Photos: Byron Smith
The Stooges went and did it. The Dolls too. Hell, even MC5 took a stab at a reunion of sorts. So in a way it’s not all too surprising that, three decades on, another punk progenitor would decide get back into the game for keeps.
The difference this time is that Radio Birdman — four Aussies, one Canadian, and one Detroit expat who worshipped unabashedly at the altar of the three aforementioned bands (and played with members thereof) — had never played the United States before this reunion tour. Ever. So when it was announced that the cult legends would be appearing the Middle East on Saturday night — on a bill with the Konks and the Rogers Sisters, no less — I was, like, so there.
The openers did their thing. The Konks were primitive and dirty and mean and front man Kurt drummed standing up. The Rogers Sisters were twitchy and bitchy (in a good way), guitarist/vocalist Jennifer Rogers voguing icily for stage-front shutterbugs and bassist — and “non-female sister” — Miyuki Furtado feigning electrocution as they tore through songs from their excellent, very different latest, The Invisible Deck (Too Pure/Beggars).
Radio Birdman, against all odds, have a new record out too: Zeno Beach (Yep Roc), and it’s really good. Better, perhaps than anyone has any right to expect. After all, this is a band who had not played together with any regularity since their 1974-1978 heyday. Their most recent stateside release was Sub Pop’s vital career retrospective, The Essential Radio Birdman, back in 2002.
But as they took the stage Saturday night to a rapturous crowd, fists pumping and flags flying, it was immediately clear that more than a quarter century has dulled them not a whit. If anything it’s only honed their steely edge. This tour finds four of the six founding members — Tek, vocalist Rob Younger, keyboardist Pip Hoyle and guitarist Chris Masuak —who are augmented by bassist Jim Dickson and drummer Russell Hopkinson. Lean and black-clad, and as they tore into the tilt-a-whirl rhythms of “Burn My Eye,” followed close on by “Do The Pop” and “Murder City Nights,” it might just as well have been Sydney ’77.
Things slowed down just a bit for “I-94,” Tek’s paean to his home state (and the Eskimo Pies and Stroh’s that are so hard to find down under) but got right back up to speed as the band, twin guitars glinting sparks, tore through “Hand of Law,” “Decent Into the Maelstrom,” “Aloha Steve & Dano,” and an excoriating cover of the Stooges “Search & Destroy.” Younger’s between song comments were all but inaudible thanks to his Aussie-accented sotto voce, but once a song kicked in his throat was at full throttle as he shook and shimmied like Saint Vitus himself. This was fast music. Hurtling. Supersonic. Indeed, if you wanna be a dork about it, you might even say Birdman have a “need for speed”: Tek, besides being a trained ER doc, was also Navy fighter pilot, and if you believe what you read, his fly boy days were the inspiration for this guy.
There were songs from the new record (the surf-friendly title track, the wah-wah freak-out “Locked Up”) but by the time the crowd lost its collective shit to the encore, a stomping, chanting tear through the classic “New Race,” it was beyond a doubt that the sentiment of the new album’s single — “We’ve Come So Far (To Be Here Today)” — was not only true but long, long overdue.
DOWNLOAD (via Badminton Stamps): “New Race”
DOWNLOAD (via I Rock Cleveland): “We’ve Come So Far (To Be Here Today)”
WATCH: “Aloha Steve & Dano” (YouTube)
WATCH: Radio Birdman live (w/ interview) on Rockturnal, 1978 part one and part two (YouTube)