At an epochal reunion gig, the Australian
punk legends return to the scene of the crime.
BY JUD COST
Sydney’s Radio Birdman, the Saints, from Brisbane, the northernmost city on
Australia’s east coast, formed a devastating one-two punch that lit a fire
under an impressive conga line of younger Down Under big guitar combos that
included the Scientists, Lime Spiders, Sunnyboys, Screaming Tribesmen, Hoodoo
Gurus, Died Pretty, Someloves, Hard-Ons, Celibate Rifles, New Christs, Eastern
Dark, Stems, Wet Taxis and Zimmermen – to name just a few.
So for rabid
devotees of Aussie punk rock circa 1977, the original lineup’s 2007 reunion
(and a just released document of the event) is the musical equivalent of King
Tut’s other tomb having been found and subsequently coughing up an amazing
artifact. Live At Pig City
Brisbane 2007 (Shock Records), however, won’t even require carbon-dating.
From all the
tales I’ve heard, getting the Saints to reform has always been the impossible
dream of anyone this side of Don Quixote touched by their buzzsaw sound. The
original band exploded in ’78 in a hailstorm of bad vibes after releasing three
monumental albums by core members singer Chris Bailey, guitarist Ed Kuepper and
drummer Ivor Hay. Retaining the Saints moniker, Bailey has issued a string of
fine albums over the years and was last seen in California
in 2003, warming up the house for Nick
Cave and the Bad Seeds.
Likewise, Kuepper’s excellent series of solo albums from the ’90s are essential
listening, if you can find them. He last toured the U.S., far as I can tell, in 1995.
Here at last,
thanks to their July 14, 2007 “Pig
City” appearance at the
Queensland Music Festival before an adoring mob of 6,000 disbelieving,
forehead-slapping fans, is live evidence of what we should have heard 30 years
ago. This 65-minute set has plenty of meat on those creaking bones, including
an uncredited horn section to play the charts first employed on Eternally Yours, the Saints’ thrilling
’78 sophomore longplayer that featured eye-poppers like “Know Your
Product.” For further insight into the soulful roots of the Saints, check
out their unreleased ’74 demos, including an ear-splitting cover of Eddie
Floyd’s Stax classic “Knock On Wood,” on The Most Primitive Band in the World (Hot/Restless). Of course,
it’s their debut LP, (I’m) Stranded,
with its heart-pounding single of the same name, that causes cardiac flip-flops
in anyone who still reveres the garage rock class of ’77. No fears,
“Stranded” creates enough steam here to remove the lavender wallpaper
from your daughter’s bedroom. The terminally cranky may wail at the omission of
brain-melters like “Lipstick On Your Collar,” “Do The
Robot,” “Kissin’ Cousins” and “Demolition Girl,” but
there’s more than enough here to chew on.
the Saints rolled the dice by moving to London
in the late ’70s to get a foothold in the northern hemisphere, crapped out and
flew home to lick their wounds. Meaning, the U.S. never got to see either combo
in their prime on a full-blown tour. Birdman has recently rectified that
three-decade oversight, and here’s hoping the Saints will soon do the same; they
tentatively tested the waters in Australia earlier this year when they did four
shows, including performing the entire (I’m)
Stranded album in Melbourne as part of the ATP “Don’t Look Back” series. But
even if this album is all we ever get, it’s plenty good enough to warm the
cockles of the hardcore Oz-rock contingent on a chilly autumn night. It’s as
much a meatball sandwich from the heavens as if Roger McGuinn, David Crosby and
Chris Hillman buried the hatchet and decided to give the Byrds one last shot.
If Sir Bob
Geldof really did say that “rock music of the ’70s was changed by three
bands, the Sex Pistols, the Ramones and the Saints,” then it’s high time
the Saints returned to the scene to swing for the crime.