I last saw the The Triffids
play live in 1987, first in July at the Roskilde Festival in Copenhagen and then in October at the Town and Country Club in London. This was during one of the times when the band were trying to break into the European market, with some level of success, and they were really well received at both gigs.
But those shows, and the earlier ones I was lucky enough to witness during their formative years in Perth, were worlds apart from the performance in February 2009 at the Perth International Arts Festival due to the absence of songwriter and band leader David McComb, whose untimely death had occurred almost 10 years to the day of the PIAF gigs.
I must start with a huge thank you to “Evil” Graham Lee for enabling me to obtain tickets to the gig after they had all sold out within days (I wasn’t sure I would still be in Perth when the concerts were first announced).
have now performed a small number of these tribute/reunion gigs around the world over the last few years, but this is the first time they have performed in Perth since the death of Dave McComb on February 2nd 1999 and the subsequent, unintentional demise of the Triffids.
A number of celebrity Australian artists joined the remaining Triffids on stage including possibly one of the country’s hardest working musicians, Mick Harvey, Bruce Haymes who played piano for much of the evening, Steve Kilbey, Toby Martin, Melanie Oxley and a number of Perth musicians including the sadly under-appreciated but highly talented Rob Snarski and his brother Mark Snarski (both of the Black Eyed Susans, another group formed in WA by Dave McComb) and members of bands including Youth Group and Kill Devil Hills.
We were lucky enough to be sitting relatively close to the stage next to two over-excited old friends who make my Triffids fandom and geekiness seem small in comparison, which only added to the enjoyment. My little sister and her husband were also in the audience, lucky enough to have scored celebrity-class tickets, including free booze, and other friends were dotted around the venue, so it was nice to be able to relive the experience after the event.
We attended the first of three nights of the “A Secret in the Shape of a Song” celebration and were to enjoy over three hours of music, images and words in honor of the life and musical work of David McComb and the Triffids.
And what better way to celebrate the man than through his music.
The songs performed covered from their earliest releases on vinyl through to the solo works and collaborations of Dave McComb and for most of the evening all of the remaining Triffids were on stage.
We were treated to the haunting Nico-esque vocals and keyboards of Jill Birt; the evocative violin and guitar of Robert McComb; the constantly busy bass of Martyn Casey (surely one of this countries best bass players, just listen to some of his work on the earlier Triffids recordings, let alone his work with the Bad Seeds), the depth and colors of the pedal steel of Graham Lee and the steadfast drumming of Alsy MacDonald.
Alsy, the only person to play with Dave McComb throughout every incarnation of the Triffids, also opened the evening, saying “It’s been 20 years since we played in Perth. If it feels strange for you, imagine how strange it feels for us.”
There was also an MC for the evening in the form of ex-Moodist “Handsome” Steve Miller. This worked to a degree although he did occasionally head in a rather surreal direction, and there were moments of perplexity on the faces of the performers during some of his monologues. But it did provide some continuity while different musicians were introduced to the audience.
There were several heartfelt monologues delivered on the life of Dave McComb throughout the evening, including one by his elder brother John discussing their childhood experiences with a slideshow of old, previously unseen, family photos.
This included reliving their experiences living in The Cliffe, the McComb family home in Peppermint Grove, which has recently had its heritage listing removed and as such now has created an unknown future for the property.
Sadly this attitude is typical of the “vision” of the politicians in Perth, to my eyes and experience a city with no concern for the value of its own (very short) history and as such it has grown into a bland, characterless city incapable of celebrating anything beyond sports and business “stars”.
To help save the old McComb family home from being demolished or turned into tea rooms or a retirement home (don’t laugh, several of the pubs I used to play gigs in have now been converted into retirement homes), you can sign the petition to save The Cliffe
It has always been the earlier Triffids songs I most enjoy and quite a few from this period were performed during the night including Red Pony, Bad Timing, Spanish Blue, Property is Condemned, Beautiful Waste, Lonely Stretch and Bright Lights, Big City … the last two of which (along with the classic Wide Open Road) Steve Kilbey of the Church performed ably, although seemingly distant from the Triffids themselves, often parading at the front of the stage. He was also notably absent at the end of the night (the only musician not in attendance for the entire evening).
I am writing this review a month after the event, but some of the other Triffids songs which I remember being played on the night include The Seabirds, Place in the Sun, Too Hot to Move, In the Pines, Kelly’s Blues, Raining Pleasure, Goodbye Little Boy, Tarralup Bridge, Bury Me Deep in Love, Jerdacuttup Man, A Trick of the Light, Steal It All, Tender is the Night (The Long Fidelity) … and many more. Does anyone have a set list, or even better a desk recording, from any of these events?
It was a thoroughly enjoyable evening of music and over three hours later there were still many songs written by David McComb which could have been featured, in itself a recognition of the amazing work of this sadly under-rated man.
As is my want, and usual practice, I enjoyed the gig so much that I bought the t-shirt, the third Triffids shirt I have owned in my life.
I will probably never see the Triffids play live again, but now I have seen them with my wife, the lovely Dr E, who seemed to enjoy the evening as much as I did (and also bought a shirt, creating a bobsie twin dilemma for the future).
If you want to know more about the Triffids, check out the blog entry I wrote on them about 3 years ago. It was a labor of love and you will find it here
If you want to help the McComb family and their supporters save the Cliffe, and perhaps provide an opportunity for the future to celebrate the legacy of (one of) Perth’s greatest songwriter(s), go sign the petition
To celebrate this unique event in a Something Old, Something New manner, I have posted a baker’s dozen of rare and early recordings, some available on the home made “tape” releases, which the Triffids would later rerecord in the studio. Be quick, as usual this won’t be available for long.
Song // First Appeared On // Released On
Little Voices // Tape Four // Treeless Plain
Farmers Never Visit Nightclubs // Tape Five // Stand Up single
A Place In The Sun // Tape Six // Treeless Plain
Reverie // Tape Six // Reverie ep
Stand Up // Tape Six // Stand Up single
Bad Timing // Dungeon Tape // Bad Timing ep
Madeline // Dungeon Tape // Treeless Plain
Too Hot to Move Too Hot to Think // Dungeon Tape // The Black Swan
Red Pony // Son of Dungeon Tape // Treeless Plain
The Long Fidelity // Jack Brabham Tape // Born Sandy Devotional
One Soul Less On Your Fiery List // In The Pines // Calenture
Trick Of The Light // In The Pines // Calenture
Kelly's Blues // In The Pines // Calenture
The Triffids - A Secret In The Shape Of A Song
Do you like these tunes? Then why not support the artists (and my blogging habit) by buying some music. Check out the links above or for some good compilation albums check out these links:-