Let’s face it – live music in Sydney has been stifled for a long time. Recent changes to liquor licensing laws have made it cheaper and a whole lot easier for small, boutique style bars and clubs to host live music, and while it will still be a while before these kinds of venues start popping up everywhere, it’s worth noting that there are already a few little gems scattered around the city. The Brass Monkey is one of these; a small quaint Spanish-style restaurant nestled amongst the displays of crass commercialism that begun engulfing Cronulla in the mid 90s. It was here that Visionaries of the 1980’s tore up the stage, accompanied by some notable opening acts.
First to grace the small, somewhat cramped stage was Max, a solo singer-songwriter and ‘Shire’ local who blended a couple of his own compositions with covers of well-worn classics like a medley of the Beatles’ ‘Come Together’ and Pink Floyds’ ‘Another Brick In The Wall’ that was as much unexpected as it was impressive. Most endearing about Max was his between song banter, dropping obscene yet amusing diatribes about ‘hitting the mud button’ and pissing off Jehovah’s Witnesses. It was a nice way to get the party started and work the audience.
The second act, R.J. Chops, were perhaps the most surprising of the night. These guys were like The John Butler Trio but with a dark, intense edge. This is the direction Mr. Butler should have been heading. They’re louder, heavier and the influences of early 90s grunge acts Nirvana and Alice in Chains seeped through their sound to instil it with an urgency, a sort of manic inspiration.
Headline act Visionaries of the 1980s are a compelling group. Their lead singer, Graeme, is from Sheffield, England, so their post-Brit-pop sound is automatically infused with a sense of authenticity. It was hard not to get excited about their refreshing take on the genre. They remind me a lot of the Arctic Monkeys, before everyone (and I mean everyone) jumped on the bandwagon and announced them as the saviours of Rock’n’Roll. These guys have been together less than a year, but the harmonies they managed to pull out of two guitars banging away to a solid bass and drum line were so mature you wouldn’t know it. It is perhaps more of an afterthought for them, but the juxtaposition of English lead vocals and Aussie back up really made them feel like Bloc Party and The Living End going head to head on the same stage. There’s something unique about that, and something that raises them above the level of competent genre proprietors to potential pioneers.