Crime And The City Solution + Sleepy Sun + Blank Realm @ The Hi-Fi Bar, Brisbane, 24.02.13
By Ben Green
You’ve seen this, right?
Even if you haven’t seen it, you know it – what it looks like and what it means. That’s because it’s “iconic”. Through its surface (those clothes, that hair, that shade, that cig smoke, that beat, that guitar sound, that voice) it connects you to whole narratives. Maybe general narratives like “underground rock music” and “European dark arty stuff”, and maybe, depending on how much you’ve read up on various myths, more specific narratives like “Berlin in the 80s”, “American Gothic post-punk”, “Nick Cave”, “heroin”, “squats”, “Neubauten”, and so on. These are narratives that still sell books, records (mainly other people’s – but we’ll come to that), winklepickers, drug addictions and plane tickets.
As you probably know, it’s Crime And The City Solution in Wim Wenders’ beautiful Wings Of Desire. To be precise it’s the ‘London Crime’, in which mainstay singer Simon Bonney’s bandmates include Mick Harvey and (human icon) Roland Howard, fresh from The Birthday Party. So, for many, for a long time, the icon for European cool was a bunch of Australian expats. Not that it matters, except for the comparisons it raises. Comparisons: if you haven’t heard the band before there’s a fair chance you’re thinking, “This bloke in the video reckons he’s Nick Cave”. More concretely, as I write this Nick Cave And The Bad Seeds have hit Number 1 in the Australian album charts for the first time ever. Even more concretely, The Go-Betweens have a bridge named after them. For some people 20 years in the wilderness writes you into the history books, but others slip to the footnotes. “If you can’t do the time, don’t do the crime,” shouted Bonney in 1988’s ‘Hunter’.
Brisbane’s Hi-Fi Bar is nearly a blank realm for the appearance of Australia’s current greatest export: Blank Realm. They play to about the same size audience as they did when they supported Jandek there a few years back, and while 28 people is a great crowd in the dirt under a Queenslander (why aren’t we there?) it leaves a lot of over-air-conditioned space in a theatre. The Realm comfortably expand to fill it, echoing drum sound and massive guitar amplification bringing out their rude ROCK side as recently reviewed in Mojo and Uncut, but it winds on, snaking like a canyon, opening onto ever wider and weirder vistas. Bring on the stadium tour!
San Fran psych-rockers Sleepy Sun set up in the canyon as more tourists pile off the bus, sounding pretty much like you’d expect and doing it pretty well. (Better, for the record, than the bland mob that supported My Bloody Valentine in a similarly air-conditioned and impatient room a few days earlier – as psychedelic as a guitar shop pedal demonstration.)
The Crime that takes the stage in Brisbane tonight is the Detroit Crime, in which the core of the Berlin model is expanded with groovy Americans and Jim White (of The Dirty Three). Time has enlarged the differences between Crime and certain other former Berliners, and so has geography. If anything Bonney’s voice is closer to Forster-as-cowboy than Cave, just as the stories he’s delivering seem less like grotesque character studies and more like impressionistic observation and autobiography. The America the songs steam through is not Southern Gothic, but semi-abandoned Detroit as the wild frontier at the end of the Western story (“Pave the way for equal pay!” goes one obtuse modern-world exclamation). Detroit is also palpable in the Stooges chug of the newer, riff-based stuff from the just-released American Twilight album.
That chug comes from guitarist Alex Hacke (moustachioed bass player of Einstürzende Neubauten), cited by Bonney as the essential element for the band’s reformation. He clearly provides the main shape of the songs – Bonney’s streaming lyrics demand that the songs are more evolving shapes than verse-chorus structures, often just a droning riff or chord – on which Bronwyn Adams’s violin rides. Jim White, the drummer who can drum like waves, proves here he can do trains too. Bonney stands in front of White and moves his arms like he’s pushing sound or pumping air into a furnace as he sings about ships and railways. The psychedelia of the support bands is made visual in the massive, bizarre videos projected by Hack’s partner, Danielle Picciotto. Generous chunks from the Berlin years, including ‘All Must Be Love’ and ‘On Every Train (Grain Will Bear Grain)’ – and, in the encore, Hacke playing Howard for ‘Six Bells Chime’ – come off far heavier than the old recordings suggest. All of this crashes through the space between the still-sparse punters.
The Go-Betweens played to an equally under-populated tent at the Gold Coast on their first reunion tour with the Big Day Out in 2001. I got someone to take my teenaged picture in front of the stage while they were on it, as if to prove this unlikely thing happened. I later found out the film wasn’t loaded properly, but they went on to live in the 21st century. The 2013 Crime seem to have the same vital force, and no doubt a wave of articles along the same lines as this review will flow in the wake of their tour. Time will tell where Crime And The City Solution will be for all tomorrow’s parties.