Teenager I Am: The Sunnyboys at the Festival Gardens 06/03/2015
“Teenager I am”. The screams of a thousand buzzed Australians tipping past middle age are divided into the half comfortable with their elevating bourgeois tendencies, accessing the venue by 7:30 dead and sitting through the opener DM3 amidst the plushness of red verge-collected couches. The other half are more agitated, pushed to the front of the stage in the swirl of weed smoke, watching one of Australia's most notorious and short-lived bands from the 'Do the Pop!' era of east-coast garage rock pump out a string of hits from a five year stint in their audience's late youth.
Both groups, whether immersed completely or with a flaccid, quiet appreciation that perhaps reveals the lack of enthusiasm they'd probably have for kids today who come up playing this sort of hard and fast, cut and thrust semi-punk, are engulfed within the thick haze of nostalgia.
For The Sunnyboys that's pretty appropriate as well. Over ten years ago they released a compilation to get some cash for their creative genius (This Is Real), Jeremy Oxley, static and unemployed after years suffering from untreated schizophrenia, documented in the 2013 film The Sunnyboy. The original line-up's frequently sold-out and spirited return to the stage has been both a new income and revealed their importance as an essential chemical in the lives of a generation of Australians. It's a real experience to watch a band that specialised in writing the most depressing tracks to ever bop inspiring such pure joy.
Oxley is incredibly shy on stage, singing and playing guitar but leaving crowd interaction to the more outgoing rhythm guitarist Richard Burgman, a snarly grin in a black akubra hat and dress shirt. Peter Oxley hits up bass with the reservation that lead to him being written by his brother as the unassuming subject of 'Happy Man', with Bill Bilson completing the original line-up on the drums. Realistically though it's about Jeremy Oxley, the guitar supremo, emotive singer and enigmatic figure that captured imaginations in the oddly uncharismatic 'Alone With You' video thirty-five years ago.
Every track has a similar theme: announcement, opening riff, crowd goes wild, dies down, chorus, crowd goes wild, guitar solo, crowd's ecstatic. After so many years out they're happy to go the familiar, revel in it even. Entering to The Beatles' 'Here Comes the Sun', the sort of morning after song that could mark out the light at the passage of insanity, they launched through an early string of hits including 'Love to Rule', 'Tunnel of my Love' and the jaunty but melancholy 'My Only Friend'. Despite some mixing problems early the mood picked all the way up with the title track of their second album, 'Individuals', with a sharp tempo change and the pulse of sharp sixteenths driving the pressure up (incidentally, when the scent of herb starts the permeate the air.
Their first single 'Happy Man', which came about half-way in was faithful powerful, and consequently adored. 'Show me Some Discipline', from 1984 LP Get Some Fun, was lengthened by a couple minutes, allowing the crowd to singalong until the words “Show me some discipline/I'll show you mine” became a haunting coda. All the while the floor cuts open with the ironic juxtaposition between the desperate anxiety conveyed in Oxley's lyrics and the jubilation of an audience living through flashbacks.
They got two encores. The most passionately called for that I've experienced at the Gardens in my whole time attending PIAF shows. The first three-song set closes with 'Alone With You', still the best example of Oxley's intuitively creepy and skewered lyrical outlook. The third verse, repeated in full here,
I know it's hard when you have tried,
When the conversations terror, you have tied.
Making out you still don't know,
All I have is alcohol so let me go
is still one of the most revealing and self-defeating expressions of young masculinity in modern music. It's how I, like many people, first found out about the Sunnyboys, my attention taken during a catatonic 3 a.m. Rage session; caught between the stoicism of Oxley's stance, the harmony of the surf-rock guitars and the lucidity of the lyrics.
Oxley may have been a schizophrenic, and that may not be relatable to everyone, but in the crowd at the Festival Gardens the permanence with which 'Alone With You' has stayed in the lives of his fans came into full view. The excitement was so great that the Sunnyboys come out again and close the whole thing with 'The Seeker', a set of old boys reliving their glory days and revelling in their legacy.
It's been great fun recapping and cataloguing the Festival Gardens shows for this year, the most detailed and emotive narrative of the last three weeks in Perth live music that I hope you'll find anywhere. Thanks to everyone at the Gardens, to Alex, Sarah, Chantelle, Reece, to my many +1s, and of course to the artists themselves, particularly Tinashe, Neneh Cherry, The Sunnyboys and Stephen Malkmus, you guys were a cut above.
The festival closed last night with Nick Waterhouse (for my money the triumphant Oxley and his crew would have been a more appropriate closing night but regardless). The Gardens is over now as well (r.i.p 2012-2015), with a new venue to be picked in the future by incoming Festival Director Wendy Martin. No matter where it is let's just hope they pick up some artists who bring the fucking noise.