Lipstick Kilers cd coverStrange Flash – Studio & Live ’78-81' – Lipstick Killers (Grown Up Wrong!)

There’s no doubt that the Lipstick Killers were in a class of their own when they stepped out of the shadow of Radio Birdman and onto Sydney stages. With sensibilities inherited from the import racks of White Light Records and the frantic energy of the Oxford Funhouse, they mixed stuttering power and rawness with a sense of theatre and an appreciation of the ridiculous.

The Lipstick Killers had a lineage going back to Funhouse denizens the Psychosurgeons, and the physically confronting Filth before them. If Birdman’s birth marked the Ground Zero for Sydney’s underground scene, the Lipstick Killers were heading a fast-following platoon whose ranks included Shy Imposters, Kamikaze Kids and The Passengers.

The Funhouse had slammed shut some time before their arrival, so The Civic Hotel became the Lipstick Killers’ proving ground. It wasn't far from Chequers (aka Rags) and the Stagedoor Tavern, where they also appeared, and The Grand Hotel, which hosted punk of a rawer form. 

Picture it: Birdman ran aground overseas and had spawned The Visitors, Hitmen and The Other Side, who ran in parallel with or inspired Johnny Dole and the Scabs, X, Flaming Hands, The Professors and countless others.

It was a heady timne and Lipstick Killers enjoyed the patronage of former Birdmen, with Deniz Tek playing production midwife for their 1979 landmark “Hindu Gods of Love” single. 

There were two distinct phases of the Lipstick Killers. The first, with the explosive Dave Taylor, on drums had them playing a mutant strain of punk, with Mark Taylor’s freight train guitar and frontman Peter Tillman’s unholy vocal pronouncements their calling cards

The arrival of new drummer Michael Charles from Shy Imposters in 1980 with his swing and more conventional rock and roll chops helped move the band in a more melodic, ‘60s-inspired direction. The band was eventually sucked onto the Sydney booking agency circuit, resulting in some inappropriate bills. The agents didn;t understand but the band didn't seem to care, dropping their potent, glitter-‘60s punk bombs on perplexed suburban audiences.

Oddly as it was pre-Internet, the band connected with Bomp Records head Greg Shaw who was keen to issue “Hindu Gods” stateside on his Voxx label. He did and the Lipstick Killers spent the best part of a year in Los Angeles, playing way too few shows and ultimately starving. Kim Giddy flew the coop for Steve Mather to jet over and pick up his bass role, but the band dissolved and split for home.

Lipstick Killers were heavily inspired by the Stooges and ‘60s psychedelic punk like the Thirteenth Floor Elevators and the Chocolate Watchband but also laid down markers for Australian bands that followed - like Lime SpidersHoodoo Gurus, the Screaming Tribesmen and the Psychotic Turnbuckles. You can trace that influence right up to today’s like-minded The Straight Arrows, The Living Eyes and Thee Oh Sees.

You don’t often see quotes from a one-sheet (aka media release or blurb) on the Bar – and with good reason. When we hear something we love, we like to do our own eulogizing.  But because this collection needs to be seized upon by a broader audience, you need to know what Keith Morris thinks:

“The Lipstick Killers were easily one of the greatest live bands I've witnessed in my 65 years on this planet.”

Yes, that Keith Morris from Black Flag, Circle Jerks and Off!

What made the Lipstick Killers special? The songs were a big part of it as was their raw energy and frontman’s showmanship. They picked up on the vibe of trash culture, maybe via their Radio Birdman connections (that band worked it out, without overtly projecting it publicly).  

Radios alumnus and Visitors frontman, Mark Sisto, once confided that it was the Lipstick Killers’ mix of pathos and bathos that did it for him – often in the same song or burst of patter. Rock and roll used to be a close relative to presentation back then, and the Lipstick Killers went out of their way to make each gig an event. 

“Strange Flash – Studio & Live ’78-81’“ was years in the making. Many years. People have died, waiting. So what’s here to make it so worth the wait? There are 28 tracks on the double vinyl edition and 39 on the CDs, and the latter format is the basis of this review. As they should, “Hindu Gods” and “Shakedown USA” kick things off. Next, there’s a collection of five 1978 demos by the first era band, two of which have surfaced on hard-to-find vinyl singles.

A 16-song live show from the May 1979 visit to Adelaide - once briefly issued in its entirety on cassette with two cuts on a mega rare, fans only seven-inch - completes CD1.

Seven demos by the second line-up, recorded at Trafalgar Studios by Lobby Loyde, head up the second CD. Then you get 12 songs from the 1981 Los Angeles tape that spawned the live “Mesmerizer” record.

Rounding off things are the Psychosurgeons A and B sides from the Wallaby Beat-issued 45, and two of their rehearsal tracks from ’76, previously released in 2015 as a single on boutique label Blank Records.

There’s been a re-ordering of the LA show (somebody wasn’t happy with some of the performances) and some song substitution. “Hindu Gods”  and “Let’s Talk About Girls” aren’t there, and “Shakedown USA” and “Date With A Thing” have been subbed in. Completists can do their own thing with some digital surgery. 

The demo version of “Hindu Gods” is a sonic revelation and although fake Eastern religions were its original target, it still has relevance in these times. Don’t expect Hillsong’s house band to play it at a service any time soon.

Some of us have been lucky enough to have heard almost all of the contents before, thanks to illicit sources, and the first thing you need to know is that every track sounds seriously better than relatively shitty third-generation tapes.

The Trafalgar demos sound especially sharp with Taylor’s guitar tone roaring with new life.

The Adelaide recording suffered from technical issues, with Tillman’s vocal MIA or buried, and although you can’t conjure up what isn’t there, there’s much more presence and punch in the mastered version. The LA tracks sound bigger with the bottom end better defined.

The hard-to-find “Sockman” b/w “Pensioner Pie” single fairly jumps out of the speakers and begs for incessant playing. Full credit to Melbourne mastering wiz Ernie O who has done a stellar job.

It’s thrilling to hear lesser-known first phase songs like “Bully”, “Teen Police” and “Head Off” in improved quality. The second era tunes were very different with only “Liquor Fit” hinting at the breakneck pace of the past, but they’re proof that the Lipstick Killers had the makings of a great album in their kitbag. 

You won’t be able to fault the packaging with essays from compiler David Laing, and eyewitnesses Steven Danno and Byron Coley straddling a booklet littered with striking handbill and poster artworks, most of them the work of John Foy.

The vinyl comes in orange or black. Let Bandcamp be your guide if you’re in Australia, the UK or the EU while Off White will meet your needs in the USA. It’s also selling in enlightened bricks and mortar stores.  

It’s all enough to make Victor Mature roll in his grave and Prince Randian to roll a durrie with a shout of: "Look ma, no hands". Human dildos will understand.