Dan Kelly’s reputation precedes him but tonight, something felt undercooked

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Dan Kelly’s reputation precedes him but tonight, something felt undercooked

Dan Kelly & the Alpha Males
Loose Tooth
1 / 4
Words by Augustus Welby
Pics by David Harris

You could tell it’s been a long time between drinks for Dan Kelly & the Alpha Males.

In a stop-start career that’s brought us four LPs across 15 years, Dan Kelly has been afflicted by the critics’ curse. Kelly couldn’t move for ARIA nominations in the 2000s. His debut, Sing the Tabloid Blues, nabbed three of them while its successors, Drowning In the Fountain of Youth and Dan Kelly’s Dream, both got the attention of the industry association board.

His latest, Leisure Panic!, also had awards panels talking, becoming his second contender for the Australian Music Prize. Despite this, Dan Kelly’s audience numbers have never matched his reputation among critics and industry insiders. It’s an odd phenomenon, but then, his music’s a bit odd, which might explain it.

Kelly has always been well-liked by the muso crowd and his gigs tend to bring true believers out of the woodwork. Judging by tonight’s turnout, that’s still the case. Members of Oh Mercy and Augie March could be spotted in the uncomfortably packed Gasometer; on stage it was a who’s who.

Kelly’s first two records were made with a loosely fixed backing band called the Alpha Males. At various points, the band included Drones members Gareth Liddiard, Christian Strybosch and Dan Luscombe, The Devastations’ Tom Carlyon, Civil Civic’s Aaron Cupples and the legend of Found Sound, Lewis Boyes.

This gig was a celebration of 15 years since Sing the Tabloid Blues and Strybosch, Carlyon, Cupples and Boyes were along for the ride, plus keyboard player Steve Hesketh. They’re all accomplished, skilled players, but you could sense they hadn’t played together much lately.

Or perhaps it was that they hadn’t performed these songs for an audience since they were in their 20s. As a result, not only were they remembering how to play them, but also how to feel while playing them.

Kelly wrote a lot of these songs in his early 20s somewhere between living in Brisbane and moving to St Kilda. The songs run the gamut from Jon Spencer bluesy rockers to folky throwbacks and mordant art pop a la Beck or Eels.

The record’s most widely recognised song is ‘Summer Wino’, which was excluded from the front-to-back album run-through that started the show. It portrays the best of Kelly’s early period – infused with intellectual signifiers but is at its heart a hedonistic romp.

I’ve been reading lots of Charles Bukowski and all about the Motley Crüe/Now I’m swirling and ducking like a punch drunk postman,” Kelly sang when the song appeared later in the show. There just wasn’t an appetite for this sort of textual dimension among the mid-‘00s hip crowd, but we’re happy that Kelly hasn’t thrown in the towel.

Highlight: The resolution of the kick drum feedback issue.

Lowlight: The kick drum feedback issue.

Crowd favourite: Dan Kelly’s classic bantz.