Live Music + Gig Reviews

The Triffids @ Barbican, London

9 April 2010

There is a garden party feel onstage at the Barbican. There are flowers in pots, there are white framed arches and there is a bar sat in a corner, complete with handpumps and stools, marked ‘House of Refreshment’. We are gathered here today to pay our respects to David McComb, the Triffids’ singer-songwriter who died in 1999, and every one of the 32 songs that are played over the course of the following three hours is a product of his prolific talent.

This is not, however, a funereal affair. It has its peaks and troughs, as any performance this long and this dependent on myriad participants is bound to, but it is a celebratory night and a testament in song to one of Australia’s most eloquent artists.

The show opens with two low-key solo songs from Lightspeed Champion‘s Dev Hynes, drawing from the depths of McComb’s back catalogue. He then departs to be replaced by compere Steve Miller and, eventually, The Triffids themselves: Robert McComb, David’s brother, Martyn Casey, latterly a Bad Seed, and Graham Lee, Jill Birt and Alsy MacDonald.

The guest vocalists rotate in quick succession. First we get Rob Snarski, of McComb’s ‘other band’ The Black Eyed Susans, then Bad Seeds founder Mick Harvey, who Miller calls “a giant of a man”. It’s hard to disagree.

Miller gives the next singer a less salubrious but utterly Australian welcome, calling him “a complete prick” amid a fantastical biography. Nevertheless, Mark Snarski, Rob’s brother, turns out to be the early high-water mark of this show. His version of Bury Me Deep In Love reeks gorgeous devastation on the emotions. He concludes fittingly by asking everyone to raise their glasses to McComb.

He is a hard act to follow, so getting Robert McComb to click through a slideshow of their family photos seems an odd way to do it. It doesn’t seem to quite fit the evening, but looking at the pictures of the idyllic mansion The Cliffe where the McComb boys grew up we at least get a clue as to where the garden party feel has sprouted from.

Rob Snarski is then back on stage, this time for a short set with The Black Eyed Susans themselves, singing only McComb’s songs like Red Pony, which gallops like a “Polish folk tune”.

Melanie Oxley is the night’s next high peak, singing breathtaking versions of Embedded and I Want To Conquer You, the latter in front of a CNN screenshot showing Iraq and Kuwait. The Triffids’ own female presence, Jill Birt, then gets in on the act with Raining Pleasure.

The next handful of vocalists are more hit and miss. Adrian Hoffman is worringly billed as a guy from Perth who bought front row seats but that they’ve decided to get onstage. His chief asset seems to be his relative youth and his performance is safe but not spectacular unlike the towering Simon Breed who proselytises like a preacher.

Dev Hynes returns for another injection of youth on a couple of laid-back, sunny numbers but he is followed by Tindersticks lynchpin Stuart A Staples, who forgets the words to The Triffids classic Wide Open Road, to the audible sound of gnashing teeth from the devotional crowd.

The ever-present Graham Lee chips in with a fine version of Jerdacuttup Man before Mick Harvey leads the first encore. The moment everyone’s really been waiting for comes when the entire lineup, including uncharacteristically quiet backing musicians like Warren Ellis and Ricky Maymi of The Brian Jonestown Massacre crowd on stage for Fairytale Love, the night’s Last Waltz moment.

The remaining Triffids alone close the show with Tender Is The Night (The Long Fidelity) and bring the curtain down on a night that has seen performances of varying quality but which has amply demonstrated that David McComb’s songwriting is of the very highest calibre.

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More on The Triffids
The Triffids @ Barbican, London
The Triffids – Wide Open Road: The Best Of