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Gig Review

The Triffids: A Secret in the Shape of a Song
London, Barbican

Article written by Ged M - Apr 16, 2010

First staged at the Sydney Festival in 2008, the night is billed as a celebration of David McComb’s music, with the surviving Triffids and various guests performing 34 of McComb’s songs written for the Triffids, Blackeyed Susans, his solo album and unreleased material for his last band Costar. It’s an unbroken three hour plus set (with a contribution midway from the Blackeyed Susans) with much obvious emotion, Alsy MacDonald seeming to get tear-choked when speaking about his childhood mate.

The tributes are poignant; the evening’s MC, ex-Moodist and Triffids tour manager Handsome Steve Miller, kicks off the evening with rock’n’roll poetry before becoming steadily more ribald and, possibly, more drunk at the onstage bar. Rob McComb presents a mid-set snapshot eulogy, showing photos from the family home in Perth and reading an early poem that demonstrates his younger brother's talent for evocative wordsmithery. And most of the singers mention "privilege" or "honour" in taking their place at the front of the band for a song or two. But initially there’s the awkward feeling of a funeral: all the love is focused on the man who isn’t there, leaving the living tiptoeing around each other, nervous of showing inappropriate irreverence.

However, McComb has been dead 11 years and we’re not here to bury but to praise him. Gradually the players relax until it becomes a proper sort of memorial service, celebrating the man and his writing and also taking a chance to act out his rock’n’roll vision for the Triffids. Jill Birt, now an architect, lives up to that, becoming progressively more animated when it's her turn to sing. Mick Harvey too, doesn’t let things get sentimental, tearing into ‘the Seabirds’ early on and forcing the pace of the evening away from funereal. And as the night wears on, things get looser and unrestrained. Songs cover the span of McComb’s career, from ‘Beautiful Waste’ and ‘Red Pony’ from the early 80s to ‘I Want to Conquer You’ from 1994’s shockingly out-of-print Love of Will solo album. Former McComb collaborators from Perth, like Phil Kakulas and Rob Snarski, rock up to the mike, Ricky Mayme from the Brian Jonestown Massacre is ever present on guitar, and there’s a small English contingent too: Dev Hines (Lightspeed Champion) just looks overawed to have been invited, the very tall Simon Breed enjoys himself as he belts out his brace of songs McComb-style, and Stuart Staples, though he screws up ‘Wide Open Road’, is a good choice of a very different voice and his delivery of ‘Save What You Can’ is faultless. ‘Evil’ Graham Lee, the architect of the Triffids’ reissue programme, sings his share too, including ‘Jerdacuttup Man’ and ‘Fairytale Love’. On the latter, things move to another tier of unreality, a bubble machine going into overdrive as Warren Ellis (who has been contributing subtly effective violin) adds tear-provoking bouzouki.

It’s the final encore that reminds you of what we lost in 1999. With ‘Tender Is The Night (The Long Fidelity)’ the original Triffids return and sing sorrowful lyrics that could have been written for McComb, not by him:

"We knew him as a gentle young man
I cannot say for sure the reasons for his decline
We watched him fade before our very eyes
And years before his time."

The night confirms what Domino's reissue programme told us, that time doesn't diminish these songs or this songwriter.

Set list: 2 early Triffids songs (sung by Dev Hynes)/ Too Hot To Move (Graham Lee)/ Place In The Sun (Alsy Macdonald)/ Tarrilup Bridge (Jill Birt)/ In The Pines/ Hell Of A Summer (both Rob Snarski)/ The Seabirds/ Kelly's Blues (both Mick Harvey)/ Bury Me Deep In Love/ Bright Lights, Big City/ Life Of Crime (all Mark Snarski)/ Rob McComb family tribute/ This One Eats Souls (Mark Snarski), Ocean Of You/ Leaning/ The Good Life Never Ends (all Blackeyed Susans/ Red Pony (Rob Snarski)/ Embedded/ I Want To Conquer You/ Lifelike (all Melanie Oxley)/ Raining Pleasure/ Goodbye Little Boy (Jill Birt)/ Bad Timing (Adrian Hoffmann)/ Trick Of The Light/ Lonely Stretch (both Simon Breed)/ Reverie/ Beautiful Waste (both Dev Hynes)/ Wide Open Road/ (Stuart Staples)/ Jerdacuttup Man (Graham Lee)/ Calenture (Chris Abrahams)/ Save What You Can (Stuart Staples)// Encores: Setting You Free (?)/ Fairytale Love (Graham Lee)/ Tender Is The Night (The Long Fidelity) (Jill Birt)


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