Antarctic Winds, Abandoned Cars and an Aluminum Monster: A Gonzo Gig Review by M H Thomson

Antarctic Winds, Abandoned Cars and an Aluminum Monster: A Gonzo Gig Review

M H Thomson

Saturday, July 16th, 2022

Cloudless days are always the coldest, as there is nothing to trap in what little heat the sun provides this time of year. Couple that with a brutal Antarctic wind and all of a sudden Melbourne feels like Reykjavik, albeit during an Icelandic summer. As I exited the seemingly obligatory silver Toyota Camry and bid the Uber driver farewell I was struck by this icy development. I somehow managed to roll and light a cigarette without all my smoking paraphernalia blowing away in the stiff and frosty breeze.

Arriving at 2:30pm proved a little early as I was presented with a closed and empty Gasometer Hotel. Not a sign of life anywhere on the premises, or as far as one can tell from peering through the windows. “Strange” I thought to myself as the Gasometer has a 2pm opening time listed on Google. Having said that Google has proven not to be the most reliable of sources for opening hours as of late, mostly due to the ever-fluctuating nature of all Melbourne venues opening hours since the start of this sodding pandemic.

Forming a one-man queue out the front of a soon-to-open bar seemed a slightly tragic prospect so I opted to seek refuge around the corner in an empty lot. This move did little but dash my hopes of finding a windbreak. Ostensibly a parking lot, this unpaved and slightly overgrown tract of land proved to be more of a dumping site for the residents of the apartment block behind it. This observation is based mostly on the presence of an abandoned car, a make, and model of which I couldn’t tell you, that and the bushes strewn with empty chip packets. The car was a small turquoise hatchback and looked to be of a late nineties vintage. There was no licence plate, and had a flat rear driver-side tyre. It didn’t actually look all that out of place in the lineup of other functional vehicles parked on the lot, but it certainly set the tone of the place.

At that moment I spotted a familiar face, that of my bandmate (rhythm guitarist) and close friend James Salter. I yelled out his name, he heard and then promptly turned around to face the other direction, his back to me. That bastard southerly wind must have carried my voice in some strange direction, but he found me standing in front of him soon enough. Twas rather a slapstick affair.

After another cigarette in the lot, I was quick to learn we were both rather desperate to use the latrine and in need of a pint. We thusly elected to briefly patronize the Fox Hotel a mere one block down the road. I endeavored to ask the bar maiden at the Fox what time the Gaso would open alas she was none the wiser than I. She seemed nice and merrily chatted to us about how they were setting up for a Beers for Queers night as she poured our pints. No sooner had we polished off our pints, we got word through the gigs backline Facebook chat that the Gasometer had now indeed opened. This was somewhere in the neighborhood of 3pm.

We thanked the bar maiden on our way out and made our way back up to the Gaso, enduring the inclement weather. We stopped off at James’s car to unload his gear, finding our bassist Vasco Collaco, who had the rest of our band's gear, along the way. He had parked only a few spaces up from James and was being assisted in unloading by our vocalist Marcus Sutherland and his brother (our other rhythm guitarist) Francis.

Once inside and with our gear stored safely side of the stage I ordered me and James a round of beers, as he’d paid for the round at the Fox. This would prove to be the only drinks I would pay for all night, as the Gasometer seems to be rather generous when dishing out free drink cards to the bands that play there. That or they accidentally handed us the entire three-band lineups worth of drink cards. Suffice it to say we didn’t bother to check if that were the case. Either way, no one came looking for us about it. This was good news for me as I had quite a thirst on this particular afternoon; par for the course really.

The smoothest and perhaps fastest setup and soundcheck of my life quickly came and went. Shout out to sound engineer Kane, who to my surprise wasn't the Gaso's usual sound guy. It all went over so easily you’d have thought he was though. Familiarity with the sound system and all that. Sounded shit hot on stage too, all the sounds I needed to hear were at the perfect volume in my monitor mix. A real feat considering I’m a drummer, and getting a monitor mix right and loud enough for the drummer to hear is no easy task. Kane would later reveal monitor engineering was his specialty, I was not the least bit surprised.

Our Thrash/Death Metal band “Hand of Fear” opened the evening's proceedings with a set that we all felt went down pretty cleanly considering we were short our lead guitarist Jeremy Skippen, who had, quite against his will, gone in for round two against the dreaded ‘rona. If I’m being honest there were a few cock ups with timing cues we would usually rely on Jeremy for, but we managed to bollock our way through the set without too much bother. All told it went over rather well as no one in the audience, save our former vocalist Mark, seemed to notice anything amiss. I feel out of sorts to review my own band any further than this, and will thus refrain from doing so from here on in.

