Governor Hindmarsh Hotel, Fri 5 Jul.
Back in the caveman days of the 1970s, Australia was an isolated market. There was no internet or satellite TV and music magazines took three months to get here from the UK and USA. So Aussies just did their own thing in a plethora of different styles and genres. There were radio stations playing Aussie bands and TV shows had Australian bands on to perform. There was a thriving local music press (RAM, Juke, etc.) and there was a massive audience of people in love with ‘their’ bands; bands that needed to be tough to play in Aussie beer barns. Enter AC/DC, The Angels, Rose Tattoo, Cold Chisel, Midnight Oil and Skyhooks. Even our pop groups like Sherbet, John Paul Young and so on had to be hard as nails as live performers.
It was the first time in a long time that there was even a chance of perhaps cracking the overseas markets. All of the mentioned bands made a play for the OS market with varying degree of success. In the middle of the pack was Stars, who had all the potential in the world to crack the USA with country boogie blues rock‘n’roll that could give The Doobie Brothers or Lynyrd Skynyrd a run for their money and the songwriting, craft and harmonies to rival Little River Band. Vocalist Mick Pealing with stunning voice and good looks, one of the great Aussie guitarists in Mal Eastick and the wonder boy singer/guitar player/outstanding songwriter Andy Durant adding the magic dust.
After just two albums, Durant was diagnosed with melanoma and passed away at the age of just twenty five. A tribute concert in his honour, The Andy Durant Memorial Concert, was recorded and filmed and became a pivotal moment in Australian music history. Perhaps they had run their course, but it’s also possible that the loss of Durant was such a body blow it was impossible to carry on. The various members have gone on to other musical adventures and it comes as a bit of a shock that Stars have reformed and released a new album four decades after they split. So, on a cold winter’s night at The Gov, Stars are back on home turf, playing old favourites and new songs for a very appreciative audience.
Opening with the first track on the first album (Paradise) Back Again a flood of memories washes through he room. Mick Pealing’s vocals are a powerhouse and Mal Eastick’s still playing ‘full body’ guitar like he always did. He puts his whole self into that instrument. Bass player Roger McLaughlin (ex-Little River Band) originally joined the band in 1977(ish) and is taking care of business at the bottom end. The set is heavy with new songs (nine out of the eleven) from the new record Boundary Rider, which can be the kiss of death for a ‘heritage’ act whose audience is mainly here to hear the old stuff. But given many of the songs are actually vintage (if unheard) Andy Durant songs, the style, tone and quality is up there with their known best material. Drinking Alone, Sunburnt Land, Time Stands Still are all exceptional. Mostly people are hearing them for the first time, but as sales of the CD and vinyl post gigs showed, these new songs were striking a chord with long term fans.
It was the older songs that understandably got the biggest reception. Jupiter Creek, West Is The Way, from the first record (Paradise 1977) and Never Coming Back, Redneck Boogie and the magnificent Last Of The Riverboats from the second (Land Of Fortune 1979) are all rapturously received. It’s an odd thing that such a great band’s career is in many ways defined by the death of a young band member and the consequent tribute concert (album and video). The emotional aftershocks are still felt and when they get to their biggest hit, Look After Yourself, towards the end of the set, there are more than a few moist eyes. When they rip out the country boogie of Mighty Rock to close, people finally bust into the small space in front the tables and have a dance. Noticeably absent was Quick On The Draw, their first single and a song many were hanging on hearing. Maybe next time. Returning for an elongated version of what was a quite short Durant song Good Times, they finish with their live staple Joe Walsh’s Rocky Mountain Way, complete with solos from each member and a hearty sing-a-long from the punters.
Let’s hope it’s not another several decades before they return.
Images courtesy of Ian Bell