In the beer-soaked rock joints of Sydney and Melbourne's hippest record stores or even out past the bloodwood and desert oak ask an Aussie who Radio Birdman is and they'll look at you cockeyed. Not because they've never heard of the band, it's because he can't believe you haven't. After all, from 1974 until 1978, the proto-punk outfit reigned as the most badass band in the land of Oz.
The Saints. The Hoodoo Gurus. Yeah. We know all about those guys stateside. They were the Teen Beat poster boys of the Australian garage rock revolution of the late '70s and early '80s. But the music of Radio Birdman from the surf-rock stomp "Aloha Steve and Dano" to the sticky-icky, high-as-Pete-Doherty-on-a-Saturday-night groove of "Man with Golden Helmet" remains as unknown to Americans as the biological father of Prince Michael I and II. (Pick up Sub Pop's excellent RB comp, The Essential Radio Birdman, to see what you've missed.)
But don't cry for guitarist and Ann Arbor native Denis Tek, singer Rob Younger and the rest of Radio Birdman. Thanks to the release of the band's first album in more than two decades, Zeno Beach, and their first American tour ever, the godfathers of Aussie garage just might be able to achieve some level of Yankee fame.
Then again, maybe not. The "boys" of Radio Birdman have always had a bit of an attitude about these things, an attitude that Tek says he picked up from the Stooges and the MC5. "One of my big influences was seeing those guys as a high school kid. What I got from them was not so much the music, but more of the attitude. That's what we owe the Stooges and the MC5: the willingness to defy authority."
And even if an overabundance of said philosophy made Radio Birdman at the beginning anyway a scourge of the Sydney music scene, the new record is among the better rock 'n' roll records to come out all summer. It compels us to lend an ear.
To wit: Track 2, "You Just Make it Worse," is the cocksure Marshall-stacked sound that baby-faced Aussie counterparts Jet have predicated a platinum record-selling career upon.
Name recognition be damned. You heard it from Radio Birdman first.
Sunday, Sept. 3, at the Magic Stick, 4120 Woodward Ave., Detroit; 313-833-9700. Mudhoney to open.Chris Hair is a freelance writer. Send comments to [email protected]