Cold Chisel – Live At The Wireless

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Today Cold Chisel is something of a musical institution, filling out stadiums and playing festivals across the entire country. So popular are they in fact I’m surprised that anyone applying for Australian citizenship must first be able to recite the lyrics to Khe Sanh before being handed their official certificate. How a song that was banned from commercial radio for containing references to prostitutes could just a few decades later become more familiar and respected than the country’s own national anthem is quite ironic really, if one thinks of it.

Recorded for 2JJ Radio on 29th March, 1977, Live at the Wireless is one of those rare historical documents musicologists of Aussie Rock can only dream of finding, or at least hearing. For many years a poor sounding tape had been circulating among collectors, however in 2011, the band decided to open the vaults to all and sundry, making this rare and precious performance available for the first time since its original broadcast. But there’s a catch. You have to download the show from iTunes, which means no packaging and no liner notes, which is a shame. Still we should to be grateful, even if the tracks are in MP4 format (something us audiophiles absolutely hate).

We open with a raw and unrefined “Home and Broken Hearted”, a song that would soon appear on their debut LP. After nearly four years of almost constant touring meant that the band could probably have performed a kick-ass gig while half asleep or at least without even knowing it. The version here is a little slower and looser than what they cut in the studio, though no less enjoyable, and remains a decent slab of late ‘70s post-glam rock. Jim Barnes introduces the next song as being about “loneliness” and one for all those “sitting in their motel rooms”. Never released in any form before, “Four Wall, Wash Basin, Double Bed” would a couple of years later morph into the plaintive piano ballad “Four Walls”, issued on East. Next is an excellent rendition of another tune that would find its way on their debut, the bluesy and intimate “Rosaline”. Not only was Ian Moss an accomplished guitarist, but also an exquisite vocalist, with an untrained timbre that could melt butter faster than an open fire.

An energetic “Daskerzine” is next, and no doubt Chisel’s own not so subtle nod to early Led Zeppelin. Barnes informs the audience that the song is about smack, before the band takes off quicker than a ballistic missile, including some blistering lead guitar from Moss, and pounding drums from the late Steve Prestwhich. “Brisbane Daylight Express” is another unreleased song, and while not exactly all that great, it isn’t all that bad either. Barnes was actually considering leaving the band at the time, something which doesn’t make much sense when looking back, yet the reality was that Chisel weren’t exactly raking it in, financially. “Brisbane Daylight Express” is fairly typical of the sort of blues-rock numbers the band were pumping out night after night in pubs and small venues. If there’s a studio recording, I’d love to hear it.

We close with a bluesy “Georgia on My Mind”, sung by Moss, whose singing is as soft as summer moonlight. How a kid from Alice Springs could be born with a voice like that is inexplicable. And I’m glad that it is, as it blows away the theory of eugenics.

Although the band performed other songs on this day, such as “Bunny’s Blues”, “5:30 E.T.A.” and “Showtime”, none of these would be selected for inclusion, the band having simply opted to release what was originally broadcast. But no matter, because Live at the Wireless offers the listener valuable insights into what the group sounded like, just before they would enter the studio and release their first album. Why it has taken so long to be heard again after its first broadcast remains a mystery. This mini-LP, if one can call it that, is an indispensable snapshot of a band who were destined for far greater things, which makes this recording even more special than it might have seemed otherwise by those in attendance. All I can say is lucky them.