Live Music + Gig Reviews

Spiderbait @ Alexandra Hills Hotel, Brisbane

1 May 2004

Seasoned Aussie rock veterans Spiderbait are here supporting Hoodoo Gurus on an extensive nationwide tour covering just about anywhere in Australia with a pulse. Take this place for instance. Packed to the rafters, it’s an inauspicious looking hotel about 40kms from the centre of Brisbane, vaguely near the end of a train line that’s tonight closed for engineering works. That Spiderbait are from a small town in New South Wales seems somehow fitting.

And yet this three-piece find themselves more popular in Australia now than they’ve ever been. Their Top 5 single Black Betty, a cover version, is far and away their most successful release ever. And, on the back of their latest major label album Tonight Alright’s launch, one wonders why they’re the support act.

Maybe it’s their love of live, for it seems they just can’t get enough of it. Live, needless to say, is unpredictable. Whitt, looking like Frodo’s long-lost, big-eyed elder brother, gets to change his guitar moments into the opening track of a set. Broken string, perhaps?

Whatever, we energetically plough through an hour-long set that seems shorter. It showcases the bulk of the new record while finding space for older songs (and the fans know all the words). Live is fun, too. You need only look at bassist Janet’s delighted smile as Kram batters his drums during Take Me Back. He looks for all the world like Animal from The Muppet Show as he jumps up and rouses the rabble to riot with some trademark funky moves. “Everybody do the twist,” orders the main man with the beard, swaying his sides about in mock-ecstasy like a mix of your pi**ed uncle and a mildly cool Trekkie.

As with the band’s previous material, Kram doesn’t get all the lead vocals to himself on the new album. F**ken Awesome (sic), one of Tonight Alright’s highlights, is sung with gusto by Janet, plucking her bass nonchalantly. It’s convincing enough as a second single. She’s back for Live In A Box and the power-stomp that is Cows (another possible single), showing that there’s more to her vocals than whimsical (though welcome) waifness.

It’s just as well – Kram seems knackered after every few songs, even leaving his drums at one point for a seat at the side of the stage. All the time the floor is filling up with smiling faces, and the repartee between Whitt and Janet, and between Kram and audience, is what live is all about.

It ends, somewhat predictably, with Black Betty. It’s missing the countrified guitar twangs on the CD – Whitt, after all, can only play one guitar at a time, and tonight he’s doing power chords bit. The song still gets an extended stomp-out treatment, of course. Kram’s voice is up to the challenge of shouting those lyrics – “Whoa Black Betty, bam ba lam…”. Every last wallflower jumps into the mosh pit to stamp about in ecstasy; crowd surfers are pursued by a huge Maori security guard across the room; arms punch the air. Kram is visibly lighter at the climax of his considerable exertions, and leads the band off without encore, but with deserved cheers, roars and whistles.

Spiderbait, recruiting fans at gigs like these up and down the country all the time, must be counting down the days till many more people beyond the Australian suburbs know who they are.

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Spiderbait @ Alexandra Hills Hotel, Brisbane