It wasn’t that long ago that the trip down Forrest Highway to Busselton straight after new year’s for a festival was a yearly tradition for music lovers. Thanks to Cold Chisel’s decision to launch their new album, Blood Moon, with a series of multi-band festival-style concerts, the pilgrimage was revisited at least once more.
The location was idyllic – Barnard Park overlooks Geographe Bay, a postcard beach that was dotted with families barbequing under tarps, children splashing in the calm crystal blue water and boats with occupants pre-loading in style. I’m sure I wasn’t the only attendee to enter the gates with legs caked in soft white sand. The only criticism of the venue would be that, much like Sir Stewart Bovell Park on the other side of Bussell Highway, shade was at a premium. Apart from a couple of shade sails near the gates, the solitude of a porta potty was the only place to seek relief from the sun.
In an unexpected turn, The Southern River Band took the stage to kick off the show with frontman Cal Kramer reporting that Carla Geneve had “come down with a serious case of something” and couldn’t make the trip. It didn’t take long for the crowd to get under the spell of Thornlie’s finest though, as their take on the blues was a fine match for Chisel’s older fans who haven’t listened to anything else in the meantime. Kramer is an expert at banter and putting hecklers in their place. Wearing skin-tight white flairs and a two-date tour shirt that was ripped and thrown into the audience Hulk Hogan-style, he compared his songs to the addictiveness and life ruining properties of meth; pointed out the ludicrousness of a suggestion that he stole his pants from Freddie Mercury given that Mercury died of “AIDs and HIV” before he was even born; and explained to long lost relatives his difficulty to enter into a one-on-one conversation while attempting to communicate to the entire oval of early-comers.
Gyroscope’s Dan Sanders kept the skinny man meets Nair torso parade going one set longer, no doubt causing a tin smasher or two chained to their camping chair at the back of the venue to pull their shirts down over their tum tums. Launching into their vintage classic Doctor Doctor, the frontman skipped the frivolities of starting the set on the stage and jumped straight into the photo pit to get up close and personal with the fans at the front. He got even deeper later with Safe Forever, threatening many a phone to run out of juice before sundown. The Lockridge locals were their usual high energy selves and new drummer Simmy Dreja, having made his debut the night before in Freo, didn’t miss a beat with the bassman quipping that they had a new “best muso in the band”.
The WA-only support line up continued with dead set legends Jebediah hitting the stage. Still boasting their original line up, the four-piece crammed a set-full of favourites into their 50 minutes and had punters of all ages pogoing and singing along in joy, particularly on Leaving Home, She’s a Comet and Fall Down. The emo anthem Harpoon also reminded us of how the band influenced the aforementioned Gyroscope as well as many a CD wallet overflowing with sideswept goodness. Kevin Mitchell complained of not being able to see the crowd due to the sun blinding those on stage, but he wouldn’t stoop so low as the don the Prada shades an audience member hellbent on Insta-fame tossed on stage. Perhaps the excitable audience member should have taken aboard the Southern River Band’s reminder about how to interact with people on stage.
Birds of Tokyo were the odd band out today. It seems like imperfection, improvisation and grit are essential ingredients to the music of the other acts, but the Ian Kenny-led outfit have sanitised their music so much you wonder why they are not wearing hazmat suits up there. When the band finally played their ode to divorce, Good Lord, the forgettable set was made memorable with the line about singing along to Fleetwood Mac. Is this the most misplaced listing of an influence in song since Kid Rock name-dropped Lynyrd Skynyrd in that song that sampled Warren Zevon? Closer This Fire was dedicated to our hard-working firefighters across the country, which seems comparable to using a fireworks display as a means of raising cash for bushfire victims. Hmmm…
With the sun completely down on the first day of 2020 and a football oval packed with punters paying a premium for cheap wine, Cold Chisel hit the stage and immediately launched into Standing on the Outside. It can’t be certain whether the sentiment was directed at those in the dunes or balconies outside the venue or perhaps those not privileged to be inside the premium general admission section up front (a barricade that would be penetrated a few songs in), but it was the first of a set-full of all time rock classics. A trio of back-up singers, consisting of familiar faces Jade MacRae, Juanita Tippins and Mahalia Barnes, joined the band for Wild Colonial Boy, which also allowed Ian Moss the chance to show off his considerable guitar chops. The familiar piano notes of Don Walker introduced Choir Girl and brought on the first en masse singalong of the set, before longtime sax ring-in Andy Bickers hit the stage to lead rockabilly gem Rising Sun and add even more grunt to the Moss-sung exercise in lead guitar mastery that is My Baby.
Following the obligatory songs from the recently released Blood Moon, which were still stronger than most bands release 46 years after first forming, the band once again showed off the depth of their back catalogue. An extended lead-in to Saturday Night saw the band harmonise about the big nights out of their youth, while the iconic footage of the band walking through a Sydney Mardi Gras played on the screen behind. With Jimmy Barnes prowling the stage throughout the set, his vocals got better as the night progressed. His his range demonstrated on tracks like You Got Nothing I Want and Flame Trees, the avid fan of delivered burgers seems to be able to hit a switch to cause his voice to go into overdrive. It would be un-Australian not to experience Barnsy live at least once in your life.
Cold Chisel’s set in Busselton was a no-nonsense rock show. Eschewing all but the briefest of stage banter, the subversiveness of much of the band’s lyrical content meant explanations were better left unsaid – this was supposed to be a celebration after all. The band crammed more than two dozen songs into two hours, including the eight-song triple encore, the highlight of which had to be the back-to-back appearance of reggae-influenced ode to hangovers Breakfast at Sweethearts and the Steve Prestwich-penned classic Forever Now.
All up, the band couldn’t put a foot wrong and showed why they are so important to the history of Australian music. The choice of support acts bridged the gap between the generations in attendance and hopefully future By the C line ups continue this trend because a bunch of bands by the ocean is pretty much the best way to spend a summer’s day.
Photos by Amber Lilley