The Stems, Friday February 28, 1997

Metropolis Concert Club, Fremantle

Let us take a fleeting glance back to those high-rolling mid-1980s, a time of teen magazines like Countdown and Smash Hits, lime green shirts and a paisley power-pop outfit from Perth called The Stems. Their simple yet unassailable songsmithery endeared them to a huge European music public, propelled them on to play the final Countdown and, as 1987 brought down piles of Perth’s entrepreneurs, so too did The Stems tear each other apart in a messy split which many thought irreconcilable.

“So. How have the last ten years been for you?” the seemingly untarnished Richard Lane, guitarist, vocalist, keyboardist and ex-teen magazine pin-up queried a very familiar crowd. To open, Make You Mine, part of The Stems hugely successful double A side debut back in ’86, thundered out gloriously, spunky, tight and pop-tinged to perfection. Dom Mariani, the man who penned most of The Stems’ legendary hits, was starting off timidly as his cohorts bounced around the stage, their synchronous three-part harmonies the very least of any possible indication of on-stage tension.

For this was truly a historical reunion – many predicted a possible bout – the ’87 split being so sudden that they never did pay a parting farewell. A decade on and Dave Shaw’s drumming was nonetheless fluid and driving, Julian Matthews went through all three required notes on his bass like he was oiling a bat and the Mariani/Lane main event was instead channeled through their fuzzed-out appliances and Beach Boys bah bah bahs. Under Your Mushroom and Rosebud roured up the hit parade yet again, the new-fangled robo-scan lights simulated the paint-in-oil overhead projectors from a decade ago and, well, the audience was simply going bonkers and crying and screaming and dancing dervishly. The four icons literally shed wrinkles with every Richenbacker sweep.

It was Dom with his bob, Rich with his flick and the groovy ghoulies garage-pop of She’s A Monster’s intro to a mildew-green light which sealed it for any doubter that The Stems could cut the pace in 1997. This effortless rhythm and song comes and goes fleetingly with your Ratcats and all, but not many can carve up Hendrix’s Hey Joe to manifest a smiling, sunny, car-driving tune. Or indeed keep a packed house hysterical for near on 70 minutes with the sum total studio output of one studio album, five singles and a twelve-inch EP ten years ago. The chart toppers had not even come out yet.

So as expected the city of Fremantle quaked as the opening strums of At First Sight reached pleased ears, the Dom being drowned out with every well-versed word by every lung in the crowd. Back to back with Tears Me In Two and its ultra-fuzzy and kitschy keyboard and Richard Lane was again the flick-haired pin-up, far removed from any erroneous fat and forty jibes we all knew were in store if this didn’t turn out to be THE event of this Stems-proud city. The aftershocks of joy are still ringing strong in Perth. And one thing is certain, The Stems can easily take this further and finally get to do that debut European tour which was nipped in the bud ten years ago by who-knows-what and nobody’s saying. They were grinning gleefully at each other on stage on Friday night anyway.