Live Review: A Day On The Green - Sirromet Winery

11 March 2016 | 2:11 pm | Steve Bell

"The band sounds killer from the outset as they start with all guns blazing, opening with Bittersweet and Tojo to really set the bar high."

Hoodoo Guros. Photo by Sarah Paddon

Hoodoo Guros. Photo by Sarah Paddon

More Hoodoo Gurus More Hoodoo Gurus

The first thing you notice about the enormous crowd making its way into the picturesque Sirromet Winery to find a vantage point on the huge hill surrounding the massive stage is the frankly incredible array of vintage rock T-shirts that have been dusted off for the occasion. Everyone seems to have their own version of what constituted their 'halcyon days' and are keen to share their musical wisdom via tatty fashion sense, but it makes for a fantastic image and some fascinating music geek trainspotting.

Sydney indie stalwarts Ratcat have been tapped to open proceedings and the heat is oppressive as they take us on the first jaunt back through memory lane, their upbeat indie numbers like Baby Baby and early tune She's A Gas perfect in the economy of their construction. Frontman Simon Day has lost none of his charisma and seems to be having a good time as he throws in Getting Away (From This World), but it's the one-two punch at the set's finale that really grabs the crowd's attention: the evergreen That Ain't Bad has lost none of its laconic charm, and Don't Go Now is still full of those trademark pop hooks which saw it climb to the very top of the singles chart back in 1991.

Next up Sydney alt-rockers Died Pretty put in an impressive display having recently returned from hiatus, although it does seem somewhat incongruous seeing these notorious night owls going through their paces in the afternoon sun. Founding members Ron Peno (vocals) and Brett Myers (guitar) still seem to be the band's heartbeat — Peno in particular demanding attention as he whirls around the stage like a dervish — and although there's plenty of depth and gravitas on display during songs like Sweetheart, Harness Up and the stripped-back Doused it's their timeless classic DC that really gets the packed hill grooving with its lazy melodies and catchy refrain.

The jubilation of another triumphant return by '80s legends Sunnyboys is tempered somewhat as we're informed at the outset that founding drummer Bil Bilson is unwell and unable to join the tour, but his replacement Raphael Whittingham (formerly of The Clouds) does a sterling job in the engine room and there's nary a hitch as they kick off strongly with Love To Rule, frontman Jeremy Oxley's voice strong and clear and his powerhouse band rolling in tight unison behind him. Classic songs like Tunnel Of Love and Trouble In My Brain have lost none of their vitality with the passing of time, and the crowd seems to react to their energy and start giving more back themselves. Bassist Peter Oxley breaks things up by taking vocal reins for The Stooge, but then it's back to business as usual as they smash through a cavalcade of gold including Show Me Some Discipline (dedicated to Bilson by Peter) and Tomorrow Will Be Fine (a shoutout by Jeremy to his wife Mary). As they kick into the distinctive opening of Happy Man the whole hill goes ballistic and sings along en masse, while the band look completely exalted at this easy connection that they're cultivating with the sea of humanity before them. Let You Go proves as sublime as ever and I'm Shakin' just as powerful, and it's amazing as they move onto their hit single Alone With You to see a whole hill of people dancing with complete abandon and clearly connecting with music that meant a lot to them at vital junctures of their lives: there's a lot of love being expressed in the here and now but a lot of it exists for times gone by (younger readers will probably find this concept abhorrent now but it should really offer them massive heart for the future). As they finish with The Seeker Jeremy relinquishes his guitar to just sing and enjoy the moment — he looks totally invigorated and the whole vista is heartwarming beyond belief.

Don't miss a beat with our FREE daily newsletter

Everyone by now is quite well lubricated and the sun is going down as the day's only foreign interlopers Violent Femmes take the stage, although the Milwaukee-bred trio's affinity and history with Australia is almost enough to qualify them as local (and bassist Brian Ritchie has called Down Under home for many years). They kick off strongly with Blister In The Sun and Kiss Off — both from their barnstorming 1981 eponymous debut album — and the delighted crowd sings along to the acerbic sentiments as one. Even the oft-cranky vocalist Gordon Gano seems swept up in the conviviality as the whole crowd dances to American Music and wholeheartedly embraces their new single Memory (which doesn't stray far from the Femmes' super-distinctive blueprint, despite being one of their first new offerings in some 16 years). The ever-creepy Country Death Song sounds especially morbid in these rural surrounds, new song I Could Be Anything brings some levity with its twisted tale of dragons and redemption, and they keep reeling off the hits as they move through Prove My Love, Freak Magnet and Hallowed Ground with an abandon belying their vintage. Former Dresden Dolls drummer (and now Femme) Brian Viglione gets to move from brushes to xylophone for the dubious sentiments of Gone Daddy Gone, and they finish a classy return with I Held Her In My Arms and the timeless Add It Up, which once again has the crowd reliving their youth with unbridled gusto.

We've reached the pointy end of proceedings now and Australian rock legends Hoodoo Gurus enter the fray to a heroes' reception from the now sozzled throng, and the first thing one notices is that the replacement for recently departed drummer Mark Kingsmill — who was farewelled last year after three decades behind the kit in a whirl of pomp and ceremony — looks a lot like... Mark Kingsmill. It turns out that he's back in the gang, and while this confuses briefly it means that the band sounds killer from the outset as they start with all guns blazing, opening with Bittersweet and Tojo to really set the bar high. Luckily this band has a huge treasure trove of hits in the vaults and they bring them out with barely concealed delight, Dave Faulkner up front looking like he's having a blast as they continue to tumble through anthems like Poison Pen, Mars Needs Guitars, Come Anytime and Axegrinder. Seeing these guys in full flight always ushers pangs of Australian pride and tonight is no exception, and not even some slight squalls of rain can detract from the fun as they bash out Miss Freelove 69, 1000 Miles Away and gorgeous crush lament My Girl. No one seems to want this brilliant day of good music and bonhomie to finish but all things must pass, and as the Gurus bring things to their inevitable conclusion with a barnstorming rendition of Like Wow Wipeout there are tinges of regret but mainly jubilation that this awesome celebration of (predominantly) Australian rock'n'roll has been such a resounding good time for all involved.