Review: Rock Wars, Duke of Windsor, Prahran, Friday 26th April 2002

Friday was night two of the ‘Rock Wars’ at the Duke of Windsor, and I was looking forward to a night of good old fashioned grungy punk rock: KTV, the Spazzys, Porcelain, Moler and Mach Pelican.

I hadn’t seen bands at the Duke before, though they’ve been having some good lineups lately. The band room looked a bit like a suburban RSL (or at least what I imagine a suburban RSL would look like, minus the pokies), but the layout was good for being able to see. I did like the camouflage nettting behind the stage, though I don’t know if that was just for the ‘wars’ this week.

We came in for the last few songs of KTV. I think we’d seen them once before a long time ago as Kill Krush Destroy, but I didn’t remember them sounding this good (if indeed it was the same band i’m thinking of). KTV had a very punchy, grunge rock sound, bordering on punk. For some reason the Breeders was one comparison that came to mind at the time, though i’m really not sure why as they were much heavier than that. It was thrashy yet melodic guitar rock, with the odd 50s bubblegum melody in amongst the guitar riffs, reminiscent of Up Kitty or the Hard-ons or even Mach Pelican. Definitely a band I wish i’d caught more of, which I intend to remedy next time.

Next up were the Spazzys, who sounded like a cross between an all-girl Ramones and, well, an all-girl Ramones. Maybe a dash of the Runaways in there as well. And two more shakes of the Ramones. They played a set of fast songs with a very Ramones feel and a few covers including what I think was Poison’s “Talk Dirty To Me” (turned into a Ramones song) and the Ramones’ “Suzy Is A Headbanger”, which they followed up with a song unashamedly ripping off the Ramones’ “Blitzkreig Bop” (with even the “Hey Ho, Let’s Go!” left in just in case you didn’t get the hint). They looked like they were having as much fun as they were fun to watch, and they were a big hit with the crowd. Not much else to say, except to mention the word ‘Ramones’ again.

Porcelain were the next act on. I saw them play at the Arthouse last week and, this time as last time, the main effect was to make me jealous as hell of people who can play guitar. How can a simple E-shaped chord sound so good going up and down the fretboard, and why the fuck can’t I make it do that? In a similar but different vein to KTV (huh?) they played a tight set of punk/grunge rock, reminding me at times of anyone from Elastica to the Buzzcocks or Wire. The singer’s voice has a grating quality that should be really irritating, but somehow works perfectly with the punky sound. Some of their songs sounded insanely familiar, though the only obvious cover I picked was Talking Heads’ “Psycho Killer”, done in such an off way that it should have sucked majorly, but somehow didn’t. I don’t know what does and doesn’t count as punk rock these days, but these girls certainly rocked my scruffy old army boots.

Moler I hadn’t seen in ages, and I didn’t know what they were going to sound like. I noticed a keyboard, which they didn’t have when I last saw them, and I wondered if that meant they were going to be more poppy or softer than they used to be. Nuh-uh. It was still the same rockpig riffery and the snarling vocals of singer Helen (who looks distractingly like Claudia Karvan). There were very catchy melodic hooks hiding under the bass and guitars, which reminded me very much of the Silverfish, with just an echo of Blondie underneath the snarls. The keyboards seemed mostly to provide odd pops and crackles and Ash Wednesday-style noodlings (Ash who? Arrgh, go look him up, yer young whippersnappers). The only downer in the set was that the mixers, in true rock tradition, seemed to have upped the volume for the last couple of acts, when it was perfecty fine as it was earlier. The sound was actually more distorted at the higher volume, making the sound worse, not better, for the main acts. Any louder and I would have had to shake my walking stick crossly in their direction. But what do I know?

Finally, Mach Pelican took the stage to finish the night. They were calling out “Rocky! Rocky!” and I wondered what they were on about, until I realised they were calling for Loki the mixer. Sometimes I swear they’re putting it on. The only thing funnier than the Pelicans is their fan base. The crowd seemed to have thinned a bit after Moler, but that just left more room for the Pelicans’ devoted mob of followers. They’re an odd lot. The obligatory “O-O-O” hand signals for “Dance In Chicago” have now been extended to any song with the lyric “oh, oh, oh”, and the Audience Participation now includes a “1,2,3,4” finger count in the air. The Pelicans themselves ripped through their set without so much as a breath between most songs, or even a count of four to separate. Their days of gigging week in week out still show through, and they have to be one of the most tight and clean-sounding bands about. No need for the usual comparisons – if you haven’t heard of Mach Pelican you’ve probably been in a coma for the past three years (besides, I mentioned the Ramones enough in describing the Spazzys). They wuz good and that’s all you need to know.

It was a long night, but I for one left with a smile on my face.

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