Ed Kuepper & Jim White – Live @ The Triffid

Thursday June 17, 2021

Review By Steve Bell / Pics by Scott Myers

A decent throng has turned out early to catch a brief warm-up set by local musician Greg Charles fronting his titular four-piece band. Charles first came to attention when he was awarded the inaugural Grant McLennan Fellowship back in 2007 and he’s been a mainstay of the scene ever since – whether operating under either his own name like tonight or fronting bands like the Ex-Catholics – and his accomplished set is testament to that experience, utilising double-bass, violin and drums to bring his beautifully wonky melodies and intriguing lyrical wordplay to fruition. There’s no banter between songs as the songsmith lets his music do the talking, his stream of moody soundscapes both evocative and compelling and building to a fittingly rustic crescendo.

The distinctive hanger-shaped room that is The Triffid has become widely renowned as one of the best-sounding rooms in not just the city but the country, and this writer’s first experience of this was during the venue’s opening week in late-2014 when a solo Ed Kuepper helped christen the space, a sub-tropical deluge that evening proving that perhaps the venue wasn’t quite ready for the introduction as streams of water gushed through holes in the roof, prompting a slew of buckets to be set up around the massive room to catch the errant waterfalls. The show pleasingly went on and given the erstwhile Saints founder’s stature in the Brisbane music community it was still the perfect introduction to the room that’s since become synonymous with live music in the ever-changing Queensland capital.

Tonight, Kuepper returns to the scene of the crime this time abetted by drummer Jim White of Dirty Three fame (although he’s also kept time for an impressive array of artists over his journey ranging from Venom P Stinger and The Blackeyed Susans to PJ Harvey, Cat Power and Nina Nastasia). The singer has a long history of working closely with skinsmen who align well with his own peculiar aesthetic – his relationship with former Laughing Clowns’ drummer Jefferey Wegener intermittently spanned decades while his early solo career was the exclusive domain of Mark Dawson – and it’s clear from the get-go tonight that he’s formed a similar simpatico with White, the two veterans seeming in perfect sync as they kick off with the ‘The Ruins’. Both are seated at the front of the stage, Kuepper sporting an impressive silver beard and holding his guitar almost vertically as he manipulates the strangled soundscape, the song’s lengthy opening instrumental section eliciting hollers from the adoring crowd from the outset.

Kuepper has an impressive arsenal of electric guitars racked up next to him and they’re all seemingly set to stun, the volume immense as he continues on with ‘Horse Under Water’, White’s restraint fitting the song like a glove as he sways languidly offering subtle flourishes that always complement without overpowering. Kuepper obviously has a catalogue that stretches back in various forms to the mid-‘70s – and which he’s curating concurrently with recent reissues of ‘best of’ collections for both his solo career and the Laughing Clowns as well as a live album by his current rock’n’roll project The Aints! – but the crowd response when he dips back into early material by seminal locals The Saints is immediate and visceral, with ‘Messin’ With The Kid’ and ‘Brisbane (Security City)’ proving both joyous and resonant despite their somewhat bittersweet sentiments. 

The pair enter almost slowcore territory with the subdued ‘Rainy Night’, lifting the tempo with the ultra-melodic ‘Sae Air’ and the contemplative ’All Of These Things’, before a lengthy instrumental prelude segues into epic Saints classic ‘Swing For The Crime’ and another of their timeless standards in ‘Nights In Venice’. White’s versatile aesthetic works wonderfully on the more avant-garde stylings of Kuepper’s more jazzy Laughing Clowns output as we discover when they tear through ‘The Crying Dance’, before bringing us back into more recent terrain with a gorgeous rendition of The Aints! ‘The Church of Simultaneous Existence’ (which was released in 2018 despite apparently dating back to The Saints’ reign in the late-‘70s). The pair finish the brilliant set proper with two more Laughing Clowns tunes in ‘Collapse Board’ and ‘Eternally Yours’ before exiting the stage to a heroes’ reception, the crowd having been transfixed by the confident-but-nuanced display they’ve been treated to.

Extended crowd appreciation finally coaxes the two musicians back into the fray and we’re treated to a robust rendition of Kuepper’s solo track ‘Rue The Day’ to bring things home, both Kuepper and White standing by the end of the righteous and powerful performance and seemingly as engrossed in the music as the adoring, sold out throng before them. It’s a masterful display by this Brisbane legend and his new musical compatriot, long may Ed’s local reign over us continue.