That last time I saw Dave Graney live, performing as the Dave Graney Show, was supporting Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds at the Brixton Academy way back in 2001. Graney had the ability then to turn the drafty cavernous venue into an intimate lounge room soiree filled with his particular brand of showmanship and savoir faire. Now, over twenty years later and at one of the southernmost towns at the edge of the inhabited world and in the quaint Franklin Palais theatre, south of Hobart, Graney and the Coral Snakes managed to turn an intimate space into a roaring stadium.
The band was crossing the vast continent of Australia and playing all manner of venues celebrating the release thirty years ago of the classic ‘Night Of The Wolverine’, with the original line up. Of course ‘Night of the Wolverine’ has a special place in antipodean musical history – like The Triffids’ ‘Born Sandy Devotional, The Go-Betweens’ ’16 Lovers Lane’ or The Chills’ ‘Submarine Bells’ it represent a signifier, a note of interest, a snapshot of the zeitgeist in some way. The sort of album necessary to listen to in order to understand the band, know the era. A stone cold classic, in other words.
Dave Graney lives his own unique world – sitting outside the normal milieu with his crooning, witty debonair style that has the flair and theatrics of Nick Cave but without the seething anger and brute force. He is the avuncular Uncle you go to for relationship advice and a good cocktail recipe. And there is a hint of bacchanalian excess wrapped up in the twinkle in the eye.
It should be stressed that as important as this album is, Graney has never rested on his laurels wasting away his life in a late night bar living on memories. My review of Graney’s most recent release with long time collaborator Clare Moore is a case in point that the fire continues to burn brightly. Graney’s strength has always been that dramatic sense of putting on a show with an arched brow and a knowing look: hints of musical debauchery and excess contained within three minute vignettes that have no peer. Yes – there is a Robert Forster (The Go-Betweens) worn out observational style and a Nick Cave lyrical pirouette – but ultimately Graney continues to carve out his own distinctive velvet smoking jacketed style and panache.
The original members, Dave Graney on vocals, Clare Moore on drums, Rod Hayward on guitar, and Robin Casinader on violin and keyboards, recorded ‘Night Of The Wolverine’ in 1993 and they were joined on this tour by Stu Thomas on the bass. The performance from the band was spectacular – tight, dynamic and having some fun in the process and respective, in a way, of their role to allow Graney space to shine.
It was an evening of two halves. The first half saw Graney resplendent in his dapper attire as the band played ‘Night of the Wolverine’ in full – Graney remarking that this was the first time they had toured the album in full because when it was first released, it wasn’t rock’n’roll enough for the audience. The second half saw Graney dial down the dapper and unleash the band’s other material: an unexpected full on euphoric rush of songs that unleashed the untamed sexy beast (and brought dancers to the fore).
Of course, throughout, Graney was a consummate entertainer – between-the-song banter had the crowd in stitches with his wry observations on the genesis of the songs, self-deprecating remarks his creative process and affectionate taunting of the crowd about the state of Tasmanians. During the songs he posed and strutted, pranced and pointed, indulging in a bit of interpretive dancing, fully immersed in another universe.
It’s a challenge when album order dictates the first track is possibly the band’s most famous – ‘You’re Just Too Hip, Baby’ providing a blistering start to the evening and yet it should never be forgotten that the rest of the album has stood the tests of time and remain as enchanting as ever. The full length version of the title track – ‘Night of The Wolverine 2’ – was a particularly mesmerising rendition.
The night built up into a crescendo in the second half – and this is where shackles seem to come off and the energy and vitality of the band exploded on stage. It is also where the sheer breadth and variety of Graney’s song writing skills are evident, as well as the expertise of the band to match the moods.
Graney mentioned his love for 90s hip hop and that gangsta rap had a huge influence on him and you couldn’t help note the dexterity of his stream of conscious poetry on display. From the soul-inflected R&B tones of ‘Man On The Make’ to the mesmerising flow of ‘Rock ‘n’ Roll Is Where I Hide’, via the epic beauty of ‘The Stars, Baby, The Stars’ the second half ended on an explosive high, further augmented by the encore of the funky ‘Feelin’ Kinda Sporty’ and the Bonnie Dobson cover ‘Morning Dew’.
By this time, with his shirt open, his snaky sibilant moves and his cheeky mischievous looks, Graney was the ultimate rock ‘n’ roll fantasy – the pied piper of Franklin, the sex god of the south.
You’re Just Too Hip, Baby
Night of the Wolverine
I’m Just Havin’ One o’ Those Lives
I Held the Cool Breeze
Three Dead Passengers in a Stolen Second Hand Ford
That’s the Way It’s Gonna Be
You Need to Suffer
Night of the Wolverine II
Out There (In the Night of Time)
A Million Dollars in a Red Velvet Suit
You Wanna Be There but You Don’t Wanna Travel
Robert Ford on the Stage
You Wanna Be Loved
I’m Not Afraid to Be Heavy
A Man On The Make
The Stars Baby, the Stars
I’m Gonna Release Your Soul
Rock ‘n’ Roll Is Where I Hide
Feelin’ Kinda Sporty
Morning Dew (Bonnie Dobson cover)
Feature Photograph and gallery: Arun Kendall