Tumbleweed – The Waterfront Years

For a time in the early to mid-nineties in Australia Tumbleweed were high up on most festival bills and could pack out venues at will. Their local legend was bolstered by the tale of how they supported Nirvana’s only Australian tour, but really, it was their songs that took them right to the very cusp of the big time.

Opening up the splendid gatefold of the digipack reveals a picture of how Tumbleweed spent a lot of their career, ripping it up live in front of a sizable and adoring crowd. For a lot of bands, exposing their very earliest work may carry the same embarrassment of asking them for a peek back at their teenage diaries. But right from the outset – their first single Captain’s Log and its B-Side Space Friends that open this 35 song, two disc set The Waterfront Years – Tumbleweed have nothing to feel coy about. The fact the band got Mudhoney’s Mark Arm to produce the single gives a good indication of where they were at sonically in 1991. They were a band with big hair, big muff pedals, smoke in their lungs and The ‘Gong in their hearts, and obviously destined for bigger things.

The two years of Tumbleweed’s recorded career featured on this compilation tracks the band’s output whilst signed to iconic Sydney indie label Waterfront Records and sees their sound progress from fuzz-drenched sludge and grunge to the very precipice of being signed and groomed by major labels. Early track Stoned could just be seen as some sort of mission statement and theme song for the band with lines like “I’m feeling high nothing can bring me down” and its questioning chorus of “Why don’t they all get stoned?”. It’s not just Cheech & Chong cheap laughs though, there is some insight among the inhaling, with the lamenting lyric “never thinking about tomorrow if you are living your life in yesterday” soon following. While the band’s lyrics were riddled with smoking references, they were always part of a wider and salient view of the world and the universe.

Carousel, with its melodic riffs cutting through the fuzz, gives the first hint of the pop potential that would see major labels soon circling the band. Equally as intriguing are EP tracks and B-Sides – in the form of obscure cover versions given the Tumbleweed treatment – that show a band that nod to the past, yet carve out a contemporary sound all of their own.

Disc two of the compilation features the whole of the band’s self-titled 1992 debut album Tumbleweed. While still raw, the album shows a band with diverse styles at their disposal, with the tracks ranging from the wailing rock along the lines of Sundial and Healers, swirling waves of riffs in Ocean to trippy freak-out jams in the two-part Dandylion, right back to a tender ballad in Acid Rain.

The last few additional tracks hint at the future that would await Tumbleweed, the band capable of creating a classic single in the form of Daddy Long Legs yet still willing to remain somewhat obtuse by backing it with a Frank Zappa cover Trouble Every Day. They were a band that could ignite the airwaves and mosh pits, and created their own strain of ‘weed from the cross-pollination of stoner rock and the buds of grunge.

Their formative steps are nothing if not confident and are captured in a typically magnificent and comprehensive package by Aztec. Extensive liner notes, images and sleeve designs create the context of the early years of Tumbleweed, yet it’s their songs within make it a valuable relic of Australian music.