Review By Nikki Eenink
RocKwiz is an Australian institution. First airing in 2005, most Australian’s would be familiar with hosts Brian Nankervis, Julia Zemiro and, fan-favourite, Dugald McAndrew. Well, don’t worry, all three will be gracing the Palais Theatre. And tonight it is a sold out venue. We are all here to celebrate 50 years of Mushroom Records, and to honour its founder Michael Gudinski, the “Godfather of Aussie Music”, who passed in 2021. Mushroom Group is the largest independent music and entertainment company in Australia and New Zealand, and it got its start right here, in Melbourne.
“Ladies and Gentlemen!
It’s music! It’s madness! It’s Mushroom!”
To say I was unprepared for the energy Brian Nankervis was going to bring to the Palais Theatre this Wednesday night, is an understatement. The RocKwiz host is an Australian icon, a heavy hitter in my childhood memories, and then, there he was, in the flesh. Dancing like Mick Jagger in tight black pants to Soul Kind Of Feeling, by 80’s Australian bop-masters, Dynamic Hepnotics. Immediately the crowd is laughing, clapping, and singing along. Honestly, this could’ve been the entire show, and I still would’ve had an absolutely phenomenal time. Nankervis’ energy is just fantastic. He’s goofy, nonchalant, but an absolutely pro at getting us magnetised to his every move.
Tonight, 12 lucky players will be facing off, rapid-fire, to see who makes it to the final 4. Nankervis brings them all onstage while Praise You plays, and everyone claps. (Everyone’s a Fatboy Slim fan! I told you!) The 12 music-nerds aren’t quite as comfortable as Nankervis, and while he throws his body weight into the dance, they follow behind, doing a timid two-step, albeit with a big grin on their face. “Ah, nothing like dancing with a bunch of people who just can’t dance.” The crowd gives a supportive, woo!. “Let’s give it up for your potential future RocKwizzers” The crowd gives a massive round of applause. And we really don’t stop.
Two rapid fire rounds of questions find us our marvelous Final Four…
ON TEAM 1:
Leanne is sporting a very fashionable Mushroom Records top, big curly red hair and a kickass-but-softspoken attitude. Her first concert was at the Melbourne Sports and Entertainment Centre and it was Howard Jones. She went with her cousin, who left halfway through. “James!” She curses.
Maybe this James will cleanse the sins of James’ past. The youngest of our four finalists, he’s dressed rather chic with a denim jacket and shiny RM Williams shoes. His first concert was Red Hot Chilli Peppers in the Telstra Dome. He was “king of the quadrangle” the following day.
ON TEAM 2:
Now, THIS is a piece of history. Gerald was on the very first ever episode of RocKwiz, way back in 2005. He is such a music nerd he can remember his first Mushroom concert. In 1971, he saw Spectrum (not Mushroom), supported by MacKenzie Theory (Mushroom). Whose encore was them playing the beginning of their set again, until the audience was satisfied.
Coming for Leanne’s brand, Michael is also sporting a Mushroom t-shirt. His first concert was AC-DC, supported by The Living End. Don’t let his rock-origins fool you, he is a major Kylie Minogue fan.
The RocKwiz Orchestra starts, and we take a brief intermission. There isn’t a back against their seat in the house, we are all waiting for the show to begin. That’s when Nankervis peeks out from behind a curtain. He’s changed into a dashing little plaid suit. The magic of theatre. He introduces us to our fucking unbelievable band for the night, who are continuing to play a medley of all of Mushroom’s greatest hits.
On drums, and musical direction –“He always keeps cool, when the shitake hits the pan” Peter “Lucky” Lunstone. On the bass guitar, “a real portobello fellow”, Bill McDonald. On guitar, and heavenly harmonies, “The world is her oyster (mushroom)”, Olympia. On guitar and backing vocals, “cute as a button (mushroom)” Ash Naylor. And on keys and harmonies, “She’s diced! She’s sliced! She’s hot tonight!” Cleo Renner. They are, the RocKwiz Orchestra.
