March 18, 2020

Adelaide Fringe – Truckload of Sky – The Lost Songs of David McComb

Filed under: 2020,Archive,Fringe,Music

Truckload of Sky – The Lost Songs of David McComb
The Friends of David McComb
Level 5, Union House,
The University of Adelaide.
RCC . March 12.

Formed in Perth in 1978, after morphing from a band called Dalsy and (name-for-a-day) Logic, The Triffids produced five studio albums, six EPs, six live recordings/ compilations and nine legendary cassettes including Dungeon and Son. Singles such as Wide Open Road and Bury Me Deep in Love became etched in the Australian national songbook, but although indie favourites, the Triffids never really had their day.

When they went to the UK in 1984, by January of the next year the cover of the influential New Musical Express proclaimed –“The Year of The Triffids.” But somehow fate threw saltwater on their fortunes, and like NZ band The Mutton Birds, despite critical enthusiasm, the wider following failed to materialise. By 1989, this excellent band, led by an extraordinarily talented singer songwriter, had called it quits.

As time passes, the life and works of David McComb only seem more remarkable. Prolific, distinctive, and startlingly assured, McComb conjured haunting, memorable lyrics and found riffs, hooks, bridges and choruses that fitted like melodic gloves. He had written hundreds of songs by the time of his tragic and early death, at 36 in 1999. We can only wonder at what might have been. Even now, his output is only surpassed by Paul Kelly and Nick Cave, two celebrated survivors of the same years of living dangerously.

The Friends of David McComb is a fine name for a terrific project.

Comprising fellow Triffids – his younger brother, Rob McComb, pedal steel wiz Graham Lee, and bassist Phil Kakulas- as well as Blackeyed Susans lead singer, Rob Snarski and guitarist JP Shilo, drummer Clare Moore (Moodists and Dave Graney Band) keyboard maestro Bruce Haymes and vocalist Alex Gow, their performance at RCC’s Level 5 is the first live outing of an album of Lost Songs released only this month.

Truckload of Sky is a collection of songs from the trove of McComb’s unreleased material. It is a rich find, and nothing like the usual bottom-drawer out-takes that get added to the legacy of many musicians. This is top-drawer stuff and, at last, we are getting to hear it.

On stage to sing the first cluster is Rob Snarski, said to be McComb’s favourite singer, for whom he wrote Ocean of You. Snarski’s fine baritone and phrasing captures it – “I’m out of my depth in an ocean of you.” Haymes’ piano tracks the vocal, along with Lee on pedal steel. Kiss Him (He’s History) is McComb at his ironic poignant best and Snarski delivers. These songs are like revelations, overdue to be heard.

Second Nature also has a melancholy tinged with spite – “It’s second nature to hurt someone/ Simplest thing is to treat them like dirt/ Comes in the blood it’s in the water supply/ Second nature second nature to hurt.” These are not moon-and-june lyrics or panegyrics to a sunburnt country. This Australia is mean and unexamined. Wake in Fright with an unsettlingly jaunty country twang.

For Make Believe We’re not here in Hell (McComb’s titles sound like Tennessee Williams) the singer is Alex Gow (it’s Romy Vega on the CD) accompanied by the steadfast bass of Phil Kakulas, Clare Moore’s slow march drum and Graham Lee on heartbreak pedal steel. Gow also croons through Look Out for Yourself (nobody else will) a slow blues inhabiting that wry McComb space that is neither self pity or bravado. The band are getting into stride – Rob McComb moving between violin and a Gretsch with a tasty effects switch, JP Shilo up the back on lead guitar and Haymes finding just the right fills and harmonies. Kneel so Low is another sardonic uncovered treasure and Gow completes his excellent stint with a Triffids fave – No Desire.

Peerlessly accompanied only by Haymes and Lee, Snarski returns with This One Eats Souls – with its haunted lyric it is one of McComb’s finest songs and Snarski, singer for the erstwhile Blackeyed Susans, captures it better than ever. It is a highlight among many. Snarski follows with a more upbeat Christmas song – I’ve Heard Things Turn Out this Way.

Singer guitarist JP Shilo brings some grunt to Don’t Call Yourself an Angel and then – who knew the bleak irony of the week to follow? – This Whole World’s About to Slide with its fearful lyric – “Growing something strange in the back of my eye/ Have to hold me down / with a truckload of sky/This whole world’s about to slide / Yeah this whole world’s about to slide.” Enemy Mine and Lucky for Some close JP’s set and Snarski duets with Lenore Stephens in the otherworldly Somewhere in the Shadows.

It has been a full set – twenty songs, some favourites, most brand new to all of us at Level 5. The Friends finish loud and strong for Raining Pleasure, Unmade Bed and (with a lyric worthy of John Donne) A Trick of the Light. It has been a celebration of fine music but it is elegiac as well. These musicians knew and worked with David McComb. One of them is his brother. Twenty years have passed but his presence is everywhere. It is not a trick of the light, and it brings a truckload of sky.

Postscript. This concert was to be the first of a tour of Melbourne, Brisbane, Sydney and Fremantle in April and May. With the Covid19 crisis some of these are certainly cancelled, others doubtful. I hope, like everything else, that this is only temporary.

Murray Bramwell

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