Sunday, September 13, 2009

The Whitlams live in Melbourne, 2009

Eternal Nightcap 12th anniversary showcase gig - venue: The Corner Hotel

Bringing their most definitive album, Eternal Nightcap, to the stage twelve years on from its release, The Whitlams tonight are very unceremonious about the ARIA winning set. The run through of the songs in order as they appear on the disc, is barely ever broken by speech. Unusual, as in past shows, Tim Freedman was a man dedicated to building the stories around his songs and was a master of the 'set-up'. The only setting up tonight is a pre-concert uncorking of a bottle of Penfolds and four subsequent half-glass lashings by a roadie who carefully places each glass by the instruments. The opening of the wine sends a cheer throughout the room as we all anticipate the band's arrival. It does feel like a long wait looking at the four glasses of wine where musicians should be. Tim and the three guys who have been The Whitlams for around nine years now, finally arrive and settle in their places with a rehearsed swoosh on to the stage. A quick sip of wine, a raised eyebrow as Tim briefly considers his drop then straight into No Aphrodisiac. This song has evolved dramatically from a softly sung piano/strings monologue into a rock monster. The band pump it up, flesh it out and deliver it with a trowel full of riffing and wailing. It's good, although not very subtle and something of a rude shock, but then Tim did state that he wanted to 'reinterpret' some of the old songs on this tour.

The ever popular Buy Now Pay Later is awarded the biggest crowd reaction of the night, however the expected sing-a-long has become a little subdued since my last Whitlams show. It's only much later in the set when Tim is taking requests from the front rows that it becomes clear I Make Hamburgers is what's on everyone's list. Everyone except Tim that is, "Anybody who wants to hear THAT song can put it on their stereos at home". Perhaps he's embarrassed by it's whimsical, slightly dodgy lyrics? But then again next to Chunky Chunky Air Guitar it's a piece of songwriting genius. Thankfully the latter song doesn't make an appearance tonight either. Time, on the other hand, has been very kind to the romping You Sound Like Louis Burdett, the album's centerpiece. Live it is a fantastic shambles of hurridly changed chords and a building three layered chorus with Tim appearing to grab random lines out of thin air to keep this cheery drunken tale's momentum from ever slowing. This song, more than any other really sums up The Whitlams Eternal Nightcap period. It's a bit schitzo, the happy comes with a little slice of sad, but the joy juice isn't too far from reach. Although the same can't be said for Tim's bottle of Penfolds, which has taken a nose dive off the stool during Louis Burdett. It's as if the hard drinking characters in the lyrics have been made momentarily real and taken a vigorous lunge at the first thing that looks wet.

At this point I note the always smiling drummer, Terepai Richmond is Tim's wing man as they exchange mirthful glances at crucial points in the songs. Guitarist Jak Housden with his enormous fringe has the air of somebody who really wants to be the front man, and bassist Warwick Hornby remains fairly inanimate throughout, as most bass players tend to do. Because of the terrible acoustics in the Corner, it's a funny kind of racket they're making and I'm lead to conclude that most of the Whitlams songs don't really need full instrumentation at all. Half way through I'm really just wanting to hear Tim at the piano instead of another guitar solo. It has to be said, though that during the Pogues derivative, Band On Every Corner, the group really pull together and work through a swanky re-arrangement sans the pipes and whistles album version. With the full Eternal Nightcap album done with it's time for the 'requests' section (or the bit where people start calling out for songs that don't get played).

Starting the second bracket with the forgettable Fall For You single wasn't a great move and had more than a few people doing a bar run. They would have been better off going straight into Keep The Light On which is truly uplifting greatness. Personal favorite Made Me Hard was also a welcome but surprising addition, and opens a run of 'songs that really should've been hits' from The Whitlams catalogue. The gorgeous Fondness Makes The Heart Grow Absent and The Shining are criminally underrated, which I think is why Tim plays them with such ferocious passion (in the process exposing his slight ambivalence to a lot of the Eternal Nightcap songs). It makes sense; he's in a different place from when those often emotionally raw songs were made.

With only a little time left, it's becoming clear what to expect from the expected encore. Tim croaks into the mic after a short break; "We'll play a couple more and give the football fans time to get home so you don't all have to get on a train with them". I'm not so sure he's read the crowd too well, there seems to be a good deal of boof heads from where I'm standing, still it was a cheery moment. There's even more cheers for Blow Up The Pokies, which sounds exquisite tonight. Thank You (For Loving Me At My Worst) - the second best drinking song after Louis Burdett. And finally, Gough - the only possible choice to end a Whitlams gig on.


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