“You know him! You love him! The human scoreboard, Dugald!” We cheer, and Dugald walks across the stage in cargo shorts and a singlet. Australian excellence.
And then, “The queen of the Kwiz! The one, the only! Julia Zemiro!”
I can’t remember what her entry music was, only that everyone is cheering, and my friend keeps whispering “She’s so hot, she’s so hot, she’s so hot”, in my ear. And she is looking like an absolute snack tonight in a leopard blazer and little black heels. She’s timeless, I swear she looks the same age as she always has. I’m giddy. This is like watching TV except it’s LIVE. Unreal.
And then the show begins, and from here it’s a whirlwind of musical acts, trivia tension and history lessons. But let me try and give you a highlights reel.
Our first celebrity guest is going to Team 2. It’s an Aussie-rock God, Hunter’s and Collector’s own Mark Seymour. He comes in smoking hot with a performance of Say Goodbye. The stage is covered with smoke and he really looks the part of Rock God. Seymour’s first concert was Little River Band. As all of the Mushroom talents will be asked tonight, he’s asked to recall a memory of Mushroom Record’s founder; Michael Gudinski. A story he could tell, “Legally”, Nankervis winks. The two were fairly close, and it’s already clear that Gudinski’s loss is felt heavily in the Australian music community.
Joining Team 1 is goth heartthrob Adalita. And she comes out with an absolute bang singing a cover of Alone With You by the Sunny Boyz. Accompanied by founding member Richard Burgman, her vocals and general vibe have us in shock, it’s a grittier cover, her voice is thick like treacle, and I’m loving every second of it. Despite appearances, she is a true-blue Aussie goddess. With a delightful bogan twang, she tells us her first concert was Concrete Blonde, who performed at her University’s O-Week. Her defining memory of Michael is that he would throw these “rager parties”, with weird cocktails, just begging to be drunk (and so, they always were).
And so the questions begin, Adalita is the first to answer a question about a 2000 movie staring Eric Bana. The movie is ‘Chopper’, however a man in the audience let’s out the most Australian, the most guttural “CHOPPA”. To which, Adalita, hand already on the buzzer, echoes “CHOPPA”. Somehow even crunchier. It’s barely even one syllable, it’s just a barking noise. She’s amped up the Ozploitation factor on her accent to match his excitement. And we are pissing ourselves. If there’s one thing Australian’s are good at – it’s laughing at ourselves. Zemiro swoops in. “Listen, I know you know the answers. But if you answer them, it gives these guys (The Teams) fuck all to do. So why don’t you just… think the answer, instead of saying it. Let’s try that for this question.” We all laugh, but her scolding works. And the game continues with only whispers coming from Choppa Man.
Tagging in for Mark Seymour on Team 2 is Wilson singing Pain and Misery by Melbourne’s own, The Teskey Brothers. And her voice is big, I mean, almost too big for the mic. She came out almost sheepish, but babygirl has pipes. (The goosebumps up and down my arms agree.) Unsurprisingly, she reveals her first concert to be Alicia Keys, supported by John Legend – so clearly, she’s had soul in her for a long time.
AND THEN WE HAVE, THE HIGHLIGHT OF THE EVENING, Vika and Linda Bull. I’ve seen Vika and Linda before, but every time they smash it. They’re RocKwiz royalty too, in their own way. In complimenting blue and white suits, the sisters absolutely demolish a live performance of When Will You Fall For Me? It’s an age-old question, and a timeless dance tune. I really admire a song that toes the line between yearnability and danceability. And Vika and Linda’s classic 1994 hit, really does that for me.
Our next musical darling is Shannon J, who, dressed in nothing but leather pants and a simple blue top, nails a cover of On A Night Like This. She sings KYLIE, like it’s no big deal. Consider me impressed. Resident Kylie fan, Team 2’s Michael dances happily in his chair. He and I really do have so much in common. Shannon is so delightfully soft-spoken, and her first ever concert was, “The biggest band in the world – The Wiggles.”
