A few years ago You Am I toured in support of their self-titled album. While the album was decent enough the gig I attended in Freo was sadly lacking. The band seemed to treat the gig as an unwelcome interruption to their evening, and frontman Tim Rogers demeanour fluctuated between apathetic and boorish.
Couple that with a puzzling setlist that seemed to omit every song from the band’s Top 50 despite covering their entire career, and you have an evening that I would venture no-one remembers fondly.
But while I was by no means a fan of that event I will never not be a You Am I fan, so the news that the band was once again touring to celebrate the re-release of their first three albums with repackaged B-Sides and rarities I was in instantly, and with mate Fat alongside we made the journey to the Astor theatre this past Sunday.
After an almost comical delay with a line around the block which ultimately proved to be so that ID’s could be checked – comical due to the fact that the average punter age was around 40 and these black shirted time wasters might in fact have had to look at perhaps a half dozen licenses – we gained entry into the venue.
The Astor is a large venue with a capacity of maybe 800. 12 or 15 rows of seats fill the back half of building, with an equal sized standing area facing the stage. At around 8.30 Tim, Andy, Davey and Rusty entered to warm applause and without much fanfare went straight to work at recreating a pair of albums that have helped fill the recreational hours of a generation of Australians.
I was in about the 10th row of seats thanks to my old arthritic knees. This caused me to see slivers of You Am I for maybe the first five songs, then thanks to the old arthritic knees of others, I got to see the remainder of the show clearly from my usually seated position.
Starting with Hourly, Daily, the boys were in fine form from the jump, with only brief pauses between tunes to change guitars and welcome occasional guest musicians to fill out the brass, strings or keys on certain tracks.
Bassist Andy Kent still looks like the coolest accountant in the room, with the custom ‘V’ bowl cut that makes me wonder if he even has a right eye. He bobs passively along while underpinning the ultra-precise beat of drummer Russel Hopkinson, who reminded me of the Flight of the Conchords landlord. David Lane mans the lead guitar, and while everyone seems to still think of him as the ‘new kid’ he already has over a decade of service spent rocking thousands.
All of this leaves the polarizing Tim Rogers, the man who spends equal amounts of energy playing up the rock star persona while simultaneously yearning for the audience’s acceptance of this label. While his between song banter was more earnest than insightful and rewarding, Rogers’ engagement was obvious for all to see as he threw himself into the material.
In the past I think Rogers and co have grown tired of hearing about how good they used to be, which could be why they so steadfastly refused to throw the crowd a well-loved bone a few years back. In this vein they must be like a faded sportsman who can only wish that they could recapture former glory. NBA star Vince Carter must be sick of hearing just how amazing he was in the 2000 dunk contest, especially given he has spent a dozen years still in the league since then.
But at least Vince had that memory to cling to. For every once star there are a million ‘never weres’. You Am I have three albums acknowledged as some of Australia’s all time best. After laying waste to Hourly, Daily, the foursome took a quarter hour recess to return with Hi Fi Way.
Any wondering why the group opted to play their third album before their second soon dissipated, for while Hourly, Daily might well be their best album, Hi Fi Way is easily the best album played live. It also benefits from having a half dozen songs with gleeful freak-out musical moments where they lay the smack down on pretenders with astonishing precision.
Punkarella. Applecross Wing Commander. Minor Byrd. Stray. It’s pretty easy to forgive a few Roger’s ramblings when at the conclusion of same he is able to so casually tear into a riff kicking off a song that is instantly recognisable and cherished by hundreds of thousands.
Handwasher and Purple Sneakers got couples hugging and reminiscing of snogs now some two decades past, (and probably with a different guy or gal than the one accompanying them tonight).
There was only one (admittedly well earned) indulgence where Rogers was allowed to momentarily shed his guitar to channel his inner Jagger (Rolling Stones), Gillespie (Primal Scream), Robinson (Black Crowes) and Peno (Died Pretty) all over the stage. And all while wearing a pair of tracky dacks crafted from the pelt of the Cookie Monster. Let’s just say I have a job and a mortgage that prevents me from being a full blown alcoholic, Tim Rogers should thank his guitar for preventing him from being the cheesiest gumbo of other frontmen in music.
A brief and well deserved applause break after How Much Is Enough? was followed by a short encore, with the cherry on the sundae undoubtedly being Berlin Chair. Like the Beastie Boys have with Sabotage, Berlin Chair is the answer to every question pertaining to how to end a show effectively. Two and a half minutes of pop punk perfection that capped off two plus hours of joyful aural reminiscence.
Tonight ended with smiles all around, on stage and off. The band thanked the crowd for 20 something years of faithfulness – and at times patience and understanding – with a bow and the aforementioned Berlin Chair.
For mine the previous couple hours were thanks enough. At one stage Timmy muttered something about this being his first sober tour in a quarter century. If this is the result of teetotalling, then long live sobriety.
You Am I released three albums that best the ‘Best ofs’ of hundreds of Australian bands in the 90s. The band might resent being told their old stuff is better than the newer stuff, but the evidence on display tonight was undeniable.
The fact is that accessibility prevented this from being some kind of quasi-religious experience. Between the tours every few year and the DVDs and CDs full of live versions of almost every song from these albums, it’s hard to have a revelation through hearing many of your faves live. But credit where credit is due Timmy, if you acquiesce to the audience just a little like you did tonight, you’ll ensure sell outs for another quarter century to come.
I’m happy You Am I and co seemed to enjoy the night. From what I saw 600 odd others were extremely satisfied.