Swedes give their Best Of the launch it deserves
+ Thee Cha Cha Chas
Old Bar, Fitzroy, Victoria, Australia
Friday, 3 December 2021
When Nick Carraway suggests the impossibility of recreating the past, F Scott Fitzgerald’s nouveu-riche protagonist Jay Gatsby is incredulous. “Can’t recreate the past? Why of course you can!” Gatsby, of course, is wrong. The past, as vivid and real as it may seem to us, cannot be dialled up like an old movie on the latest streaming service. At best there are flashes of lived experience, memories that loom large in consciousness, recollections skewed and exaggerated.
I can’t remember exactly when I first saw the Swedish Magazines. Probably about 2003 or so, I think, in a world that seems quaint by comparison to today. Van and Cal Walker had already been in Melbourne for a couple of years or so. They’d been noticed by the right people around town, if not the people with the money and connections to catapult them down the road of commercial success.
A lot has happened since then. The Swedes put out an EP and a couple of albums, tore new orifices in the Melbourne rock scene and disappeared quietly from view. Van, often with Cal in tow, explored country, folk, bluegrass, power pop, Delta blues and Exiled southern rock. Then, last year, the music scene shut down, re-opened, closed again and scrambled out again when the opportunity arose.
And so it was that the Swedish Magazines appeared for the first time in eons on Friday night. It was, I think, the third attempt at scheduling the launch for the band’s new best of compilation, the first couple of shows cancelled due to you-know-what.
Walking into the Old Bar, there a sense of surreal déjà vu, like wandering into a re-built farmhouse on the Western Front. Faces not seen for months, if not years. People standing, sitting, drinking, smiling, hanging out, enjoying life while the opportunity presents itself.
We missed The Devours and Warped had to cancel late in the piece, but Thee Cha Chas were just about to start when we arrived. I’ve been meaning to see them since, well, before the pandemic wars broke out but the planets just never seemed to line up. From the opening garage riff and pithy rhythm, everything was good. It’s all been done before musically, but this isn’t recreating the past, it’s what my old housemate George would describe as ‘working the genre’.
On guitar and drums, Lluis Fuzzhound is fiendishly talented and devoted to the rock’n’roll cause. Kylie Kooks has an enigmatic stage presence that arrests your attention like 80 percent proof moonshine and a bass attack that pokes you in the solar plexus with garage aforethought. Every song seems to finish with a cha cha cha twist of lemon; the cover of The Who’s "I Can’t Explain" is enough to cause the hairs on the back of this obsessive Who fan’s neck to stand tall in respect.
You could dance all night to Thee Cha Chas and still be reading to pounce on your Sonics records the next morning. Why protest when you can dance?
Then it’s time for the Swedes, launching their Best Of record. It’s the original line-up with Anton Ruddick on guitar and Tim Durkin on drums. It’s a brutal, AC/DC wrestling Thin Lizzy with Powder Monkeys spitting invective from the sidelines. Van (wearing footy shorts, don’t you know) hollers and strums feverishly, Cal thumps his bass, Anton churns out spine-tingling lead breaks and Tim beats the bejeezus out of his drum kit.
There are moments of crowd insanity – whirling dervish drunken punters, fist-thumping accolades, spilt beer and slurred acknowledgements of common rock’n’roll cause. Everything old is as damn good as anything new that’s come out, and don’t you forget it. Dave Laing reckons "Head On Ice" is a lost Australian rock’n’roll classic and he’d know. "Bottles and Barstools" ain’t too bad either, and the rest of ‘em for good measure.
Nah, you can’t recreate the past but you can sure celebrate it. And when the future is a haze of pointy-headed predictions and ill-conceived ideological rants, then just sit back, listen to the Swedish Magazines and embrace the unadulterated potency of live rock’n’roll.