Reviewed In Words | You Am I @ The Tivoli, 26/27.06.13
By Ben Green
“I’m gonna tweet about his pants!”
So mock-lisps Tim Rogers, suggesting how the audience might amuse themselves during the intermission while he and his You Am I bandmates conduct a study into “whether the drugs really do work”.
Seriously, though, check ‘em out. “Them fancy checkered pants”, as Tim called them when he became self-referential on #4 Record (1998), aren’t here just to look flash. They’re a part of a whole that includes projections of telegraph poles and suburban roofs, a procession of string and horn players, and the 16 carefully sequenced songs of Hourly, Daily (1996) – including the hidden track. You Am I have taken the Don’t Look Back concept to its natural, bloody enjoyable conclusion. This is the Gold Class of Don’t Look Back. So for the duration of the first album played tonight, Tim is going to look like the Australian Ray Davies and Davey Lane will be a sharp-suited teenage mod, playing a Mellotron.
While this attention to detail is charming and reassuring (they didn’t just half-arse it for the money), we’re here for the songs. “Play something we know,” as the hecklers cry. The hits shine brightly in this context, but it’s a fan’s treat to hear underplayed gems like ‘Tuesday’, ‘Wally Raffles’ (with its spot-on detail of “mini-Coke and prawns again”) and ‘If We Can’t Get It Together’. The even-deeper cuts benefit the most from the loving attention; I’ve never felt so kindly towards ‘Moon Shines On Trubble’ (with a little dirt on its baroque façade) and I bet the friend who texted me the next day to say he had ‘Someone Else’s Home’ stuck in his head hasn’t whistled that tune for well over a decade (both those songs are from the “interesting”, arguably over-long, back half of Hourly, Daily).
The cumulative effect is strongest in the second, ‘rock’ set: Hi Fi Way (1995) (velvet pants, tight shirts, silk scarves, psychedelic and op-art projections, guitars turned up). This is truly a set of songs and they’re just about built to a formula. Most notably, almost every one has an ‘ending’, basically a minute-long excuse to rock out. Andy Kent’s bass runs and Rusty Hopkinson’s drum fills are the kind of gloriously shameless things that band members play for each other’s enjoyment when they think no one’s looking. The highlight might be when Davey, once a guitar-TABing fan, walks on just in time to plug in a guitar and double Tim’s chord progression for the ‘ending’ of ‘Jewels And Bullets’. The 20-odd thirty-somethings jumping up and down, arm-in-arm, from ‘Cathy’s Clown’ onwards on the second night aren’t quite a moshpit, but the run of songs creates a time-transporting warp in the air around them. It seems to affect the band too, judging by Tim’s spirit fingers.
Ah, Tim. How many performers, in the straight-up ‘rock band’ world or indeed elsewhere, self-censor as little as Tim Rogers? At his best, he counters heckling and fan-love alike with the spontaneous, filter-less charm of Mitchell and Webb’s “slightly less than two drinks” Inebriati. At his worst, he’s like the ending where the guy has one sip too many and blows up the world. (On this occasion Tim’s first onstage drink appears to be delivered to him in the last ten minutes of the show.) He shows insight into the evening’s purpose, joking dryly between sets that, “We’re gonna come back in 20 minutes and play Deliverance, Dress Me Slowly, and all your other favourite You Am I albums”. But for the guy who wrote ‘Handwasher’, romanticising his time spent “servicing the greed” of sandwich shop patrons, there’s little if any sign of resentment. On the sold-out and buzzing second night especially (at which I was an early-booking punter), Tim’s various ad-libs, tics and exclamations aren’t deflections, but are in service of the songs, even to the extent that he spends much of ‘Please Don’t Ask Me To Smile’ explaining in sincere detail how his current world-view differs from when he wrote it.
The encores, half-different each night, feature non-album numbers (‘Opportunities’, ‘Trike’, ‘Embarrassed’) and older songs (‘Coprolalia’, ‘Sound As Ever’, ‘Adam’s Ribs’), finishing on a feisty cover of Mose Allison’s ‘Young Man Blues’ in the style of The Who. While the irony surely isn’t lost on the band after playing their 18-year-old albums, it isn’t apparent in the sort of every-drop-left performance that would give a band of 18-year-olds an immediate reputation.
Near the end of each night, Tim tells the same anecdote from the band’s tour-opening performance at the Dark Mofo art festival in Hobart. He was approached by a woman with a scent of gin and Guinness (“that’s when I knew I’d met my future wife”) who exclaimed something like, “Daahling, you all look so much older!” The singer replied, “Damn straight we do. But every one of these cracks on my face – every one of mine, every one of his, every one of, oh I forgot about him [gesturing toward the preternaturally unchanging Andy Kent] – represents a sin worth lived in”. Meanwhile, the art these reverse Dorian Grays have pulled out of the attic seems to shine, if anything, more with the passing of time. Of course, as Wilde said, that’s more a reflection on us as spectators than anything else. Appropriate, then, that the logo at the merch table reads, “God bless the fuckin’ lot of us”.