In their final installment of TISM on tour, Australia’s rock anarchists pay tribute to their road crew
TISM on Tour
The Rock Steady Crew
The show must go on. The show mustn’t necessarily go well, but it absolutely must go on. And TISM lead singer Humphrey B. Flaubert knows just who to thank for that . . .
Let’s park the tour bus for a minute and pay tribute to the one thing a touring rock band cannot leave home without – its Road Crew. These indefatigable, gaffer-wielding rough diamonds are the heroes behind all rock stars.
Well, except in the case of TISM, that is. In TISM, the Crew are the rock stars.
At airports around the country, which guys attract the shy sideways glances from girls who, despite their domesticity, pine for a little “Bad-Ass” in their lives?The Crew. It’s not just because their clothes, their hair, even their aftershave reeks of sex, drugs and rock’n’roll. It’s just that when you’re standing next to the least noticeable band in rock, it’s hard not to look good.
It wasn’t always this way. Our first ever roadie, Clinton Porteus (his real name), was an Abe Lincoln-bearded university intellectual who knew nothing about W bins and, unsurprisingly, soon chose to forego a life of tinnitus, repeated low-level electrocutions and vitamin B deficiency for career and fame as a political correspondent. Can’t think why.
Soon we had ourselves a real roadie. I’ve always felt Yahn (not his real name) is the kind of guy you want on your side, because the alternative isn’t worth contemplating. One night in Geelong, I was last in line as we jogged, Indian-file (the most law-abiding anarchists in rock, us) along the footpath to the stage door, and a passing local, perhaps to show he wasn’t intimidated by seven guys in balaclavas, decided to coat-hanger me. Somewhat shaken, I kept running. This was partly due to my showbiz professionalism, but largely due to the fact that Yahn was bringing up the rear. I doubt whether Yahn broke stride, but judging by the explosive tattoo of knuckle, bicuspids and pavement that followed, he sure broke something.
Later, at the Paddington RSL, during one of our more violent audience phases, a somewhat ill-advised skinhead “punk” decided it would be a valid expression of his rejection of societal mores to leap onstage, king hit Yahn, then return to the mosh. From that moment, the entire five-man Crew watched like sharks sensing a feed. Soon this gentleman’s Armageddon came, and my abiding memory is of singing at the centre microphone, affecting my usual “sensitive, tortured artiste” pose, while directly beneath me and at the very periphery of my vision, Yahn, holding skinhead-boy like a Christmas turkey, re-enacted the cannon finale of Tchaikovsky’s 1812 Overture.
That’s our Yahn. In between exacting his heinous revenge on miscreant punters, the occasional piece of de rigueur hotel furniture jettisoning, “re-arranging” the room of TISM’s Jon St Peenis (the tidiest man in rock) and ring-leading a midnight wheel-removal of a rival Crew’s van, he has performed every imaginable last-minute piece of mechanical, electrical and digital surgery under working conditions that could best be described as un-ergonomically dark and loud. Not to mention the ever-present risk of being accidentally set alight or decapitated by resident (clinically blind) TISM wild-man Ron Hitler-Barassi.
Hitler-Barassi’s increasing predilection for javelining himself into a thousand-strong piranha tank of pissed punters – destroying six weeks of costume design in one Grand Mal seizure of a moment – soon became its own job creation scheme. Enter the rangy, laconic Andy Suth (his real name), who is not your stereotypical Crew member. Apart from his unusual job requirements (Olympic-level diving, the ability to simultaneously unravel Hitler-Barassi from a body-length microphone-lead tourniquet while punching punters until they stop choking him and retrieving several hundred dollars’ worth of costume and microphone), he’s a full-time landscape gardener up in Victoria’s Spa Country, and only does TISM shows for the hell of it. But that’s not the half of it. Incredibly, he has no pseudonym.
I know, I’m not one to talk, but it seems everyone in Crew Universe (apart from Andy) goes by a strangely ill-fitting or inscrutable nickname: Davros, Rabbit, Moose, Goose, Caboose, whatever. My favourite was Pee Wee – a very large, very scary mother with a Queensland country drawl and a noticeable limp, no doubt caused by some long-ago brush with three tonnes of speaker boxes and
a flight of stairs. Pee Wee, like Yahn, was often cheerfully engaged in “crowd control”, his favourite solution being “I snotted him.” (I always found the term “snotted” a rather unsatisfyingly non-onomatopoeic way to describe the lunch-upsetting sound of a jawbone splintering.)
Of course, it’s not all beer, skittles and snotting when you’re in the Crew. For a hard-working band, it can mean a truckie’s lifestyle (with its attendant sleep-deprivation devices). Fortunately, TISM have never been a hard-working band. We provide our Crew with a different kind of challenge – like finding ways to erect a totem-tennis onstage. Or a jumping castle, a bank of washing machines, leaf blowers, and so on.
And given all the above, we don’t mind our Crew having their little moments of rock star behaviour (eg, seeing how many bottles of Jack Daniels they can finish and gaffer-tape to the ceiling of the plane before the flight’s over – no mean feat on a 45-minute jag to Adelaide). Because on the rare occasion we were without them, it hurt.
It was Sydney’s Homebake concert at the Domain, we had a stand-in Crew, and I strolled around to the back of the stage just before the show to check everything was going smoothly. To my immediate horror I found the head Crew member nonchalantly rubbing his chin while our ADAT, the machine that played all our drum beats, bass lines and samples (in other words, the only indispensable member of TISM), sat unplugged in a pile of leads. There we stood, ten minutes and one curtain away from 25,000 people, and he was showing me that the only lead in the entire venue that could plug into our machine was incompatible, while wordlessly mouthing the question: “What do you wanna do now?” While I stood there reliving that recurring nightmare where I’m speaking at a public rally and look down to find I have inexplicably forgotten my trousers, he eventually noticed that the plug had a cover – once it was removed, we were okay. I wasn’t okay, though. I went back to my unsuspecting band mates, drank rather too much, and went on to sing like a dog.
So to Yahn and Andy Suth and all our rock star Crew, I tip my hat, because only with them can the Show Go On. It’s no surprise that girls queue up backstage to chat up the boys in TISM – after all, with any luck, they might score an introduction to The Crew . . .