Ostensibly it was an imperative to rehearse new songs that led us to perform as Elite Republican Guard. Away from the searing publicity glare of a normal Fauves show, we would ease ourselves back into the live arena, performing our new songs without the stifling pressure to draw from our immense catalogue of iconic hits. In reality, however, this process could have been facilitated just as efficaciously in a rehearsal studio. It was an overwhelming need to reconnect with our public that drew us back to the stage. Like using salt to extract the bitterness from an eggplant, we planned to employ an audience to help us purge the toxins accumulated after months of indolence. We've spent too long backstage in temperature-controlled humidifiers, eating grapes from the manicured fingers of Etruscan virgins. Trust me, Airbus, Boeing and MacDonnell Douglas all construct their first class cabins according to the same basic principles of aviation hospitality. It can be fun sleeping with newsreaders and celebrity chefs hold great dinner parties. Having the ear of influential politicians is handy and I like drinking gluhwein on bear skin rugs before log fires in St. Moritz. But it was time to reconnect. Stepping on to the small stage at the Duke of Windsor last Wednesday was like uncovering a lost fresco at an archaeological dig, a direct line back into a world we could never again inhabit. Everywhere I noticed faces where hitherto there had only been blank silhouettes viewed through powerful stage lights, crowd control barriers and the smoke machine's obfuscating haze. If it wasn't for the armed guards escorting us at all times the punters may have almost been able to touch us.
Thankfully the guards were able to maintain a discreet presence, due largely to the fact that the audience struggled to outnumber the members of the band. This was truly a return to our roots. It is often easy for the successful to lose touch with their origins, the foundations upon which the imposing edifice of their achievement rests. Now each humbling… served as a reminder of the struggle of those long years before we made it. Setting up our own gear on the cramped stage in front of a dozen or so onlookers, it could have been it could have been our album tour of 2002.
We soundchecked over the top of some disinterested evening drinkers before engaging briefly with the disinterested publican and some of his disinterested staff. There was a pattern emerging that I couldn't quite put my finger on. A couple of ambivalent audio technicians milled about the PA while outside the world remained steadfastly unconcerned. I looked up at a blackboard where details of the week's entertainment were chalked in a cramped hand. The word 'Elite' had been smudged from the name, rendering us as the somewhat less imposing 'Republican Guard'. I thought of Bill Hicks, from whose comedic routine on the first gulf war our nom de plume had its genesis. Pretty soon it would it would just be 'The Republicans made that shit up about there being guards out there'.
The cessation of soundcheck gave rise to a new set of issues - principal among them the search for a meal. This restless quest has proved a constant motivation down the years even occasionally influencing the very music itself. Reviews for Footage Missing were some of the best we've ever had: "An antipasto plate for the new generation - 3 ½ stars" - Australian Gourmet Traveller. "Comes on like tapas in a Spanish bar. A modern Australian maelstrom of influences…" Epicure, Melbourne Age. "Waiter, there's a genius in my soup! - Vogue Entertaining.
We turned right at Chapel st and almost immediately found ourselves at the shop front of Borsch, Vodka and Tears, a hip bistro serving food with a heavy Eastern European influence. The menu, with its dumplings, goulash and root vegetables, reminded me of my gap year, a youthful sojourn spent working as an equerry to a Prussian Officer in a small hamlet outside Leipzig. They were happy times for me and many is the hour that I've pondered what may have been had I remained in the employ of that severe but scrupulously fair denizen. Now, however, was not the time for reflection. Several minutes lingering indecisively on the footpath had us in severe danger of looking like buffoons. Tempers spilled over while the diners bravely occupying curb side tables looked on in amusement. Several of our party prevaricated, citing dubious concerns as to the value for money represented in the food on offer. The evening began to slip away and we dissolved into acrimony, at length moving away down the street in search of alternatives. This, however, brought us rapidly towards the ghetto end of Chapel st. Shadowy figures emerged from doorways touting wood-fired stir-fries and wok heated pizza. We quickly retraced our steps.
Our retreat served only to deposit us straight back to the doorway of Borsch, Vodka and Tears. "It looks kind of full", I ventured timorously. The fashionable establishment with its well-dressed patrons had unnerved me. I thought of Napoleon in 1812; Stalingrad in '43: Eastern Europe was not somewhere one ventured unprepared. As my Ukrainian uncle often said, you can't make borscht without breaking a few beetroots. Behind us in the wintry evening Chapel st could have been the Volga, its stygian depths serving an ominous warning to the uncommitted. Not for the first time that evening we broke camp and once more forged on.
The ranks were now riven with unrestrained hostility. We argued openly in the street, utilising our patented brand of vicious personal slander to devastating effect. A string of brasseries came and went, each dismissed out of hand by one or other of our hungry platoon, determined that petty point scoring must take precedence over our communal wellbeing. Frankly it was dispiriting to see life long friendships destroyed in this way, and I only wished that there was something I could have done at that moment to call a halt to the bitter in-fighting. Sadly, this was not within my power, particularly as I had hit on a rich vein of invective myself, a spray of contumely that saw me earn several hearty laughs at the expense of my colleagues.
We broke the band up, quickly reformed and finally settled on a place of repast, an unprepossessing café named the Black Olive. The Olive, as we presently came to know it, was serving food no better or worse than a thousand other establishments dotted around the city. Its pizza, pasta, steak and poached platypus eggs on a Spinifex salad-style menu covered all the major food groups and we set about ordering. Doctor and I ate rather too heavily from the narrow point at the top of the food pyramid, selecting gnocchi with a cream-based sauce that had us scraping cholesterol off our arteries with a spatula for several days afterwards. From our position at the apex of Cheops we looked across a short expanse of desert to see Doug and Terry perched equally dangerously on Mycerinus, each cradling a meal of only marginally less fat content.
