The World Meets Hunters & Collectors
Article about the 1990 joint Hunters and Collectors and Midnight Oil gigs in the US.
Author: Michael Azzerad, The Edge.
Date: August 1990.
Original URL: N/A.
Joining Midnight Oil as support on the European and US legs of the Blue Sky Mining tour hasn’t just been great for getting Hunters & Collectors invaluable international exposure. The Hunters have also discovered that impersonating the Oils can be very handy when it comes to getting into nightclubs. Michael Azerrad catches up with Mark Seymour and the boys in New York.
It’s a rainy May night in New York City as the Hunters & Collectors horn section joins Midnight Oil on stage for the first gig of a two night stand at the world famous Radio City Music Hall. By way of an introduction Peter Garrett tells the crowd, “The Hunters are on the other gigantic label here because these guys are worth hanging in with.” And with that the Oils launch into Best of Both Worlds.
Perhaps not coincidentally the Oils have also given the Hunters the best of both worlds; the rare opportunity to take their act to big halls around the world, along with the relatively low pressure circumstances of a support slot. By tagging along on the Blue Sky Mining tour the Hunters are out to see if what makes them gigantic at home translates equally well to the international arena.
“You’ve for to be able to cut it in front of a big audience if you want to become a major international band,” says head Hunter Mark Seymour. “A tour like this gives you a taste of touring the world on the back of a record that has actually done big business. But you can’t turn your back on your own nation – the most important part of our musical growth has been having that loyal base in Australia.”
Union rules at Radio City impose heavy fines for running over time, so on opening night the Oils production manager stuck a clock between Seymour’s monitors to remind him to stick to his allotted 45 minutes. Union rules have also denied Hunters the luxury of a soundcheck which goes a long way toward explaining why the first Radio City show was a bit below par.
But the second night is the best of the tour so far. If the best shows are actually parties which move from the dressing room onto the stage, then this one fits the bill – pre-show the backstage area is already littered with dozens of empty beer bottles. Mark and lead guitarist Barry Palmer ham on blues tunes, to which drummer Doug Falconer begins improvising some vaguely raunchy lyrics. Soundman Robert Miles walks in, and although he isn’t in the publicity shots, he’s immediately recognised as a Hunter. “Yeah, he’s got the Hunters’ look,” trumpet player Jack Howard says. “Haunted, poetic, vaguely alcoholic!” Finally, it’s showtime. Long-time Hunters’ manager Michael Roberts shepherds the band down to the stage; Mark jogs a bit, yells “Hey Ho!” and sprints onto the stage, followed closely by the rest of the merry band.
The near capacity audience begins to trickle in as the set opens with the swirling, sustained organ that announces Ghost Nation. Tonight, Seymour’s deep in it, the band plays as one, and Palmers solos burn. Moving on through Everything’s on Fire, Love All Over Again, Blind Eye and Say Goodbye the Hunters’ set is reflective and romantic, building steadily from the unlikely opener. “We start off really slowly and just wind the machine up,” says Mark. “The mood is not like Midnight Oil’s – it’s darker, it’s lazier, it’s more sexual. It’s more like being lost.”
The band oozes our a Ray Charles cover, I Believe in My Soul, followed by an impassioned When The River Runs Dry. The it’s straight into the rolling thunder of Inside a Fireball as Palmer whips off yet another frantic, discordant solo, de-tuning a string to make his guitar sound like a chainsaw. He finishes and Seymour motions to him; he has something important to tell him. Palmer bounds over, Seymour beams at him and hollers into his ear, “Root me!”
The 5,800 deep red plush seats in this cavernous place absorb much of the energy the band emits. It doesn’t help that the place is packed with placid industry types and the New York audience is taking its usual “show me’ attitude. Still, there is much bouncing in sears and the applause actually grows with each song – by the time What’s A Few Men? rolls around the people are genuinely interested. The Oils Power and passion will later erase the Hunters’ subtler mood but most of the audience will remember the opening band.
It’s taken a lot of work to get the band functioning this well on the big stage. “When we started we were a bit lost,” Barry Palmer says. “Acoustically we were really ….out there. And I think we had this idea in the back of our minds that we were actually going to out-rock the Oils. Dumb concept. Especially because our best stuff is when we pull back and go through the whole range of emotions, slowing it down, speeding it up, simplifying it, making it big.
“By the time we got to the US we’d worked out all the dynamics of playing these really big rooms/ We’re still intimidated, but we’re also really confident. The best thing we can do on this tour is play a really good set – we know now they’re not going to go wild, they’re not going to call us back for an encore. We’re just out there to prove to people, especially press and record company people, that we can do it.”
The Oils’ Bones Hillman joins the band on stage for the finale, Throw Your Arms Around Me. He has specifically asked to sing on the song, and besides, it’s a good trade – the Hunters get Bones, the Oils get the Hunters’ horns. Initially Mark hesitated about loaning out the brass section: “I was concerned about the collective image of the band, but it was a nice thing for us to do. I can’t overstate how much the Oils care about us, and how much they respect us. They’re great people.”
Hunters bass player John Archer thinks the pairing on this tour is an ideal situation for the Oils. “Whether it’s actually the case of not they regard it as someone kicking away from underneath, so it keeps them on edge. The Oils have to play better than us, or they’ll feel like they’re not cutting it, regardless of what the crowd thinks. So from their point of view it’s good to have us along because it peps them up.”
As an opening band the Hunters don’t often get soundcheck, they’re not as loud as the Oils, and they play far less than their standard set. And, let’s face it, most people have come to see the Oils. But judging by the reaction of Hunters’ fans Brion, 16, and Jen, 15, they did alright. “They should be a top band, not an opener,” says Brion. “It’s good music and he dances good,” says Jen, adding “I didn’t know they were Australian.”
