Live Review

The Scientists with Earth Tongue & Gentle Ben and His Shimmering Hands @ The Zoo

Any self-respecting fan of underground rock would be loathe to miss a gig by Kim Salmon’s legendary Scientists. Playing The Zoo in the midst of a small Australian tour in support of their comeback album Negativity they are joined by New Zealand heavy-psych duo, Earth Tongue and local favourites Gentle Ben and His Shimmering Hands.

Having witnessed Six Ft. Hick many times, seeing Ben Corbett perform with His Shimmering Hands was a new experience. Tonight’s set was more classic rock than the rockabilly feel of their albums, recorded as Gentle Ben and His Sensitive Side. Reason being, they were all new songs. “If you want to hear the old songs, you can buy one of our records,” quipped Corbett mid set, sparking hopes a new album may be incoming. Sporting a Bon Scott haircut, he wriggled and writhed to the music like a lounge lizard from hell, showcasing the same intensity of performance expected at a Six Ft. Hick show, but with a little less acrobatics.

Earth Tongue were unfamiliar territory. With only a a few releases to their name, preliminary listens prior to the gig were encouraging to say the least. They make a hell of a lot of noise for a two piece and generate a surprising amount of low end despite lacking a bassist. Playing slow, fuzz heavy psych, they quickly won the crowd’s approval, with more than a few heads swaying in time to the doomy riffs trudging out of Gussie Larkin’s guitar. With lyrics about sitting next to Satan and pentagrams on the moon, they inject some heavy metal camp into the night’s proceedings. One cannot help thinking they would feel equally comfortable supporting Spinal Tap.

The Scientists have come a long way since their origins in the late 'seventies Perth punk scene. Moving first across the country, then across the world, they changed styles and lineups before finally breaking up around 1987. Reforming in 2006 with Tony Thewlis on guitar, Leanne Cowie on drums and Boris Sujdovic on bass, this lineup, the same as in 1985-1987, have been stable ever since.

Anyone who views age as a barrier to a career in rock and roll has obviously not attended a Scientists gig. Kim Salmon prowls the stage with the manic energy of someone half his age. When not wringing noise from his beat up Telecaster, he paces back and forth across or sings from atop the fold back speakers. Charged with energy, he has little time for pleasantries or banter, the focus instead on leading the band through song after song of scuzzy, swamp-rock.

Well oiled and road worn, the band plays with a tightness that only comes from many gigs and many years experience. Over the course of an hour and fifteen minutes the band tear through a set of songs mostly drawn from Negativity. There are some throwbacks to the classic mid-eighties albums Blood Red River and Human Jukebox, but nothing from the very early days of The Scientists/Pink Album or formative singles like Frantic Romantic.

Outer Space Boogie, the final track on Negativity, referred to by Salmon as “the one ballad of the night” was a particular highlight, as was the sing along encore of I Wasn’t Good at Picking Friends. These newer songs sat comfortably in the set alongside stone cold classics such as We Had Love, Atom Bomb Baby and Swampland.

Most veteran bands who still gig regularly struggle to balance performing their newer material alongside the classics. For the most part, the audience wants the old stuff, not the new stuff. It is a testament to The Scientists that the new songs were received with as much rapture as the old ones. Given the thirty year gap between albums, it is rare to witness a crowd sing along to new songs like Moth Eaten Velvet with the same gusto as older tracks like Solid Gold Hell. However, when the songs are as good as those on Negativity, it is not surprising.

In this era of cash grabs disguised as legacy tours where long irrelevant acts seek to relive past glories, groups like The Scientist are as rare as hen’s teeth. They may have have grown older, but they never lost their spark. Still performing with the same enthusiasm and creating music as compelling and exciting as they did on their original run, one can only hope there are more albums tours to follow.

- Nick Stephan.

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