The Aztecs – Steaming at the Opera House

The Aztecs were the product of an age where musical talent was defined by artists with genuinely brilliant voices, or finely tuned musical abilities – and Steaming at the Opera House showcases this perfectly. The Aztecs all had this musical genius in their blood – Teddy Toi with his thumping bass lines, Gil ‘Rats’ Matthews with his soul ripping drumming, and Warren ‘Pig’ Morgan with his perfect blend of understated vocals and seventies keyboard class.

And then there was Billy Thorpe. The man performed music for five decades, and his performance with the Aztecs at the Sydney Opera House (the first time any band had ever played there) stands up as a true rock n roll epic. Sure the sound quality isn’t amazing, and there are a few missed notes and harmonies here and there, but by and large it’s a testament to a bygone era.

The first part of the concert is an acoustic set – and opener All I Can Do Is Sing is a chorus of acoustic guitars accompanying Thorpe’s vocals that immediately captivate as he sings of sorrow and joy. Thorpe makes a special note to introduce the entire band, and his sincerity shines through after so many years. The Aztecs then move into Cigarettes and Whiskey. It’s a song that beckons singing along to, and is a fine example of the easy songs that they wrote for their audience’s sake. The harmonies of all the members of the band meld in wonderfully with Thorpe’s own singing. The band churns through other favourites including Don’t You Know You’re Changing and One Day You’ll Lose It.

The second part of the show is a mini rock opera penned by Thorpe, Morgan, and Hank Williams. Rock operas were gaining popularity in this era with epics like Tommy from The Who and Ziggy Stardust and the Spider from Mars by David Bowie leaving their mark on the world as the finest examples. The Aztec’s own mini opera is largely representative of the wars and political uncertainty that Australia was suffering through. Songs like Imagine Normal Days, No More War, and What Year Is It comprise a vivid imagining of a man trying to picture his home in the midst of war. Last Moments is particularly evocative as darkness and uncertainty turn sonic and envelop the listener.

But the Aztecs were infamous in their time for something other than operas and acoustic guitars – their live sets were known for being loud – really bloody loud. While you can’t appreciate the magnitude of this volume, you can certainly enjoy the talent of the boys as they launch into their rock set. Sure, they’re no Led Zeppelin, but they were ahead of most Aussie bands at that time. It’s immediately obvious as the Aztecs launch into God that their tastes are firmly in the blues-based rock camp. It’s never high art, as they demonstrate with the twelve barre blues songs like Be Bop a Lula and Time to Live (a dead ringer for Ted Nugent’s Stranglehold, but pre-dating it by several years), but their solos tear through the record and Thorpe screams in delight as his crowd cheers along. Closer Oop Poo Pa Doo is the truest recording of the Aztecs volume, as their power is so discernible to the listener, not to mention it’s catchy as all hell.

Listening to this album really makes you miss the Classic Rock of old, where guitar gods ruled supreme and the only way to compete in the music industry was to have raw talent with nothing to hide behind. This might not appeal to fans of new age rock like Green Day and the Living End, but any fan of old school rock gods owes it to themselves to buy this CD.