Countdown Spectacular 2: Here comes the encore again

It rained all day in Brisbane, so the half-kilometre walk from Boondall station to the Entertainment Centre was a puddle-dodging exercise. That didn’t dampen the enthusiasm of the crowd, which seemed to contain a few more people around my age than Newcastle. No-one was likely to assume we were here for an Eminem concert, though.

So what else was different? Well, the most welcome news was that Plastic Bertrand showed up this time, and did ‘Ca Plan Pour Moi’ with massive energy and enthusiasm (“he’s very fit, isn’t he?” the woman next to me remarked). Great stuff, and it kept the momentum up by being inserted in second slot, straight after Katrina.

To make room for this, and presumably for general timing, there were a number of cuts throughout the show. The Radiators dropped ‘No Tragedy’, Supernaut dropped ‘Too Hot To Handle’, and LRB skipped their mystery song I wasn’t sure of.

There were also a few shifts. Redgum got moved to the opening of Act 2 (the same slot Goanna got last year, one might note). I can’t help thinking the women in front of me doing a slow wave with tinsel throughout the song hadn’t quite got the point.

Richard Clapton swapped ‘Girls On The Avenue’ and ‘Deep Water’, and Rick Springfield jumped into the audience for ‘Jesse’s Girl’ rather than ‘Don’t Talk To Strangers’.

Pretty much everyone on stage was on vocal form. Sam Fox was even better than before, and Sharon, Kate and Martha continue to astound. Graham Bonnet sounded a tad shouty, and maintained the impression he was reading an autocue.

But by far the biggest change — and the biggest improvement — was the addition of a proper finale, a group rendition of ‘My Generation’. The sight of Kate, Sam and Sharon sharing a microphone isn’t one I’ll forget in a hurry.

Next stop: Sydney on Friday.

Random points:

  • Brisbane Entertainment Centre doesn’t ban cameras, so I’ll upload some piss-poor photos tomorrow.
  • Thanks to Rick Springfield And Us for linking to the Newcastle review.
  • Most artists stuck to their stage outfits, though Sharon O’Neill added purple accents and Robin Scott donned a white T-shirt instead of a red one.
  • The Brisbane audience seemed a tad noisier than Newcastle, though that could be overall crowd size.
  • Ignatius Jones ended his set by proclaiming “Check these tits out, Kevin Rudd!”
  • Molly and Martha repeated their faux marriage proposal, though with a better punchline for Martha’s rejection: “We’d be like the Golden Girls.”
  • Kudos to the event organisers for making sure that an extra train was scheduled for after the show so we could all get home. Newcastle’s once-an-hour service didn’t stretch that far, so I ended up walking back to my hotel, but the city does deserve praise for having lots of street signs — something which I, as an inveterate walker and person with no sense of direction or geographic confidence, can confirm is all too rare.
  • No praise, though, for not opening more doors at the end of the show. It took 10 minutes to clear the corridor, which could have been sliced in half if they hadn’t locked every visible exit.
  • Countdown Spectacular 2, Newcastle: Medleys, momentum and missed opportunities

    The show started pretty promptly at 1935 — and given that Gavin Wood had to announce that Plastic Bertrand wouldn’t be appearing (not sure if that’s just Newcastle or the whole tour), I guess they could spare the time. So here’s the rundown:

    ACT ONE

    Katrina, ‘Walking On Sunshine’: A good upbeat opening, and Katrina was in fine voice. Also nice to start the show with a 1980s classic. And obviously this is the only song she’d be doing. The band (largely the same lineup as last year) are kitted out in matching grey suits.

    Graham Bonnet, ‘Warm Ride’, ‘Baby Blue’. Bonnet’s retained his voice, though he looks like a leathery and aged jockey and he seemed to have to keep reading the lyrics for ‘Warm Ride’. A tad surprising that he got two tracks, though it set what turned out to be a pleasing precedent of rather fewer acts only getting one number.

    Radiators, ‘No Tragedy’, ‘Don’t Worry’: Solid, dependable rock, entirely performed by the Rads themselves.

    Samantha Fox, ‘Do Ya Do Ya (Wanna Please Me)’, ‘Touch Me (I Want Your Body)’. Obviously this was an early highlight for me. Sam’s voice is undoubtedly better now than it was then — which is not to say she’s going to give Alison Moyet a run for her money, but she suits her material perfectly. Two bimbo dancers added to the generally trashy air, and much of the original choreography from the videos was used.

    I was a bit surprised at the inclusion of ‘Do Ya Do Ya’ — I’d always had the impression ‘Nothing’s Gonna Stop Me Now’ was a bigger hit. And I was annoyed that in both songs, the second verse was cut out entirely — a pattern that would repeat several times during the evening.

