Music

Pig City: Brisbane’s Historic Soundtrack @ University of Queensland, Brisbane, 14/07/2007

The 2007 Queensland Music Festival differs from years past in that its centrepiece event is a once-in-a-lifetime gathering of some of Brisbane’s greatest rock bands. Inspired by Andrew Stafford’s insightful book, Pig City: From The Saints To Savage Garden, a crowd of thousands flocks to the University of Queensland’s St Lucia campus, where a large tent has been erected across numerous playing fields. The Pig City festival is a celebration of Brisbane’s rock music culture, which was born under the oppressive Bjelke-Petersen government in the 1970s. There is no more appropriate place to hold such a significant musical meeting, as many of those in attendance have a history on the UQ campus. A shirt in the merchandise tent simply states “The Saints – Queensland University Refectory, 1974”.

The Apartments are the first band on stage under the Big Top today, and the crowd filters in from the market stalls outside to witness some superbly crafted pop. Opening track The Goodbye Train is a great indicator of the quality of music to come throughout the day. Led by brilliant songwriter Peter Milton Walsh, the band waltz through a series of perfect pop songs delivered without pretension and with little between-song banter, as Walsh opts to let his music speak for itself. “Who will remember your tunes?” asks Walsh in his lyrics; rather, who could forget? “Thank you and goodbye”, he concludes, and it’s far too soon.

A larger crowd gathers to watch Screamfeeder, who have been a part of the Brisbane alternative scene since the early 1990s. Guitarist Tim Steward and bassist Kellie Lloyd alternate and combine their voices throughout the set, which consists of a variety of their most recognisable songs: opener Static utilises the quiet-loud dynamic well, while the optimistic pop hooks of tracks like Hi Cs and Bunny resonates with the crowd. This is Screamfeeder’s first show with new drummer Steph Hughes, and she cutely thumps skins with mouth agape, while admiring the cavernous tent’s ceiling. Steward swaps to an appropriately pink Hello Kitty guitar to play Explode Your Friends from 1995’s Kitten Licks. Darek Mudge from fellow Bris-band Intercooler lends to his bass expertise to a few songs, while Lloyd plays keyboard. It’s great to see Screamfeeder back on stage after a period of inactivity; it surely won’t be long before they tour again.

Ups and Downs are a band that existed only temporarily on the Brisbane scene in the mid-1980s before relocating to Sydney, but judging from the crowd’s reaction, it’s clear that they remain a favourite of many in attendance. The band has reformed in its entirety for Pig City, led by brothers Darren (drums and vocals) and Greg Atkinson (bass and vocals). Greg is perhaps more readily-known to the younger crowd for his ventures with Triple J-friendly Big Heavy Stuff, who have also since disbanded. The band tears through Perfect Crime and In The Shadows, while images of the band on the cover of Brisbane street press from the 1980s passes across the five large projector screens above the stage. A cover of Neil Young’s Solitary Man makes an appearance; an audience member yells for Atkinson to “turn it up!”, to which he replies “faster, louder, younger.. they don’t make amps that go up to eleven any more!”. The brothers briefly forget the opening line to their most perfect slice of pop, The Living Kind, before being reminded by the largest crowd thus far in the day.

Kev Carmody simply walks onto stage, sits down and begins telling stories to the crowd. His conversational style of songwriting is arresting in its honesty, and the crowd’s with him from the moment he opens his mouth. Though well-known for his protest songs, Carmody’s set is peppered with humour: he comments that his act is “environmentally correct”, as he’s only playing an acoustic guitar, no doubt in reference to the recent electricity-sapping Live Earth concerts across the globe. He compliments the John Butler Trio’s cover of his song Thou Shalt Not Steal after playing the original, and reminds the crowd that back when the “peanut farmer” was in charge, a “crowd” of three people could be arrested without reason, so the thousands in attendance would all certainly have handcuffs on. Carmody concludes with From Little Things Big Things Grow, a song he wrote with Paul Kelly, and the crowd happily sings the familiar chorus back to him.

In stark contrast to Carmody’s intimate set, eight members of cult act The Pineapples From The Dawn Of Time file onstage and begin playing their blend of psychedelic punk rock. The band’s attempts to replicate their legendary stage shows from the mid-1980s, which featured ridiculous costumes and onstage antics, failed to hit the mark. Regardless, older members of the crowd bounce and sing along, no doubt reminiscing on drug-fueled decades past. The band concludes with their biggest hit, Too Much Acid, and singer Michael Gilmore assures the crowd that there’s no such thing as too much. A handful of Pineapples members return to the stage minutes later to provide backup vocals for the incompletely reformed Parameters. The band performs a raucous version of the song Pig City, complete with enjoyable guitar and saxophone solos.

Before undertaking his successful solo career, David McCormack fronted Custard, one of the most popular Brisbane alternative bands of the 1990s. He uses most of his time on stage tonight to showcase a variety of that band’s hits. Joined by brother Dylan on bass and drummer Shane Melder of The Polaroids, McCormack reminds the crowd how capable he is of writing catchy pop tunes – Girls Like That and Anatomically Correct are a joy to hear again, as is the always-amusing I’m Going To Execute Your Ex-Boyfriend. The best is saved for last, though: Custard’s excellent 1995 single Apartment is met with a huge cheer from the crowd.

