Friday, December 11, 2009

Get ya Finger out

Powderfinger has the ability to polarise the music-listening public, that's for sure. Some think they are the greatest stayers in Oz rock history, and they have a point. Others gleefully point out that they've "always found them boring" which, while classic Tall Poppy syndrome and rather dismissive of the huge impact of this band, also holds a ring of truth to it.

I have, at various times, passionately argued both sides of the equation: Double Allergic was a defining album for Australian mainstream rock; Internationalist and Odyssey Number 5 were aberrations of style over substance; Vulture Street was a welcomed return to form in the shape of leather jackets and a bit of 'tude; Bernie's solo effort was a watershed piece and a stylistic cornerstone for acoustic soloists; Dream Days and the new album, Golden Rule, showed brief moments of inspiration, but were generally yawn-worthy. Like many other rock-pigs of my ilk and age, I've seen the Fingaaah in a multitude of settings from crusty pub gigs (Backroom at the Great Northern was a genuine musical journey, as was the Rec Club at JCU in the Ville) through to the raucous stadiums (first Splendour ranks as one of the best). While I wasn't exactly champing at the bit to see them at the Q150 finale concert, it was to be the Tiger's first foray in all things Finger-related, and FKN CUSTARD WERE REFORMING FOR 1 NIGHT ONLY! Yeah it coulda been pretty spesh, come to think of it.

Custarrrrrro blasted through a 50 minute back-catalogue set and brought back so many memories of early uni and early Brisbane gigs, parties and events that it was almost like watching a sepia-tinged movie of my life in my mind's eye. It was everything you would have wanted and have no doubt missed from the genius which is Custard on a good night - even Dave's continual big-upping of each and every guitar "solo" by excitedly re-introducing the guitarist ("Ladies and gentlemen, Mr Matthew Robert Strong!") was endearing and sweet. The dudes were loving it, it seemed and it was one of those great moments in Brisbane music history. But then came the Finger.

This night was all about Powderfinger and a big WTF? regarding where it's head has gone (apart from "up it's own arsehole", as has been suggested). I missed the past couple of tours due to general tiredness of the formula that had become the Finger curse. The last time I saw them was probably at a Big Day Out, and I think I was a billion times more interested in the grease-sodden "hamburger" I'd chosen for sustenance than the supposed rock show from Straya's biggest band going on before me. Not a worry, I reasoned most bands have their cycles and I just resigned myself to waiting for theirs to come back around.

It was in this vein that I was sort of keen to catch them to see if they'd hit their straps again... but all the worst fears were confirmed within just 3 songs. It's hard to pinpoint exactly what went wrong: was it the general monotone sound, devoid of peaks, squalls, snarls and general signs of life? Partly. Was it the band's insistence on focusing almost exclusively on its "smash hit" numbers at the expense of some its songs of genuine skill and poise? Sure. Was it their almost pathological need to turn every number into a building epic complete with false finishes and ubiquitous drum-crashing finales? Definitely. Was it the massive and perfectly timed lighting rig which seemed mostly trained on the audience and partly in existence just so people could go "fuck, look how many lights they have, wouldya"? Yep. It was all of those things, but it was also more.

It was the very clear vibe from the band that this was not who they really were, or even wanted to be. The Finger members have worked very hard on their personal PR and have managed to paint this gorgeous picture of themselves as the Mr Everyman. The bloke next door. The good guy coming first, for a change. And that's cool, because I have no doubt that's who they are in real life. But then they get on stage, and they build this pretense of rock stardom, of a mysticism, aura and style which just doesn't sit right. And being the blokey-blokes they are, they are painfully self-aware of this fakery, fearing the inevitable piss-take from their band mates should one be deemed too much of a "dickhead". Which is cool in a way - keeps them grounded, yadda yadda yadda. But this internal code and self-censoring doesn't allow for fully expressed creativity and, thus, the band were stiff as boards, barring Bernard's awkward one-hand-on-hip, one-hand-in-the-air posing. The between-song banter varied between non-existent, through hollow measures of thanks and enquiries along the lines of "how you all doin'?", to bizarre screamed call and responses which came out of nowhere and added nothing to the proceedings. The final insult came with a truly embarrassing round of Happy Birthday to "Queensland" (it was the state's birthday celebration, but this was presented more as a chore, rather than as a fun or poignant moment). This led into the train-wreck of a run home of massive numbers which were given a generous pedestrian treatment - almost to the point of self-parody. The only saving grace was the encore of Bless My Soul, which deserved its epic-ness (for the upteenth time) and a cover of the Go Betweens' Streets of Your Town, with all the bands on the bill joining them on-stage.

This was, quite clearly, a band all too aware of where it sits within the musical landscape. And, like it's audience, it appears doesn't quite know if it wants to still get into it, or just to finally let it rest.


Dr Yobbo said...

Nicely put. Very nicely put.

I remember Dave giving the full-name-and-address shoutout to his guitarist even on the studio version of Hit Song. There was a band that should have been allowed to get huger than they did.

The Finger's other problem is the realisation that they'll never be as big as they were, they're ten years past their absolute peak, and they're closer to the end than the beginning. How you deal with that psychologically is the test of a once-huge band (and needless to say it's an idea that gets played with a lot in that In The Worst Possible Taste series I've been working on.) It pretty much did for Tim Rogers and You Am I, by my reckoning.

Albion Love Den said...

Very good point.

The differences between the Finger and Pearl Jam (who could very well be placed in the same position) were stark. And to me, it came down to attitude - PJ gave it some balls and feeling and at least attempted to portray some sense of a journey. The Finger have just turned it into a down-trodden, workman-like performance which makes you feel cheated.

(Oh, and haven't read ITWPT yet. Waiting for you to finish the serialisation to read it in one hit. Must say, have to overcome that sense of jealousy that you've been able to put an idea like that into a fictionalised account - it's something I've been toying with for years, but never had the balls to follow through with).

Natalia the Russian Spy said...

I can only concur. Double Allergic was the highlight of their career for me. I remember teaching high school kids DAF on guitars and yakking on about how Dolly Parton's Jolene riff was transformed into the serpent in JC...funny I have never bought an album since.

Great piece Albion.

Albion Love Den said...

Thanks NatV. As a PS they played a song from the new album - think it's called Burn Your Name - which was seemingly written to go over the tear-jerking moments of the woeful Channel Nine "inspirational" garden make over shows. You know the ones - someones gone through some tough shit and all they need is a confused Balinese faux-pagoda in their backyards to get them through?

Yeah - I'm a cynical bastard.

beeso said...

Cmon, pearl jams last decent album was ..................

Anyway got me thinking about the first splendour in the grass. My all time favourite live band resin dogs had been very flat the last few times i'd seen them. ALL my mates were going to watch powderfinger, but i stayed true and watched the dogs and was rewarded with one of the most blistering live sets i saw them do.

Post a Comment

C'mon! 'Ave a go ya mugs.