Photos by David Harris
It was a Cup Day Eve to remember.
It’s a rain-lashed Monday evening in Melbourne and the pubs in Thornbury are packed to the brim due to Cup Final Eve, the night before Melbourne indulges in its strange tradition of turning sporting events into public holidays. As such, in advance of Radio Birdman’s much-anticipated gig at the Croxton Bandroom, I find myself tramping through a downpour attempting unsuccessfully to find a watering hole with space to shelter me for a couple of pre-gig drinks.
I arrive at The Croxton well and truly soaked which, added to the fact that I’ve had 12 staples taken out of my head that morning, doesn’t leave me in a particularly positive gig-going frame of mind. This may go some way as to explaining why at first I didn’t give support band The Stems the attention they deserved. Originally formed in 1983 before going through various breakups and reformations, their sound at its best is a jangling ode to the garage-rock and power-pop of the previous two decades.
It is when they try for a beefier, harder blues-rock vibe that they sometimes fall short, but their thankfully their poppier numbers more than made up for this and by the time they closed their set to a solid round of applause I realised why the bandroom had filled out so early on. Nostalgia is a powerful tool when wielded with this much finesse…
Still soaking wet from the storm, I’m struggling a little but the moment Radio Birdman run (literally run) onto the stage with ‘Burned My Eye’ I remember why I dragged myself out into a stormy Monday night. Time has done nothing to dull the pure adrenaline which they bring to the stage, with the band ripping through a set encompassing both their classic releases Radios Appear and Living Eyes as well as their 2006 release Zeno Beach (no resting on ‘the classics’ for a band who, through various incarnations, have been scathing when it comes to the tropes and trappings of rock music – famously refusing to appear on popular ’70s TV show Countdown as the appearance would have meant miming their songs).
Those newer tracks stand up well against the likes of surf-drenched proto-punk classics including ‘Murder City Nights’, ‘Do The Pop’ and ‘More Fun’. Rob Younger has lost none of his swagger to the encroaching years, twitching and swaying and looking like some demonically-possessed combination of Doc Brown and Bill Nighy as he belted out the vocals – a frontman who demands the crowd’s attention throughout, something evident in the lack of phones held aloft. A gig where the majority of the audience are more focused on the band on stage than potential social media likes is a momentous occasion in this day and age.
Alongside the band’s own material stands a bevvy of covers including The 13th Floor Elevators’ classic ‘You’re Gonna Miss Me’ and Magazine’s ‘Shot From Both Sides’, highlighting the group’s more obvious influences; these aren’t any mere set-fillers. Similarly ‘Man With Golden Helmet’, which feels like such a strange anomaly when it crops up in the first half of Radios Appear, makes perfect sense in a live setting where it offers some breathing space amongst the sheer velocity of the rest of their set.
An encore starts with ‘Monday Morning Gunk’, blasts through ‘Aloha Steve and Danno’ and ‘New Race’ and finally crescendos with their riotous version of the MC5’s ‘Kick Out The Jams’, leaving the crowd’s aural cavities in tatters and spirits high as well as doing wonders for restoring my PMA as I head back out into the maelstrom.