The Tea Party brew up a storm at Melbourne’s Palais

tea party band jeff stuart chatwood jeff martin jeff burrowsHow good was it to see Stuart Chatwood caressing those keyboards? Jeff Burrows going restrained Animal on the drums up the back, silhouetted by that spectacular backlighting beaming out across the Palais like some kind of mystical door opening? And Jeff Martin, being Jeff Martin, up the front of the Tea Party for the first time since they called it a day seven years ago?

Very bloody good.

Sure, the sound was always a pain with the feedback buzz and increasing muddiness. The lighting at times a little overbearing. The medleys a little ad hoc, not quite as smooth in the transitions as we’re used to.

Oh, there might be a few cobwebs still hanging off the trio, but after two hours of blasting out hits such as ‘The River’, ‘The Bazaar’, highlights in ‘Fire in the Head’ and ‘Psychopomp’, and on, to an encore culminating in ‘Sister Awake’/’Paint It Black’), they proved they’ve still got IT.

Throw in the theremin on ‘Lullaby’ (if memory serves), ‘Shadows on the Mountainside’ and a wee slice of ‘Hallelujah’ — more Cohen than Buckley — with ‘Heaven Coming Down’, ‘Release’, ‘Temptation’ and more, and last night’s opening gig of the Reformation tour in Melbourne was quite the emotional rollercoaster. More fun than Luna Park next door. And somehow, walking out into a cool, light shower of rain was the perfect end to what might be a new beginning for the Canadian trio.

They’re recording this Australian tour for a live album; will the studio follow?

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.

  • Pat Benatar, then and now

    live from earth by pat benatar

    Music is a moment. I have a clear memory of my mate Andrew telling me, so excited, about a Pat Benatar release he’d recently acquired: “That’s all it’s got on the cover, just the word Benatar,” he said, or words close to that. He was referring to Live from Earth, a live album — I had it already, on tape (yes, it was a long time ago), along with the rest of the catalogue, but wasn’t overly hooked on the stadium sound. While Benatar was a chart-topping powerhouse in the ’80s, it wasn’t always her hits that kept me coming back for more.

    Benatar was one of the first rock acts, certainly one of the first female rock acts, I discovered and engaged with, as opposed to those acts I fell into via teenage osmosis through school friends. Music didn’t play a big part in my family’s life — for many years our only source of music outside the limited range of rural radio was a reel-to-reel tape player with an even more limited range of recordings. I think I remember a Johnny Cash doing the rounds from spool to spool. And when we did step up to a cassette player, it was country, and country, and Elvis Presley.

    Music is an ongoing discovery for me. It’s an important part of life, a passion, one that’s best and easily shared, one that adds depth to any friendship and breaks down all barriers. It can be a common love.

    Those who are into music can trace the changes in their lives — in their growth, if you like; maybe evolution is a more accurate word — through their collection. Some of these milestones are simply that — moments in time, attitudes of the day, interests of the day — but others endure, managing to not just be a point in the rear vision mirror but a companion along the way. Not necessarily a fulltime companion — it recognises the need for change and exploration and novelty — but a loyal one, always there when it’s needed. Sometimes, it comes with ghosts: the best ones make us smile. Where were you when you first heard…? Who were you with?

    Benatar’s Seven the Hard Way remains one of the albums I listen to most. I find it one of the most consistent in her canon. It speaks to me of defiance from within a dystopia, particularly once the opening track, Sex as a Weapon, is past. The other big single off the album was Invincible, with the remainder being more meditative, sublime offerings, tinged with melancholy and loss. The album ends with The Art of Letting Go, to me a treatise in acceptance of the things we cannot change, of life enduring after the mourning for that which has been lost.

    Which is why I’m shelling out, thanks to a sweet deal this weekend, to see Benatar strut her stuff at the Palais. Benatar has made only one album in the past decade, so I’m expecting a lot of hits, which will suit me fine. This isn’t a step forward in the journey but a look behind. In a way, it’s another small exercise in the art of letting go. Sadly, we are not invincible, but the music goes on.

    The Cult rocks Melbourne with Love

    Oh, my.

