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Friday’s for funerals, Saturday’s for brides: Tex, Don and Charlie

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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.

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The Dude and Dinosaur Jr.

 

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In my pocket my phone buzzed. A message. Trev.

I’m up front watching J. Mascis…His left hand up the neck of his telecaster is like a bionic crab!

On a stormy Thursday evening the weather is Singaporean heavy and portentous. Trev, Matty and I are at The Gov, Adelaide’s best live music pub. American indie band Dinosaur Jr. is playing. We’re at the back of the room and we’re feeling the fuzzy guitar.

Like a 1990’s disaster film- doubtless featuring a frowning Tommy Lee Jones- we’re pummelled by cataclysmic forces. However, it’s not an indiscriminate assassin, it’s a benevolent god: a ’63 Fender Jazzmaster. It’s the star of the show.

Later, I squeeze my way up the front too. I’m only a few feet from the stage. With his long hair- Trev calls him the “Grey Ghost”- eyes closed and expressionless dial, he reminds me of the Dude from The Big Lebowski.

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And here’s a key. He appears utterly uninterested; he’s not even in the room with us. He’s home in Massachusetts thinking of making a cuppa tea, yet he’s generating that unique sound- soaring yet distorted, joyfully immaculate and also hovering just above swirling noise. It’s a magic carpet. It’s why we’re here.

A highlight is “Start Choppin’” from their breakthrough set Where You Been. It remains among my favourite album art. I didn’t know the band when in 1993 I first saw the CD in Big Star Records on Rundle Street, but it spoke of a weird world: all misshapen darkness and bizarre humour. It looked fun.

And here’s another key to their appeal. Mascis sings with a whining, drawling, nasal voice. A bit Neil Young, but without any commitment. He’s telling you a story, but doesn’t think you can be bothered to listen. He expects you to walk off as he’s mid-story. Maybe to make a cuppa tea. Again he reminds me of The Dude.

The Dude: Mr. Treehorn treats objects like women, man.

Malibu Police Chief: Mr. Treehorn draws a lot of water in this town. You don’t draw shit, Lebowski. Now we got a nice, quiet little beach community here, and I aim to keep it nice and quiet. So let me make something plain. I don’t like you sucking around, bothering our citizens, Lebowski. I don’t like your jerk-off name. I don’t like your jerk-off face. I don’t like your jerk-off behaviour, and I don’t like you, jerk-off. Do I make myself clear?

The Dude: [after a pause] I’m sorry, I wasn’t listening.

Dinosaur Jr. perform melodic, simple songs that pioneered the loud/quiet dynamic that’d become the sonic signature of grunge. “Feel The Pain” and “Out There” elevate the crowd too, and the last song of the encore “Gargoyle” closes with a meandering, enthralling guitar solo that’s at once cosmic, searing and euphoric.

And there’s J. Mascis, barely aware of his battered axe, more relaxed than the Dude. He saunters off-stage. He’s mumbled about five words all night.

Walking to my car a fellow Dinosaur Jr. fan passes me. He’s in the middle of the road. He’s riding a Malvern Star bike. It’s a tick after midnight. No helmet, no lights, no hands.

Superb.

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