Monday, 3 November 2014

Dave Wright & the Midnight Electric @ The Yarra Hotel, 1 Nov 2014

It takes balls to release a rock and roll record in 2014.

It takes grandes cojones if that record is your first full-length release and you're without the weighty prow of a record company to subdue the merciless Music Biz Sea.

So it was no surprise to watch Dave Wright and the Midnight Electric launch their new album The Lucky Country with a 90-minute show that had ladies dancing, men wishing they could play guitar and the ghosts of Aussie pub rock nodding their heads with drunken revelry at the Yarra Hotel in Abbotsford Saturday night.

The boys rehearsing in Moorabin last week.
I have to declare a lack of objectivity when it comes to Dave and his band. For the past month I've visited Dave at Jimmy the Saint, his South Melbourne cafe, on several occasions, and enjoyed both outstanding coffee and meanderings about music. I also attended their final rehearsal before the Yarra show last week, and Dave inexplicably thanked me on The Lucky Country liner notes. For listening? I dunno. Dave's a genuinely nice guy ... normally the most vile way to describe a rock-and-roll frontman. But what Dave lacks in frontman douchebaggery he makes up for in passion, belief and an earnestness that rivals the likes of Eddie Vedder, Dave Grohl, and a host of Aussie rockers I'm unaware of but whom Dave would surely name as influences.

Part of the appeal of this 7-piece band is their eagerness to wade onto a battlefield littered with dying, bloated corpses that are nevertheless treated to massive media coverage. The State of Rock in 2014 sees a great majority of performers and bands cashing in on legacies rather than building them, and a media dependent upon clickbait powerless to flog unfamiliar names. There's also a longstanding Australian tendency to devote colossal space to overseas acts who deign to travel here, regardless of their relevancy and/or pariah status anywhere else on the planet. (Google 'AFL Grand Final performers' for examples, and a laugh.) To me, the sight of grey-haired English musicians temporarily debunking from countryside estates to play songs written decades ago to crowds happy to pay obscene prices for a mass circle jerk of nostalgia reminds me of a 'Simpsons' episode where The Leader waves a gloved hand to his brainwashed followers from the back of a limo while a delirious Moe yells "I'm covered in the dust of the Leader. He favors me!" (Imagine Mick flicking a cigarette out a window, it bouncing off a fan's forehead, and what his/her reaction would be ...)

Another rehearsal shot.
Don't get your knickers in a twist. I love the Stones. They've earned their payday(s) and fans are free to spend their cash on whatever makes 'em Happy. (My favourite Keef tune.) But the Stones didn't have to contend with marauding graybeards hogging headlines and ticket sales when they were kicking around in the early '60s. Their greatness developed with each release, seeing them grow from skinny white dudes mimicking Mississippi bluesmen to Beatles wannabes to larger-than-life motherfuckers playing songs like 'Brown Sugar' that frightened and aroused in equal measure. Their only competition came from peers, not bands from another era. Fact is, in 2014, it's almost impossible for fresh growth to break through and thrive when layers of dead leaves (Dead Flowers?) cover the ground.

And somehow this concert review has become a treatise on planting.

Please note I'm separating rock and roll from other musical genres in Australia. Those usually more commercial genres have televised talent shows and YouTube and fuck knows what else, all fueled by the hormones of the world's most carefree and clueless teens (sorry, California). Rock bands have historically espoused a more proletarian approach, of course, earning their chops before small crowds and shyster promoters, gaining staying power and drive with each blown van tire. It's fucking hard work to make a living as a rock and roll musician. If you ask Dave why he bothers, especially with a busy cafe to run and a wife about to give birth to their first child, he'll tell you he doesn't have a choice.

And that's all you need to know about Dave Wright and the Midnight Electric.

They do not have a choice.

Melbourne stalwart Chris Wilson opened at 8:30 with rig rock classic 'White Freightliner Blues'. Thought I'd died and blissfully awoken in a Tennessee honky tonk. 

After being introduced by a long-haired Yankee dufus Dave and the band took the cosy Yarra Hotel stage with 'Coming Home'. 

The Midnight Electric: Robert Barber, Dave, Daryl Johnson, John Bryant, Peter Newman, Big Tim Cavanagh and temporary drummer Roby Corelli.

Rob's mandolin makes 'Father' one of those songs playing in your head as you groggily pour a bowl of cereal the next morning.

The front room at the Yarra is a space that make you glad you call Melbourne home. Quirky, solid, and thick with drunken ghosts. 

A classic shot for a band steeped in the history of Aussie pub rock, The Clash, Johnny Cash, The Pogues, and a gentleman from Freehold, NJ by the name of Bruce Springsteen. But don't buy the CD expecting homages to those bands. Expect Dave Wright and the Midnight Electric. After a single listen, you can punch me in the face if you're not happy with that deal.

Other than a cover of Springsteen's 'Atlantic City', the evening featured songs written by Dave and the band. Appropriate, as Dave has a talent for capturing people and places struggling to get by in rock and roll compositions that make you believe they will.  

Daryl's sound and temperament remind me of Benmont Tench, Tom Petty's longtime keyboard player. Together with the horns, it forms a soulful foundation for the Midnight Electric's big noise. 

The departure of their drummer two weeks before the album launch meant bassist Tim was called on to provide additional backing vox. Unsurprisingly, the man who can pull off wearing a polka dot white-and-red shirt did so with aplomb. 

Dave's voice is probably the band's most distinctive feature. I could roll out a list of names to compare it to -- at times a little Nick Cave, a little Shane MacGowan, a little Joe Strummer -- but in the end it's a flexible instrument that sounds lived in and desperate. Pretentious, these gentlemen are not. 

Rob and Dave exchange guitar licks.

I told you the ladies were up and dancing. That's Dave's wife Effie on the left. 

The night's setlist:
Coming Home
Over The Top
Streets Of This Town
The Spitting Image
Only 19
The Lucky Country
Atlantic City
Railway Song
Drinking Days
Take Me Out (w/'I'm on Fire' intro)
Hang Me High

Finally, here's Dave Wright and the Midnight Electric's first-ever video, a fucking cracker for their lead single, 'The Lucky Country':

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