

Giraldo played piano intro on a couple of tunes, but I reckon – don’t know if you’d agree about this — that they could’ve got a keyboard player in and saved them the heavy lifting and us the backing tape. Still, great drums and bass when they were in play, which you need to give this kind of pop music real grunt.

It made me feel a little sorry for the Bangles, who supported, the now-trio coming across on stage as a little rusty — not that they ever really had the vocal chops, as much as we might’ve enjoyed Manic Monday or Hazy Shade of Winter back in the day. Walk Like An Egyptian got the punters up, I’ll give’em that, and there’s a new album on the way next year, and you’ll be happy to know they still look poppy though I was too far back (but in the centre, mate, Pat right in front, yes indeed) to see if Susanna Hoffs still has the cute eye-roll thing going on.

Benatar was where it was at, for an on-schedule 90 minutes. There was the new take on the torch song, Benatar exhorting the crowd to hold aloft their lit-up mobiles — ‘take pictures, I don’t care’ — for the arm-waving We Belong, and Giraldo finished off the encore with a neat little Godfather riff (an ode to his Sicilian heritage, I gather, given a previous reference).

You know the thing that really kicked? The spare seat next to me. It’s been bugging me for years now, in one form or another, and funnily enough it was Shadows of the Night — only the second song in — that really made it bite. You can never tell what’s gonna get you, can you?

It’s been a hell of a year, brother: The Cult, Concrete Blonde, Benatar. Wish you were here.


  • Set list (not in order and probably not complete, 27/10): All Fired Up (opener), Shadows of the Night, Hell is for Children, Invincible, You Better Run, We Belong, Somebody’s Baby, Hit Me with Your Best Shot, I Don’t Want to be Your Friend, Love is a Battlefield (closer), encore: Let’s Stay Together, Heartbreaker.

    There’s footage at YouTube of Giraldo and Benatar singing I Don’t Want to be Your Friend taken at the previous night’s gig — Benatar played back-to-back shows in Melbourne. The song starts around the 3:30 mark.

    Set list (not in order, not complete): All Fired Up (opener), Shadows in the Night, Hell is for Children, Invincible, Promises in the Dark (?), You Better Run, We Belong, Hit Me with Your Best Shot, I Don’t Want to be Your Friend, Love is a Battlefield (closer), encore: Stick Together and Heartbreaker.

    15 years since her last tour to Oz; sidelined by child-rearing.

    31 years together with guitarist ‘Neil Spider’ Geraldo (29 as husband and wife),

    Turning 58 in January

    Acoustic guitar, stools, passing water in open sign of marital bliss

    Piano intros on some tunes, but maybe adding a keyboardist to the drummer and bassist could have saved them the trouble and also allowed them to dispense with the annoying backing track.

    Mobile phones aloft – safer than lighters, certainly – for the We Belong lovers’ anthem.

    A Godfather instrumental into closing song Heartbreaker.

  • Anne Rice, Muslim-based super heroes, and pigeons as music critics

    A quick pass of the Guardian UK reveals these juicy morsels:

    SEEING THE LIGHT: Anne Rice on why she left the Church (again) and still thinks angels are cool

    This is crazy. There is no basis in scripture for any anointed hierarchy, let alone a male hierarchy. It’s just not there. And how in the world did this man-god die, preaching against the temple, and then we wind up with St Peter’s in Rome? How did that happen? There were so many issues where I thought the church was flat-out immoral. I had to leave.

    CRITICS TAKE FLIGHT: Pigeons, famous for crapping on the Kings of Leon and ending their concert, take aim at recent music in a laugh-out-loud funny review (okay, it’s from July and I’m still catching up, but how can you go past gems such as this?)

    Now we’re usually drawn to cheesy music – reggae buskers, organ grinders, Kevin even exploded by flying too close to the speakers at a Ted Nugent gig once – but this is too much even for us. The jaunty upstrokes! The overpowering odour of 1996! The fact that this song insists you think of that droopy-faced streak of piss Neil Hannon having sex! Crap in its mouth! CRAP IN ITS MOUTH!

    FIGHTING FOR RIGHT: And this rather timely piece about a bunch of Muslim-inspired superheroes forging an alliance with DC’s heroes. Here’s a taste of the border-breaking article, courtesy of The 99 creator Dr Naif al-Mutawa:

    “In Kuwait, it’s so sad, it’s funny. When I was growing up, Animal Farm was banned. At least in the Soviet Union they understood the problem was that it’s about anti-totalitarianism, whereas in Kuwait it was banned because it had a pig on the cover.”

    Let Me In – not the right one

    Hammer Horror has returned to the big screen with a remake of a Swedish vampire film based on a best-seller by John Ajvide Lindqvist. The studio has left itself plenty of room for improvement.