Everyone went straight out the front for a cigarette at the conclusion of our set. On my way out I was stopped by fellow drummer Luke Bynon (more on him later) who complimented me on my playing. Which was a nice gesture I felt kinda guilty taking, as I hadn’t played a perfect show. Once outside the icy wind blasting down Smith Street played havoc with my lighter’s utility, the extended length added by my cigarette holder probably didn’t help. But it did kill the time between sets fairly efficiently.

Punk outfit “The Murderballs” were the next act to take the stage and what a performance. Their guitarist Usagi Yojenjen (presumably a stage name I missed the reference to, considering he doesn't present the slightest bit Japanese) turned up donning a truckers baseball cap, sideburns, and a mullet. An image usually reserved for toothless Collingwood supporters and members of Buzzoven, however, he managed to convincingly revitalize the look, ushering it a new life with all the subdued bravado of your friendly neighborhood punk rocker. Truly looked great. The rest of the band near matching this look and genuine down-to-earth attitude.

They opened their frenetic set with an attention-grabbing rendition of the intro to Bach’s famous “Toccata and Fugue in D Minor”, followed by an instrumental piece that felt like a punk interpretation of Iron Maiden’s seminal classic “Run to the Hills”. The Bassist, who goes by the clever and amusing portmanteau stage name of Kent Bassyrayvaughn (a play on Count Basie and Stevie Ray Vaughan, for the amoebas out there) trundling away frantically at the strings with all the pace and confidence of Steve Harris. Usagi lashing the audience with slick lead breaks in lieu of vocals. The two of them even managed to coordinate a ZZ Top-style leg kick perfectly in unison during this track. After another tune had passed, this time with vocals (fast-paced verses and all-hands-on-deck gang chants in the chorus) they introduced themselves to the audience. “Hi we’re the Murderballs and we’re a mess” Usagi quipped. A few lines of similarly endearing, comedic, and self-deprecating comments later he stated “We’ve been told we should do a comedy tour”. I can say with utter confidence that if they wrote the stand-up material for it they could easily play the Melbourne Comedy Festival, perhaps alongside a comparably fitting act such as Nat’s What I Reckon. I can see it now.

The rest of their set consisted of relatively short but lively numbers, Kent effortlessly integrating melodic slap bass runs akin to Bootsy Collins-esque funk grooves blended with the progressive stylings of Tony Levin, into the mix. This was perfectly accompanied by drummer Lenny Young’s frenzied and drum-fill happy assault on the kit, nicely rounding out the rhythm section. Usagi’s motley assortment of distortion effects varying wildly and to great effect throughout the set. Switching out the sound to something befitting of each individual track.

Mark, James, and an old mate of theirs Ross Phillips were engaging me in conversation for much of the Murderballs set, however, the prowess of the band proved an overwhelming distraction from the conversation, in the best way possible. Or rather the conversation, good as it was, distracted from their performance at times. That was until Kent brought out his ace in the hole, an upright bass. Black with f holes taped up with electrical tape, and evidently, a pickup of some description modded into it, as I recall him plugging his cable into an input jack on the bottom of the instrument. This rightfully drew all eyes to the band for their final two or three tunes. Showcasing just how truly skilled the man is as he flawlessly parlayed his mastery of the bass guitar to the upright bass, something, as a bassist myself, I can assure you is not an easy undertaking considering he was now effectively playing everything sideways and sans a fretboard. The note bending was particularly impressive. At this point, perhaps unsurprisingly, the set suddenly took on some very Living End vibes. Not to be upstaged by the bass situation Usagi then changed tack, deploying a rather interesting guitar technique, “strumming” the guitar with one of Lenny’s discarded drumsticks, not dissimilar to how Led Zeppelin’s Jimmy Page used to play his guitar with a violin bow. This tastefully added to the chaos of the song they were currently playing.

Their set ended on a thunderous note with much cheering from the audience. Accordingly, we initiated the same old procedure as before, quickly and this time quite deservingly complimenting the band on a phenomenal performance and then straight back outside for a cigarette. Always gotta get them smokes in before the next band starts. However, my break for the door was put swiftly on hold as I entered the front bar to be greeted by none other than Gasometer bartender and fellow musician Campbell Stevens of Religious Observance fame. He also happens to be the only other former vocalist of Hand of Fear and a dear friend I don’t get to see too often these days. I made it outside for my cigarette after a brief chat with him, a shorter chat than I’d have liked, but he was clearly busy at work and I didn’t want to step on his toes.

