Yesterday’s Heroes

Author: Denis Brown

Lob a rock into the air in any Australian city and chances are it will land on someone who’s seen the Hoodoo Gurus perform live at least once. In a career spanning 15 years, nine studio albums and a plethora of anthemic singles, the now-defunct Sydney-based group toured the country an estimated 30 times.

Despite this stint at the coalface, the Gurus’ blokey brand of hi-octane meat-and-two-veg pop did not tickle everyone’s taste buds. Your average true-blue rock fan can invariably recite the lyrics of What’s My Scene or Come Anytime, but the band never managed a Number One single. Despite commanding the unwavering support of a legion of diehard fans, the dogmatic Gurus, like their contemporaries the Hunters and Collectors, remained in the pub rock circuit.

“I suppose there’s still a lot of people out there who go (groans), the Hoodoo Gurus, I hate them,” says Gurus’ guitarist Brad Shepherd.” In many respects we were our own worst enemies; we weren’t the sort of band that crossed over like Midnight Oil or INXS, and I don’t think we ever had a Number One album either.

“If there’s one thing I’m really proud of us as a band, it’s that we didn’t really buy into that rock-star lifestyle, even though it was there for the asking. I saw a lot of other bands living it, but I just thought it was quite preposterous,” he says.

Having decided to pull the pin late last year, the Gurus released a double CD greatest-hits package Electric Chair/Armchair Gurus – and embarked on a final Australian tour.

Obviously the band did not share the sentiments of Gurus’ nut H.G. Nelson, who on hearing the band’s final studio album Blue Cave in 1996 said there “was still a lot of life in the corpse”.

“We felt that if we stuck it out for too much longer we might experience the downside of it and then our legacy would be an embarrassment, rather than getting out while we could, and kinda leave a good looking corpse,” Shepherd says.

But just one year later, Mushroom Records is releasing a CD (Bite The Bullet) of highlights of the band’s swan song tour, plus a special three- CD edition (Director’s Cut) with other live material, B-sides and oddities. Although from a marketing perspective it’s possibly wise to strike while the Gurus’ corpse is still warm, could this be a little hasty?

“I don’t care really, we just wanted to go, here it is, this is all we’ve got left. And you know, I think we just I wanted to put the band to rest without it lingering in the back of our minds, both as ex-members and as people trying to get on with our lives.

“We pretty much used everything we had, so there’s nothing left in the vaults we can release at some later date. So no, there’ll be no re- mastered box set, a la Bruce Spring- steen, somewhere down the line, that’s it,” Shepherd says.

Live albums are notoriously dodgy, rarely capturing atmosphere and energy effectively, and Shepherd says the Gurus had resisted repeated requests to produce one. Every effort was made to ensure Bullet hit the spot, from song selection down to remixing.

It shows: cranked up, the raw power almost pins you to the wall. It’s the sound of an airtight rock band firing on all cylinders, a slick yet still passionate live act so finely tuned that a 1-2-3 or drumstick count-in – vital for most bands, even the Rolling Stones – only features on one song, Miss Freelove ’69

Even non-fans will find it impossible not to sing along to underrated but perfect pop such as Down On Me, already part of our rock heritage. On the other hand, it’s hard to imagine any but the most diehard fan being turned on by a painful live Ramones medley or some of the duller B-sides on Bubble & Squeak. Ditto Doppelganger, a collection of tracks recorded for Triple JJJ’s Live at the Wireless between 1983 and 1994. Except for covers and a few Shepherd compositions – including his bikie movie soundtrack homage, End Of The Line – Concerto For Choppers the songs are head honcho Dave Faulkner’s, indicating he gets the lion’s share of royalties. “Yeah, he doesn’t have to work again, unlike the rest of us. It was always Dave’s band; that’s OK, we’re still all good mates,” Shepherd says.

Admitting he still feels weird about not being on the road, 38-year-old Shepherd nonetheless sounds content with his life in Bondi.

“I’ve actually enjoyed living a normal life this last year; I’ve met somebody wonderful and I’m getting married in February. I had a lot of catching up to do. I think a lot of my personal life I’d put on hold and, subconsciously or otherwise, suppressed for a long time,” he says.

Meanwhile, Shepherd, critical of the current “superficial” music scene, is rehearsing with his so far nameless and unsigned band, featuring his brother Murray on drums and ex-Glide bassist Andy Kelly.

“We’re just going to take it from square one, just go out and start opening for the Living End or something.”

Huge howls of laughter.

“Please kill me if I’m actually on the same bill as the Living End,” he says – then, “oh, I’m just a cranky old bastard, I don’t like anything.”

Bite The Bullet and Director’s Cut are out now

The Living End

Author: Chuck Eddy

It’s for Your Own Good/Hellbound (Reprise) Second Solution/Prisoner of Society (Rapido Australian import EP)

Like AC/DC, Rose Tattoo, Angel City. Midnight Oil and Celibate Rifles before them, tuneful greasechain rockers the Living End are being thrust into U.S. stores after having first achieved stardom Down Under. The pompadour-punk Teddy-boy power trio from Melbourne plays paradoxically pretty music, dragstrip-fast, with Chris Cheney’s surfabilly guitar zoom hanging ten all over, combing the wild frontier into a horseshoed spaghetti-Western clip-clop. Scott Owen’s double-bass lines dabble in reggae, honkytonk and fingersnappy Mack-the-Knife-tossing-bloodstained-evidence-off-the-pier-early-on-a-foggy-Sunday-morning jazzercize. There’s Green Day in the whines, Clash in the shouts, and the singing gets tart and taut toward ends of lines.

As wordslingers, the Living End aren’t much better than functional, but that doesn’t matter somehow. In “Headlines,” they tear up Sunday papers like Joe Jackson, but mainly their songs are just frames for Cheney to make creative noise. Drums wax martial and harmonies turn into rugby yells about the English army, but no political message comes through, so you never quite figure out what the war is about. With aces of spades, eight balls, dice and fingerprints on their CD covers, and references to streetlights and guilty verdicts, and with two of the songs on their most recently released EP having the word prisoner in their titles, you know they want us to believe they’re ramblin’, gamblin’ men, bom to lose. But not even the more legitimately adolescent sentiment “I’m a brat, and I know everything/And I talk back because I’m not listening to anything you say” comes close to convincing you these kids are really dangerous – sounds more like they learned about juvenile delinquency from ’60s sitcoms and stumbled into their rapid tempos while running away from scarier schoolmates. But since when has being a phony punk ever stopped smart rock & roll boys from bloodying noses? 

The Living End’s American CD debut – as playable a hard-rock album as I’ve heard all year – combines their Hellbound EP, out in Oz in January 1996, with the slightly power-poppish It’s for Your Own Good EP from November of the same year. Current drummer Travis Demsey joined in time for September 1997’s Second Solution/Prisoner of Society EP, still unavailable stateside. An album of new material hits our shores early next year.