    Let Me In tells the story of a lonely 12-year-old boy who befriends a lonely 12-year-old vampire (‘I’ve been 12 for a very long time’) in the lonely snow-covered city of Los Alamos. The roles are played superbly by Kodi Smit-McPhee and Chloe Moretz (she carries a real sense of otherness, that age beyond her apparent years), ahead of a cast who also perform wonderfully.

    The love story between the two is the core of the book, a what can perhaps most kindly be described as langourous unfolding, set against the backdrop of a police investigation into cult-like deaths in the neighbourhood, a broken family and social disillusionment. The Swedish movie (for which Lindqvist wrote the screenplay), a beautifully photographed rendition, dropped the police angle, while the Hammer version has neglected the social dystopia.

    Sadly, Hammer has also neglected the elements of Lindqvist’s story that gave it its impact — pedophilia and sexual ambiguity — and instead opted for twee CGI and some questionable narrative devices. An introductory discussion of religion and evil is left to wither, an attempted cyclical opening fails to deliver, a basement haven appears out of nowhere and, unlike in the book, serves no purpose.

    Owen (names have been Anglicised, removing yet another layer of ambiguity from the vampire) is an only child with a single mother — mum is kept offstage, blurred, out of shot, while father is a mere voice on the phone. Camera work is excessively stylised, using blur and extreme close-up to magnify the sense of isolation.

    There is no getting past the book’s lack of narrative tension, but I couldn’t help feel that the Hammer version is a watered down and uninspired echo of what is an emotionally effective and atmospheric text, thanks in part to the combination of the Swedes having already taken the arthouse road and the filmmakers lacking the fortitude to present the gutsiest parts of Ajvide’s story.

    Billy Thorpe – a eulogy from Tangier

    I saw Billy Thorpe play twice, back around 2006 supporting touring internationals, and there was no mistaking the man’s talent with voice and guitar, and charming, unaffected stage presence. He rose to fame with the Aztecs, a veteran of Australia’s formative rock n roll years, and he was in fine fettle still. I was particularly impressed with new material he played from a forthcoming album to be called Tangier, inspired and influenced by his time living in Morocco. And then he died, in February 2007, and Tangier was a work in progress still, and there was a real feeling that we’d not only lost a music great, but a special piece of music as well.

    Fortunately, Thorpe’s family and mates have rallied and Tangier is now on the shelves. It’s a beauty, too.

    There are Middle Eastern influences aplenty as songs range from Zeppelinish rock to slow-burning, percussion-led numbers and the foot-tapping, hand-twirling instrumental Gypsy. Jack Thompson adds spoken word to two, and there are plenty of strings of choiral backdrops that make this a lush, atmospheric production.

    Since You’ve Been Gone, a dirge for his mother powered by acoustic guitar, organ and hand claps, carries extra weight.

    Songs such as Marrakesh and Tangier, the latter with news broadcasts incorporated into the text, are clear odes to the country and its profound impact on Thorpe, while seven-minute Fatima funks it up.

    Long Time, the album’s second instrumental, is a contemplative affair with guitars leading the journey that leads into the grandiose, martial In a New World, a cinematic spoken word with Thompson doing the honours.

    Further adding to the album’s diversity is We Will Be There, a gospel-flavoured track that’s almost a capella, segueing beautifully into the closer, the rapturous Out of Here, a bopping track showing off Thorpe’s vocal high range.

    With songs referencing angels, death and loss, Tangier carries an extra emotional level, but even stripped of that, it stands as a damn fine album. It serves as a fitting farewell that shows us not only what we’ve lost, but what we gained from a life lived large.

    Concrete Blonde storm Melbourne’s Palace

    bloodletting by concrete blonde

    The penultimate gig of their Australian tour, at Melbourne’s Palace theatre last night, found Concrete Blonde in fine form indeed as they celebrate the 20th anniversary of their breakout album, Bloodletting.

    Lead singer Johnette Napolitano is clearly relishing performing: she was relaxed and smiling, utterly gleeful as she called support band Melbourne-based Graveyard Train up to provide backing vocals on the whimsical Ghost of a Texas Ladies Man and the grin never left her face.

    For the Brisbane gig, four nights before, I’d hugged the barrier to catch every expression from this big-hearted singer, but this time I hung back on the rail of the balcony to take in the scene and let the music do its stuff.

    The lighting was simply effective, the stage bathed in lancing red spots for the opening Bloodletting (again segueing from a tape of the ominous bassline of Bauhaus’s Bela Lugosi’s Dead) flicking to greens and blues for the chorus, and thereafter continuing to reflect the mood and highlighting solos.

