Pix by Rashid Alkamraikhi
Unlike anything else in this world, music has that rare and innate ability to transfer your whole being to an era or moment in life where nothing else mattered.
A moment of pure bliss that, although often forgotten, lays dormant in our subconscious until one familiar note or lyric awakens it from its slumber and allows the memories to flow forth from within.
This is why concerts such as Spring Loaded are such a vital part of our existence.
A festival that brings together bands we may have followed in our youth – and still probably do – to reignite those passions and feelings that for one reason or another have lay repressed.
The beauty of this is that people don’t go into a concert expecting such things. They are a welcome bonus to a live event that proves while the younger generation may possess all of the gadgets, they most certainly do not hold all of the cards.
Assembling an impressive array of Australian bands that have been entertaining crowns since last century (it sounds like forever when put like that), Empire Touring has effectively recharged the fountain of youth, even for a relatively youthful soldier like myself.
Despite losing a number of top drawcards due to Covid restrictions the week before the event in the form of Magic Dirt, The Fauves, The Meanies and Regurgitator, the replacements – Tumbleweed, Superjesus, Tex Perkins and Caligula still looked at home on the remainder of the bill that featured Screamfeeder, You Am I, Frenzal Rhomb, and Grinspoon.
With an eclectic genre pollination of rock through punk through hard rock, Spring Loaded covered nearly every base, diversifying the bands enough to entice a monster crowd into the Sandstone Point Hotel for an outdoor concert that just happened to land on a beautiful early winters day.
My timing has never been the best, despite continued concerted efforts, so I sadly missed the sets by Screamfeeder and Caligula and for that, I apologise.
I made it through the gates just as Tumbleweed started their set and after ushering Rashid (photographer) into the pit to make sure he got full value for the three songs he was allowed to shoot I finally got a chance to take stock of my surroundings and what an impressive sight it was!
A giant Ferris wheel stood tall and proud on one side while an expanse of grassy areas flowed into the ocean on the other. In the middle was a huge stage, with giant screens on either side at the top to allow those not fortunate or brave enough to view the action up close a chance to feel part of the action.
The main thing that caught my eye, however, was a sign near the front of the stage that read NO MOSHING OR THE SHOW WILL STOP. I figured they must have been serious due to the capitalising of the letters so I made a mental note to avoid such atrocities and turned an ear to the stage.
Tumbleweed are one of those underground bands that had/has a loyal following but never quite made the heights they were expected to. Not that anyone told the crowd that.
After messing around with a muddied sound for the first couple of songs, the band hit stride about halfway through and steadily got better.
Although not familiar with any of the songs or Tumbleweeds music a quote from a guy standing next to me probably best sums up their performance.
“They haven’t changed a bit!” he said, with a grin from ear to ear, so I’m assuming they did the job their fans had wanted.
You’re not supposed to play favourites at events like this but fuck it. Everyone knows I am a big Frenzal Rhomb fan so it was with flashbacks to my younger days I took perch in front of stage and waited for the inevitable.
Frenzal Rhomb are one of those bands that even if you don’t like them you have still heard of them. They are essentially punk with a dry, laconic sense of humour that often provides as much entertainment by way of stage banter as it does with musical ability.
Walking on stage – and subsequently playing along to – John Farnham’s Pressure Down, Frenzal showed from the outset they had not lost any of their cheeky bravado before launching into Stand Up And Be Cunted, Bird Attack and Russels Crowe’s Band in quick succession, hardly pausing for breath amid a sea of flailing dreadlocks and guitar aerobatics.
It was also at this juncture that the first punter decided to test the impending threat of cancellation by defying Covid laws and performing an act commonly known as moshing. Although the act didn’t suffer the promised fate, security were put on notice that enforcing the rule would require more than capital letters… but more of that later.
After frolicking through Cunt Act and personal favourite Mister Charisma, Frenzal slowed the pace down somewhat with I Miss My Lung, Bucket Bong and You Are Not My Friend, with the crowd actively participating at demanded junctures and taking the pressure off Jay’s aging – but not fading – voice.
One thing that stands out with a Frenzal live show is that despite which songs are played – be it from the earlier albums or most recent – their fans lap them up with gusto and approval. Unlike many bands whose fans demand/expect songs from the ‘early stuff’, Frenzal’s entire catalogue is loved and respected by the masses, proving you don’t need a radio hit or public image to be musically sustainable.
Finishing with You Can’t Move Into My House and Punch In The Face Frenzal’s set was over almost as soon as it began amid a whirlwind of music, one-liners and attitude.
Age shalt not weary them indeed.
Superjesus were up next, playing in the prime spot when the sun began to disappear behind the clouds, and dutifully obliged by sending out a virtual wall of sound that engulfed the whole setting.
Their sound was massive and dripping with menacing rock with Sarah McLeod bouncing around stage with an irrepressible smile on her face that didn’t leave from the first note to the last.
Looking out over the crowd she roared “this is amazing, it looks like Woodstock”, pausing long enough to take in the spectacle before once more pounding her guitar and assembling the troops.
Working through hits such as Down Again, Shut My Eyes, Secret Agent Man and Love And Violence, Superjesus’ music was still as entertaining and relevant as when they first recorded it, with a stage show fine-tuned over years of touring adding to the spectacle.
