Review By Nikki Eenink
My dad and I often argue about music; Are The Beatles overrated? Is Lola the best pop song? These things are unknowable. The one thing we don’t argue about: 10cc. They have to be the most underrated rock band of their era (and beyond), and I was lucky enough to have the best night in a long time when “The Worst Band in The World” took the Palais Theatre stage this Sunday.
Belgian-born but Melbourne-based singer-songwriter Romanie is the opener for the night. She played a snappy 30-minute set to eager ears, and it was a delightful start to a super fun night. 10cc didn’t have support acts for many of their concerts this tour, so I feel very blessed to have been treated to the angelic vocals and gorgeous guitar strummings of Romanie, complimented gorgeously by the Palais’ epic acoustics. Her set wasn’t long enough, and yet somehow she managed to cram in a string of heavy-hitters; Changing, Little Big Steps, Anthony and I’m Anything (But Myself Around You) were all part of this gut-wrenchingly wonderful entrée. Romanie reminds me of when I would roll down the sun-roof and windows of my family’s old Rav4 and drive as fast as I (legally) could down the hills of my hometown. These musical musings are the perfect soundtrack for an indie movie, they have a timeless, nostalgic appeal about them that is really hard to capture in words. Romanticise your life, and relive memories to Romanie this week –she’s something special.
Like clockwork, at 8pm sharp the lights go dim and 5 shadows take the stage. When the lights come up, the 5 shadows have faces – and Hawaiian shirts, a floral blazer and a row of instruments behind them. They have the energy of 5 dads at a barbeque, not rock Gods. Let’s meet the crew who will be steering this one way cruise to Good Vibe Island, shall we? On keyboards, vocals, bass guitar and electric guitar; Keith Hayman. On vocals, keyboards, bass guitar, electric guitar, acoustic guitar, (the fact that the list keeps going beyond this point is ridiculous) percussion, mandolin (ok, now you’re just bragging) and synth, Iain Hornel. These two are newly-welcomed, touring members of the 10cc band – and their talent elevates this already insanely musically talented bunch onstage to new heights. On lead guitar, vocals and acoustic guitar is someone who’s been part of 10cc since the very early days, Rick Fenn. The strong and silent type, Paul Burgess, is their sensational drummer. “He’s been with us since the very beginning, and I’m happy to say he’s still with us”, quips original guitarist and prolific songwriter, Graham Gouldman. I can’t say any one of them was “a front man” or anything like that – they’re an ensemble, and a tight one at that. They all have so much fun together throughout the night, but good god are they unbelievably skilled musicians. During mega-hit Rubber Bullets, I catch Gouldman bashing Hayman’s keyboard with the side of his guitar – all while shredding an intricate riff in perfect harmony with the rest of the guys.
We were promised a night of nostalgia and hits. To quote the Facebook event:
NO STANDING. ALL THE HITS!
And they stayed true to their end of the bargain – we did not.
To quote Smash Mouth; The hits start coming, and they don’t stop coming. Starting off with personal favourite, The Dean and I we are thrown into an ocean of bangers. I mean, seriously, it’s fucking ridiculous. They could fill a 2-hour set with iconic hit after iconic hit, and the audience still had space in our bellies for more. As they moved into The Wall Street Shuffle, it hit me; I’m surrounded by middle-aged women and barbeque dads… and I’ve never fit in so well. Someone pass me a hat and a lawn chair, It’s time to have a beer and listen to 10cc like the retiree I was always meant to be. There’s no other band like them, and there never will be. Known for songs heavy in goof-factor, like Life Is A Minestrone, I was taken aback by how insanely stellar their instrumentation is. Virtuosos, the lot of them. They wind through hits and play different arrangements to keep us on our toes, adding a prog-Rock factor to many of them that isn’t there on the albums. Sometimes, just for a moment, Fenn’s floral blazer, Gouldman’s Hawaiian shirt and the grey hairs fade away, and I can see them as young men, at the top of their game, making their musical mark on the world. There is undeniably a rockstar spirit about them, they capture the duality between comradery, silliness and shenanigan with diligence, creativity, and originality better than any other band I’ve had the privilege of seeing. The way Gouldman speaks about former 10cc members, specifically illustrious songwriters Kevin Godley and Lol Crème, is with such respect, love and care. There seems to be no bad blood between them. When talking about Fenn, Burgess and Hayman, it’s clear that Gouldman seems them as musical brothers. They are a family, where bad blood is bad blood but there’s no one else you’d rather share blood with. This respect for each other, and for their music, shines through. There is such an air of love and nostalgia tonight, and it’s delightful.
