Mention Cold Chisel to anyone and you’re almost guaranteed to get one of two responses. Either they’ll smile at you before rattling off the names of a few of their favourite tunes, or you’ll get an immediate grimace followed by a dismissive shake of the head. Such is the polarisation the band is still capable of producing even today. If you love their music (like I do), naturally it stands to reason that you must be some culturally-challenged Cretan who drinks VB by the bucket load and regards mullets and triple soled moccasins as being at the fore front of sophisticated fashion. Or, if in the latter category, then you’re no doubt one of those university educated art-rock snobs who agrees with the principles of Marx, supports the rights of the lower classes, but would be absolutely horrified if your daughter ever mixed with much less married one of them. Fortunately in real life, things aren’t quite so black and white. And while I have a hunch that there aren’t too many Liberal Party voters who own their albums, I’m sure that amongst National Party voters it’s another story entirely. What that means exactly I’m not sure. Just call it an observation.
The Barking Spiders documents some of the band’s final performances from their 1983 farewell tour, and was more or less released as an afterthought the following year, most likely to coincide with the theatrical release of The Last Stand movie (The Last Waltz, get it?), which proved extremely popular and played an important role in canonising the group to almost mythical proportions following their breakup.
The first thing I have to say is that the sound is excellent. These shows were extremely well recorded. But what makes this album worth owning is that none of the performances here appear in the film. The very title of the LP is interesting as well. The Barking Spiders was the pseudonym they would use when playing gigs before a major tour. Also the cover design is a deliberate throwback to the days of vinyl bootlegs, and something we don’t generally see anymore.
The LP opens with the adrenalin fuelled “Merry Go Round”. Here they seem to play the song as if their very lives were dependent on how well they performed it, hoping to defy entropy in the process. But you must have your stereo turned right up in order to get the full cyclonic effect. And the assault doesn’t stop there. The vitriolic “You Got Nothing I Want” immediately follows like an avalanche of massive boulders rolling down the mountain, crushing everything in its path. Jim Barnes belts out his usual venom, while Ian Moss carves up his fender with some brutal sonic textures, proving once and for all that he is one of Australia’s finest blues-rock guitarists.
“No Sense” would make its appearance on Twentieth Century, albeit with Ray Arnott on drums. So I guess it made sense to release a live version with Steve Prestwich, as if to give the fans a chance to hear how it might have sounded otherwise. Once again it’s Moss who shines, adding light and shade while effortlessly soaring in between.
“Hold Me Tight” was the first single released some months ahead of what they thought would probably be their final album, but once again the decision to include it here was probably due to Prestwich. And speaking of Prestwich, “Tomorrow” starts off with an extended drum intro while Moss interweaves with some scorching licks. After a brief shriek from Barnes, we’re off. This was one of the great album tracks on East, and it’s most welcome here in its live and visceral incarnation.
“Forever Now” was about as close as Chisel ever got to reggae, but thankfully they never pushed it toward its full Rasta conclusion, a la The Police and other ‘80’s outfits. Barnes’s vocals are pretty rough, but he stills pulls it off. As usual Moss is the star, and he ends the song with a tremendous and soaring solo to finish side one.
“Standing on the Outside” opens side two. Gone are the constrained pop-rock sensibilities of the version heard on East. Here we have an all out balls-to-the-wall take-no-prisoners Anglo-Saxon assault. Of all the available recordings (and to be honest there aren’t that many), this is my favourite.
“Bow River” remains the epic it always was except here it has a little more atmosphere. Moss hums the melody on top of Walker’s piano, playing some warm up notes before singing “Listen now to wind babe” beginning. The whole thing is riveting from start to end, and one fantastic sweaty roller coaster, to the point where you have to wonder how they managed to sustain such intensity night after night.
“It’s Only Make Believe” is a Glen Campbell tune, and so a strange inclusion if you ask me. If the band wanted to expose people to their more tender side fair enough, but I just don’t get it. I can’t help but think that it was giving their more hard drinking fans in the audience a chance to relieve their bladders, before playing more of the good stuff.
“Twentieth Century” is not much different from its studio counterpart, but the performance on this night is certainly superior in terms of thrust and energy. David Blight’s harmonica adds a colourful and distinctly Australian flavour to Chisel’s unique rock recipe, and the whole band just simply cooks.
“Taipan” as it appeared on Circus Animals (their best album in my opinion) had a certain intense and menacing drive to it, successfully invoking the extremities of the Australian landscape. Here the beat is slowed down, to a crawl almost, as if to extract every tropical extremity they could muster then throw it at the crowd, infecting half the audience with dengue fever in the process.
Not only was Ian Moss a remarkable guitarist, he also had a voice that could melt butter. So it’s probably fitting that “Georgia” should be the final track to what was an extraordinary band, the likes of which I’m sure we will never see again.