Pop Crimes

Roland S. Howard Tribute

Rowland S. Howard would been 55 on October 24, 2014. Alas, he passed away due to liver cancer on 30 December 2009. An incredibly talented songwriter, organist and delightfully noisy guitarist, it was with wry humour that at the age of 16 as a member of The Young Charlatans he showed his genius in penning the satirical 'Shivers' whose iconic opening lines have left an enduring impression on not only alternative music, via The Boys Next Door, and in mainstream Australian rock with the top-twenty cover by The Screaming Jets in the 1990s. For his own part, Rowland took an epic post-punk journey via The Boys Next Door, The Birthday Party, Crime and The City Solution, and These Immortal Souls, along with other collaborations and ending with solo albums.

It is was indeed then wonderful that Pop Crimes, the name of Howard's last album, was formed as tribute performance with a selection of musical friends, relatives (quite literally in the case of Harry and Angela Howard) and collaborators at the Melbourne Festival. The all-star line-up also included the multi-talented Mick Harvey who took an initial leading position, along with Ed Kuepper, Genevieve McGuckin, Brian Henry Hooper, Jonnine Standish, Adalita, Hugo Race, Penny Ikinger and more.

Whilst initially the crowd, with one notable exception, showed glassy-eyed enthusiasm, the sort that would come from a diet of smack and strawberry jam with 'Model of Youth'. This is, of course, not entirely inappropriate for the medium tempo songs that Howard was known for, where one ends up more attentive to lyrics and range, rather than tempo, as well-illustrated one the night by an excellent performance of The Charlatan's 'A.K.A'.

Performers and instruments were switched around several times during the night, and like an elaborate shell game with babushka dolls, a pleasant surprise was generated with a mini-set by These Immortal Souls who, with a more aggressive sound really managed to move the crowed into the immersive swaying where one feels the music, notably with an exceptionally well performed 'Marry Me (Lie! Lie!)'.

The venue, the Fox Festival Hub, is a burnt wood pre-fabricated temporary box hosted on the lawns of Alexandra Gardens. High ceilings helped the ventilation a little, and also the sound quality at certain location within - other parts were not so good. Overall it must be said that the sound was of somewhat less than optimal, partially due to the venue, partially due to the variation among the wide cast of performers some of whom were more familiar with the music than others.

At times the most important person of any band - the mixer - seemed a little inattentive at times, especially with the vocals-to-guitar volume from singers who had lighter voices. On more than few occasions the expected reverberations transformed into feedback and then to nothing but loud white noise. Finally, the performance was incredibly rushed. Another band was due on, and whilst the show did stretch through to close to two hours, this was apparently significantly less than the night previous.

Most maddeningly, the voice-to-guitar ratio was quite apparent on 'Shivers' which probably would have been good if Adalita was just a little more audible. The white noise issue very evident in 'Sleep Alone'. Whilst that particular song is meant to have a lot of feedback and even a modicum of white noise, it is also well-crafted and volume controlled. One can be sympathetic to the challenge of getting it right, but less so at abandoning any effort. Whilst some of the performers really did carry out their task with gusto and skill, the resulting sound was terrific, in the archaic sense of "causing terror".

None of this is meant to suggest it was a bad night - it just had some fairly varied moments. Positive mentions must be made of McGuckin's clarity on the keyboard (especially in the These Immortal Souls set), Adalita bounding enthusiasm, Ed Keupper's timeless talent, Brian Hooper's deep bass (this is a man who won't even let a broken neck stop him from being a muso - respect).

And special mention should also be made of the ever under-rated J.P. Shilo, a dark horse in the rock star world who may yet receive accolades, if this indifferent universe breaks its rules and decides on a moment of aesthetic justice. Ignore the contemptible stare that he seems to carry as a matter of course; his guitar playing is absolutely mesmerising.

Apart from what has been mentioned, other highlights in the two-hour set included the brooding country-gothic sounds of 'Silver Chain', 'Dead Radio', and 'Exit Everything', the creepy sounds of 'Wayward Man', and the finale of 'The Golden Age of Bloodshed'.

Overall, this was a good show and with very good intentions; it just was obvious at times that it would have been better with more time, a better location, and better acoustics.

Complete photo gallery of Pop Crimes - The Songs Of Rowland S Howard.
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