The last time I saw Spiderbait play live, at the Corner Hotel in 2014, the gig had sounded worryingly like a goodbye. It had been a typically excellent show, though a much different one to the usual slam through classic songs, with sentimental intermissions between favourites detailing stories of the songs’ histories and significance to the town. So it was reassuring to see Spiderbait returning for a 25th anniversary string of shows.
160 Russell, February 26, 2016…
Oddly, I made my own support act almost 30 kilometres away from the gig, where a group called Midnight Collective were performing a set outside the Park Hotel in Werribee. I enjoyed their low-slung guitars and Good Charlotte-style sound, if Good Charlotte performed film themes. It was well suited to the still-daylight summer evening setting, though I’m sure the band would have enjoyed more movement in the crowd than that of the small children boogying whilst parents sat in the background enjoying an opportunity to drink wine in public. That said, the group would be likely to garner a similar dance floor patronage from a pub’s worth of grown-ups. I didn’t think there was any need for them to put themselves down between songs, since they sounded good.
A train ride later at Billboard, I thought the same thing when I walked in to first support IV League also apologising for their performance. Although I arrived late to their set, what I heard lived up to the praise I’ve heard for the band. It took me a moment to realise that when the next band came out, it wasn’t the singer from IV League fronting Tired Lion. Lit only by the kind of alternating flashes commonly seen in 90s grunge videos to match their sound, it was hard to tell them apart at first. It was interesting to hear samples leading from one song to another, keeping those who arrived early involved – it also seemed to keep applause rolling through the set. This is a group who use the stage and get the most out of their instruments, weaving modern sentiment into a Splendora-flavoured set.
Billboard’s sunken lounge room was crowded by the time the house lights were replaced with the glow of the screen backing the stage. Cheers welcomed vintage footage of Spiderbait and the opening buzz of last album’s It’s Beautiful. I detected the work of bass-weilding Janet in the Japanese-themed highlight reel celebrating the band’s quarter-century.
The drum exhibition of another recent song, Straight Through The Sun, opened the set to appreciation, if not familiarity. The appreciation continued, and was joined by enthusiastic singing from the front row, when Janet took to the microphone for the first time for the first time for an Outta My Head bounce-along. This was shaping up to what would be a decidedly rock show. Though this meant we didn’t get to hear many of the electronic highlights from Spiderbait’s catalogue, the song selection was still a lot of fun and came with some surprises. Relics from the past that were exhibited included Scenester and Jesus, which made me wonder what kind of shows I’d missed during the band’s early touring days when I was too young to get into the pubs advertised in the streetpress. Long time fans were truly rewarded by the setlist.
Spiderbait’s signature hits were as popular as ever, with songs like Ol’ Man Sam and an extended Calypso proving that the band have plenty of material to please a party crowd. With the response these songs received, I’m always surprised to hear the band continuing to end on their cover of Black Betty. Original material was much more memorable, and could have left a more lasting impression.
That said, this was a gig that did leave an impression. Like their last tour, this one featured the band spending time talking with the audience again, this time not shy with their gratitude having reached the 25 year milestone, and telling stories of songs and their long career. This isn’t usually my thing, but some of the anecdotes were nice insights, and it was especially delightful to see the band’s devoted hidden member recognised and brought on stage for hugs and applause – manager and kindly recipient of my brother’s fanboy desperate communiqués, Fiona Duncan.
Unlike their last tour, this didn’t feel like goodbye. This was a band enjoying their history but proving they still have a lot of life left.