November 01, 1995

Finding the Pulse

Filed under: Archive,Music

The Blackeyed Susans
Crown and Anchor

Reviewed by Murray Bramwell

“You realise you are about to hear the best band in Melbourne.” I am lip-reading a friend’s emphatic prediction while G.T. Stringer wind up their set in the bonsai confines of the Crown and Anchor. Led by sax player Trevor Ramsay the band is sharp and accomplished. More evidence of the depth in the batting in Adelaide. A plug for their new CD and the crowd gives them a well-deserved hooray.

The Blackeyed Susans are providing the main course. It is their second appearance in Adelaide in a month. “We are doing a tour of Grenfell Street,” drawls singer Rob Snarski with leaden irony. The turnout at the Crown and Anchor is modest but well-primed to hear Melbourne’s best band. Tomorrow night many will be at the Producers for a second helping.

What began as a garage band for Triffids-on-their-days-off has now consolidated into a permanent fixture. Neither tropical flowers nor a Victorian melodrama, the beguilingly named Blackeyed Susans deliver dense, sardonic music, carefully crafted in the studio and full of bottle in its live incarnation. With Mouth to Mouth, their current (and enthusiastically received) album, the band has secured a line-up based around Snarski and songwriter Phil Kakulas with Kiernan Box on keyboards and Dan Luscombe on guitar. David McComb has left the fold but his songs and collaborations continue to strengthen the enterprise.

The Susans open with Glory Glory beginning as they mean to continue. The sound is tight and loud. Drummer David Folley (on loan from the Killjoys) plays the stuff as though he has written it, Kakulas puts in the no-nonsense bass while Kiernan Box creates a swirling Hammond sound matched -not, as on the album, with the smooth pedal sound of Graham Lee, but a thriftily incendiary Fender line from Dan Luscombe. Snarski’s plaintive baritone croons above the band …”Marie has left the building.” His voice is full of nuance. A hint of the Smiths maybe, or Everything But the Girl. Even a ghost from Graceland.

The band gets to business. As it Was , the strong opening track from Mouth to Mouth has Box and Luscombe in serious dialectic while Snarski bites lyrics on loan from the Old Testament- ‘As it was, so it shall be.’ The effect is rather like the thousand hammers of the Bad Seeds, a surging, chiming sound. Like Blonde on Blonde with steroids. Ocean of You, complete with flamenco rhythms from Snarski’s Maton, changes tempo but not the temperature. A Curse on You follows, Luscombe throttling his Fender while Kiernan Box throws the keyboard into overdrive. It all goes a halfturn closer to chaos with Please Don’t Stop Me, the guitar disintegrating into a feedback from Hades while Snarski mixes in his effortlessly versatile vocals.

The Susans’ current single, Mary Mac, a mordant study of a phone sex worker, gets a harsher reading in live performance. As does Sheets of Rain, bereft of the mandolin filigree of the studio version. The Mouth to Mouth material stands strongly in the band’s list.I Can’t Find Your Pulse, brilliant on disc, takes on even more life-threatening proportions as Snarski builds the guignol over a sinister bass and drumbeat. The Morricone effects on the album are traded for Luscombe’s death-rattle guitar while meagre piano chords mingle with Snarski’s well-judged theatrics. It is an excellent song, its angst dangling between metaphor and postmortem.

With no sign of flagging the band work the best of their last two albums- Let’s Live and She Breathes In from this year’s model. And, from All Souls Alive, Snarski wraps himself around Apartment No.9 and a satirically laced version of Leonard Cohen’s Memories. Closing the set with Dirty Water the Susans have given us a fine serve of their work. But encores are mandatory on such occasions and even Snarski seems keen to perform his own request- This One Eats Souls.. With only Kiernan Box on piano, Snarski’s expressive vocal insinuates itself into Kakulas and McComb’s creepy lyric. “This one goes to market/ This one went to bed with someone you know…You may lose your way in the night/But by the end it is perfectly clear that/This one eats souls.”

For a last encore Snarski demurs at Suspicious Minds but closes with a Presley song all the same- If I Can Dream. The Blackeyed Susans have again graced Adelaide with some of the most intelligent music around. If they are not the best band in Melbourne I’d like to know who is.

The Adelaide Review, No.145, November, 1995, p.30.

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