Inpress - June 18, 2003

The Rob Roy, Melbourne
Saturday 14 June 2003

A tall, thin, cadaverous man saunters onto the stage at the Rob Roy, sits down, picks up his guitar and surveys the crowd with amusement. "God, you're so quiet! The youth of today..." He pauses, chuckling. "I'm Rowland Howard. At least two of you should know that!" He is indeed Rowland Howard, and with that, he launches into what will prove to be a fantastic solo set. Soon, what sounds like a free-form jam coalesces into a cover of Lou Reed's "Oh Jim", from the criminally neglected Berlin album. Few of the crowd seem to recognise the song, which is a shame, as Howard's version is astounding - all sliding octaves and vitriol, Howard crooning "As you're looking through the eyes of hate..." and choking his guitar like he's try to murder it slowly. After only six more songs (including another Lou Reed cover, "The Ocean"), he's gone back into the shadows, as abruptly as he emerged from them.

Next are Silver Ray, widescreen instrumental music that oozes atmosphere and feeling. They are excellent, and on any other night, they would steal the show, but sandwiched between Rowland Howard and The Devastations, tonight it somehow feels like they're marking time. The crowd enjoys the set, giving the band generous applause, but an atmosphere of expectation descends as Silver Ray leave the stage. The main attraction are on the way.

Then, finally, The Devastations take the stage, lacking the violin that wails so beautifully on their record, but augmented by a keyboardist. They shuffle nervously, then launch into "We Will Never Drink Again" (cruelly ironic given the state of your correspondent by this stage of the evening), and for a moment it appears that it's all going to go wrong - there's something wrong with Conrad's bass amp, and a horrible buzzing sound threatens to drown the band out. But it seems that it's only the lead which is the problem, and once it's replaced, everything starts to click.

The Devastations are music for the heart, the soul. It sems somehow appropriate that as Tom Carlyon steps up to the microphone to sing the French monologue in "Loene", I run into a beautiful girl I haven't seen for years at the bar, only to find myself too drunk to string two words together. As I slink back to the stage, metaphorical tail between my legs, the band play the gorgeous, swooning "Previous Crimes", which would surely be a huge hit in an ideal world where the public's tastes extended beyond Delta Goodrem and L'il Johnny Howard. When the band pause to make another attempt at repairing the recalcitrant bass amp, the crowd start shouting for more, prompting Conrad to chuckle, "You're supposed to do that at the end! We haven't finished yet..."

And then suddenly Rowland Howard is on stage again, thrashing away at his guitar as the band tear into an epic to close the set. It seems all too soon that the lights are back on, the band are packing up their equipment, accepting deserved congratulations from friends, and all that's left to do is stagger out into the cold night and try to work out a way to get home, then wake up tomorrow with a ghastly hangover and vague memories of that fantastic band you saw the night before...

- Tom Hawking