rossy 2018It's almost 2019… and the world seems to be going mad. But the big question I ask myself… is rock dead?

I see alternate styles of music like rap, hip-hop and commercial pop dominating youth culture. I wouldn’t recognise Drake or Flume if they dropped their USB sticks in front of me. In closeted rock’n’roll enclaves such as the I-94 Bar dirty rock’n’roll seems to be thriving, but one by one icons are dropping off the perch. How much longer can it survive?

The benchmark I’ve been looking at is guitar sales. Electric guitar sales have slipped 22.7 percent since 2008… the price of guitars is rocketing, yet it appears that the acoustic market is on the up… Something like a 15 percent increase over the same period. Although insipid, whiny vocal sounds have probably been tied to the same trend.

The trend that parallels the increase of Ed Sheeran wannabes is the rise of vinyl sales. I’d guess that pot smoking hippies, listening on their Technics SL1200 to Bob Dylan re-masters trying figure out how to play protest songs while avoiding the dreaded F chord are to blame.

Despite my sense of foreboding I did manage to catch some quality rock’n’roll but I put that down to confirmation bias. My personal faves:

Jim Moginie and the Family Dog: MIdnight Oil’s stunt guitar player enthralled with a range of sounds and material that was both surprising and broad. From Oils classics to Chicago’s 25 or 6 to 4… The band of Tim Kevin, Kent Steedman and the fabulously musical Paul Larsen were tops.

Mick Medew and The Mesmerisers: The 2018 version of my favourite Aussie songwriter’s band were killer. Mick aka “Tenacious Road Beast” has assembled an agile yet muscular beast of old buddies in Brian Mann and Michael Charles and new pal, Lois Andrews. A short trip to the Gong supporting The Sunnyboys and a one Sydney show just left us wanting more.

The Sunnyboys: Still as fun as ever, they deserve a lifetime achievement award for pulling together great line-ups, consistently good shows and that batch of songs that have never dimmed our inner teenager.

Maximum Security: An indulgence. Steve Stuka and Guy De Varine Bohan have been around the traps since the late 70s in both The Stukas and Maximum Security. The debut Maximum Security album, “Never To Be Released” was an exercise in punk ethics. Recorded in western Sydney on a shoestring budget, independently and released and pressed for not much more than $1000… it was a hoot. And the gave a deaf and jaded old roadie a producer’s gig! On a sad note RIP Halim "Al" Mattar from The Stukas who passed away just before Christmas. 

New Christs/The Stems: Pretty close to my gig of the year. The New Christs laid a platform of hits and The Stems knocked it out of the park. The addition of super-sub Davey Lane to Dom Mariani’s songs was inspired. I’m still basking in the glow of it!

The Johnnys: The cowpokes had a renewal this year, despite the sad passing of Spencer P. Jones. Graham “Hoody” Hood took up the vocal slack, while Billy Pommer Jr and Slim Doherty combine to make them the most fun rock band since… well… The Johnnys.

Buffalo Revisited: Dave Tice’s vocals are getting better... and since they were exceptional to start with it’s a formidable benchmark. Hard to imagine that it’s 45 years since "Volcanic Rock" was recorded. Current drummer Marcus Fraser, also of up and comers Flickertail, wasn’t even born, guitarist Troy Scerri was in infants school, but I’m pretty sure bass player Steve Lorkin was selling second hand vinyl at the time.

Living Colour: The metalhead/guitar tech/music geek in me is always astounding by this New York quartet. This time around, the vocals of Corey Glover were better than I’ve heard him. Vernon Reid is a guitar player without peer. I’m pretty sure not even he knows where his fingers are going to land. As a rhythm section, Doug Wimbish and Will Calhoun are airtight. Their class showed with a welcome to country to open the show by Marlene Cummins and a percussion cover of Beds Are Burning to close out. Astounding.

Cheap Trick: A band I have seen since they first visited in 1980. Sure they’re getting a little less frenetic. Rick Nielson might not bring as many guitars as he used to, which from personal experience was about thirty in the late 80s - early 90s and Bun E Carlos has departed acrimoniously, but they still deliver a power pop punch that stops me in my tracks. Robin Zander must have some powerful voodoo magic to keep him in tip-top shape.

See You Tonight - The Stew Cunningham Benefit: Mark Horne pulled together the mates of the Leadfinger singer, Stew Cunningham, who had fallen ill. The night was an exercise in good vibes, raised a slab of cash and featured some of the best collaborations of the year. I love it when bands get behind one of their own in a selfless manner. A shout out must go to Spain’s Senor No who shared their Sydney headliner with the cause.

The only other thing that has been on my mind, apart from Barman’s attempts to discredit me and any person with a progressive conscience with his Trump-styled musings, has been research on mental health in the entertainment industry.

Industry bodies including Support Act, ARCA (Australian Road Crew Association) and MEAA (my employer and the union that covers actors, crew, musos and journalists) have been gaining some momentum examining why depression and poor mental health among performers and crew is on the rise. That the stat for suicide among crew is in multiple times the national average is a sobering thought. Performers get an adrenaline rush on stage and a subsequent equal and opposite reaction after the shows. How we deal with this risk and try and build support networks to minimise this harm is going to be a big part of the picture in the coming year.

With that cheery thought I wish you all well and hope that we can all consider this and maybe a donation to Support Act in the new upcoming year.