Monday, 21 December 2009

Underground Lovers, East Brunswick Club

One thing this decade has proved is that Andy Warhol’s fifteen minutes of fame prediction needs an update. Celebrity is still just as fleeting, but our thirst for nostalgia means stars now get a bonus five minutes in the spotlight to cash in later on when the time is right. At its most banal this means the return of Hey Hey It’s Saturday and I Love the Eighties; at its most money-grabbing it means reunion world tours for the Spice Girls and the Sex Pistols.

Cynicism becomes default at these times, but I think amongst all the opportunism and money-grabbing, those extra five minutes can actually be used for good. They offer a chance to remember, to re-evaluate, to right wrongs and bring people together so they can say ‘actually, you were great and we’re sorry we didn’t tell you at the time.’

You could argue that Underground Lovers never really got their full 15 minutes in the first place. As another of the great Australian critically adored/commercially underwhelming bands they remain relatively unknown, even in their home town. The modest surroundings of the East Brunswick Club for their first official comeback gig are testament to that. Yet for the couple of hundred people attending tonight here was a chance to show the original line-up that some of us were listening, way back when.

I arrived in Australia just as the Underground Lovers were winding down, but I’ve never forgotten a blistering show at Sydney’s Petersham RSL in 2000; one of the few performances by a band I didn’t know where I danced from start to finish. Fast forward ten years and little has changed. These may be their first shows together in over fifteen years but despite some cutely-managed technical glitches their distinctive cocktail of taut rhythms, electronic swirls and simple, mesmeric guitar remains undeniable persuasive.

Underground Lovers, 2009

Leaders Vince Giarusso (vocals, guitar, keyboard) and Glenn Bennie (guitar) have never been shy about their influences. The sounds of seventies West Germany, late eighties Manchester and shoegaze and nineties warehouse parties were the foundations for the Underground Lovers’ sound and they mostly still pack the same hypnotic punches. Muscular but fluid performances from Stephen Downes (bass) and Richard Andrew (drums) create plenty of space and momentum for Giarusso, Bennie and co-vocalist Philippa Nihill (keyboards and occasional guitars) to add the anticipation and emotion, of which there is plenty in the air tonight.

In particular the perma-baseball capped Bennie’s rhythm guitar runs riot, with echoes of Barney Sumner, James’ Larry Gott and Saul Davies, Kevin Shields and even (though I doubt he’d appreciate the comparison) Achtung Baby-era U2. Meanwhile Giarusso - proving that great frontmen come in all shapes and sizes looking as he does like a friendly PE teacher - is simultaneously self-depreciating, awkward and brilliant. Clearly enjoying himself he dances around the stage all night, pausing occasionally to chat with Nihill who is equally unassuming.

It is possible that these qualities are what prevented Underground Lovers becoming big stars in the Nineties; an unwillingness to embrace the bullshit of what pop stars should look and act like which doesn’t matter seem to matter in 2009. There is some irony that in the years since they disbanded we have seen the (deserved) critical lauding of James Murphy and LCD Soundsystem. The similarities between the two groups are many, and I’m not just talking about a rabid devotion to New Order.

Still, best not to fret. This is their Extra Five Minutes and it’s time to enjoy the moment and the music. Some of the more straight ahead, indie-by-numbers songs prevent this from being a perfect show but they were in the minority. Against a kaleidoscopic backdrop of rapid-edit visuals we have all the (ahem) hits including a relentless Your Eyes, Dream it Down and an exuberant Las Vegas. The sight of 200 party poppers exploding from the crowd into the low ceiling of the East Brunswick Club during a celebratory Losin’ It will also sit alongside the memory of Leonard Cohen skipping across the stage of the Rod Laver arena as one of my favourite musical moments of 2009.

Nothing lasts forever but I hope we get to see a little more from the Underground Lovers before their latest five minutes is up. There was more than enough tonight to show why they have long been one of Australia’s best kept musical secrets. Take this opportunity to spread the word whilst you can.

· The remastered Underground Lovers back catalogue is out now through
Rubber Records and available on i-Tunes and emusic.

Underground Lovers on MySpace including You Tube clips

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