by Maryanne Window
Live music in Melbourne is back and what a great way to welcome it back to Margaret Court Arena than with a nostalgic line up of hit you in the guts rock and roll. Originally scheduled for pre-pandemic times, this power packed bill saw local tough guys Rose Tattoo started the ball rolling with a gut punch of their well loved hits. Angry Anderson snarled his way through classics including Scarred for Life, We Won’t Be Beaten and Bad Boy For Love. Although Angry was the sole original member, Paul De Marco made a return to the drums after a stint in the slammer adding authenticity to the rousing Rock ‘n’ Roll Outlaw. Anderson strutted, spat and snarled his way around the stage swigging from a bottle of bourbon and preaching about freedom, unity and power for all Australians. Flanked by former Skyhooks Mk2 guitarist Bob Spencer, original AC/DC vocalist and bass player Mark Evans and newcomer Mick Arnold on slide, it really did feel like they were ready to kick some heads in after the show!
San Francisco three-piece Black Rebel Motorcycle Club entered the arena looking just as menacing and sounding just as loud. The jungle rhythm of thumping toms and kick drum reminded me just how powerful feeling music is as much as listening to it. Drummer Leah Shapiro brought some much needed female energy to the stage and kept the bottom end pumping as Peter Hayes and Robert Levon Been alternated between lead vocals as well as swapping between fuzz guitar and bass through the set. Certainly more introspective than the ‘Tatts who preceded them, highlights of the set included Beat the Devil’s Tattoo, Steal a Ride, Berlin, American X and the power packed closer Spread Your Love.
UK grunge sensations BUSH are a band that transported me back to a time when record companies were still throwing money around and Celtic armband tattoos were all the rage. Gavin Rossdale and Gwen Stefani were an LA ‘it’ couple and Bush were constantly branded “the British Nirvana”. They hit the stage with a bang – literally – several in fact, scaring the shit out of a few of the old timers in the audience. Time has stood still as far as aging goes for Rossdale, who was joined onstage by a later incarnation of the band and was giving off some serious Michael Hutchence vibes.
The set was tight, loud and energetic and familiar hits Glycerine, Everything Zen, Machine Head from their debut album 16 Stone sat comfortably beside the more recent The Kingdom. Rossdale made a point of introducing another of their more recent songs Flowers on the Grave telling the audience that writing, recording and performing new songs made it interesting for the band and kept them going.
The trademark loud/soft dynamic that epitomised ‘90s grunge was still present in the new material and had the audience transfixed. The tension it created was as tight as a drum. The only act on the bill to make full use of the big screen behind them, the projected series of abstract images accompanying each song was pretty impactful.
Hailing from San Diego and also exploding out of the golden age of grunge was the penultimate act Stone Temple Pilots who will always be known as The Elegant Bachelors to me thanks to the Pavement song Rangelife famously name checking them. I haven’t heard much about STP since former lead singer Scott Weiland tragically died in 2015 and had no idea Jeff Gutt had been fronting the band since 2017 together with original members brothers Dean and Robert DeLeo on guitar and bass respectively and Eric Kretz on drums. Plenty of die hard fans lined the front rail decked out in vintage tour t shirts of course new this and were singing along to every song, both old and new. DeLeo’s guitar sound was incredible as they blistered through such grunge classics as Vasoline, Big Bang Baby, Down, Big Empty (from The Crow soundtrack) and my favourite of theirs, Plush, a song I reckon Silverchair must have listened to a lot when they wrote Tomorrow. Gutt more than delivered on the songs made famous by Weiland’s voice in addition to their newer material. The familiar electric guitar intro to Interstate Love Song reminded me how this band straddles the line between heavy and pop music and I think this ability to tap into melody while maintaining a heavy edge. Perhaps this is why so many of their songs were able to transport me instantly back to ‘90s FM radio.
Daxx Neilson, son of Rick and current drummer for headliners Cheap Trick stepped up as guest drummer as they rolled into Dead and Bloated, a testament to the respect these musicians have for each other. Finishing strongly with Trippin’ on a Hole in a Paper Heart and Sex Type Thing, these guys clearly still have a lot of gas left in the tank and put in a more than solid performance.
When the roadies rolled out Cheap Trick founding Rick Nielsen’s stack of quad boxes out onto the stage, it was a sure sign rock would be imminent. Rockford’s finest were on fire from the outset, Nielsen being joined by co founder Tom Petersson on bass and frontman Robin Zander who in my opinion is a contender for the best voice in rock and roll.
Keeping it all in house, Rick Nielsen’s son Daxx on drums and Robin Zander’s son Robin Taylor Zander on guitar and vocals rounded out the 2022 incarnation. These guys are pros and served up exactly what the fans paid their admission for – unbridled power pop rock with a set full of their finest hits.
This was no legacy act, this was a band that sounded as fresh as relevant as they did on their classic live at Budokan album of 1978 firing up the crowd with the rousing opener Hello There, Tonight It’s You and throwing in a cover of The Move’s California Man. Zander Senior hit every high note with ease as they stormed through the classics including If You Want My Love, The Flame, I Want You to Want Me, Dream Police and Surrender. Petersson was cool as a cucumber on his custom 12 string Gretsch bass, a highlight being his melodic solo spot that I’m sure not just the bass players in the audience appreciated. Zander Junior featured on lead vocals on Downed, proving he’s a chip off the old block and a perfect fit blending harmonies with his old man throughout the set. Finishing with the classic Goodnight Now from their Budokan album and obvious set closer, the crowd were well and truly sated and couldn’t ask for a better set than this.
Props to the promoters of Under The Southern Stars for putting together such an eclectic bill that captured the decades from the 1970s through to the 2000s that certainly shaped generations of music fans, all of which were represented in the crowd at Margaret Court Arena. Props to the bands for breaking us all out of this pandemic haze and reminding us of the healing power of live rock and roll.