The Riptides are another band that existed temporarily on the Brisbane rock scene in the 1980s. Singer and guitarist Mark ‘Cal’ Callaghan, drummer Graham ‘Buzz’ Bidstrup and bassist Chris Bailey (who is playing on a bill with The Saints’ Chris Bailey for the first time) have been members of other classic Australian rock acts such as The Angels and GANGajang at various times; yet, The Riptides achieved temporary notoriety for their edgy power-pop and snappy surf melodies. Tombs Of Gold is an epic rock number delivered impressively, while Hearts And Flowers is dedicated to ex-member Michael Hiron, who died in 2001. There’s a conspicuous young redhead on stage playing a beautiful blue-green guitar; Callaghan soon introduces him as his son Darren, and announces that it’s his 20th birthday. Darren’s lead guitar work is impressive, and it must be a great feeling to be onstage with his father at such a historic event. The Riptides finish with Sunset Strip, a superb song released in 1978. The crowd overpowers the band singing the ‘oh yeah’s in the chorus, topping off what is one of the strongest performances of the day.

Regurgitator are the youngest band on the bill, but no less important than their peers. Born out of the Brisbane alternative scene in the mid-1990s and reaching the height of their popularity with 1997’s triple platinum Unit, the band hit the Pig City stage to play their first show since recording in Brazil the previous month. Keyboardist Seja Vogel is Regurgitator’s latest addition, which has otherwise existed in its current form since 1999. The ‘Gurge play a high energy set peppered with hits such as Black Bugs, ! (The Song Formerly Known As) and Everyday Formula, as well as debuting two tracks from their new album, which is due in September. This choice was a little at odds with the nature of the festival – Brisbane’s historic soundtrack – but the younger crowd lapped it up, since Regurgitator is one of the few bands on the bill still releasing new music. Drummer Peter Kostic’s snare drum takes a beating during My Friend Robot, as Quan Yeomans and Ben Ely jump around, clearly enjoying themselves. Ely dedicates their final song, Kong Foo Sing, to voting John Howard out of office at the next election, which naturally receives a huge response.

In the break between acts, footage of The Go-Betweens playing at the Tivoli in Brisbane from their That Striped Starlight Sound DVD is shown on the projector screen; namely, Grant McLennan’s masterful Finding You from their final release, 2005’s Oceans Apart. The crowd is awestruck, and to be amongst a crowd of thousands, all silently mourning the loss of one of Brisbane’s, nay, the world’s greatest songwriters was certainly an emotional experience. The same couldn’t be said for the following performance.

As footage of Grant and The Go-Betweens is projected above, an extensive band files onto stage and took their places, standing respectfully at attention. Kate Miller-Heidke walks out in a characteristically flowery dress, and the Brisbane Excelsior Band begins to work through Streets Of Your Town, McLennan’s ode to Brisbane. Miller-Heidke’s delivery is reasonable until she whispers the chorus after the instrumental solo; cringe-worthy, to say the least. Guitarist Keir Nuttall joins her onstage for Clouds, which is much more enjoyable, before the brass band again provides the accompaniment for Cattle And Cane. While I understand that the festival organisers didn’t want to repeat the guitar-based Go-Betweens tribute that occurred at the Tivoli last year, and while Miller-Heidke’s delivery was largely tasteful, I couldn’t shake the feeling that simply showing a few more songs from the live DVD would have been a more appropriate tribute to McLennan and The Go-Betweens.

The festival’s major drawcard is the reforming of The Saints, and the crowd swells moments before they stride onto stage. Drummer Ivor Hay, singer Chris Bailey and guitarist Ed Kuepper are the three original punk rock icons; Caspar Wijnberg more than competently handles bass and backing vocal duties, having toured extensively under the Bailey-led Saints throughout Europe. A three-piece brass section features throughout the set, as the band plays material from the three classic albums they recorded together. Bailey is as entertaining as ever, cavorting across the stage like a man possessed. He continuously gestures for the audience to look at Ed Kuepper, and at one point leaves the stage to draw attention to Kuepper’s virtuoso guitar work. Bailey stalks past the front row at ground level, interacting with fans and flirting the festival’s no smoking policy.

The band launch into (I’m) Stranded and Bailey misses his cue, but it sounds so fantastic that nobody cares. The audience is thrown back to 1977 when the song was released; few would have thought they would again witness its three-and-a-half minutes of pop-punk perfection. Bailey regales the crowd with a lengthy sermon about how he and his bandmates were kicked off the university campus the last time they played No Time: what a difference thirty years makes. The soaring brass section in Know Your Product is an absolute joy to behold live, but the set takes an odd turn when Bailey strums an acoustic guitar and sings seemingly random phrases, while feedback from Kuepper’s distorted guitar fills the tent. It’s a minor blemish in an otherwise thoroughly satisfying set. The band return to perform an encore, closing the night with a cover of Ike & Tina Turner’s River Deep, Mountain High.

While largely an event aimed at an older crowd wishing to revisit Brisbane’s sounds of decades past, this reviewer is grateful to have attended, as the sheer quantity of talent on display at Pig City was breathtaking. The event was a great success, and the Queensland Music Festival co-ordinators ought to be congratulated for pulling off such an ambitious project with style. Over six thousand attendees can attest that there exists a great demand for similar events revisiting Brisbane’s colourful rock history. To quote The Saints’ opening song: Oh perfect day, what more to say?