    Ignatius Jones, ‘They Won’t Let My Girlfriend Talk To Me’, ‘I’m Not Like Everybody Else’ For the first track, Jones was in a tuxedo; for the second, he stripped down to a leather corset more typical of the Jimmy & The Boys era. He’s gained a little weight, but his voice was great — much better than I’d have assumed from the performances on Countdown at the time.

    David Paton (Pilot), ‘Magic’, ‘January’: I’m indifferent to Pilot, being a bit too young, but everyone knows the songs and Paton performed them well, even if he did dress like an accountant.

    Countdown Dancers Medley, ‘Eye Of The Tiger/I Love Rock & Roll/Livin’ On A Prayer/’I Was Made For Loving You/Time Warp’: I’m not denying their talent or the opportunity this gives to local dancers, but this (and the intro by Molly and co-host John Paul Young) still feel to me like moments wasted when someone else could do another song. The ‘I Love Rock And Roll’ routine owed more to Britney than Joan Jett, and Molly appeared to do some vocals for ‘Time Warp’.

    Redgum, ‘I Was Only 19’ A quarter century on, this still stopped everyone in their tracks — and I was struck by the thought that a song about the horrors of war with a violin solo almost certainly wouldn’t top the charts now. Astonishingly, Redgum never actually performed the song on the show, having staged a Midnight Oil-style boycott — the video I recall from when it topped the chart was assembled specially by Countdown, since they weren’t even allowed to use the official one.

    Richard Gower (Racey), ‘Lay Your Love On Me’, ‘Some Girls’ Both catchy dancefloor classics which got the crowd moving, and reminded me that I was, with almost no exceptions, the youngest person in the audience.

    Sharon O’Neill, ‘Maxine’ Sharon is as petite and as vocally talented as I remember. ‘Maxine’ was rendered beautifully in its entirety, with a fab acapella ending, but I was bitterly disappointed she didn’t get a second song. Surely there should have been rooming for ‘Losing You’ or ‘Words’?

    M, ‘Pop Music’ A great pop classic, and one of just two tracks in this show that reminded us that Countdown very much straddled the New Wave/New Romantic era. Robin Scott, complete with red sell-out T-shirt, was having a whale of a time, though in truth the song’s probably more work for the backing vocalists.

    Paul Gray (Wa Wa Nee), ‘Stimulation’, ‘Sugar Free’: Paul Gray is actually on stage the entire time — he’s the musical director — so Molly and JPY had to come in to introduce him. Again, the central verse of ‘Stimulation’ was cut, and it seems odd to me to perform in this order; holding ‘Stimulation’, the band’s signature hit, for the finish would make more sense. The man’s falsetto is astounding, and he sported an envy-inducing red guitar keyboard for ‘Sugar Free’.

    Doc Neeson’s Angels, ‘Take A Long Line’, ‘No Secrets’, ‘Am I Ever Gonna See Your Face Again’ If you’re going to close with a rock band, much better the Angels than Hush (last year’s option). Neeson was in good voice, though it has to be said he’s gained weight (perhaps an inevitable consequence of his car accident). This is a perfect Angels Countdown song selection, though the Newcastle crowd didn’t get into the ‘no way, get fucked, fuck off’ chorus as much as I’d have suspected. Only the second performance not utilising the full band.

    Twenty minutes intermission passed pretty quickly, though one enthused Bay City Rollers fan was handing out pieces of tartan fabric for people to wave.

    Act 2

    Doug Fieger (The Knack), ‘My Sharona’: Another international act who obviously was only going to get one song, but at least we got the whole thing, including the entire end-of-song guitar solo. Again, a good choice to kick off act two.

    Dave Mason (The Reels), ‘Quasimodo’s Dream’: I love this song, but it’s in many ways a brave choice, though it does at least put a proper emphasis on songwriting skills (the Reels had much bigger hits with two covers, ‘This Guy’s In Love With You’ and ‘Bad Moon Rising’). Mason didn’t look entirely happy to be there — perhaps Molly’s long introduction embarrassed him — but he sang superbly.

    Supernaut, ‘Too Hot To Touch’, ‘I Like It Both Ways’: Supernaut seem to have aged well, but fall into the ‘don’t care’ category for me. They suffered the embarrassment (inflicted on Sherbet last year) on having a classic clip played in synch with their current stuff; they look better now.

    At this stage, we got a bizarre skit where classic video of Martha Davis was played, then she came on stage (looking, it has to be said, a tad larger than in the original footage) and Molly made a mock-proposal to her, which she turned down by claiming: “I’m gay.” Not sure if this is worth repeating.

    Wolfgramm Sisters, ‘Sweet Dreams/Mamma Mia/Knock On Wood/Vogue/Lady Marmalade’: Rather than just bring the dancers back on, this time around the Wolfgramm Sisters, who act as backing vocalists for pretty much everyone else, got their own segment, with the dancers cavorting in the background. They’re extremely good, and I liked this selection. ‘Vogue’ was an interesting inclusion — obviously, it has nice dance possibilities, but there are plenty of much bigger Madonna hits from the Countdown era that could have been used. Not a complaint, just an observation.