    With Jim Mankey on guitar — occasionally smiling, a big display from a man who tends to not give much of himself away on stage preferring to let the guitar do his talking — and Gabriel Ramirez on drums, Johnette laid down some thundering basslines as the band rocked out.

    But Johnette’s voice was the key instrument, showing nuance and power as she cajoled, mourned and raged. When I was Fool exploded, Your Haunted Head became a jam, Run Run Run was as hard and heavy as you please. The crowd sang along, the chorus especially noticeable on Happy Birthday and the closer, Tomorrow Wendy (about a woman with AIDS who commits suicide), during which Johnette issued a plea to support gay teenagers and reduce the instance of suicide. She changed the finale of the song, saying she’d think everything would be all right, yes she did.

    It was a shame there were a few in the packed house who didn’t respect the band’s request to forgo taking photographs — honestly, dickheads, do you really think flash from a distance is going to achieve anything but annoyance for the artists and those around you? (sigh: that’s a rant for another day)

    There was a lovely dig at BP on Everybody Knows (she plugged the upcoming Leonard Cohen tour after this cover) — the Gulf has not been forgotten — and she added what sounded like a Native American chant to the cover of Midnight Oil’s Beds are Burning.

    Humble and self-effacing, yet passionate and possessed of one the most striking voices, Johnette — in her 50s — appears to occupy a happy place indeed in her musical career.

    How fortunate we are that she continues to share the love.

  • The set list was, as far as I could tell, the same as in Brisbane, though they played Someday last night and I didn’t note it on Tuesday; possibly I missed it in my recollection, though last night’s gig did last the best part of two hours, a little longer than Brissie.
  • Fonts of creativity

    So what typeface do you like to write with? That’s the question asked of these authors at this site, and it’s interesting reading, how a typeface can help a writer grapple with the process. It seems the typewriter era still leaves a mark on the font of choice! A friend changes font with each draft as he edits, to keep the text fresh, which is something I haven’t tried, but probably should if the amount of repetition in my latest piece is any guide.

    And while we’re at it, here’s another piece in defence of typography — some interesting history on the evolution of typefaces.

    For the record, I prefer to type in Times New Roman — I like my serifs.

    Concrete Blonde rock Brisbane

    bloodletting by concrete blonde

    Any doubts that Concrete Blonde might have mellowed as a rock band were put to rest in Brisbane’s Hi-Fi Bar on Tuesday night. So too any doubts not already dispelled by the Scarred solo album that frontwoman Johnette Napolitano has not grown into a consummate performer who is content, if not happy, in her skin.

    Melbourne’s Graveyard Train — horror movie lyrics to a country-blues beat rounded out by banjo, double bass and a well-hammered length of chain — ably softened up the sizeable crowd who comfortably filled the tiered, industrial-themed room (bare bricks, exposed ducts, concrete and — just so you know you’re in a rock venue — a sticky timber floor).

    Our posse lined the barrier directly in front of Johnette’s mic, prepared to sacrifice sound quality for a close-up of one of the few singers I would call an idol: talented, emotive, uncompromising.

    We were not disappointed.

    Johnette’s bass — unadorned gloss black with simple, sweeping lines — combined with the drums of Gabriel Ramirez (who stepped up to the sticks for the Group Therapy tour when drummer Harry Rushakoff fell off the radar, and has stuck around) to lay down a thumping beat, at times reaching into the chest to alter the heart beat, at others tickling the throat or making a mild tremor under the feet. The velvet curtain hanging at the front of the stage billowed in time like a lung.

    And Jim Mankey, Johnette’s foil and anchor, stood unflappable and so very casual, whether filling in the background with his trademark guitar wail and chug or cutting loose on a solo for Hendrix’s Little Wing.

    The stage was simply lit, emphasised with an occasional billow of fog, and was adorned only with black muslin around the drum kit and a scatter of huge red roses — this tour marks the 20th anniversary of Bloodletting, a breakout album with vampire themed tunes leading the way.

    The stage belonged to Johnette Napolitano.

    Wearing a Spanish-influenced black dress, her movements were laced with Flamenco in bare feet and deliberate movements of the hands and arms; at other times, she would twirl the bass as she rocked out, at others pluck the strings as if each was a thorn to be pulled. A tattoo of a cross, filled with Celtic knotwork and surrounded by simple stars, adorned her chest, and her long, black hair at times fell as a curtain across her so very expressive kohl-darkened eyes, lending a hint of Japanese horror movie, a sense of mystique.

    Watching her descend into the emotional space for When I Was A Fool, led by Jim’s guitar, was an exquisite pleasure, and then to be carried aloft as the song built to its explosive crescendo …

    There were many such moments — Heal It Up, Your Haunted Head and more — in a set that ran almost to two hours and offered at least 21 songs drawn from the band’s studio catalogue (with Bloodletting most highly represented, naturally), skipping only the Mojave album (and the band’s debut, the eponymous Dream 6 before they took on their current moniker).

