National Post

The Rockodile Hunters

Author: Steve Morse

Tour features the new wave of Aussie bands.

Mention Australian music and several distinct sounds jump to mind: the dance-rock of INXS, the political punch of Midnight Oil, the ear-shattering metal of AC/DC, and the top 40 pop of the Bee Gees, Men at Work, Olivia Newton-John and the Little River Band. The country has also produced such diverse talents as Kylie Minogue, the Saints, Hunters & Collectors and Angel City.

That’s a wide swath of music, but the latest exports from Down Under have something more in common: They rock. And they rock with an intensity that is bringing their homeland a new respect, from the garage-punk of the Vines and the reckless abandon of Jet to the rockabilly edge of the Living End and the power-pop of Neon.

All those acts are on the much awaited Aussie Rock tour, which plays the Kool Haus a week today. 

“They’re packaging us in an Australian flag and sending us over,” says Chris Cheney, singer with Melbourne band the Living End. “But we’re coming there for rock ‘n’roll, not patriotism.”

“There was quite a long period when almost no Australian bands made it overseas. That was called the 90s,” says Patrick Matthews of the Vines. “But now a lot of bands are coming over.”

The garage-rock revival that started stateside with bands such as the Strokes and the White Stripes has spread globally as record labels seek to ride the wave. 

“You could say we cashed in on the Strokes and White Stripes success, or you could say we had a good record and played a lot of shows,” Matthews says laughing. 

The definitive Australian rock band would be AC/DC, though the group added a few English members to its Australian core. The English-rock influence shouldn’t be underestimated. Jet took its name from a Wings’ song, the Living End loves Elvis Costello and Paul Weller, and the Vines cite their biggest influences as the Beatles and the Kinks, as well as British bands Blur and Suede. 

Those influences are apparent on the new Vines CD, Winning Days, which comes out March 23. The band’s first album, the million-selling Highly Evolved, is more primal than the new disc, which still has a street-rock core but is enhanced by new forays into dream-pop and psychedelia. Winning shows impressive growth and is one of the finest records of the year. It was made at Bearsville Studios near Woodstock, N.Y., with producer Rob Schnapf, who has worked with Beck, Guided by Voices and Elliott Smith.

The Vines may be the flagship band of the new Aussie wave, but Jet has recently bounced in with a raw excitement that can’t be denied. Jet’s stateside debut album, Get Born, has spawned a massive radio hit, Are You Gonna Be My Girl, which received a boost by being featured in an iPod commercial. Band member Mark Wilson declares, “We’re about party music like the Faces and the Stones. We’re lighthearted, rather than being negative about the world.”

Like many Aussie bands, Jet was not groomed for success. Bassist Wilson moved fridges for a living before rock beckoned, and singer Nic Cester operated a forklift. 

“We just play honest rock,” says Wilson. “It’s not about how cool you seem or what clothes you wear or which celebrity girlfriend you have. But you look at the history of Australian rock-back to AC/DC and the Easybeats – and every one of them can play.”

Maybe that explains why Jet didn’t heed the call to come and audition for U.S. labels. “We made them all come to Australia. We’re pretty cheeky that way,” he says. We had 11 record company guys all standing around in this dingy bar in Sydney. That was two years ago, but it feels like yesterday.”

The Aussie Rock tour was assembled by the Australian management team of Winterman & Goldstein, which handles the Vines and Jet. “Our stories are similar,” says Matthews of the Vines. “We’re both from the suburbs – Jet is from the suburbs of Melbourne, and we’re from the suburbs of Sydney – and we both sent demos in to the managers. Then Jet supported us on a show in Melbourne, and we’ve since run into them in New York and Los Angeles. It will also be fun to play with the Living End and Neon, which is a kind of power-pop band that sounds like Cheap Trick and Tom Petty crossed with Nirvana.” (Neon has a forthcoming album on EMI) 

These new bands came out of a touring tradition, hitting the club circuit hard before getting signed.

Jet’s Wilson again brings up AC/DC, citing the band as a formative role model in that regard. 

“AC/DC was like a machine that just rolled into town,” he says. “And we’ve been doing it that way, too. We have been on tour nonstop for a year and a half. We believe that you have to get in there and work. [On this tour], we’re going to wear people out onstage. And we hope that a lot of kids who come see us will let go of their inhibitions.”

The Vines, Jet, the Living End and Neon play Kool Haus on March 23. Tickets are $25 and available through Ticketmaster (416-870-8000) or at Rotate This (620 Queen St. W.) and Sonic Temple (5165 Yonge St.)