The band joined beloved Perth-born Melbourne-adopted artist Jensen Tjhung as he launched his debut collection of poetry, Old Fashioned Superstition.
While renowned Melbourne punk band Deaf Wish may have hung up their spurs in 2018, their disdain for predictability lives on in former guitarist and vocalist Jensen Tjhung, who took to a make-shift stage out the front of Licorice Pie Records last Saturday. Rather than reading from Old Fashioned Superstition – his debut collection of poetry based on Deaf Wish’s 2018 US tour – he chose to read an unpublished piece, written the Wednesday prior: BTB.
While leaving what ‘BTB’ stands for up to the audience’s imagination, a conversation with Tjhung after the performance revealed it to be an in-joke with his pub footy mates: Beware the Blowout.
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It’s fitting. The whole gig could be likened to an in-joke: something by mates, for mates (Tjhung is close friends with Scott & Charlene’s Wedding frontman Craig Dermody). A few less acquainted members of the audience could be heard whispering questions to each other intermittently throughout: namely ‘Who are The Bats?’ (They’re the pub footy team started by Tjhung, for which Dermody also plays).
Despite the confusion, all watched on, captivated – and not just because it was slightly hard to hear over the noise of the restaurant patrons next door, forcing us all to lean in and focus. Tjhung stood at the microphone, framed by the backdrop of the record store, whose fluorescent light contrasted with the mood lighting of Hope St Radio.
His body was angled slightly away from one half of the audience, chin dropped and mouth impishly lopsided in the direction of his speech. Despite being a youthful 40, the broad Aussie accent and manner of storytelling – at once confident and nervous, his 6-foot-2 frame leaning back, swaying slightly – were more suggestive of a grandpa giving a toast at a family dinner. Not to mention his penchant for puns: “The last thing I need is a breakfast at epiphanies.”
Toeing the line between humorous and heart-wrenching, Tjhung’s rhythms and words, particularly his inclusion of the audience when referring to ‘we’, evoked memories of our own friends and blowouts past.
“Nothing grows horns quite like halos, and we’ve wrecked the weekend with early nights and nourishing meals. Now I can feel the winds of the blowout slowly creeping in.”
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From 20-somethings to 60-somethings, the crowd’s age range was as diverse as their reasons for being there. Many were dedicated friends and followers of Tjhung or support act Scott & Charlene’s Wedding (SACW), or pub footy comrades migrating over post-game. Some had been eating peacefully at the restaurant next door. A few had heard the hubbub from the street and drifted in. Yet all knew the painful and comforting repetitiveness of our shared human condition, which really is just a series of blowouts and recoveries.
The reading ended and BTB disappeared into the ether. “It’s like a Wicker poem,” said Tjhung, “It’s going to disappear and we’ll never speak about it again.” When asked for a copy of it after the show, Tjhung revealed he had given the only version away, to the owner of Licorice Pie – reflective of the rule-breaking transience with which Tjhung approaches art.
SACW picked things up like they had never been away. Almost 18 months since they last played live to an audience, they are a band for which it wouldn’t much matter if they had or had not played for an extended time. SACW’s draw rests largely on the charisma of Dermody, around whom the band has centred, formed and reformed around over the last 15 years.
On top of relatable, witty lyrics reminiscent of Paul Kelly and raw, unbothered vocals that bring Lou Reed to mind, Dermody layers on his own specific brand of blue-collar aloofness that sets him apart from the career musician. His choppy blonde bowl cut, high-slung guitar and shadowy under-eyes contribute to a look of manly boyishness that is at once naïve and well-worn, and somehow makes more sense on stage than off.
Much like Kelly, Dermody trades in nostalgia and sets his songs in local Melbourne haunts like Northcote Plaza, prompting audiences to immediately think, “Hey! I, too, buy sausages there and am sad sometimes!” And, my god, these last few months (make that 14) have gone so slow.
The rest of the band’s make-up was simple but effective. Dermody’s rhythm guitar was complemented by Gill Tucker’s concentrated lead, just as his vocals were complemented by hers (albeit slightly too quietly). The bass was strong and driving, speaking for itself as player Jack Farley hovered Stu Sutcliffe-style behind a wide concrete column. Drummer Joe Alexander enjoyed himself in that unique fashion of drummers who could sit at any drumkit and would happily play away, nodding and smiling to themselves.
True to Dermody’s ‘nice-guy’ frontman persona – an anti-Liam Gallagher, if you will – he didn’t fall short of playing all the classics. The audience wondered collectively if ‘She’ still comes around whenever ‘She’ wants in ‘Scrambled Eggs’ – rapidly alternating between wistfully recalling our own lovers past and yelling, “They really are immaculate!”
In ‘Footscray Station’, many devoted fans had a moment of self-reflection as they realised they are still living in the same shitty sharehouse, running late and making no money, much like the last time they heard this song live. ‘Don’t Bother Me’, introduced with a dedication to The Bats, who had played earlier that day, was met with an enthusiastic round of whoops and applause, as ruddy-faced teammates chanted at each other “It don’t bother me” in excited unison.
Yet the well-worn set fell on slightly different ears to usual. A year of isolation and loss has tipped SACW’s poignantly funny classics more on the side of poignant. The union with Tjhung, whose poetry similarly wanders blithely between existential melancholy and simple pleasures, felt like a catharsis of nostalgia for the mundane joys and sorrows we never knew were so important pre-2020.
A prophetic Facebook post from SACW around their final live show in January 2020 foretold: “I reckon a big thing I learnt from this last year in SACW is that the future is surprising and impossible to predict. Happy to have grabbed this last few months with my friends/heroes and made the most of it.”
In many ways, they couldn’t have been more spot on. 2020 was bloody surprising and impossible to predict. And yet, somehow, we’ve made it back. Back to the stage. Back to seeing SACW live (albeit for a one-time reform). Back to the blowout. Back to pub footy. And, to quote Dermody, COVID or no COVID, win or loss, “The beer still tastes the same at the end of the day.”
Highlight: Looking around at the diverse range of faces in the audience, all of whom could be guaranteed to have had their own personal highlight of what felt like a very personal gig.
Lowlight: Technical difficulties – no surprises! Most memorably, a couple of songs in, Craig’s microphone stopped working and he jumped to Gill’s. While inconvenient, this highlighted the band’s ability to adapt casually on-the-fly, and we didn’t much mind after all. In fact, fuckups and off-the-cuff banter, far from depreciating or being a side note to the gig, make SACW who they are.
Crowd favourite: ‘Don’t Bother Me’ – a pub footy epic which reminded us, surprisingly comfortingly, that a ‘post-COVID world’ might not be as different as we thought.