What no one else is doing: Aussie one-chord punk
By Kevin Curtin,
1:13PM, Tue. Apr. 10, 2012
My account of last night's At the Drive-In spectacle at Red 7 appears in Thursday's Chronicle, but in the meantime, here's a recap of last week's Feedtime revving at Beerland.
Forget the overstated cliché of "three-chord punk" — that's excessive. I'm here to tell you about one-chord punk. I'm here to tell you about Feedtime.
The Aussie threepiece, which never made it Stateside in its Eighties heyday but had an international impact nonetheless, has been out of commission since 1989 barring partial reunions in the Nineties. Their jams are perfectly primitive, brazenly monotone, and uniquely void of flash and precision. They are to punk what punk is to rock & roll: a sloppy rejection of established standards. That's part of the reason they're great. I'll tell you the other part later.
Touring its classic lineup for the first time in 23 years behind a new Sub Pop box set, Feedtime took the stage at Beerland and commenced to sound like total shit. What should have been rough power was weak and muffled. The culprit was Rick's guitar, a borrowed Tele that kept getting quieter and quieter. It should be pointed out that all three members go by their first names only.
"Turn it up Rick! Let us hear your fucking soul!" I might have yelled. When the instrument finally took a shit 20 minutes into the set, a member of opening act Gospel Truth brought out a replacement. The moment the quarter inch cable slid into that Fender Stratocaster's input jack everything changed.
There it was: the loud sawing guitar key to Feedtime's bottleneck post-punk. It roared over Al's vocals on a melody-stripped version of the Rolling Stones' "Paint It Black" and hit fifth gear on car anthem "Fastbuck." Throughout the one-dimensional set Rick and Al took turns growling, the former booming so deep that he sounded like a drunken Louis Armstrong with strep throat. Drummer Tom pounded desperately on the floor tom.
It all amounted to something so raw and unconventional that imitation is impossible. Worlds away from what I've heard on disc, the deft blues picking of "I'll Be Rested" and creepy, crawly melody of "All Down," both one-chord wonders, have no peers. One could speculate Feedtime plays more simple and direct now because they haven't practiced much in their two-decade downtime, but I choose to conclude otherwise. I think they're doing what no one is doing. I think they're feeling what I’m feeling: rocking elemental.
Just like the trio's short tracks, the show was over before we knew it. "This is the last song," Rick declared. "We're not going to do any encores or jump off the stage. This is it. Thanks for coming."
They closed with "Shovelhead," a motorcycle ode with a relentlessly chugging rhythm. It was the third motorcycle song of the set and why not? Motorcycles represent freedom. That's the part I teased upfront, that Feedtime believe in motorcycles.
By how many bright green four-record box sets I saw moving out the door at Beerland after the show, we believe in them too.