Saturday, October 24, 2009


Northcote Social Club

With an average audience age around 37 this was clearly a night for revisiting golden years of performer and and punter alike. There were, however, enough curious youngsters present to rightfully indicate that The Apartments are something for the ages as well as all ages. Kicking off the night by back-announcing the last track playing over the PA, Dave Graney did what he does best (in fact, quite possibly all he can do) which is play the lounge lizard; a master of style over substance who never un-cocks his hat. With an oddly congruous backing band made up of the ever-impressive Clare Moore, the pelvis-thrusting guitar of Stu Perreri (a man who simply canNOT leave the wah pedal alone for a minute), the classy keys of Mark Fitzgerald and subtly on-point bass of Stu Thomas, Graney leads them through a typically blase Let's Kill God Again. Before the chorus comes in for the fourth time you know what you're getting, and for the following half hour you get it. Various versions of a vaguely catchy title (Biker in Business Class, Bring Me My Liar, Crime And Underwear etc.) repeated beyond the point of tedium while Graney attempts to distract from the lack of ideas with sycophantically played two-note guitar licks and a natty suit complete with ocker bling. Too blithe to offend or be especially anything, the two 'classics' (You're Just To Hip Baby and Rock And Roll Is Where I Hide) show that if you dig anywhere for long enough you'll eventually find something of interest, but overall the chat was more rewarding, giving Graney a chance to shoot his mouth off in style - something he'll clearly never be short of.

Playing their first ever Melbourne gig ("we always meant to come here") The Apartments are a band many thought to be a British cult act of the early 80s (myself included) until last week. Knowing now that we can claim a songwriter like Peter Milton Walsh as our own is a truly wondrous gift it would be criminal to ignore. Featuring ex-Go Between John Willsteed, drummer Gene Maynard (who appears half the age of the others), trumpter Jeff Crawley, keyboardist George Bibikos and the slippery lead guitar of Eliot Fish they open with a quietly astonishing The Goodbye Train. The stride is hit and jaws drop to the brittle and cascading chorus of their 1986 Rough Trade single All You Wanted. Though the band is clearly fresh to playing live ("we're raggedy, we're not slick" Walsh states emphatically), there is a rawness that keeps things alive. Walsh's voice is held back in the mix and lyrics are often lost, but it's done in such a genuinely gripping way that ears keen to catch a lyric a la REM circa Murmur. Songs such as Something To Live For and Make It Count (written for but not recorded by Dusty Springfield) exalt in their unadorned glory while allowing you to see how he never quite made it to the levels he should have. Coming across like a less confident Joe Jackson, Walsh sings while standing on his toes and leaning over to reach the microphone cutting an distinctively awkward figure.

While songs often go on for longer than expected (and in fact often sound very much like each other given the near-identical instrumentation and lack of dynamics), they come across as dry shoegaze anthems driven with a bookish intelligence, never letting the feeling of compulsion slip.

His explanations behind songs are told in an unrehearsed and absorbing way, never outstaying his welcome. His way with words is a brilliant talent that there is no excuse for leaving a city waiting 30 years to hear. When Time Off editor Matt Connors claims that "arguably the greatest crime of neglect committed in Australian music" is the lack of attention given to this band, he's spot on. This gig is proof of that.

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