It's not all common hits, we are treated to new song Floating in Heaven, about Gouldman’s love for the James Webb Space Telescope. “I wrote this and sent it to my record company, and they said ‘It’s absolutely fantastic’. Obviously. But it would be even better if you could get Brian May on it. Not only is he an exceptional guitarist, but he’s also a passionate astronomer and astrophysicist. So he said ‘Ok, I love it’, and he sings on it and plays guitar and he” Gouldman gestures side-stage, “is not here tonight.” We all laugh. “But Rick Fenn is!” We all cheer. Floating in Heaven is lovely. It’s simple, it’s gorgeous, and the three-way layered vocals which reverberate so wonderfully, thanks in-part to the Palais’ acoustics, give me goosebumps.
Then we head into two songs where I feel they really shine. I’m Not in Love is first. My dad has this memory of when he was 13 and would listen to the radio in The Netherlands, and when this song came on – it blew his mind. He didn’t know music could sound that way, and he was hooked. My dad is now a music junkie (seriously, someone should stage an intervention), and this song takes some credit for that. I thought the complex vocal and instrumental layers which feature on the track wouldn’t be achievable live, but you should never doubt 10cc. They pull it off. Hornel changes instruments about 6 times, and all four vocalists are working together, and it's spellbinding. I am washed clean by a river of sound. A musical baptism if you will. Next, is The Things We Do For Love, I’m Not in Love’s poppier big sister. Live it sounds almost melancholic, with Hornel’s vocals hitting insane notes and with those lyrics… perfection. For anyone who’s ever had their heart broken, broken their own heart or been in a complicated Situationship – this one’s for you, us, me. It’s also for the teenage daughter and her dad next to me, he’s holding back tears and she’s grooving – love these guys, great vibes from seat 34 and 35.
Now, here’s the thing about that whole: NO STANDING, thing. I think we will be standing, actually, and not just standing – dancing. As soon as Dreadlock Holiday plays, everyone’s up. Groups of women twirl with each other, teens sidestep, and uncles tap their feet. The song just goes stupidly hard, every time you hear it. I get genuinely sad when it ends. It’s the perfect road-trip song, perfect party beat, hell, I might even have the first dance at my Elvis chapel wedding to it. My daydreams are cut short by the squeals of delight from the crowd when our ship-captains change the lyrics to,
I don’t like Melbourne/ oh no! / I love it!
Insane. They love us?! We love them!! What a dream come true!!
Then, the encore. “This is going to be an acapella version of Donna.” They really don’t run out of ideas, do they? So, they gather around the mic, and in true barbershop quartet fashion, belt out an insane version of the 1972 hit. It seems appropriate to end on one of the band’s first releases. Drummer Paul Burgess comes up to the mic for the final,
“Donna / I love you”.
His deep baritone voice is both shocking and impressive.
“That was Donna by Paul Burgess, ladies and gentlemen.” We go nuts. The most Australian man in history is sitting behind me and nearly rips his vocal cords screaming; “ONYA PAUL” Legend.
But wait! It’s not over! How could it be? We haven’t heard Rubber Bullets yet!
If you haven’t heard them live, you still haven’t really heard Rubber Bullets. The flashing red and blue lights, the hilarious lyricism delivered with the perfect wit and in perfect harmony, the absolute descent into madness onstage – it’s an experience all on its own. To watch them relax into this last number after delivering a set I couldn’t criticise if I tried is so lovely. Even when they’re mucking around; dancing together, kicking their legs, play fighting using their guitars as swords; they’re on the same wavelength.
And then, it’s over. Their enduring bond and passion for music bring everyone to their feet. A standing ovation. I think someone threw their bra. Rock and Roll is back baby, and 10cc is making sure of it.