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You Am I - Billboard the Venue

Gig Review: Fri 22 Oct 2010

You Am I

Going to see You Am I is always something of an event. Whereas many other acts grind out records, and shows with a sense of rudimentary purpose only slightly above that of your average 9 to 5 worker, You Am I have rarely been a band to simply go through the motions. They benefit from what's best described as the car crash effect; whether they're showstopping or shambolic, you can't take your eyes off them.

It's this intangible quality which has long drawn the punters through the doors and on the evidence of Friday nights crowd, it's an appeal which doesn't look like waning anytime soon. And when you factor in that this was their first headline gig in Melbourne for over a year and that they're launching an album widely lauded as their best in over a decade, the heaving crowd and the palpable sense of anticipation were somewhat understandable.

This was an event!

Black Cab were an interesting choice as main support. An entirely different band to You Am I not only in sound but in the way they go about a show. Black Cab don't indulge in the arm swinging theatrics that Tim Rogers and his men have perfected over the years. Rather they build a performance through an understated intensity and the relentless repetition of lyrics and chords. They do a good job here winning over a suspect crowd through the sheer force of tracks like Church in Berlin and Heart is on Fire and Sexy Polizie. An inspired choice.

Where Black Cab showed restraint You Am I chose extravagance. They emerged from behind a frilly curtain like cast members in a Gilbert and Sullivan play, backed by a screen splashing them with rapid fire imagery and with keyboardist for hire, Stevie Hesketh, bringing some of the more intricate sounds from the new record onto the stage. You could sense they wanted to underscore the depth and nuance featured on the album compared to the more stripped back rock bluster they're better known for.

With acoustic guitar over the shoulder, Rogers leads his band through the opening two tracks from the new record, 'We Hardly New You' and 'Kicking the Ballstrade'. A solid if unspectacular start. 'Lie and Face the Sun' is next, one of the standout tracks from the new album, with Adalita from Magic Dirt making a surprise cameo, using her husky vocals to ably fill in for Megan Washington who does the honours on record.

What came next is example of the dilemma that bands as enduring and adored as You Am I find themselves in. Regardless of the quality of your more recent work, if your back catalogue is as incendiary as this band's, there's always going to be those for whom the new stuff will just never match the old. Despite this being the launch of the band's 9th record, the moment Rogers ditched his acoustic and slung on his trademark Crockenbacker, the room was abuzz at the prospect of a trip down memory lane. Rusty Hopkinson banged out the introductory drum fill to “She Digs Her' off Hi Fi Way and the punters went spare. This was You Am I. Hesketh's keys helped replicate the arresting finish to the song that is spine tingling on record. The early highlight over, it's back to the new record, with first single 'Shuck', translating surprisingly well to the live setting and highlighting just how far the band's sound has progressed compared to the Hi Fi Way favourite it followed. 'Someone Elses Home' from 'Hourly Daily' was next to receive the nostalgia treatment, before two tracks from their more recent past, 'Big Wheel' and 'Aint Seen the Best of Us Yet' off 2008's Dilettantes, are wheeled out. Roger's and Davey Lane's guitars are really snarling at each other now and they bleed into the intro for 'Trike', another old favourite that is heard live all too rarely these days. The crowd roars approval at this unexpected treat and i'm subjected to the site of grey haired middle aged women, suburban dads in billabong t – shirts and androgynous hipsters, all bopping along in unison to the song's rollicking beat. In another strange setlist detour Rogers then reverts back to a mid tempo number off Dilettantes as if he forgot to play it earlier. Beau Gest is given a straight forward rendition with Tim's voice in particularly rude health.

Band and crowd are well and truly warmed up by now and the the push and pull between old and new continues. The rapid fire delivery of 'Pinpricks', the most energetic track from the new record is followed by a song which, as Tim put it, came from a time when 'a band could where shorts on stage'. That song was 'Coprolalia', the opening track from You Am I's debut album which came out at the fag end of the grunge era in 1993. That song's swaggering riff and bludgeoning finish has the 30 something's headbanging away before they move back to the 21st Century with 'The Ocean' arguably the best track off the latest album and so far the one that transfers best to a live setting. The song builds on the back of Hopkinson and Kent's rumbling rhythm section, before finishing with a ferocious riff. Look out for this song to be soundtrack for surfing video's for years to come.

From here on it's typical You Am I fare; they're in their element. Timmy is strutting, prissing and preening, spitting out banter such as; 'I don't wanna go back to 1997, all that success made my dick go soft'. Davey is doing his best Brian May impression by indulging in Queen solos and Rusty and Andy, having seen it all before, just role with the punches. Plans from #4 Record is a riot and again showcases Hesketh's work on keys. Another track from that same record, 'Cream and the Crock' is given a raucous going over, before rare versions of the two singles from 2001's underrated Dress Me Slowly, “Damage' and 'Get Up' are played with Trigger Finger from the new record squeezed in between. Fittingly one of their finest moments, Hi Fi Way's 'Purple Sneakers', prompts a singalong of Barmy Army proportions and ends the main set on a triumphant note.

Sensing the mood of the crowd, the boys ditch the new stuff and spend the encore reliving past glories. Predictably 'Heavy Heart' gets a guernsey before a spiteful rendition of 'Friends Like You', the first track 2006's Convicts to be played all night. Davey briefly jumps behind the keys for a piss take version of 'You're My Best Friend' by Queen before grabbing his Telecaster and strumming the opening chords of a much more serious 'Mr Milk'. The song's familiar 'ba ba ba ba' refrain is belted out by all and sundry and by the end both band and crowd are spent. They muster up one last hurrah for the now obligatory closer 'Piano Up The Tree' before bowing to the crowd and departing the stage. Conquerors again.

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