30 Years Of Borrowed Time - Beasts of Bourbon (self released)
Here’s one of those ‘blink-and-you’ll-miss-out’ releases. It’s a limited edition (500 copies), triple CD set of three recent live shows by as many different line-ups, each representing a particular phase of the Beasts’ rocky and storied lifespan. Need it be added that it kicks the living shit out of ‘most anything else the band’s committed to tape or hard drive?
This set was originally on sale at the limited run of 30th anniversary Australian shows that the three line-ups did in 2013. Reports were that it was hard to find – one punter said it didn’t seem to be available when the circus stopped off in Sydney – and a handful have crept into the supply chain via enlightened stores like Pure Pop (Melbourne) and Redeye (Sydney.) So now you know who to hit up for a copy…
The Beasts are less a band than an institution these days. Starting as an inner-Sydney party act of doubtful longevity, they turned twisted blues and country punk into a living at various parts of the ‘80s but never hung around long enough to wear out their welcome. By the time the ‘90s dawned, they’d become a serious proposition indeed, signing to a major label spin-off with frontman Tex Perkins being lauded (by at least one female tabloid newspaper scribe) as Oz Rock’s ultimate sleaze sex icon. Hard work but someone has to do it.
The Beasts made their mark in Europe especially, but seemed to explode to a halt whenever the excesses got all too much. Nowadays, they play the part of Big Dumb Rockers to a tee, gleefully churning out admirably under-rehearsed, if predictable, sets of skronk. Allusions to the edgier influences like Beefheart and country that bobbed up in their earlier albums are virtually all gone. Or so it seemed.
Disc One captures “The Axeman’s Jazz” Beasts in full flight at the 2013 Meredith Festival in regional Victoria. Playing the songs from that debut record finds the reconfigured band in startling form. They’re rough around all the right edges and Perkins’ vocal is inspired. Who would have thought Kim Salmon would tread the same stages as his formerly very much ex-bandmates? Me neither but such events are what makes reformations like this exciting.
The set is drawn from a very live desktape. You can’t hear much of the crowd but Salmon and Spencer P. Jones are very “up” in the mix. You can work the balance knob and get a real appreciation for how well these guys work – as individuals and as a combination. James Baker’s distinctive work behind the traps puts a new “old” perspective on the band’s sound – no click track required. Cow-punk started in a handful places and this is one of them. If you couldn’t be there, this disc is the next best thing.
“The Low Road” was the record that thrust the Beasts of Bourbon centre-stage. No longer a niche act, they were playing in the bright spotlight. That the world ultimately never “got” their bludgeoning sound never mattered to the thousands who packed their shows. Disc Three showcases the Perkins-Jones-Salmon-Pola-Hooper line-up that many still regard as definitive, in all their seamy glory at the Brisbane 2013 show supporting Iggy and the Stooges.
The playing is intense – like a steam-roller with a broken handbrake and its operator on a death wish – that you’ll again wonder how they never swept grunge’s namby pamby, shorts-wearing flannelette boys to one side and emerged on top of the global heap.
“Gone” was the first album without Kim Salmon and if you felt it lacked something (songs?) you’re not alone. What the line-up that recorded it did have was Charlie Owen, a chronically-talented fretboard exponent whose style and demeanour indicated he could have been a Beast from birth. This is the Disc Two “Little Animals” (and current) line-up and the show is a cracker.
Yes, the Beasts play it long, straight and hard with no room for stylistic diversions, but Charlie sparks off Spencer’s playing so well in the middle of the furnace that you can’t help but give this repeated spins. There’s cross-over with Disc Two, naturally enough, but quibbling would be pointless. So would resistance.
It’s tough to pick a favourite track (or disc) among many. Let’s just say that when Tex requests Mr Perkins to “get funky” it’s no place for the faint-hearted or a chicken.