Camelot Lounge, December 5
Ninety years ago the anguished voice and stinging slide guitar of rural blues were like aural shock treatment. In the 21st century you restore that raw primality by unleashing the brutal power of Midnight Oil’s Rob Hirst behind the drums. Whether in the Oils or Backsliders he fires up the same drumming version of a rock-you-back-on-your-heels V8. In the latter he just uses more gears.
When Hirst signed up for Dom Turner’s band 20 years ago, any pretence toward a putative authenticity flew the coup, to be replaced by something remoulded more in our own image: blues-based music with a uniquely Oz-rock inflection. Hirst is among the rare ones whose charismatic playing can make almost every stop-time or groove an edge-of-the-seat experience, the downside being that too much of the music can be set in overdrive. But you quickly forgive that when he and Turner invent the hitherto unknown idiom of surf-blues, and give us the wild ride that was Tombstoning.
This was the band’s first performance for nine months, and most groups would slit a sacrificial throat or two to sound this potent straight out of the post-pandemic box. Launching their new Bonecrunch album, they predominantly glued themselves to that new repertoire, with many of the songs sounding stronger in performance. It’s that old issue of whereas a recording readily places the vocals front and centre, here Turner’s singing and Hirst’s backing vocals had to fight for space in the brutalist sonic wall, and acquired added urgency as a result.
Just as much as Hirst’s drumming, Turner’s distinctive guitar playing builds that wall, with its barrages of distortion and its howling slide, and thickening it further was the harmonica of Joe Glover. Glover’s solos were too low in the mix when the band was really hammering, but as soon as the density dropped a gram, his harp sliced into your central nervous system like a machete, as on an “unplugged” version of Willie Cobbs’ You Don’t Love Me.