    Les McKeown (Bay City Rollers), ‘I Only Want To Be With You’, ‘Give A Little Love/Bye Bye Baby’: More seventies nostalgia I can’t quite engage in, though competently done and with tartan everywhere. I kept thinking Sam Fox could have duetted with McKeown on ‘I Only Want To Be With You’, as she also had a hit with the song.

    Kate Ceberano (I’m Talking), ‘Trust Me’, ‘Love Don’t Live Here Anymore’: Kate’s a fabulous vocalist, and while I’ve seen her live at countless corporate gigs, she virtually never does I’m Talking-era material, so this was super welcome. Having her do ‘Do You Wanna Be’ would have been even more welcome, and yet again both songs lost their middle verse. Her black padded shoulder dress was a mistake, but nothing could detract from the quality of the singing.

    Richard Clapton, ‘Deep Water/Girls On The Avenue’, ‘I Am An Island’: Adding his own guitarist, Clapton sang well and rocked out. Of all the acts who effectively predate me, he’s easily the one I warmed to the most.

    John Paul Young, ‘Where The Action Is’, ‘Love Is In The Air’: As the only returning act from last year, JPY obviously needed different songs. ‘Love Is In The Air’ was the obvious add-in (complete with the seemingly inevitable ballroom dancers), despite a brief charade pretending Molly had to force him into it. ‘Where The Action Is’ was also fine, though I would have preferred ‘Soldier Of Fortune’.

    Martha Davis (The Motels), ‘Total Control/Only The Lonely/Take The L’: Total Control was performed alone on the stage (save the saxophonist), and then the band spun into view. Martha’s voice remains utterly compelling; I’d have liked to hear ‘Suddenly Last Summer’ or ‘Don’t Tell Me The Time’, but this was a good selection nonetheless. And they could always invite her back next year.

    Birtles, Shorrock and Goble (LRB), ‘Long Way Back/Reminiscing/Lady/Curiosity Killed The Cat/Night Owl/Cool Change/Lonesome Loser/Help Is On Its Way: By using a medley format, these guys managed to cram in more hits than anyone else, and demonstrated some fine vocal prowess. Despite the 70s leanings of the crowd, though, they didn’t jump up until the last number. (As I’m now LRB expert, I may have misidentified ‘Lady’ in this list; corrections welcome!)

    Rick Springfield, ‘Affair Of The Heart’, ‘Don’t Talk To Strangers’, ‘Speak To The Sky’, ‘Jessie’s Girl’: With his own drummer but otherwise using the house band, Springfield was an energetic and consummate performer, and as an exiled Aussie, neatly brought together the two conceptual halves of the show. Even he seemed a bit surprised at doing ‘Speak To The Sky’ (a song so old it predates Countdown), and I’d like to see it ditched for ‘I’ve Done Everything For You’. During ‘Don’t Talk To Strangers’, Springfield jumped into the crowd and got several women to sing into the microphone. ‘Jessie’s Girl’ is an unbeatably good climax, and as a headliner Springfield craps all over Sherbet.

    Last year, as an ending we got a medley with all the acts on stage doing Aussie rock classics, but this time around it was just an instrumental version of ‘Walking On Sunshine’, which was something of an anti-climax.

    On the whole, a pleasing show, with less of an unpleasant 70s bias than last year. I really wish they wouldn’t cut so many verses in non-medley songs, and I suspect there’ll be a little tweaking of the order before I next see the show in Brisbane. More Sharon is unlikely, alas, but I really do think a finale is needed.

    Random points:

  • Even the acts I’m not personally fussed on sang well — there’s obviously some sort of quality control system in place to cut out nostalgically desirable names who can’t sing for shit.
  • The Newcastle Entertainment Centre used a completely insane seating system for the first four rows, which meant that I was in row AB seat 20, but the seat to my left was row AA seat 21 (the middle section of row AA, the actual front, having been cut out). Whilst mad, this did place me effectively front row and centre, which is easily the best seat I’ll have for this tour.
  • More merchandise on offer this time than last, though nothing but the $25 program actually appealed. As pre-show music and in the interval, last year’s concert DVD was played (though without the pictures).
  • Quite a lot of the in-between songs video footage was also used in last year’s show. By far the best bits not previously used before featured Rik Mayall and Ben Elton; oddly, I have no memory of these, even though I watched pretty much every Countdown from 1980 until it finished and was a total Young Ones fanatic.
  • Countdown returns, can it be spectacular again?

