“If you gotta kill people, kill them with love, you fuckers!”
John Power bellows at the Shepherd’s Bush Empire audience where his post-La’s band Cast are performing as part of their Troubled Times tour in 2012. As analysis of that extraordinary exhortation would require a major thesis*, we’ll just skip over his muddled proselytising and cut to the chase. And what we are chasing here is Cast.
I’m listening to the double CD The Troubled Times Tour: Live 2012 as a warm-up for seeing Cast perform at the Corner Hotel in Richmond in a couple of weeks. The live album is on loan from a young friend who not only brought the gig to my attention, but bought me a ticket to go with him and his dad as well. Very sweet indeed. He claims I was responsible for introducing the band to them. I suspect this is further generosity on his part, but it is possible.
In the 90s there was a variant of Britpop that channelled the power pop energy of ‘Day Tripper’ via the soaring melancholy of Big Star and rocked its ass off as well. Right up my Teenage Fanclub alley; I was always on the lookout for new exponents. Not that I ever really expected to find anything as sublime as The La’s transcendent ‘There she goes’ but the search uncovered occasional gems, sometimes via magazine CDs.
At the time there were a few mags vying for my periodical dollar, including MOJO, Q, Uncut, and the local contribution, Rhythms. The first and last publications had firmed up as my main squeezes, though Q’s end-of-year edition was always tempting, especially as the CD was often a selection of the best from the preceding months. Back then I still made some sort of half-hearted effort to keep up with what was happening on the scene, man, and these year-surveys were like cheaty study notes.
When I first played Q’s 1995 compilation Assorted! it was love at first song. The lead track was by a hitherto unknown band; ‘Finetime’ from Cast’s debut album. Melodic, catchy, and with just a hint of melancholy to tug it beyond straight pop.
‘Coz it’s a fine time to pick the right time to make a change
I do believe you read the verse, I do believe you wrote the words
I just need to let you out, to let you in again…
It is possible I shared the Q CD with my mate Steven, and that Ryland** —though not quite four years old at the time— picked up on it immediately. He was always a bright lad.
Whatever the provenance, I was chuffed to be included in the gig group for this first visit to Australia by a band who had stopped and started several times yet were clearly still a going concern. And happy to have another listen to their most recent live outing.
Listening to The Troubled Times Tour: Live 2012, I did begin to doubt the decision. It is an ‘honest’ performance album, perhaps too honest. Just the four players, live and unadorned, sweating it out on stage. Another descriptor would be ‘lo-fi’.
Although the band is clearly well-drilled, there is a ragged feel to the concert, especially in John Power’s vocals. Don’t get me wrong, there is nothing half-assed about his delivery. He is really pushing it out, but this is not an Ian Gillan or Jimmy Barnes. Powers’ voice is not a powerful instrument; he has a reasonable range and a reliable falsetto, but he is singing ‘in the red’ and it teeters on the edge of collapse throughout the show. Yet the sheer brio of the delivery, the commitment of the band to flinging the music into this former music hall, and the passion for songs both new and old bursts out of the speakers. Yes, OK, I’m convinced. Now I’m looking forward to the gig. But I’d not recommend this live album as a starting point – it’s a real ‘fans only’ release.
It seems that Cast are so immersed in writing and recording their new album that they totally lost track of the time and are running a wee bit late for the gig. Eight months late. Clearly someone forgot to replace the batteries in the studio clock, resulting in the first ever tour of Australia and New Zealand being postponed until February next year.
While the fan in me is disappointed and the social part of me (small, but alive) sad at missing the outing with Ryland and Steven, there is a part of me that’s relieved. Pub gigs are noisy and packed with a humanity I prefer to keep at arm’s length. The air is invariably stuffy, the carpet putrid, the beer expensive and the dunnies disgusting. Having savoured the ‘live’ experience via the safety of my car stereo, I reckon breaking out my much-prized vinyl version of the debut album might be just the lounge-room ticket for now…
‘Alright’ opens the album with a first-rate blast of melodic guitar rock, complete with brief solo and a middle eight throttling back just enough to really charge up the final choruses. The title ‘Promised land’ holds a hint of the Christian beliefs underlying many of Powers’ songs. But, here at least, it is symbolic enough to slip past all but the most sour unbeliever. It’s a good song.
Third song ‘Sandstorm’ is even better. Great rhythm guitar set-up with some vaguely Hendrixian psychedelic tropes; fast and energetic, it rocks.
‘Mankind’ kicks like Lennon fronting The Jam, after which we get a couple of solid mid-album numbers prior to the big hit, ‘Finetime’. If you haven’t heard it for a while, the single still sounds fanfuckingtastic, not least for the phrase in the middle that always has me singing ‘Jesus Christ, Superstar, do you think you’re what they say you are’.
‘Walkaway’ is a fine ballad, melodic, melancholic, and a welcome change of pace. I also love ‘History’, which rockets along on a bed of psychedelic guitar like early Status Quo on ecstasy. Interestingly, a wild, totally deranged twelve-minute version of this song closes the 2012 live album.
All Change ends with ‘Two of a kind’, part Kinks, part Oasis, part Small Faces. There is a pleasing space within the arrangement that allows melody and harmony to shine. It’s a fine closer to a debut album that reaches out with honesty and naive charm and connects with a fire that warms, not burns. Kill ‘em with love, you fuckers.
* Some starting questions might be… Who is he talking to, audience or the rest of the world? How, exactly, does love become fatal? Who, exactly, are the fuckers? Just what is the compulsion to kill he is referring to? And so on.
** Ryland is, of course, Steven’s son, the father having appeared in Vinyl Connection’s life here.