For many Australian rock and roll bands the 1970s was a largely unscripted and difficult decade, where gigs were tough and the road was hard. A life of cheap hotels and minimum chips for dinner, all washed down with whatever form of contemptible liquor they could afford, that is provided the band even got paid. Cold Chisel represented the epitome of this lifestyle, one aptly summed up by AC/DC in their classic “Long Way to the Top”, with the simple line “It’s harder than it looks”. Because it was harder in those days, something which the YouTube generation of today could never fully comprehend, especially if you weren’t that interested in writing innocuous and schmaltzy pop songs, of which there was no shortage of back then. And if you weren’t Little River Band, or (heaven forbid) Air Supply, what was a rock band to do? Nothing except perform in every pub, club, and working class shit hole that would book you. But as difficult as things were, such years of toil afforded those able enough to hone their skills, perfect their talents, and improve with every performance.
Recorded in April 1979 at Melbourne’s legendary Bombay Rock venue, The Live Tapes – Vol 2 is a raw although surprisingly pristine document of Cold Chisel before they became more or less a household name only a year later with their mega-selling (in Australian terms) East album. As keyboard player (and the group’s principle songwriter) Don Walker observes in the album’s liner notes: “By 1979 the band onstage was case-hardened by six years of touring elsewhere across the continent, not yet softened by easy acclaim.” In other words a battle-hardened band doing what it does best.
The show kicks off with “Shipping Steel”, a song from their just released Breakfast at Sweethearts LP, and remains one of the best truck driving tunes I’ve ever heard (“Convoy” springs to mind, although I can’t imagine that there were too many truckers in Oz calling themselves “Rubber Duck” over the CB). It’s a thumping energetic number, and a great opener. “Home and Broken Hearted”, from their first album, follows. Another stomping rocker, with lyrics that tell a story, and which sees the band work out in weighty fashion, which goes some way to explain why you don’t see too many musicians hanging out in the gym. Next is the apocalyptic “Dresden”, a song they rarely performed, which is a shame, because it’s one of their most musically complicated as well as intellectually accomplished. Jim Barnes’s sanding-belt like vocals might not be to everyone’s taste, but as any fan of Janis Joplin will tell you, it fits with the music (how many John Lydon cover albums have you heard of?). The studio incarnation of “Conversations” resembled a caged tiger caught in captivity. Not so this version, where the animal is let loose, and at last allowed to freely roam its natural habitat.
It’s not surprising that the majority of material performed on this night was off their second album, which had been issued only a couple of months before, therefore we are treated to a rare performance of “Showtime”, then “The Door”, both decent numbers by anyone’s standards, followed by what would soon become their most well known tune at the time, “Breakfast at Sweethearts”. The sort of music one needs to listen to late at night over a glass of red wine and candlelight. The seedy subject matter of “Plaza”, sung by Ian Moss, nicely segues into the bluesy “One Long Day”, also sung by Moss, whose guitar playing is exemplary throughout, and is in my opinion one of the finest versions yet released. If “Merry Go Round” had of been written and performed by some British punk outfit, it would be considered a minor classic, likewise their interpretation of Chip Taylor’s “Wild Thing”, here rendered with an urgent mammalian intensity guaranteed to appeal to every hunter-gatherer in the audience (or at home, listening on his headphones). Last track “Goodbye (Astrid Goodbye)”, is another muscular and testosterone charged tune that wouldn’t be out of place on a Jerry Lee Lewis album, and one which would put many a punk band to shame. Not that I regard this track as punk per se, but based on sheer energy alone, it could flatten even the most inflexible Mohawk.
Live at Bombay is a superb time capsule of an era which no longer exists, a period when ‘pub-rock’ was at its height, and legends were born. An epoch of small sweaty over-crowded venues, where the beer was cheap, and the nights were long. And that, ladies and gentlemen, is what rock and roll should be all about.