But things haven’t always gone so well on the tour. At Bercy Omnisport in Paris the audience threw tomatoes, and at a depressing show in Caen, France, Barry says, “the audience was bored shitless, even with the Oils.” But the first American gig, in Virginia, was the worst. Only 2,000 tickets were sold for a 12,000 seat venue and it sounded, in Barry’s words, “like a toilet”.
If they’d gone on like that,” John adds, “we’d have just packed our bags and gone home.”
“Toronto was bizarre,” he continues. “It was 40 degrees, it was raining and steam was coming off the crowd – and Peter Garrett’s head! Michael Waters (trombone) played in a raincoat. But the audience seemed to have a terrific time, despite the conditions. Boston was great too. The crowd gave us a standing ovation – not bad for a sit down venue. Possibly they were just getting up to go to the bathroom, but they were clapping all the way.”
If they are to hit big in America, the work’s biggest record buying market, the Hunters must crack American AOR radio which Seymour calls “the monolithic monster.” Unfortunately American AOR is ruled by defunct dinosaurs like Led Zeppelin and the Doors, leaving little air time for music made in the last 15 years. “I really believe in this band and every time I confront this market I’s a really difficult things for me to come to terms with,” Mark Says. “It takes a lot of determination to keep coming back here and says ‘Here I am. Again’.”
“The great thing about this tour is that Midnight Oil have consciously gone out and tried to improve the lot of another Australian band they admire,” Mark is careful to stress. But the Oils’ American success has helped the Hunters with more than just exposure. In Buffalo, NY, Jack was refused entry to a local nightclub; after a little bickering at the door the manager came running up, apologising profusely. “I’m sorry they didn’t let you in Mr.Garrett – the door staff didn’t recognise you. You know, you have a lot more hair than in your pictures!”
After the second Radio City show most of the band head out to ‘Pro Jam Night’ at the China Club. The few empty tables have ‘Reserved’ signs on them and the club won’t let the Hunters sit down until they pretend to be Midnight Oil. On stage, various well now musicians are trying to impress each other by playing as fast as possible. Tico Torres from Bon Jovi steps up and peels of a fast but vapid guitar solo. Then jazz-fusion giant Al DiMeola takes a fast and even more vapid solo. Afterwards, blues hound Barry, a bit tanked up by this point, goes up to DiMeola and ask incredulously, “What are you doing, Al?” Thinking he’s about to be complimented DiMeola replies “I’m just playing the blues, man”. Barry shouts “No you’re not!” and walks away. The incident quickly becomes the stuff of Hunters legend.
The next gig is out of town at the Jones Beach Amphitheatre. On the tour bus out to the venue, Mark is taking a negative review pretty hard. A respected New York Times critic has written “the band is basically a poor imitation of Midnight Oil”. “I can’t see it, basically,” is his more printable response. “What an ugly business. I should have stayed a teacher, at least then I could pay the mortgage.”
The 15 metre tour bus, complete with kitchen, stereo, VCR and 12 bunks, is what Jack calls “the place of bad smells”, mainly owing to an abundance of over-ripe socks and other pieces of intimate clothing. Besides the bus’s inhabitants the most Australian thing around here is the drain in the sink which sounds remarkably like a didgeridoo.
The Hunters have been spending the endless hours on the bus and between gigs playing golf, reading, jogging, mending electronics and assessing the quality of American roller coasters. Not surprisingly the entire band is homesick for their wives, girlfriends and homeland. As soon as Mark gets back he plans to go fishing and surfing. “I’m definitely going to go into the bush, which is what we Australians call….the bush.”
In the meantime they have to deal with the harsh psychological realities of being 12 guys packed into a cramped tour bus for weeks. “We treat each other with a great deal of respect”, Mark says. “And the ones who have alleviated their own grief by slinging off at the others have started to back off a bit. All of us have done that at some time or other. What I’m finding really good about this tour is that we’re all starting to say, ‘Ok, do what you want to do – act our your own particular personal drama and we’ll give you the room’.”
And who is the Most Improved Player on this tour? “Well…..?” Mark pauses for a long time before confessing, “I reckon it’s actually me. I was a flip on the road – my ego was spinning way out of control and I was constantly complaining about the way the gigs were going. So John gave me this tongue lashing in France. Basically he told me to shut up. And I said ‘Fuck, you’re right’. And ever since then it’s been great. I’m really enjoying it.”
In the backstage area at Jones Beach, a sun-drenched expanse of concrete, the Oils and Hunters are fraternising. A game of basketball ensues and, although the Oils have a clear height advantage, they’re no match for Jack’s lethal skyhook and Jeremy’s uncanny proficiency at the free-throw line.
Just before showtime a brisk, cold wind comes whipping in off the Atlantic Ocean, putting a damper on both band and crowd. It’s not one of their better gigs but the band is in good spirits and hits the road a happy crew, feasting on microwaved pizza “liberated” from the Oils’ dressing room.
Ever wondered why the Hunters’ hair is so short? It’s because of John Archer’s fascination with his cordless electric hair trimmer, the fine points of which he will discuss in infinite detail. With a demonic gleam in his eye he demands the right to turn the evil machine on the tousled looks of your reporter but, after much protest, is rebuffed. Spouting something about “a Samson complex” he repeats his offer. Although it was nearly 2am by then I dared not fall asleep for fear of waking up a skinhead. An hour later escape came when the bus dropped me off and headed off down the New Jersey Turnpike, I the general direction of Pittsburgh.
Thank you to Stephen for typing out this article for us all to enjoy!