Occupying a high, narrow room four stories underground, the long-sold-out Void (a bar within the Museum of Old and New Art) is a weirdly appropriate place to see one of the world’s greatest post-punk bands. From the towering concrete walls of New York’s Bowery slums, to the towering concrete walls of a slick bar in Hobart within a world-class iconic art gallery.
‘This is a band confession,’ says singer and arch-icon Tom Verlaine in his only moment of conversation during tonight’s show. ‘We thought Tasmania was 30 miles north of Sydney,’ he smiles sheepishly.
Smiling is something that happens a lot tonight, between chilled Tasmanians and excited mainlanders as they chat animatedly, awaiting the arrival of the band. It also happens on stage as Verlaine, drummer Billy Ficca, bassist Fred Smith and longtime collaborator guitarist Jimmy Rip ease their way through a set that ends up being very different to that bestowed upon ATP the previous week.
Opening with Prove It and weaving a set out of their long history, the foursome seem relaxed without ever actually expressing emotion. Labeled ‘the Ice Kings of Rock' by the British press in their heyday, there is still an arch languor in the way Verlaine spreads his virtuosity across the band’s seething post-punk. Looking like Kasparov mid-chess tournament as he casually throttles a guitar string from one end to the other, drops icy piercing swelling notes, his playing is never less than galvanizing.
Glory, from 1978’s Adventure album follows, before we get the early highlight Little Johnny Jewel, where the interplay between Verlaine and Rip reaches near telepathic heights. 1880 or So from their eponymous 1992 comeback album, and unreleased epic Persia pepper an otherwise Marquee Moon-dominant set.
The cascading bell-like guitar lines tumble over each other with stunning clarity. Arpeggios, spiky chord slashes and fluid lines build, burst and recede, their taut splendour accentuated by Verlaine’s straining neck, and flinty voice.
Closing with a searing Guiding Light and the high point of musical history that is Marquee Moon, Verlaine breaks both a plectrum and a string during the extended solo section yet finishes the song brilliantly. Unsatisfied, and brandishing a fresh guitar, the band return to encore with another, even better take on the plus-five-minute solo (not the song, just the solo). Returning again for a stunning take on Friction the band share another smile and leave the stage to even louder howling, ending a night that transcended the regurgitation of a classic album, instead showing how 30 years of life experience can enhance songs that were already showcase for a rare intellect.