By Lauren Wise
By Troy Farah
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By New Times Staff
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"We had a mutual interest -- maybe a craving even -- for the upheaval that comes with willful, uncooperative behavior," continues Younger. "I remember deriving a lot of satisfaction from us being made pariahs. When we played we put on a show, and that show wasn't choreographed to the hilt, and we didn't ever consciously use the same set list twice. If I spat sheep's brains at the audience, it was intended just that once -- we didn't plan it to happen in the same chorus of the same song every time. We got banned from venues left, right and center for being ourselves, which says a lot, because these days anything obnoxious is simply co-opted by the record companies, a marketing angle is contrived to accommodate the so-called outrage. After punk hit, it was expected of bands to be obnoxious, profane, whatever. . . . In the studio, too, we'd have minor shitfights with the producers about whether we could be told how to sound, matters of 'direction,' et cetera. We were so unbending on everything. We probably looked like trouble -- I hope so!"
Sadly, the band split up on the eve of what would have been its first American tour, supporting the Ramones in the summer of '78. Having decamped that April to the UK to record Living Eyes and begun a tour with labelmates the Flamin' Groovies, the quintet suddenly got the word it had been dropped by Sire. Disillusioned, disorganized and more than a little bit disheartened by a less-than-warm embrace from the trend-obsessed London punk contingent, the Birdmen called it a day.
Recalls Tek, "I've always thought the band might have done okay in America, where perhaps the fashion side of punk wasn't quite so important. But it would have been impossible to do the American tour without label support. As it turned out, the band died a natural death anyway. On the skids both financially and emotionally, sick, exhausted, broke, no label and no support, there wasn't enough critical mass of motivation to try to get it revved up again. We had no management or advanced leadership skills that might have allowed it to continue. People moved on."
Legends being what they are, of course, the Birdmen had their Phoenix moments. In '81, Tek, Younger and Gilbert formed the short-lived New Race with Ron Asheton (Stooges) and Dennis Thompson (MC5). Years later, in January '95, a full-fledged Birdman reunion tour was mounted to celebrate the Australian remastered CD reissues of the two albums. No mere nostalgia cash-ins, both Tek and Younger agree the gigs, featuring ex-MC5 Wayne Kramer as support act, rivaled those from the old days. A superb official live CD, Ritualism, was released in commemoration.
Over the years Younger and Tek have remained the most musically active, the former producing scores of Aussie bands and fronting the New Christs, the latter returning to the States and currently working with both the Deniz Tek Group and Deep Reduction. (The New Christs and Deep Reduction both have new American albums imminent, on Mans Ruin and Get Hip, respectively. Also worth noting: Tek teamed up with Wayne Kramer and Scott Morgan in '96 to record an album as Dodge Main.) Of the other ex-Birdmen, Hoyle plays in the Tek Group; Masuak formed the Screaming Tribesmen and, more recently, both Klondike Solution and The Raouls, the latter featuring Gilbert in the lineup; and Keeley, now in England, is in The Suspects.
Choice cuts included on The Essential range from Radios Appear's Dick Dale-meets-Blue Oyster Cult "Hand of Law" and dance anthem/Iggy tribute "Do The Pop" to Living Eyes' throbbing psychedelic travelogue "I-94" and skree-garage cruncher "Burn My Eye '78," plus a handful of tracks from a pair of now-rare EPs, Burn My Eye and the live More Fun. Tek and Younger had previously remastered Radios Appear -- and in the case of Living Eyes, completely remixed it -- for the '95 Australia reissues, so all that remained for the Sub Pop anthology was to whittle it down to the 22 most crucial tracks. Tek acknowledges that there were some studio outtakes in the archives, "mostly covers and at least one original that I know of, from the Radios Appear sessions, that have never seen the light of day -- for fair reasons. Even the bootleggers don't have those! But you don't have to release the last dregs, even though many bands do. So there won't be any more studio rarities coming out."
A live archival release is not out of the question, however, as the band also has some 16-track tapes recorded in Sydney in '77. Says Younger, "I think the sound and atmosphere on 'Dark Surprise' and 'More Fun' -- both live recordings [from Sydney '77] included on this new release -- are way superior to anything else we did. Seymour Stein of Sire Records, apart from peripheral reasons too delicate to recount in detail here, wanted to sign us on the basis of 'More Fun,' which he heard us play live once or twice."
Beat the boots, then gentlemen. Oh, about that unauthorized disc Tek found in the record store. Guys, copies of Murder City Nights are in the mail. CD-R copies, that is, gladly dubbed at home for you by a longtime Birdman fan. Guarantee: No artists were ripped off during the making of this article. Yeah, hup!
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