info I contact
editorial schedule
join the realtime email list
become a friend of realtime on facebook
follow realtime on twitter

magazine  archive  features  rt profiler  realtimedance  mediaartarchive



Cool and blue in the hot house

Mark Mordue, Tex Perkins & the Dark Horses

Tex Perkins Tex Perkins
photo Kristyna Higgins
Laid back and veiled. Maybe that’s what all this talk of ‘alt country’ and ‘post rock’ means. The obscure championing of Smog, Will Oldham, Papa M, Cat Power…all distinct artists in their own right, yet all sharing a sense of something else happening behind the sounds they approach, a feeling that insinuation and shadows and mood are far from done with in modern music.

Of course some of the acts that fall into these warped genres can be very explicit and aggressive, usually post rockers like Mogwai and Yo La Tango rather than the alt country types who sound as if they are holed up on some drug fucked, go-slow verandah. But there’s a bridge there, over troubled waters, between these worlds, I’m sure of it. Maybe the Dirty Three could tell us more about that.

Whatever the nametags and marketing stereotypes, these artists mark a new retreat from the commercial machine and so-called ‘indie rock’, the relentless retail of grunge/punk rebellion and the intensification of music into niche-marketed packages. They’ve gone into hiding, dived into atmospheres and mystery, looking for soul again.

The thought of a hi-tech, low-fi millennium blues pops into my head, a kinda ‘roots of rootlessness’ music, propagated through the convergence of a mushrooming internet underground, home studio technology and artists happy to blow off their own willful creativity. An aural community is taking shape around them: people who can accept things a little slower or stranger, who want to get to know music instead of receiving it dead ahead.

You might identify this feeling as exploratory, introspective, submerged: adjectives that express the emotional backlash of a new (and sometimes old) underground to what’s going on up there on the surface of pop life and a newly minted ‘alternative’ mainstream.

Tex Perkins’ Dark Horses CD fits well into this quiet, secretive talk of music from the margins. I’m certainly not expecting a Sydney Festival Bar Crowd to respond to the low-paced songs live. Just picture the place: girls in tight skirts drinking blue cocktails; boys with designer beers hunting for sex; the DJ flogging this season’s love drug, Cuban music, that no one really gives a fuck about.

So when Perkins and his group open up with She Speaks A Different Language it’s as if the whole bar has sloooooowed down. Fine as this ballad is, a more stated, medievally aggressive song like Splendid Lie tames the restless second song in for a while.

The Dark Horses themselves are a super-talented group: Charlie Owen on keyboards, guitar and some bright banjo picking that blazes away then dies; Joel Silbersher, a post-rock god in his own right, maybe an even bigger star in the cottage industries of cyberspace, playing a bass almost as tall as he is along with a splash of psychedelic guitar; Murray Paterson, red hair and firm acoustic work that details the songs with Spanish emotion; Jim White on drums, with those percussive rolls and holding back touches of not-hitting-just-yet drama; and finally Perkins himself on acoustic guitar as well.

Maybe it’s the Neil Diamond in Perkins that makes him hold onto the acoustic guitar and make the most of his swivel seat for the evening. But he seems walled in by the instrument, a superfluous strummer in a band already overweight with 3 exceptionally capable lead/rhythm players. You just want to see him move more, twist those extravagant hands into a lyric and back out into space.

As a band of multi-instrumentalists, the musicians continue to unbalance each other just when you have what you want from each of them. To see Charlie Owen strap on an electric guitar is a moment of rapturous yet short-lived kinetic excitement, while Joel Silbersher’s guitar work is so fine and shaded and trippy and…gone.

Strung together in a set, there’s also a feeling that the mood is way too blue, and that Perkins really should listen to the best bits of Hot August Night, or at least a little more James Brown and Captain Beefheart than he has lately. And yet a moody number like Ice in the Sun repeats and broadens so much of what has come before taking you to another place. It’s slow ecstasy, and it makes my complaints seem churlish, my gripes minor on a very fine night of music.

With demands to “bring me champagne”, Perkins camps it up, Frank Thring style, enjoying himself and amusing the crowd. I used to hate that about him in ages past, how he couldn’t commit to an emotion without mocking it; but now it seems more like a nervousness or shyness as he slides out from a song into the world again.

Tonight’s set would suit a smoky, intimate pub, maybe even a theatre better. Not a weekend meat market dazzled by the glitter of the disco ball. But to Perkins and the Dark Horses tribute, the audience here make an impassioned demand for an encore. By which time the singer and band have hit a note of raw, forward movement, coming out into us rather than making us draw into them. It’s a belated dynamic too often lacking in this moody, weary array of songs tonight.

Maybe all that is missing are 2 or 3 tunes which bring a bit of light and speed to Perkins’ songwriting palate. Or a few more of those instrumental touches, like Owen on banjo or Silbersher with his funky wah wah ripples from outer space. A few more bright notes to colour his backwoods/inner city morality tales and send us off into the night knocked out, rather than just pleased and half loaded.

Tex Perkins and the Dark Horses, Sydney Festival Bar, January 1. Dark Horses CD, Grudge Records/Universal Music. An edited version of this review appeared in Drum Media, Feb 20, 2001

RealTime issue #42 April-May 2001 pg. 38

© Mark Mordue; for permission to reproduce apply to [email protected]

Back to top