    I should have noted this much earlier (when I booked the tickets), but following the success of last year’s Countdown Spectacular, which I followed all around the country, the promoters are repeating the exercise this year. The new twist is we also get international performers this time around, although there’s still plenty of Aussies to keep things flowing. Not everyone on the list thrills me, but the bias towards acts I just don’t care about is a lot less prominent this year. Here’s the ones I’m actually excited about, in billing and nationality order:

    Rick Springfield – Martha Davis of The Motels – Doug Fieger Of The Knack – Katrina Leskanich formerly of Katrina & The Waves – Plastic Bertrand – Robin Scott alias ‘M’ – Samantha Fox – Birtles Shorrock Gobles (founding members of Little River Band) – rockin’ Doc Neeson’s Angels – Kate Ceberano (I’m Talking) – Sharon O’Neill – John Schumann of Redgum – Dave Mason of The Reels – Ignatius Jones of Jimmy & The Boys and Paul Gray of Wa Wa Nee

    Here’s the one’s I’m less fussed on, although they are, as I said, a much better set than last year’s oddities:

    Les McKeown formerly of The Bay City Rollers – Richard Gower of Racey – David Paton of Pilot – Graham Bonnet – Richard Clapton – Supernaut (“reforming especially”, but I still don’t care) – The Radiators

    Everything kicks off tonight in Newcastle, so expect a report soon after.

    A Countdown stub from Brisbane

    Last night’s final show in Brisbane was excellent, with plenty of end-of-tour hijinks and a promise that there’ll be a second tour next year. However, it’s going to be a day or two before I get a chance to write it up and share the pics. In the meantime, enjoy this snap of Leo Sayer keeping his cool when faced with a dragged-up John Paul Young.

    He always did have a thing for redheads

    Countdown Spectacular Melbourne, Thursday September 8: Time for filming

    I always suspected that the whole Countdown tour was going to be recorded for subsequent commercial release, and that Melbourne was a likely candidate (given that it was also the location where the show itself was filmed). And last night’s performance at Rod Laver Arena is indeed destined for a DVD player near you sometime later this year.

    There were also quite a few changes from previous performances this time around. Whether that was for filming purposes, or because people have simply decided to do things differently, I’m not entirely sure (although the fact that there were sparkly hats on every seat in the floor area was surely no coincidence). A summary:

  • Molly’s shaggy dog story at the beginning was much shorter, consisting largely of a complaint that he would miss the AFL the next night.
  • The Countdown Dancers dropped ‘Gimme! Gimme! Gimme!’ and ‘Xanadu’ from their first-half performances, replacing it with a rendition of ‘Nutbush City Limits’. If the dancers are going to included on the DVD, this is likely because the rights for the last two songs are too expensive.
  • During the second half dancing, Molly Meldrum came on stage during ‘Mickey’ wearing a cheerleader’s outfit. Not a good look.
  • There were some momentary sound problems during ‘Run For Paradise’, which Mark Gable solved by kicking the nearest amplifier.
  • Goanna’s two female singers, Marcia Howard-Gubbins and Rose Bygrave, appeared with the band (apparently they can’t leave Melbourne). This definitely improved the band’s sound, since the backing vocalists, while excellent, just didn’t have quite the right sound for ‘Solid Rock’. Unfortunately, Shane Howard himself wasn’t in such good voice.
  • Despite promises in the program, Mark Holden did not make an on-stage appearance. (There are two more Melbourne concerts scheduled, so it is theoretically possible.)
  • Renee Geyer swapped her black poncho for a red poncho, and swapped her two songs around, so she closed on ‘Say I Love You’. This definitely works better as an order. Before ‘Say I Love You’ she commented “I love this song!”; perhaps she read my earlier, bitchier comments.
  • Sherbet changed their setlist, moving ‘Summer Love’ to the opening and replacing ‘Slipstream’ with ‘Matter Of Time’, complete with Garth lead vocal and a welcome cameo from Joe Camelleri. This worked better on the whole — ‘Howzat’ is such an obvious closer — though the fact that beach balls are launched into the crowd for ‘Summer Love’ means that everything afterwards seems a bit anti-climactic (and indeed many people sat down).
    At the end of the day, five songs for Sherbet is still a bit much, a fact confirmed by my mate Arthur who went to the concert with me and who basically had the same reactions I’d had on the first night — great show, but if they cut back on some of the 70s acts, we could have heard more of the 80s ones.

    I was chuffed to see a comment on the Newcastle concert review by Mondo Rock mainman Ross Wilson, which I’m reproducing here:

    finally we get a review (yours) that mentions the mondos & gives us at least faint praise. we’ve creamed it every night since newc ent cent with crowds in sydney & melb rising as one to their feet during our set & performers back stage giving us 100% peer praise but no newspaper reviews have mentioned us. maybe MR are not retro daggy enuff for some or yet hip enuff for others but our drummer (Kerry from Dragon) is getting really pissed off – at least he knows we are great.