To say there was a small crowd in attendance when we returned to the pub would be a major understatement. To say it was a fucking small crowd would be getting closer while an announcement to the effect that the crowd's diminutive nature bordered on the tragic, would see us lose money on the night and had rendered the evening a pointless exercise in futility would be just about there. Still, the show must go on. This didn't, however, stop me placing a quick call to the Department of Hoary Old Showbiz clichés on the off chance that they might, just this once, turn a blind eye to the violation of this fundamental tenet. It was no use. We each cultivated a carefully fashioned stiff upper lip, squeezing copious amounts of araldite from a tube in my backpack to facilitate the process, and stepped inside.
The venue had all the atmosphere of a mid-sized mortuary - shortly after scientists had announced they'd discovered a cure for death. Management had shifted the tables and chairs and replaced them with drawers containing refrigerated slabs from where the audience could take in the show to their best advantage. We repaired quickly to our dressing room - a small square of clear floor space adjacent to the stage - and called directory service for Dr. Philip Nitschke's number.
We waited nervously as the crowd built steadily. The great thing about a small audience is that each additional patron represents a sizeable increase in percentage terms. The 11th payer of the evening not only swelled our heaving coffers by another $6 but also increased the audience by a whopping 10%. We were achieving the sort of economic growth figures that Western governments could only dream about.
The tension built inexorably as show time approached. Thankfully, we were not left to deal with our growing anxiety alone. Towering above our position amongst the equipment cases and stacked furniture loomed a framed NME cover featuring The Vines, the spiritual godfathers of Australian rock. Having long sought succour from the band's inspirational achievements, it was an immense comfort to find them here, if not in person then at least as a 2-dimensional facsimile, a manifestation we had grown familiar with from listening to their album. Tuning my guitar, I looked up at Craig Nicholls. He looked back beneficently, Mary, mother of Jesus to a humble acolyte. "Good luck Coxy", he seemed. "My thoughts are with you. I'd love to be there tonight but I'm stuck here in London accepting the award for Most Contrived and Meaningless Young Sneer on the cover of an English Rock Magazine". I whispered quiet thanks. His anonymous colleagues, half of whom either aren't in the band now or didn't play on the record, looked on with vacant stares that provided an unobstructed view into the perfect vacuums of their skulls.
At length we began the show, initiating proceedings with a tune of Doctor's that he doesn't have a name for yet. Growing in confidence, we segued smoothly into tracks 2 and 3, the mistake tally still measurable on the legs of a spider. By the time we'd completed the tumultuous crescendo to our 4th number we had settled into the easy swagger, the muted arrogance of The Fauves in their prime. It would be a walk in the park from here.
Terry, however, decided to take his walk early. We prepared to begin the next track only to find his quarter of the stage vacant. A bass guitar, still warm, rested casually against an amplifier. There was no sign of a struggle. Forensics were on the premises quickly and the area was roped off and declared a crime scene. Patiently, we endeavoured to explain the prosaic reality. Ted had gone for a piss.
With a bladder the size of a thimble, Ted is at the top of the betting in the race to become Australia's first nappy-wearing bassist. This was not the first time he had left us high and dry in his efforts to avoid becoming soaking wet, but rarely has he exercised his free will with such blatant disregard for an audience. Still, I was only mildly surprised. Privately he's been telling me for a long time he considers the fans to be scum, pestilent harbingers of ill-fortune, horsemen of the apocalypse swapping their rearing steeds for unroadworthy cars with 3RRR stickers on them. Now he put his deepest beliefs on public display with this devastating piece of street theatre. As he leant his head back in relief and directed his scalding stream at the cold wall of the urinal he was symbolically urinating in the face of everyone in the room.
Still, the spirit in the room refused to be soured. Terry was welcomed back on to stage like an Australian athlete chauffeured down a city street, fresh from obliterating an inferior field at a Commonwealth Games egg and spoon race. The show continued without further incident and we quickly wrapped the 12 songs we'd prepared. Some generous applause, followed by a word or two of thanks, and we were off.
Side of stage the mood was euphoric. Our short 40 minute set resulted in an early evening for the bar staff and they set about their various duties with the enthusiasm of a young Tom Cruise in Cocktail. The mood was infectious but we worked hard to keep our emotions from overflowing. To this end, a plastic bag containing the evening's takings of $208 was of no small help; the poverty of its contents was a line of sand bags to a flooding river. It had been some time since we'd paid to play and the reality dawned like a red sunrise to a shepherd. Nevertheless, with a flock like ours it was hard to stay despondent for long. At least half of the audience popped their heads around to offer their congratulations and to those 8 people I extend my most sincere thanks.
Still energised by the performance, I started riffing spontaneous lines of thought on the drive home. Doctor sat next to me in the passenger seat, balancing a small stenograph on his knee and dutifully recording my monologue. "Memo:" I began. Doctor's fingers hung expectantly over the keys. "I have just seen the future of rock and roll and it's staring back at me as I check the rear view mirror". The sound of clicking keys filled the cabin. It was an opening full of portent. I continued in this vein, my language growing ever more raw and visceral. Before long it was fairly spilling from my guts, falling like the quivering intestines of a disembowelled goat. With honesty as my tour guide, I made a whistlestop tour of the major philosophical themes of Western thought. Not until I had finished with Kierkergaard did I hit writer's block. Signally a temporary halt to my stream of consciousness, my muse donned an orange council worker's jacket and flagged Inspiration down with a STOP/SLOW sign. We swapped places and I wrestled with the stenograph while Doctor dictated the closing chapters to his novel of teenage fiction. Rest assured, dear reader, the future of Australian rock is in safe hands.