And then we have another interval. We get up, stretch our legs, pee, smoke, cry, sing – whatever you need to do. But all we really want, is more, more, more.
To usher us back in, the band starts playing (or we start singing, I don’t remember which one came first), Don’t Fall in Love. And then, suddenly, Billy Miller is there. The lead singer of the The Ferrets is on that stage, singing to us. What the fuck?! Insane.
Coming back we are hit with a medley of songs; From Adalita’s rock-powered vocals to Vika and Lindas Tongan sisterhood bond to Mark Seymour’s pub-Rock sensibilities – it’s an absolute delight in every way. The RocKwiz Orchestra plays this sensational mashup of Mushroom songs old and new. Everything from an absolutely spine-tingling version The Temper Trap’s Sweet Disposition to Split Enz – they’re some of the best in the business for a reason. And they aren’t about to let us forget it.
Some more trivia back and forth, with Billy Miller and Michael “You can ask me whatever you want, just no sex or drugs” Chugg (Chuggy), coming onstage for a round purely about Michael and his shenanigans. It’s like watching old friends reminisce. Did you know Michael sold watermelon by the slice to make their festivals a financially viable option? Did you know his middle name was Solomon? Did you know he paced when he was thinking? Now you now!
After a serious of ‘Million Dollar Riffs’, most of whom were by Skyhooks. Nankervis knows how to get a room full of music nerds fired up, “Skyhooks are just the intelligent version of KISS, discuss.” He smirks as the crowd grumbles, or cheers, or argues to no one in particular.
“Skyhooks, Masters of the Memorable Riff. Now, let’s hear a cover of Living in the Seventies by the hardest working sisters in showbusiness –“Before he can finish, the crowd roars for Vika and Linda to come back. And come back they do. The stage lights up red, with gold flecks of light falling down onto them as they belt out and dance to the 1974 hit. They really never miss. Their energy is infectious, they feed off of each other, and off of us. They’re just masterful.
And then, and then… Didirri comes onstage. I remember the first time I saw Didirri, he was opening for Hozier, at the Palais Theatre no less. That was over 4 years ago, and I think about it all the time. His voice was so haunting, his lyrics saw through me. I’ve actually been lucky enough to meet him since then, and he’s delightful. Shy and soft, with big kind eyes. Really, I can’t sell him enough, do yourself a favour and go sit by a river and listen to Didirri while you think about heartbreak – and thank me (or don’t) later. Begin Again, performed nearly completely acoustic in a full auditorium is chilling. He stands perfectly still, while a piano plays the odd chord behind him. And he is captivating. I think I need to check my pulse again.
Zemiro is also a big fan. “That’s so beautiful that song.”
Didirri chrips into the mic, “I thought you were going to say ‘that’s DISGUSTING’”.
“No! Men and women holding eachother is my favourite thing.”
Speaking of men holding eachother, Didirri and Miller swap out, but as they do, they give eachother a big warm embrace and a kiss on the cheek. There’s clearly a lot of love there, and it’s beautiful. Didirri was the last person Michael signed to the label, and the only time they spoke, I think Gudinski said it best; “I’m fucked... Is that Didirri? You’re young, you’re talented, your songs are beautiful – let’s make something happen.” And his first concert? It was The Waifs at Port Fairy Folk Festival.
And so the night draws to a close, with the scores as follows…. Drum roll PLEASE!!! Will it be the underdogs, the scrappy Team 1, or will it be level-headed, traditionally nerdy Team 2?
With 150 points – Team 2 narrowly takes it!! Team 1 coming in slightly behind on 130.
Another incredible series of performances follows, “Long live Australian Rock and Roll!” Nankervis takes over the mic to say. “This was a tribute to absent friends.” The whole group, all the acts, all the contestants dance together in a kick line.
“I remember Michael Gudinski. We remember Mushroom.”
Here’s to 50 more years.