    Mondo Rock have indeed “creamed it” at every show, and the fact that the papers haven’t mentioned them (I haven’t done much media checking on the show yet) is nothing short of scandalous. Now I feel guilty for not saying more positive stuff about them in the first review!

  • Countdown Spectacular Sydney, Friday September 1: Quick, let’s cut!

    The ticket

    With a highly-staged show like the Countdown Spectacular, you don’t expect particularly large alterations from venue to venue. Nonetheless, there were indeed a few changes between the Newcastle and Sydney shows, summarised below:

  • We’re obviously going to get bad ‘local’ Molly jokes in each city. The Sydney tale was a shaggy dog story about Molly visiting an Elton John party with Bette Midler and causing everyone to throw their drugs overboard, exciting the fish. Truly.
  • Shamefully, Jo Jo Zep was cut back to just one song, ‘Shape I’m In’.
  • There were a couple of costume changes — Mark Gable (Choirboys) and Grace Knight (Eurogliders) were dressed slightly differently.
  • The Countdown Dancers change in each location — there’s a core group of four lead dancers who teach the choreography to local dancers in each city. I’m still not that fussed on them. The intro to the first dancers segment this time was done by Molly, dressed in an Egyptian outfit and with the Bangles in the background (in Newcastle, Gavin had simply done a voiceover).
  • Alex Smith managed to get the entire audience, more or less, to stand up for ‘What About Me?’.
  • We were told it was only going to be a 15-minute interval, but it stretched to 25.
  • The Models moved into semi-medley mode, performing a truncated version of ‘I Hear Motion’ which merged directly into ‘Out Of Mind Out Of Sight’, rather than a full version. Sean Kelly didn’t look too happy.
  • Molly’s Humdrum segment was trimmed, with the references to the Motels and the Tourists removed.
  • Renee Geyer looked more into it — perhaps she was just having a shit day in Newcastle.

    In general, the bigger venue and larger crowds made for a more impressive event, and I probably enjoyed myself more (if only because I wasn’t having to take notes at the beginning of every single song). I also appeared on-screen for about 2 seconds during the second JPY performance.

    Interestingly, there seemed to be a weird crowd split — the floor seats appeared entirely filled with 70s enthusiasts (leaving me aside), while the 80s fans were seated slightly higher. That’s a good omen for my next visit, in Melbourne, as I don’t have a floor seat there.

  • Countdown Spectacular Newcastle, Wednesday August 30: Not spectacular, but solid

    Newcastle Entertainment centre

    The evenings always start off slowly when you go to a concert on your own in a place you’ve never visited before, especially if, like me, you’re hopelessly paranoid. It starts with the train. I’m staying at Wickham, just 5 minutes away from the Newcastle Entertainment Centre by train. The concert starts at 7:30pm, and I have an assigned seat. Yet paranoia means I have to catch the 6:04pm train. The reason? If it got cancelled, the next train is at 6:42pm, which is still OK. But if that one got cancelled, the next one isn’t until 7:09pm, which is cutting it fine if (as is likely) I get lost at the venue. (If two trains in a row got cancelled, I’d catch a taxi, but that’s not the point.)

    So I sit around, read my BlackBerry, and buy a souvenir program. Not bad at $25, though I’m not paying $15 for the Sherbet mini-program, since, unlike what turns out to be quite a large percentage of the audience, I really don’t care about the Sherbet reunion.

    The Newcastle Entertainment Centre reminds me very much of Perth’s Burswood Dome — similar scale, similarly located seemingly in the middle of nowhere, and a similarly casual vibe compared to the standard Sydney Entertainment Centre frenzy. One non-casual note: the security guard personally chats to everyone in the first two rows, informing us that the production crew have asked we don’t stand and dance at the front of the stage. This will turn out to be a big fat lie, but more on that later.

    To the show’s credit, it starts bang on time at 7:30pm — and it needs to, since it doesn’t finish until four hours later. Here’s the rundown:

    Gavin Wood, the show’s long-running announcer, comes on stage to briefly warm us up, then there’s some historic video footage from the show’s inception. Classic Countdown clips are played throughout the night; most of them are pretty familiar, since they’ve largely been lifted from the Countdown 10th anniversary special, which I still have on VHS somewhere. Then the Countdown Dancers (a dozen or so guys and gals) rush the front of the stage pretending to be fans, and the show kicks off with . . .

    John Paul Young, performing ‘Yesterday’s Hero’, just as he did on the first Countdown of 1975. He’s aged well and his voice is still good.

    Then Molly Meldrum comes on stage and reads some poor, Newcastle-specific jokes about local celebrities (Daniel Johns, Jennifer Hawkins). Endearingly, even this early in the night, he forgets to use the microphone properly.

    One of my major concerns about this show was how the transitions between singers (using the house band) and bands (using their own equipment) were going to be managed without excessive delays. This is handled very cleverly by using a fully rotating stage, so the bands can set up backstage while a singer is performing out front. And the first performer to rotate into view is . . .

