October 01, 1994

Fine Graney

Filed under: Archive,Music

Dave Graney and the Coral Snakes
The Synagogue

Reviewed by Murray Bramwell

Dave Graney’s second coming to the Synagogue is nothing less than revelation. Riding their current album, You Wanna be There But You Don’t Wanna Travel, Graney and his band the Coral Snakes are in supremely confident form. As well they might be, they are as good as anything you’ll find in current music.

Taking the stage in black suits the Coral Snakes are crisp and fluent – like the Messengers, or Ian Dury’s Blockheads. Opening with an overture from Unbuttoned, the bonus appendix to You Wanna Be There, the band sets the style – heartbeat rhythms from drummer Clare Moore and Gordy Blair on bass, jazzy turns from Robin Casinader on keyboards and Rod Hayward’s guitar, a model of sinewy understatement. Grooving to the mock-cool of The Confessions of Serge Gainsbourg, Dave Graney makes his entrance. It is safe to say there is no-one in modern music quite like him. A tiny fellow, he is Tintin in lycra. Favouring as he does the acrylics and stylings of the early seventies Graney has established a trend you might call ACTU 73. In a purple suit with a black body shirt and classic cover-the-shoes tubular bells, this man could have sold you a Monaro or a Kingswood HG.

As Serge segues into Graney’s mordant signature, You’re Just Too Hip Baby, the crowd is bobbing as one. Dave stares implacably back, his arms moving in slow hypnotic tai chi gestures. We haven’t seen irony this deadpan since Bryan Ferry. `You take a feather from every bird you see/ you’ll never fly,’ he croons in a voice and a persona that seems to have taken a feather from everyone from David Ackles to Tom Waits to Stan Ridgeway to Stephen Cummings. Except Graney and his band definitely know how to fly.

Drawing influences from fifties hipsters and the American new cinema of the seventies, Graney introduces his Melbourne fantasy of Alfredo Garcia. Warren Oates in Spencer Street with a banged up Holden- “There with no grace of no god you go/through the united states of Warren Oates.” Then its tabloid photography, Graney as Weegee – Three Dead Passengers in a Stolen Second Hand Ford. With a tune lilting like The Smiths in a happy moment, Graney describes a scene from his part of country South Australia. Outside of Keith near the border, the best minds of his generation “laughing like fools as they reversed into the night.”

But while he likes to spike his songs with local iconography Graney’s lyrics can also be as classically pop as Joe Jackson, especially when it is augmented with Casinader’s chiming piano work. A cluster of ballads – There Was a Time, I’m Just Having One of Those Lives, You Wanna Be There But You Don’t Want to Travel- all distinguished by the grace of their melodies, the Graney wit and the length of their titles, confirms the band’s claim to versatility.

That’s all the ballads, Dave shouts to the swooning throng, cueing the band to hit the pedal for the driving thump of Won’t You Ride With Me- tasty guitar runs from Hayward and faultless upbeat from Clare Moore. More from the current album, New Life in a New Town and then You Wanna be Loved (a dense little meditation on social tyranny with three-part harmonies from the sinuous Snakes) paves the way for the hypnotic repetitions of Graney’s beat classic, Night of the Wolverine. Pausing to glare about the pesky feedback which they had battled valiantly all night, Dave leads the Coral Snakes to The Stars Baby, The Stars and the band pulls out the stops for I’m Gonna Release Your Soul, Hayward on wah-wah and rococo flights from Casinader.

For the encore Graney unbuttoned again with the toxic tongue-in-cheek of It’s Your Crowd I Hate. After more jokes about the Australian Doors, attempts to channel Jim and an elaboration of his death-bath theory Dave played a cover. A rockabilly version of Robert Johnson’s anthem to the gun lobby, 32-20 Blues- which Graney transforms with wicked irony and some extempore wolverine howling from that other loathsome king of the beats, Allen Ginsberg.

Graney and the Coral Snakes closed the set with as much octane as they started. Dave chose a spiritual message to match his balletic martial arts benediction – “The Word is Nah, close sesame, the word is Nah.” He’s a sharp little ectomorph, with a great band. Let this man into your life. He’s says he’s gonna release your soul.

The Adelaide Review, No. 132, October, 1994, p.32.

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