By Sam Farringdon
So I went to The Basso on my own dime on Friday night, with the intent only to review if I witnessed something worth reviewing. For me, something worth reviewing would be something that shook me to the very core of my being – music that stopped me in my tracks and elicited a strong and forceful reaction. I wanted to be reaffirmed of all the grace, beauty, ugliness and sadness in the world, and to be made grateful for being alive in that particular moment, in a shitty little bar, in a shitty part of the world, at this shitty period of history.
Let me take back the shitty bar bit though – cos The Basso’s band room, ladies and gentleman, is all fucking class. It sounds good, it’s large enough to hustle a reasonable crowd, but it’s intimate enough to really catch the soul (or lack thereof) of the musicians sporting their wares. The room’s spirit is probably best encapsulated by the glittery portrait of Marilyn Monroe on the blood red wall at the back of the stage – the perfect blend of kitsch, glam, grunge, and dive. It has character in spades, and I imagine it will establish itself very quickly as one of the premier band rooms of the Northern Suburbs. The only downside was the price of liquor – when a glass of house red sets you back $9.20, you know it’s not gonna be a cheap night out (or that next time you’d be better to smuggle a flask, if you’re of the poor, unpaid writerly persuasion – like myself).
Unfortunately heavy traffic and a nagging fuel light meant that I completely missed Little Lord Street Band, who were on at the ungodly time of 7.40pm, poor souls… if they played at all, well props to ’em ‘cos I know a lot guys in bands who don’t drag their sorry asses out of bed ’til about that hour.
The first band I DID catch made the 40 minute road trip worth it, and delivered all that I’d hoped for the evening. The self reflective, country-tinged emotional recounts of Flooded Palace was a tough sell to an already crowded and rowdy room who were all predominantly there to see bands higher up the bill. However, last night reaffirmed my faith in the almighty power of the well written song, especially when delivered with the precision of a crack band coming on like dry lightning. Let’s be clear – this was NOT Flooded Palace’s crowd, and in the context of all the bands that came after them, they were an anomaly, a sore thumb, the foreigner in the midst. Yet it was absolutely fucking inspiring to witness these rag-tag bunch of ragamuffins slowly but surely win over the crowd with their sparse, dusty soul and rumbling barnstormers. The over amplified natter became a captive hush, and each song was deservedly received more rapturously than the last.
But perhaps the greatest thing all evening, was during this set. 3 small kids, 2 boys and a girl, who couldn’t have been much older than 6, tentatively approached the foot of the stage at the end of the second song, before sitting cross legged for the remainder of the Flooded Palace set. In an age where the type of rock n roll that Flooded Palace plays, the type that makes MY heart BLEED, is increasingly being swept to the margins of cultural importance and influence, to witness these kids sitting there – fascinated, transfixed, and imbued with the spirit of rock n roll, experiencing the strange and frightening stranglehold with which it can grasp onto your soul… well it was just A Moment. A Moment that inspired a strange warmth in my own soul that could only be described as hope. Or maybe drunkenness. Either way, at the very least, it was that very moment that moved me profoundly enough to write about it. It was really one of those rare moments of life affirming beauty, and wherever those kids are headed next, I hope their road is paved with all the excitement and joy of the discovery powerful, emotionally stirring, and eternally inspiring music. The fate of rock n roll may very well rest on their brittle shoulders, but should the wish to take up the burden, I have no doubt they’ll turn it into something beautiful… Makes me think that maybe I should’ve got their names…
The Community Chest played next, and judging by how the room thinned out afterward, along with the post-set photo ops with the Mayor, it kind of felt like they should’ve been the headliners. While Flooded Palace’s deep emotional kick still rattled around my soul, The Community Chest played to my hips, with their subtly krautrockian rhythms and melodic pop groove. I found my pulse rising, leading to an involuntary bobbing of the head, and a strange spasmodic kind of strut, that some civilisations may refer to as dancing, which probably speaks to the extent they are civilised. But from the hooks, to the guitar breaks, to the melodies that were constructed with an architectural inventiveness, The Community Chest were very very impressive. So much so in fact, that my more well-to-do companions indulged in purchasing the band’s limited edition vinyl afterwards. Given what was to come, I wish they had played longer.
Stillwater Giants were pleasant enough – you’re probably familiar with them, they’re quite popular I’m told. They play a brand of guitar driven power pop that seems very in vogue at the moment amongst the “yoof”, as well as mums and dads who are still intent on keeping their fingers on the pulse of musical currency and relevance. I would’ve avoided disparaging them for their smug stage presence and the shallowness of their songs, had they not committed the cardinal sin of butchering Bruce Springsteen.
When covering those big old omnipresent hits (of which we shall now refer to as an “omnipresent”), it’s pretty much a given that you’re going to piss someone off. But bands do it anyway, cos it’s an easy wave to catch, and you get to bask in the reflective glory of having ridden it. But so often, the very execution is akin to watching a hapless oaf fumble and smash a finely crafted and valuable historical monument. The way I see it is that the most common way of covering an “omnipresent” is by a reductive approach. The problem with this being, the song now plays like a “novelty”; or, worst still, to the stupid concept of “reclaiming credibility”. It very rarely works, and the miss-to-hit rate has been frighteningly higher since harebrained pop-punks made this mode of covering common practise in the dark dark days of the mid 90s. But tonight in dismembering ‘Dancing In The Dark’, Stillwater Giants showed themselves up as complete amateurs. By surgically removing any trace of the original’s dark psychological pathos, they exhibited a complete lack of awareness and a total missing of the point that would’ve made Ronnie Regan proud.
It didn’t get any better from there, I’m afraid. I endured 4 songs from the much-hyped High Learys, before making a quick exit. To me, they sounded like a band who’s music was learned from a record, not the soul. The songs were boring and derivative, and they were performed with all the stage presence of a guinea pig on a running wheel. Perhaps an off night, but I wasn’t the only one making an early exit.
So were my lofty expectations met? Well yes, but I got a bit more than I had bargained for as well. Any night that evokes such a passionate response at both ends of the emotional spectrum is well worth talking about. The Basso have original bands playing every Friday night from now until Christmas apparently, and if the line ups are anywhere near as diverse as this Friday just gone, well then it’s worth making the trip – whether it’s from around the corner, or in the deep south of Fremantle.