    Swanee, performing ‘If I Were A Carpenter’. He still sounds like a more tuneful version of his younger brother, Jimmy Barnes. Disappointingly, he doesn’t do ‘He’s Gonna Step On You Again’ (a hit when he fronted the Party Boys), even though it was a bigger hit. This sets the pattern for an evening full of people not doing enough songs, or, in some cases, the right songs.

    Kids In The Kitchen’s Scott Carne jumps on for ‘Change In Mood’. He’s singing well, but has run slightly to fat and his hairstyle simply isn’t working. I’m disappointed he only gets one song — what, no ‘Current Stand’?

    Cheetah perform their one big hit, ‘Spend The Night’. The two Hammond girls haven’t sung together for 25 years, but you wouldn’t know it.

    The stage revolves and we get the Choirboys, performing — of course — ‘Run To Paradise’. This marks the first occasion on which the repeated requests for an audience singalong are actually successful. Lead singer Mark Gable looked a tad frightful, but perhaps he always did.

    Ol’ 55 — or, to be precise, Frankie J. Holden and Wilbur Wilde — are the first act of the evening to get two songs, one a doo-wop track I have no memory of (it turns out to be ‘Looking For An Echo’ and the other their most notable hit, ‘On The Prowl’. They work the crowd well. Wilbur deserves special note: while technically he’s on the bill for Ol’ 55 and Jo Jo Zep, he shows up every time there’s a sax solo needed, and puts in more stage time than any other ‘celebrity’ involved.

    Wendy & The Rocketts’ Wendy Stapleton did her one big hit, Play The Game, energetically, and faithfully to my admittedly limited recollection. She made particularly good use of the three female backing vocalists who are rolled out for all the ‘solo’ performances.

    Uncanny X-Men’s Brian Mannix performed ‘Everybody Wants To Work’ with his customary energy and arse-wiggling enthusiasm, complete with feather boa and running endlessly from side to side to dance on the twin podiums. He’s aged pretty well; his voice is no better now than it was then, but as a performer he’s hard to fault.

    Recalling the infamous dance contests which Countdown staged in 1980 and 1983 (with Xanadu and Flashdance themes respectively), the Countdown Dancers return with a medley of performances to ‘Thriller’, ‘Don’t Stop Till You Get Enough’, ‘Stayin’ Alive’, ‘Greased Lightning’, ‘You’re The One That I Want’, ‘Gimme! Gimme! Gimme’ (with a hint of ‘Hung Up’) and ‘Xanadu’. It’s all done competently, but to my mind it’s a huge waste of time that could have been better spent letting someone other than Ol’ 55 sing two songs.

    Paul Norton does his most notable hit, ‘Stuck On You’, and I enjoy the performance rather more than I expected. (Technically, Norton’s appearance is a cheat; ‘Stuck On You’ is from 1989 and was hence never performed on Countdown, though it did appear on the daily sequel-of-sorts, Countdown Revolution).

    Jo Jo Zep (in truth, just Jo Camilleri, plus Wilbur) offers a masterful performance of ‘Shape I’m In’ and ‘Hit And Run’. No-one tonight has been a bad performer, but Jo is the first person who seems to be genuinely, uncynically enjoying himself, and he’s in fabulous voice.

    Next, we get video footage of Red Symons, paying tribute to notable performers from the Countdown era who can’t be here because, well, they’re dead. Naturally, his Skyhooks cohort Shirley Strachan is first off the rank, and then there’s brief mentions of Marc Hunter, Steve Gilpin from Mi-Sex, Ted Mulry, and Michael Hutchence. Having theorised that you can’t replace a singer, Symons then began citing the counter-example of AC/DC, but the moment was lost due to a major video playback glitch. And so Gavin cuts rather hastily to . . .

    The rising, and falling, on-stage logo

    Moving Pictures’ Alex Smith, doing ‘What About Me’. It’s a great performance, although you can’t help suspecting that even in this ageing crowd, many people are more familiar with the Shannon Noll version, which is similar but not identical (no long sax solo for one thing). Trivia note: Smith has been shipped in from London, where he now works as a music therapist.

    Real Life’s David Sterry, looking more or less unchanged from 20 years ago, rocks his way through ‘Send Me An Angel’. I wish the drums had been louder, but this is such an 80s classic, I don’t really care.

    Stephen Cummings ditches twenty years of his solo career to recall his time with the Sports and performs ‘Who Listens To The Radio?’ It’s well sung, but his stage grimaces leave me with the impression that he’d rather be doing an acoustic set somewhere else.

    The Eurogliders — well, core Gliders and former couple, Grace Knight (vocals) and Bernie Lynch (songwriting) — were one of my bigger incentives to see this show, as they’ve never done the big reunion tour. Sadly, we get just one song, and it is of course ‘Heaven (Must Be There)’. Gavin’s own intro notes the band had 10 Top 10 hits — that sounds like a mild exaggeration, but surely there’d have been room for another one?