    The Cult played a full house at Melbourne’s grand concert hall, The Palais on the St Kilda foreshore, tonight, and it was everything I hoped it would be from the seminal ’80s rockers. Their music has filled many a mile of lonesome highway and provided a backdrop to plenty of get-togethers, so to see Ian Astbury strutting his stuff alongside guitarist Billy Duffy was just magic after all these years.

    Astbury, still wielding one of the most distinctive voices in rock, wore black: black pants, shirt, jacket, gloves, sunnies. From my seat in the back row — and how well is the Palais designed, with its sloping floor and staggered seats, so the view was still phenomenal — he looked a little fuller in the face than in the band’s heyday, kind of a melding of, say, Jeff Martin and Bill Oddie, and of course a touch of Jim Morrison, whose swaggering shoes he’d filled out the front of the Riders on the Storm (the Doors tribute band, featuring members of the Doors) (I think I can get away with that gentle jibe, given the Cult’s roster has rotated around Astbury and Duffy).

    At least he wasn’t hidden under a hoodie ($100 at the merch stand — men’s thin cotton tees $50, women’s $55) as he was in Brisbane.

    Duffy looked remarkably unchanged, still playing his trusty Gretsch White Falcon (“the whole Love album is played on a Gretsch, it was the only guitar I owned’), given a rest only in the second set for a couple of ‘heavier’ numbers from the group’s later and largely ignored albums.

    While Astbury didn’t scramble over the rather depleted Marshall stacks nor writhe upon the floor as in clips from the days of yore, he did groove, he did yarn, he did flick that long black hair, he did chuck the mic when it played up and he did give the tambourine a bloody great hiding: the heart of soul was still beating.

    The band played two sets: the first consisted of the entire Love album, their breakthrough album from 1985 featuring singles Rain, Revolution and the Goth club favourite, She Sells Sanctuary (big cheers from the crowd for this one!). It took about an hour, the concert lit with basic lighting and a big screen of complementary video.

    The second set, slightly shorter, was a ‘best of’ that wowed the crowd, hitting a slight lull during songs from Beyond Good and Evil and Born Into This (the latter album deserved more attention, IMHO), before ending on a wicked high with Fire Woman and Love Removal Machine. As Astbury said, they don’t play ‘pretentious’ encores, and after that set, it would’ve been superfluous anyway. (And encores are a bit wanky, aren’t they? They’re expected now, formula, no longer an accolade for the deserving.) The sunglasses had come off for the second set, so he could kind of get away with poking fun at pretension.

    Earlier, Astbury, still showing a bit of an 80s touch with critters’ bushy tails hanging from his belt — the kind of thing you’d expect to see flapping from a bogan’s car antenna or perhaps wrapped around an elder Lady’s neck, its little black eyes staring at you from beside her bejeweled brooch and powdered cleavage — remarked how rock concerts weren’t as intense as they used to be. No ripping up of seats. In the US, he said, the audience tended to stay seated. Not so in Melbourne, though he did poke fun at a few who somehow defied the driving rhythm section. And at the time I thought he was coming across as a bit of an old whiner, harking back to the good old days. But then, as the phones came out and the texting and the tweeting took off, and the bint next to us insisted on flashing off her camera every three bars or so for the entire duration of the song, I realised he was actually quite right. It’s not enough to be there, headbanging with the thrill of hearing Astbury scream out Wildflower (though this take tonight was a little muddy, to be honest); you’ve got to take pictures of your pals during the song. You’ve got to let everyone know RIGHT NOW that you’re there. That’s if you’re not noodling off to the bar and missing it entirely. Dangerous ground for a man now blogging his rapturous headbanging experience? Maybe.

    Bottom line is this: The Cult came, they rocked, it was awesome. (Andy, I wish you could’ve been there, brother.)

    I’d be tempted to hit tonight’s gig at The Palace, if I wasn’t gonna be elsewhere.

    PS Sydney’s Black Ryder supported, and also looked pretty good, and sounded just fine, though I regrettably missed most of their set, having been in line for the slightly over-priced but very fetching Cult merch. I hope they have more tricks up their sleeve than the fuzzy guitar.

    Foodie aside: before the gig, we hit amigos and got fired up on cajun chicken burritos and extra jalapenos, washed down with Crushed Fairy cocktails (key ingredient: absinthe) and Sol beer. Rockin! I love the way you can walk down these cafe streets in this town and just pick one, and find it sweet.