Deniz Tek and Friends at The Midnight Special
It depends where you live but electrified Deniz Tek shows are more or less annual affairs these days, with the good Doctor spending half his time tending to A&E patients in Sydney, Australia, or Billings, Montana, with rock tours squeezed in during down-time. Unplugged gigs, on the other hand, are fewer and further between.
Newtown – April 21, 2014
You can count how many so-called acoustic shows Tek has done in recent years and not need a calculator.
The Dig It Up! extravaganza in Sydney provided a (side)-stage for his debut a couple of years ago. I was lucky enough to catch Tek and Chris Masuak doing a live-to-air in similar style in Paris in 2011. Another solo gig occurred in Sydney earlier this year. There’s also been a show at the Hand of Law art gallery that paired Tek with Hoodoo Guru Rick Grossman on bass.
Stripping back his solo songs and those of his most famous band, Radio Birdman, takes a certain mindset and a well considered approach. All those doom-laden chords and overdriven lead-breaks take on an entirely different feel when pared back.
The fact is, however, that many of the songs we know best with lashings of volume were birthed on a trusty acoustic.
The main consideration for Deniz remains that a show must rock. Adding latter-day Visitor Andy Newman on bass gives tonight some bottom end. Bringing in Visitors bandmate Mark Sisto as guest vocalist for a bracket adds a special element. The late and un-billed inclusion of Pip Hoyle on keys makes the gathering a four-fifths Visitors affair.
The Midnight Special is a long narrow room with two levels, decked out in the style of an American roadhouse. The action happens on the ground level. You take your seat at the bar, and take your chances that you’ll see what’s going on atop a stage the size of a postage stamp.
It’s a cool room with good piped music (Is “Easter Everywhere” OK with you?) Word is out and you can’t move in the joint tonight.
Tek and Newman climb up at 7pm and reel off (early) Fleetwood Mac’s “Oh Well” in low-key style. It’s been a regular in Deniz Tek Group sets even if it flies over most people’s heads. “Smith and Wesson Blues” scores better on the crowd recognition stakes. “Breaks My Heart” is an obvious winner.
“Ship’s In” is there, too. Deniz warms to some storytelling and acknowledges Scott Morgan’s right -hand man Chris “Box” Taylor as the on-tour inspiration for “Ghost Town”, the ode to Detroit from the Tek solo album of the same name. Don’t go tot Brooklyn? Don’t tell someone who’s already dead. “Can Of Soup” and “I’m All Right” (one of the more “up” songs from the LP) hang out together mid-set. Excuse me, do you have the number for Lifeline handy? Cheer up! Just kidding!
There’s an acknowledgement of the Stones in “Honky Tonk Woman” (the invitation to sing along goes mostly unaccepted) and Tek manages to wind up another song with a “Can't You Hear Me Knocking?” flourish. It’s the one-two punch of “You’re Gonna Miss Me” segueing into Roky’s poignant “Goodbye Sweet Dreams” that gets the hair on the back of the neck tingling. An inspired close to the first bracket.
A 15-minute break and we’re into the Deniz and Friends segment. If you missed the last sighting of the Visitors in December (the Ron Asheton Foundation Benefit show), you can count yourself unlucky, silly or geographically challenged. Tonight was a chance to look inside those songs, at close quarters, and catch a sense of why each of their performances is special.
Slower but still textured, nuanced without the stun volume, the songs of the Visitors breathe deep and work perfectly in this setting. Mark Sisto works the lyrics, Tek gets inventive with the fretwork and the impact is intense with lounge-room intimacy. Presuming your lounge room has tap beer and crushed, sweaty people.
“Brother John”, “Journey By Sledge” and “Haunted Road”. You can’t go wrong with songs like these. The crowd laps it up. “Miss You Too Much” is rendered with the right level of Sisto pathos.
Roy Orbison’s “In Dreams” has Mark standing on the bar - probably to reach The Big O’s high notes. We can’t coax any more out of the assembled band so it’s left to Penny Ikinger - in town from Melbourne to do some songwriting with Deniz - to close the show with “All Tomorrow’s Parties”. Then it’s over.
If you weren’t there, you missed something special. If you were there, you’ll know I’m right.