    The Ferrets’ Billy Miller does the band’s only hit of note, ‘Don’t Fall In Love’. I didn’t ever like this track much (it didn’t surprise me to read in the program that it was originally going to be a B-side), but the performance is competent enough.

    Joe Dolce performs ‘Shaddap Ya Face’, complete with Molly replicating a Countdown performance by wearing an Italian moustache and miming the accordion. Quite how this song became a global hit eludes me still, but I suspect small children had a lot to do with it.

    And so we come to the closing act for the first half: Hush, who rotate on stage with an elaborate set involving fire-breathing dragons. Effectively, Hush are a low-rent Led Zep clone, and I think it’s indicative that both their hits — ‘Glad All Over’ and ‘Bony Maronie’ — were covers. Both go on far too long, but the 70s-leaning side of the crowd enjoys it.

    To tell the truth, I wasn’t expecting an interval, but I guess it serves two useful benefits. Firstly, they can flog some merchandise (which I might get to at a subsequent gig). Secondly, it allows them to divide up the alleged ‘headline’ acts, most of whom are a bit seventies-leaning for my tastes, rather than clumping them at the end of the show. We’re promised 20 minutes, and it’s only 25 minutes later that things kicked off again with . . .

    Goanna’s Shane Howard, singing ‘Solid Rock’. Howard makes the odd alteration to the lyrics, but this is a good opener, and the only moment in the show that’s even vaguely political. To my ears, the female trio’s backing vocals are a bit too smooth, and I’m interested to note that for the Melbourne show, the original Goanna women will in fact be appearing. (So will Mark Holden, but that’s another story.)

    Leo Sayer, who infamously has now moved to Australia, is next up, performing ‘You Make Me Feel Like Dancin” and ‘When I Need You’ which is, rather improbably, the first ballad we’ve had all evening. Sayer is great — enthusiastic, note-perfect and not notably aged at all. It’s a major bummer that he doesn’t do ‘More Than I Can Say’, though.

    The annoyance is highlighted by the return of the Countdown Dancers, this time performing a medley of ‘Flashdance’, ‘Fame’, ‘Footloose’, ‘Mickey’ and ‘YMCA’. Again it’s competent; again I’d rather see another song from one of the featured performers.

    Next up are The Models’ Sean Kelly & James Freud, who split their two songs for one lead vocal each. Sean takes on ‘I Hear Motion’, while James, naturally, plumps for ‘Out Of Mind, Out Of Sight’. It’s a shame he has long hair. Great vocals and cracking sound, and Sean laughs repeatedly during the performance, belying his reputation as a miserable art-rocker.

    And then it’s the moment I’ve long been waiting for — The Chantoozies, performing with all four members for the first time since 1989. They bound onto stage to perform ‘Wanna Be Up’, sounding and looking fabulous. I wait in eager anticipation for ‘Witch Queen’. The stage goes black. They’ve reunited the Chantoozies — and given them second-top billing amongst the 80s performers — and we get ONE SONG?

    All four Chantoozies

    Next up, a lengthy Humdrum segment, where Molly reviews overseas acts that Countdown played a major role in launching: ABBA, Peter Allen, Blondie, John Cougar, the Motels, the Tourists, the Human League, Billy Idol, Madonna, and Kylie. I can see this on video; I don’t need it here. And Kylie is an outright lie, having started her music career after Countdown had stopped broadcasting.

    Back to the music with Jon English, who hits on an idea I’m surprised hadn’t shown up earlier: doing a medley to maximise the number of featured hits. I don’t know his back catalogue well enough to identify ’em all, but ‘Six Ribbons’ and ‘Words Are Not Enough’ are in there.

    Pseudo Echo’s Brian Canham brings us back to my preferred decade. Pseudo Echo’s ‘Listening’ was famously performed on the show before the band were signed, but apparently that’s not enough reason to perform it. Instead, we just get ‘Funkytown’. It’s a classic song and a great performance — Canham’s hair is thinning, but his vocal and guitar chops are still there.

    Mondo Rock also make use of the medley format, combining the intro of ‘No Time’, ‘a truncated ‘Cool World’, ‘Summer of 81’ and then closing with ‘Come Said The Boy’. It’s all great stuff, and I’m glad they get so many tracks — but on the other hand, I’ve heard all these songs performed by the band half a dozen times during the Here & Now trek, plus a couple of corporate gigs. Still, you can’t fight quality.

    I’ve also seen James Reyne do the odd corporate love-in, and these generally feature his acoustic version of ‘Reckless’, which opens here. After that, it’s a high-paced medley of ‘Fall Of Rome’, ‘Beautiful People’, ‘Errol’, and ‘Boys Light Up’. Classic stuff, well-performed, and you can even follow most of the words.