For set closer Gravity, McLeod leapt from stage and onto the barriers, dividing the crowd in half and assigning overlapping harmonies to each side that added to the atmosphere and nostalgia and once again proved there’s no substitute for experience.
After receiving a late call-up, Tex Perkins and his assembled Saviours sauntered onto stage, rightfully proclaiming their position on the bill, a haunting intro blasting from the stage while darkness set in fully around them.
I must say from the start that Tex Perkins – as brilliant as he is – was probably the biggest surprise of the night. Playing a more blues infused style of rock than the other bands there was always the danger his music would not sit well with the predominantly harder edged crowd.
While it was a noticeable shift in momentum it was still a welcome one, with the acoustic/electric guitar combination on stage a highlight of the entire event.
Running through a massive back catalogue, including Woman With Soul and “a Soundgarden song that Johnny Cash stole” in Rusty Cage, Perkins controlled the tempo and the crowd masterfully.
Closing with a banjo fuelled rendition of Rainbow Connection – which I remember seeing Kermit the Frog sing many moons ago – Perkins left as casually as he arrived, affirming his status as one of the coolest guys ever of Australian rock.
Introduced by host and Frenzal Rhomb guitarist Lindsay McDougall as one of his favourite bands, the Tim Rogers led You Am I kicked their set off with a massive reverb thundering from the stage as the band assembled themselves into position and the thing that was instantly recognisable was the overall stage sound increased dramatically.
Their sound was as massive as it was clear and for the first time that day, I felt the kick drum murmur beneath my feet and knew from the outset this set was going to be sonically huge if nothing else.
I have to admit here that although I have heard of You Am I, I do not know one of their songs (sorry Lindsay) but while that might be inexcusable for someone in my position it also allows me the opportunity to judge on merit rather than sentiment.
To me, if you enjoy a band live while not knowing one of their songs then that is emphatic proof that you just witnessed something special.
And special, if anything, is an understatement.
Tim Rogers should be inducted into Australian Musicians Elite God status immediately if he isn’t already. His stage presence alone was enormous, gyrating and prancing with reckless abandon, but his connection with the crowd without overstating the obvious was the true highlight, his swagger and poise becoming more prominent with each act of adulation afforded by the crowd.
I still don’t know one of their songs but I do know I like them.
Better known in some quarters as ‘The Doctor’, Lindsay McDougall is the perfect – and in this case possibly the only – suitable person to address the crowd between bands.
Growing up and performing in the same era gives him insider knowledge and details of every artist, and he is one man that isn’t afraid to embellish the obvious and add a touch of humour to proceedings. He seems to especially like Bribie Island dolphins but that is a conversation for another time…
Headlining act Grinspoon filled the back of stage with a simple, yet effective banner informing those in the crowd who didn’t know who they were exactly who they were and as the stage lights circled and the smoke hazed the entire area Phil Jamieson bounced out with all of the bravado of a fresh teenager and launched straight into Dead Cat 3 Times, effectively silencing the doubters with an energetic and infectious start to the set that only climbed from there.
Despite obvious features showcasing the years between the older songs and the new, Grinspoon have lost none of their exuberance and intent, punching through Lost Control, Just Ace, Hard Act To Follow and Thrills, Kills & Sunday Pills before the crowd could no longer contain their excitement and broke down one of the assembled barriers restricting more than 400 people from the cordoned-off area in front of stage.
People ran from everywhere, effectively doubling the numbers, and Grinspoon stopped playing and retreated to the rear of the stage while tension threatened to boil over. There was definitely an air of defiance in the air which was thankfully eased somewhat when Lindsay stalked back on stage and laid out the facts in a respectful, but straightforward manner.
Basically, everyone who had broken the barriers and injected themselves into the crowd were asked to go back from whence they came before the band was allowed to return to stage.
Surprisingly most of the offending parties obliged and before long Grinspoon nervously walked back on stage, the threat of crowd explosion tempered enough to allow the show to continue.
Possibly due to insistence on the part of organisers, or possibly due to the fact the restless crowd were on the cusp of defiance, Grinspoon pulled out the slower tunes, running through No Reason and Better Off Alone before upping the pace a little with Girl That You Never Liked Anyway and Ready One.
With all due respect to the band – and their fans who love these songs – the moment had passed for me and my thoughts turned towards the exit and making it out before the angry mob burst into life.
I managed to catch 1000 Miles on the way out of the door before the acoustic version of Chemical Heart rang through the speakers, justifying my decision. Thankfully there was no harmonica…
Performance-wise Grinspoon have lost none of their edge and precision, their hit songs still sounding as vibrant as the day they were released. They are a band who has been through good times and bad but have endured and remain a shining beacon of a golden period of Australian music.
In fact, each band that performed did so with pride, none of them tarnishing their solid reputations as either musicians or live performers.
It was a victory for the older generation and an overwhelming proof – if any was needed – that Australian music, no matter what era, is equal to, if not better than anything else out there.
It was a victory for music in general and a kick in the teeth for those who proclaim the death of rock music and any music in general.
As if that would ever happen…