As an unreconstructed country boy, I love a stubby holder. So, last night at Adelaide’s premier live music pub, the Gov, my pace accelerated as I approached the merchandise table.
T-shirts. CDs. Vinyl. Yes, yes. What’s this? Coffee mugs. Fair enough, but where’s the stubby holders? Then I saw it. A linen rectangle. A Tex, Don and Charlie tea towel. Ah, my first ironic tea towel. I considered. I could, I guess, use it to dry my Wagga Wagga souvenir spoon (ironically purchased too).
Tex Perkins has a massive voice, an instrument of booming sonics and attack. Doubtless, others could tell me if it’s a baritone or bass, but I do know the timbre is entrancing. If human voices can possess a narrative then this one plots panther danger, underworld trickery and tropical heat. It reminds me of Captain Beefheart, and those monochrome images of Bikini Atoll or Maralinga nuclear blasts. When singing, he doesn’t adopt the central personas so much as become possessed by them.
Fittingly, we’re in a pub for these are pub tales, and my only regret is we’re not suspended on stools, in a wobbly circle, and nodding over beers at our sage raconteurs. The songs of Tex, Don and Charlie have incontestable gravity and lonely geographies. The music slinks through inner-city grime, but mostly slouches in the dust and dusk north of the Tropic of Capricorn, and owes a debt to the 1950’s and our cheerful beginnings of despair.
Don Walker sits at his keyboard, his silver mane flopping in time, while his voice is a diverse instrument. At its most intimate it absorbs and pacifies, but in the upper register, it can fall into Willie Nelson parody. His gifts are his words and his stories, and in these rests an unrushed economy, and a vernacular deep with hot tears, smiles and snug hearts. Beyond “Flame Trees” he wrote “Harry Was A Bad Bugger.” Don’s an icon.
Phantasms drift about the Gov, and I think of Tom Waits and his tunes, all swarthy menace and ragged swagger. I think of Bruce Dawe and his depictions of rural lives, wrecked. Spinifex and scrub. Lyrical and parched places; ferocious light, sky. There’s landscapes in the soundscape. I think of romping observation, but also agedness and its introspection, prowling upon me.
Into this evening, I imagined Charlie Owen’s guitars. Plaintive acoustic, spiralling lap steel, his elegiac electric. Barely speaking, but with boyish enthusiasm, he paints our stage. With splashes of surf, we move along his removed beach. As if to counter these sparse yarns, and our collective flouting down at the dread, his strings urge the joy of the quiet minutes.
I come away into the windy midnight troubled and exhilarated by cold grey Saturdays; brokenness; Tex’s denim jacket bouncing like a St Kilda uniform; the black and white tableau of a double bassist; mosquito nets; sharks at funerals; Elvis; deliciously tired and unfussy drumming; eulogies; paychecks and gratitude.