LIVE: DAVE WARNER – Perth, 30 May, 2015
The Charles Hotel, Saturday, 30 May, 2015
Review & photos by Shane Pinnegar
While the bright lights and beautiful people – the Dereks and Sandras, Zongos and Roberts of this world – were milling about the centre of Perth for the State Of The Art backslapathon, Dave Warner was treading the boards at The Charles Hotel doing what he’s done on and off for forty years: ruling the suburbs with his iron wit.
A singular, precocious talent, The Boy From Bicton can lay claim to being punk before punk was a thing with his early band of costumed mates PUS, created his own niche genre in Suburban Rock, released a slew of records to critical acclaim (including Bob Dylan, who considered him Australia’s best songwriter for a time), and remains an enduring rock n’ roll figure amongst a generation of Australians – especially West Aussies.
Warner lives in Sydney now, spending his days writing novels (the latest of which was launched this week) and screenplays, and only graces the stage in Perth once or twice every year or two. Even now, almost forty years after the first From The Suburbs recordings, when he does come to town, you can bet the Suburban Army will turn out in force.
Without ado Warner takes the stage for the first of four sets, each exploring a different era of his musical development. With one of his long-time guitar foils stage left in Tony Durant, Phil Bailey on the bass and drummer Lloyd Gyi providing the backbeat, they rip through Waiting For The Cyclone and UK Euchred.
Warner jumps behind his vintage Teisco keyboard for “one of my favourites” that he’s only played played live “a half dozen times”, Spooks In The Dark, and his homage to the England cricket commentating great, John Arlott Makes Me Chuckle.
Early rock n’ roll homage Car Park is next up, before rounding the first set out with the suburban rock equivalent of the music industry frustration of It’s A Long Way To The Top: Wimbledon.
Set Two sees Warner in a white suit atop another lairy shirt, with support from Haydn ‘Scapa Flow’ Pickersgill on bass and John ‘The One Armed Bandit’ Dennison on keys, exploring the earliest Suburbs recordings, including Bicton Breezes, Silver (written in a Brixton bedsit in 1976) and his unique take on Barry McGuire’s Eve Of Destruction.
It’s testament to how important Warner was to a generation of underground rock n’ rollers in Western Australia that the room is nearly full, and almost to a person singing along to every witty and insightful lyric. No-one here seems in the slightest bit upset at missing SOTA – to them, THIS is the foundation of Western Australian music. Warner wrote songs that uniquely referenced the Australian, suburban, way of life. They sound Australian; they have relevance to Australians.
Early collaborator Alan Howard, no longer with us, gets a nod as co-author of the Beach Boys-esque skateboarding anthem Sidewalk Surfin’, before African Summer – still, like many of Warner’s songs, so quirky and anti-commercial, so punk in their individuality and non-conformist attitude.
Durant plays pedal steel to Campus Days after Warner explains that’s the only way he managed to get immigration to allow him to move from England, before the biggest cheer of the night so far is given in respect for “the late, great Johnny Leopard,” another of Warner’s loyal guitarists. Half Time At The Football, one of Warner’s legendary rant songs, closes out the second quarter in hilarious style.
For Set Three Warner is wearing his early all-black Suburban Grim Reaper outfit, with Durant in a garish pirate costume and Dick Haynes takes up the bass guitar. Haynes played briefly with Pus around 1973/74 before going on to considerable local success with Loaded Dice, and this set will be dedicated to what was arguably the world’s first punk band.
Starting with a cover of The Fugs’ Slum Goddess, the Haynes-sung I Wanna Get You In My Bed, a raucous version of Girls Wank and Hot Crotch, before the Lou Reed track Sweet Jane is tackled “with a Warner edge”.
Original Pus drummer Murray Campbell steps in on drums for an extended take on the near-mythical Throbbing Knob, complete with ‘bob and dip’ lessons from Warner and a chanted chorus that would make most of the audience’s kids blush.
As if all that wasn’t enough, Set Four features Howie Johnstone on the drum kit, and a roar through some of Warner’s rockier and most-loved tunes from his first four albums.
Throbbing Knob and Girls Wank are all very well and good – they’re fun, all about the energy and attitude, like punk is supposed to be – but this is the set which shows how Warner developed into an insightful songwriter, a storyteller who at his best was on a par with Mick Thomas, Paul Kelly or Tim Rogers, who is, incidentally, playing at that other gig in town tonight.
We all have stories to tell, but Warner put his into song, and whilst they weren’t number one on any charts, they mean a lot to the people who were there – and those here tonight.
Convict Streak’s suburban-level parochial pride (“take note students of Australian identity”), Strange Night’s fictional tale of a late-night inebriated hit and run, Joey Black’s inner-city street gang versus redevelopment satire, Old Stock Road’s homage to the Fremantle lover’s lane of yore, Bicton Vs Brooklyn’s stand-off between Warner and a New York hoodlum, and Suburban Boy’s Saturday night manifesto (“I know what it’s like, to be rejected every night, and I’m sure it must be easier for boys from the city”) all shed light on the 1970’s suburban way of life in Western Australia.
There are so many of Warner’s lyrics which provoke thought and remain relevant, none more so than the line in Joey Black, “they’ll try to keep me out by changing all the rules,” which might just as well be about his career as about the inner city neighbourhood of the song’s protagonist.
Mugs Game serves as the final encore for a massively enjoyable night, Warner updating his legendary underground rant hilariously, before hanging around to personally greet everyone who wanted a moment of his time before heading, sweaty and happy, back to the suburbs.
Waiting For The Cyclone
Spooks In The Dark
John Arlott Makes Me Chuckle
Eve Of Destruction
Half Time At The Football
I Wanna Get You In My Bed
Yella In Me
Old Stock Road
Bicton Vs Brooklyn
Nothing To Lose
An edited version of this review first appeared in X-Press Magazine’s 3 June, 2015 issue
About the Author: Editor, 100% ROCK MAGAZINE