The next band on was the headline act, an “It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia” themed punk group called “Aluminum Monster”. Deliberately spelling aluminium the simplified (i.e. stupid) American way without the second “i” to preserve the fact the band name is a reference to a TV show made on the Yankee side of the Pacific. Ah yes, the good old land of the free and the home of the brave idea, such as unnecessary spelling reform, but I digress. This entire event had been orchestrated by Aluminum Monster’s bassist Dr. Simon Exley as a joint birthday party for him and his nephew Jeremy, as their birthdays are only a few calendar days apart. Simon and thus Aluminum Monster first became known to me as that cool side project to Simon’s legendary former band I Have A Goat (IHAG), and the IHAG DNA is written all over the Aluminum Monster sound.

They kicked off their set with a short, sharp piece that set up quickly and then nicely settled into their signature aggressive mid-paced groove. Their aforementioned drummer Luke’s ginger dreadlocks swinging precariously close to his cymbals as he headbanged his way through the first tune. From where I was standing at the time, his flailing hair was all I could see of him from behind Simon’s generously proportioned torso. The absolutely banging tunes continued to come through thick, fast, short, sweet, and to the point, all in Aluminum Monster’s unique but still classically Melbournian punk guise. Luke’s penchant for a peppering of cowbell, cymbal-laden backbeats, and forceful d beats on full display, powering the quartet ever forward. Guitarist Andy McPoyle’s Epiphone Flying V screaming through his sundry collection of Orange Amps and Cabinets, consisting of a Terror Bass and an OR15 amp combination wired to what looked to be a 2x12 bass cab and a 12-inch single speaker Orange cabinet, for those interested. All brought together swimmingly by the dry but punchy bass tone roaring from Simon’s Fender Precision.

Frontwoman Laura Cardinal’s commanding presence at the microphone never went unnoticed or awry. Her authoritative vocal delivery was comparable to the tonal quality of Distillers era Brody Dalle (sans the nail gargling vocal fry) mixed with the clean and powerful vigor of an eighties metal titan such as Ronnie James Dio or Bruce Dickinson. Her snowy blonde hair glistened under the multicolored stage lights. Simon too had his moments of hair-related brilliance as I was, at one point, temporarily mesmerized by the tip of his long braided Viking-esque beard dancing across the top fin of his bass guitar as he delivered his backing vocals.

At about the midway point of their set, myself, slightly inebriated by this point, and Vasco attempted to get a sing-along of Happy Birthday to Simon and Jeremy going, but the crowd had other ideas, as only a handful of others joined in. By the time we got to the “Oh for he’s a jolly good fellow” addendum we‘d lost the choir completely, to that end I responded in jest by saying something to the effect of “oh maybe he’s just a cunt then after all”, this too fell mostly on deaf ears, but it did muster a laugh out of Simon.

A song or two later Laura posed a question to a member of the audience: “Are you a cat or a dog person?” A response-length moment of silence followed. She then flipped the script on this question by wittily rephrasing it as something like “do you like pussy, do you get any?” I presume this, as with all their lyrics, was a reference to “It’s Always Sunny”, a programme I have seen regrettably too little of to get any of the in-jokes for. They then fairly quickly started the next song.

A few raging songs more and their set was over. Too soon if you ask me, it went by so fast, but time flies when you’re having fun, I guess. Ending with much flourish and fanfare, from both band and crowd, as the conclusion of any great headline performance always should. I spent the remainder of my time at the Gaso speaking with Simon and Jeremy, once again wishing them a happy birthday and congratulating Simon on a great gig, well played and well organized. The only time not spent chatting with the Exley’s was the point when me and Vasco went to get another Lemmy (a.k.a. Jack and Coke) and had them considerably upgraded when Campbell offered to make us a round of them with the top shelf Gentleman Jack variety of Jack Daniels rather than the usual classic No.7. Something which we immediately obliged. This was presumably on our way out for yet another cigarette.

All in all, a cracking gig and an enjoyable evening which ended up at Ross’s place in Epping, as he’d invited me and James up for the night. Many cocktails were consumed and much metal was cranked through the stereo of his backyard man cave, but any further detail to that end, as far as this review is concerned, is an irrelevant tale for another time.

(Photo Credits: Gaso Pic:Gaso Facebook and Bands: In Exile Records)