Toot-out at the OK Corrall
The Toot Toot Toots with supports Little John and Mother & Son at The Hi-Fi Bar, 4 May 2012
Written by Kinch Kinski | Photographs by Madeleine O’Gorman
Before the lights even dim for the opening act, there is reason to feel excited looking around The Hi-Fi. I had read that there were going to be guest appearances so I note down possible candidates as they saunter by: James Grim of Brothers Grim and the Blue Murders; Jess Ribeiro of The Bone Collectors; Mikelangelo of The Tin Star; Nick Finch of Graveyard Train; Fraser A. Gorman. Only one of these local luminaries ends up on stage with the band, but their presence is a good omen for the launch of The Toot Toot Toots new album, Outlaws. Mother & Son don’t announce themselves in any conventional sense. Instead, singer/guitarist Bodie Jarman appears to be fiddling with his guitar sound and tuning. Slowly his playing becomes more focused and rhythmic until drummer Mat Teudt wanders out and abruptly locks in on a searing surfabilly instrumental.
Teudt’s drumming is visceral and nuanced, Jarman’s guitar playing is technically and expressively outstanding. In contrast to his controlled playing, his voice is a howl, and between lines he seems to gasp for air rather than merely inhale.
The pair have a schizoid stage presence, veering from understated but humorous banter between songs to Jarman maniacally wending around the huge stage and leaping into the audience in the middle of a guitar solo. This all goes down very well with the crowd, many of whom are clearly already fans, and the rest of whom probably are by the end of the set. After the raw volume of the openers Little John are quite a change of pace and their more delicate approach to music is somewhat under-appreciated by the growing audience. I am actually tempted to shush those around me during the sublime Put Your Hands on Me – the sweet gospel harmonies and aching lyrics almost drowned out by talking. The band seem a little less than enthused tonight, so that even a stand out song like Wolves, which on record is a perfectly paced howl of despair, feels tired and messy. Front-man John Dickson’s voice, likewise, feels a little thin and strained. But the song-writing is top notch, and the simple melodies and powerful lyrics shine through to make the set enjoyable and even spine-tingling at times, as on the funereal cover of Townes van Zandt’s Waitin’ Around to Die.
After Little John’s set there is an extended break, during which the venue fills to capacity – with a noteworthy preponderance of lads in cowboy boots with gravity defying quiffs. All at once, the lights go dark. Sepia scenes from old spaghetti westerns flicker to life behind the stage, and The Toot Toot Toots announce themselves with blasting horns and huge harmonies as they launch into Last Breath. The musicianship on display is top notch, with dramatic rhythm work from Steve Gavan on bass and Dyfan Thomas on drums, soaring mariachi trumpet from Greg Foletta, haunting violin work from Cat Pacitti, and lead guitar licks worthy of a Clint Eastwood showdown from Bez Berry, not to mention The Go Girl Gadget Go Go Dancers, who light up the stage on several songs.
Guiliano Ferla and Danny Eucalyptus serve as rotating frontmen for the band, moving between lead vocals and harmonies, as well as playing trombone and rhythm guitar. Eucalyptus’ roar is a force to be reckoned with, and comparisons to Tom Waits are justified; Ferla’s singing style is less distinctive, but he is absolutely magnetic on stage — gesticulating, beating his chest, and pointing into the audience an accusing finger, he brings to mind a younger, more theatrical Nick Cave.
Musically, the band inhabit a unique territory where The Clash, The Beach Boys, Captain Beefheart, The Bad Seeds, and Ennio Morricone all meet and mingle. Lyrically, they are visionary, conjuring up tales of murder, greed, racism, and revenge on the Australian goldfields with cinematic intensity. Throughout the set, The Toots display an uncanny ability to balance the playful with the serious and to underpin their genre-bending musical palette with solid pop song-writing. Fool’s Gold finds Danny Eucalyptus crying out the joy of the child-murdering Ted Buchanan over surf rhythms and bubble-gum pop falsetto lines, while Let Lead Rip conjures another character, Eli Rane, slaughtering Buchanan and eleven others over mariachi funk verses and a stomping rock’n'roll chorus. Tally-Ho gets the crowd into a frenzy with its tale of communal vengeance unfurled to a marching beat. With furious vocals, blood-soaked lyrics, the sultry gyrations of the gogo dancers, and a dizzying musical build-up creating an atmosphere more akin to a blood ritual than a rock show.
By the time The Toots play their final song — the lazy sing-a-long tragedy that is Fare Thee Well, Jesse — the dancing has spilled out from the dance floor and everyone from wall to wall is having a boogie. The atmosphere on stage is no less charged, as guest singer Jess Ribeiro belts out harmonies with Ferla, who is singing and moving with the intensity of the possessed, while other Toots are ascending the drum riser to make room as Mother and Son and Little John join the stage, proceeding to dance, sing, hit tambourines, and generally have ridiculous amounts of fun. The band is barely off stage when the stomping, clapping and screams for more start up. Their encore – a warped cover of Electric Light Orchestra’s Living Thing – does not disappoint.
The ecstatic reaction to this band is natural: they bring intelligent conceptual songwriting, musical experimentation, and high level musicianship to the table, but they don’t stand aloof from their audience. By intertwining the complexity with catchy melodies, big hooks, hilarity, and spectacle they invite people in, and the fictional characters they create are vividly embodied on stage, so that we feel their stories as something real and powerful, rather than as a conceit. Having heard their new album I recommend you get hold of it, but if you really want to experience these songs get along to a live show and let The Toot Toot Toots weave strange worlds before your eyes.