    Renee Geyer. This is a tough one. Renee’s undeniably a great vocalist, but in truth her blues singer schtick is not particularly Countdown. She’s always made it clear that she loathes her biggest hit, ‘Say I Love You’, but it’s always been equally clear that she wouldn’t be able to skip it on a Countdown tour.

    Unfortunately, this means she performs the entire song with a scowl on her face, relying heavily on the backing singers to bring the song its necessary pep and grace. It’s meant to be a fun track, not a dirge. Geyer’s cover of ‘It’s A Man’s Man’s World’ is much better, and obviously more to her tastes, but I still can’t help feeling that if she’s this iffy about being on the show, she might as well have stayed away.

    John Paul Young then makes a second appearance, not entirely unexpected given his high billing. This time it’s ‘I Hate The Music’. I keep expecting him to do ‘Love Is In The Air’, but he doesn’t — maybe he’s grateful for the chance to emphasise different elements of his back catalogue.

    And finally, we come to Sherbet. I’m too young to really care about them — indeed, there’s only one song of theirs I can comfortably recognise, the immortal ‘Howzat’. I’ve had renewed respect for Daryl Braithwaite’s singing ever since I saw him in Chess back in 1997, but the reunion of the group is simply not something I can get excited about.

    To be fair, I’m in the minority here. As soon as the band starts, the stage is rushed by fat middle-aged women who could care less about the earlier strictures from the guards. I can see an immediate look of panic in the guitarist’s eyes: “Fuck, this is what my groupies look like now?” But given that the band members now mostly look like elderly accountants, that’s not such a bad mismatch. (Believe it or not, on a casual glance around, I was still one of the youngest people in the audience. Where are all the other 1980s Countdown viewers?)

    I’m pretty sure the setlist comprises ‘Slipstream’, ‘Live Is For Living’, ‘Rock Me Gently’, ‘Howzat’ (surprisingly not the closer) and ‘Summer Loving’, but I could have messed up on the earlier tracks since, as I said, I don’t remember them. Braithwaite performs with flair and there’s a neat moment where the band remove their jackets to reveals 70s-style satin-backed shirts, but the performance of ‘Rock Me Gently’, which is matched with on-screen video of the band in their heyday, just shows how badly they’ve aged, and I say this as someone who spends a lot of time watching over-the-hill popstars.

    Impressively, we then get an encore with pretty much every performer returning to the stage (I didn’t spot either of the Models, but that may have just been the crowds). The theme of “acknowledging the dead” is returned to, with covers of ‘Living In The 70s’ (led by Leo, Ross and Daryl), ‘Never Tear Us Apart’ (led by Alex and Stephen), ‘April Sun In Cuba’ (James and Renee) and ‘High Voltage’ (Swanee plus lots of other people). It’s great watching Scott and Brian bicker over the microphones, Chantoozies all over the stage, and people just generally having a good time. And then it’s over, at around 11:40pm, with no need to rush because I know the return train doesn’t appear until 12:20am. Some things never change.

    Lest that all sounded a bit whiney, let me make it clear that I thoroughly enjoyed myself by providing a summary of the good stuff.

    What I liked:

  • Any lineup featuring (in effect) Kids In The Kitchen, Uncanny X-Men, Jo Jo Zep, Real Life, Pseudo Echo, Real Life, the Eurogliders, the Models, the Chantoozies, Mondo Rock and James Reyne is going to work for me, no matter what else is going on.
  • The house band were uniformly excellent.
  • Alternating between acts from different eras means no-one spends too long getting bored.
  • At 210 minutes of stage time, it’s good value for money.
  • The closing medley was an unexpected treat.
  • No-one seems to have completely lost their voice.

    What I didn’t like:

  • There’s too many acts given only one song, and a bit too much emphasis on 70s rawk.
  • The dancers seem unnecessary given how much has to be crowded in.
  • The effective ban on ballads means many acts had to skip their best-known songs. (Case in point: Brian Mannix clearly wouldn’t be allowed to do ’50 Years’.)
  • Some people clearly only came to see Sherbet, which seems to me like an expensive evening out.

    Next show is in Sydney on Friday. I wonder if anything will change?

  • Countdown to Countdown

    Tonight, I’m off to the first Countdown Spectacular concert in Newcastle. I’m not being as obsessive about this show as I was about the superficially similar Here & Now tour — largely because Here & Now was a purely 80s show, while all of the top-of-the-bill acts from the Countdown setup have a 70s emphasis. Nonetheless, there’s still more than enough performers from my long-lost teenage years to keep me happy, including bands like the Chantoozies who I never thought would reform under any circumstances. Annoyingly, I’m heading to Newcastle in a week where there’s major rail work going on so my vision of a simple train trip has been blown out of the water, but that’s life. Much more reportage, and possibly pics, tomorrow.