PETER BIBBY RESIDENCY w/ MANGELWURZEL, TACO LEG, HUNTING HUXLEY & SHINY JOE @ THE EVELYN, MONDAY AUGUST 25
I take the steps that by now are second nature: layer on enough clothes to keep out any unexpectedly nasty chill in the air, stroll from my front gate to the tram, hop off next to the neon sign that reads “Percy’s” in Carlton and ride a bus over to Brunswick Street, Fitzroy. From there it’s a skip and a hop to the Evelyn Hotel, where I’ve been playing violin with Peter Bibby as one of his “Bottles of Confidence” for the last few weeks.
I see Pete from across the road; next to him is a curly cinnamon-coloured sphere which upon closer inspection is the coif of one Joe Ryan, aka Shiny Joe. Joining them at their small outdoor table are Dave (of Hunting Huxley) and Mitch (also of HH, and meanwhile The Love Junkies and Long Lost Brothers). Joe does a hilarious Michael Flatley impression. Everyone cheerses their beerses; having not fetched one yet, I sip from the jug (the septuagenarian barlady tells me off for it later on).
Gear-lugging, sunset, sound-checks, technical difficulties, freak-outs, relief, dinner, re-entry. There are plenty of bodies milling around, plenty of pots of Carlton and charcoal-coloured coats. In stark contrast to the go-to monochrome Melbourne uniform is Shiny Joe on the stage, who, since I last laid eyes on him, has climbed into a bright yellow chicken costume complete with bulky plush talons and hinged chook-head. He’s joined by the equally bushy haired Ben McDonald, sporting fiery locks and a bass guitar that he knows like the back of his hand, as well as chill-guy Jimmy Chang on second guitar and Pete Bibby on drums. They wail, flutter and chug through succinct psych-pop outings that flirt with cosmic outrageousness yet remain unpretentiously succinct and accessible, like a ride in the Millenium Falcon. Joe brings all the usual craic; the hilarity of watching him use a wah pedal with a giant floppy chicken foot doesn’t hurt either. And when it’s finally time for a more sombre tune, he begins to introduce it on a serious note before rescinding: “Ah, you decide how you feel! I’m not going to tell you it’s sad, you’ll be recounting this to a psychiatrist in ten years’ time: a giant chicken told me I’m depressed! You’ve got bigger problems, he’ll say, I’m going to refer you to someone else.”
Picking up where Shiny Joe’s comet-tail left off are entheogenic riff-spouters HUNTING HUXLEY. Last time I saw Hunting Huxley must have been a couple of years ago, and since then – I can’t deny – my tastes have drifted increasingly away from the blues-based, post-Sabbath school of psychedelic riff-rock that they peddle. However, countless jams and seemingly a couple of lineup changes later, Hunting Huxley have also grown and developed a lot, which offers me a chance to appreciate them anew. Their once endlessly sprawling, noodly passages have been refined into tight structures that swell and dip fearlessly; their hefty leitmotifs have more weight behind them, and the delicate moments are more delicate, drifting into the chillier reaches of the solar system. Ben McDonald is back, doing double duty (on bass again) and he traverses all corners of the neck, at one point offering a relentless upper register arpeggio reminiscent of the cycling synth in Pink Floyd’s “On The Run.” His grooves provide a fresh kraut-funkiness reminiscent of Chicago band Cave. Richard Ingham (Taco Leg, Ring, Mink Mussel Creek) has joined the fold on synthesizer, and his subtle layerings are like a welcome burst of whipped peanut butter that binds the guitar-centric sonic web together. It’d be remiss of me not to mention the stormy, dexterous steel-string thrumming of Mitch McDonald or the rumbling, lightning-speed and hailstone-heavy drumskin pattering of Dirty Dave. Together, they define Hunting Huxley’s dark, urgent yet hulking sound. Notably, the band injects some cheery fun into their set too – ending with a jocular cover of Frank Zappa’s “Muffin Man,” with Ben McDonald fielding the low-pitched nonsense croon: “Heeee, thought he was a man, but he was a muffin.”
Take a sharp left turn and find yourself in the squelchy innards of TACO LEG. This is a beautiful moment for me. Taco Leg were a formative band for me when I first started attending weird shows in Perth; I’d never seen a band that was so bad by conventional standards, but so good in practice. They played the meanest house parties, started the bloodiest mosh pits, roused the most ruthless heckling and toured the USA – yet on paper they were just three awkward uni students with scant musical ability (despite an idiot-savant style knack for reductionist pop hooks and catchy deadpan lyrics). There’s been little activity from Taco Leg in recent times, with vocalist/driving force Andrew Murray having defected to Melbourne; but with the aforementioned Richard Ingham in town, there was a chance to reunite. In fact, word on the street is that Friday night saw a rare appearance of the original lineup (with bespectacled one-finger riffer Simon), but tonight features a new guitar man named Hugh. Hugh is a bit too “good” for Taco Leg, to be honest, but then again Richard Ingham’s drumming has gone from “admirably teetering on the edge of distater” to “genuinely good” over the course of Taco Leg’s life, anyhow. The essence remains: punk songs pared back to the point of hardly existing, so that only the genre’s nervous momentum remains – and Andy Murray’s matter-of-fact, monotone vocals that jump from doomed teenage love to Indiana Jones to art galleries to freemason’s halls. He also has a really good “I’m a little teapot” type way of half-dancing, which I think he’s been practicing. Yeah, he’s nailed that since last time.
MANGELWURZEL are both a stark contrast, and somehow a logical complement, to Taco Leg. Musically they’re worlds apart – Mangelwurzel are brimming with horns, ukeleles, complex guitar parts, good singing and tricky time signatures – but both share a taste for the outrageous, an irreverence for pervasive notions of “cool,” and a basic mission to entertain. Taco Leg deliberately underwhelm the senses, and the result is a hilarious shock to the system; by contrast, Mangelwurzel smother you in intensity and win you over just as readily.
Their songs are bloody good, too. There’s an infectious sense of melody and groove, reminiscent of ‘90s era No Doubt in all their earwormy ska-pop-punk glory, that satisfies in a totally unironic fashion. And it’s a testament to how tight and funky the instrumentalists are that songs can change tempo, feel and syncopation umpteen times in a freaky Mike Patton-ish way – yet the crowd keeps dancing.
Mangelwurzel trash, pluck, pop, whack and wail; the songs expand and contract, and right in the middle of it is the unstoppable Cosi Jaala, howling melodically and blowing everyone to smithereens. She leaps, dances, swims through the crowd. She leads us into the middle of the circus tent, sets us on fire, hoses us down with champagne. What a time.
The night ends with the last Peter Bibby set of his August residency at the Evelyn, and it’s smashing fun. I won’t write much about it, ‘cause I was playing fiddle, but suffice it to say it was loud and chaotic and the throng that came down certainly know how to party on a Monday night. At long last everyone peels themselves away from the venue, either to return to the comfort of their beds or to party on elsewhere. Thus ends a month of raucous Monday evenings. I promptly fall into a deep, 12-hour sleep riddled with dreams of Mexican-food limbs, German tubers, cheap beer and sweaty, sweaty humans.