    A rock aesthetic ran through much of the set, kicking off with opener Bloodletting and putting fire into typically slow-burning tunes such as I Don’t Need a Hero. The pace eased when Jim took up the acoustic and Johnette rested the bass for a ballad set — Mexican Moon with Flamenco dance included — and was brought to a close with the poignant Tomorrow, Wendy, which saw Johnette slowly fold to hands and knees as the lament for lost life and innocence wound down, to arise on knees with a single red rose held aloft into a perfectly aimed spotlight.

    Unexpected delights such as Run, Run, Run, Your Haunted Head and Days and Days raised the roof — Johnette crossed herself before laying down a massive, manic bassline to intro one — and her voice soared, with Janis Joplin-like verve at times, on tunes such as Heal It Up. The encore consisted of the Midnight Oil hit Beds Are Burning and the raucous Still in Hollywood.

    It was one hell of a way to open their Australian tour, and signalled there’s plenty of life left in the trio yet.

    Songs, not in order: Bloodletting, Joey, Scene of a Perfect Crime, Someday, When I Was A Fool, Run Run Run, Happy Birthday, God Is A Bullet, Ghost of a Texas Ladies Man, Haunted Head, True, Little Wing, Everybody Knows, Mexican Moon, Heal It Up, Caroline, Days and Days, Tomorrow Wendy, I Don’t Need a Hero, Lullabye, Beds are Burning, Still in Hollywood.

  • A remastered anniversary edition of Bloodletting is available, with six extra songs.
  • Out and about

    the darkness withinmadigan mine by kirstyn mcdermott

    A couple of bookish outings coming up, with options for the signing of books and drinking of wine for those so inclined:

  • Kirstyn is lining up at the Wheeler Centre’s debut night on Monday, Oct 25: good fun to hear debut novellists read from their work and maybe grab a copy and have a chat over a drink afterwards;
  • We are both joining Bruce Kaplan, Alan Baxter, and Bob Franklin at a Halloween signing at Dymocks at Southland noon-1pm on Oct 31: grab a copy and/or get one signed, stay for a chat
  • Also, there’s a bit of pre-Halloween fun to be had at a trivia night in support of the excellent Continuum convention (next year, June 10-13).
    When: Saturday 30th October, 8pm
    Where: Brian Boru Function Room @ The Celtic Club
    316-320 Queen Street, Melbourne
    Cost of Entry: $5
    For more information or to RSVP send an email with the subject line
    ‘trick or trivia’ to events AT
    Costumes optional but a prize for the best one will be awarded by the
    Headless Chair.
    Prizes also given out for arriving in a lucky manner!
    Many awesome raffle prizes!

    Heart back on track with Red Velvet Car

    THE new album from Heart — fronted by Ann and Nancy Wilson — grabs the ear immediately with a blues-soaked There You Go: there you go indeed, because from that the opener it’s a drive through some scenic territory.

    Heart have a wonderfully varied catalogue, from Zeppelin-style Middle Eastern influenced soft metal to crunching hard rock to 80s torch songs to folk and blues.

    This album harks mostly back to the earlier years of folk rock and blues — they debuted with Dreamboat Annie in 1976 — with the sisters showing a joy and verve that didn’t come across in their previous studio LP, Jupiters Darling (in 2004, breaking a decade’s hiatus).

    Check out the railroad rhythm of Wheels, the acoustic strum and drive of Safronia’s Mark, the urgency of WTF, the slow yearn of the title track, complete with strings, the nostalgia of Queen City.

    The sisters make a powerful combination, between Nancy’s guitar work and Ann’s impressive vocals that can smoulder down low or skyrocket (she does both thrillingly on Death Valley, adding verve to the second half of Red Velvet Car).

    This, Heart’s 13th studio album, doesn’t explore new territory and makes the occasional rest stop, but even with one eye on the rearvision mirror, it changes gear often enough to provide an engaging journey.

    Graveyard Train to support Concrete Blonde

    Huzzah! The support for Concrete Blonde’s 20th anniversary tour of Bloodletting has been announced: Melbourne’s Graveyard Train. Get your rockin’ darkly tinted blues n country gumbo here (apparently). Net snippets suggest they’ll be a superb match. Only a week before the curtain goes up!

    That would be Tuesday, rather than, um, Someday:

    SPEAKING of Melbourne bands, it was sad to read that The Vagrants played their last gig in September. I’d only just stumbled across their bluesy Aussie rock — innocuous but mighty fetching, and I had a hankering to catch them live to see if they’d go all firecracker like they sound as if they might on their album Be True. A shame. Here’s a taste of what we new chums missed out on: