Live Review: THE BREWSTERS: BROTHERS, ANGELS & DEMONS, Factory Theatre, Sydney, November 28 2014.
IT’S one thing to be nostalgic. It’s another completely to long for the past so desperately that one almost feels physical pain as a result.
The former emotion is generally considered a normal by-product of maturity; the latter a sad indication that the best of life has passed one by.
Your reviewer had always considered himself safe from the forlorn second group – until the rear of a stage at Sydney’s Factory Theatre was filled with a black and white image of Doc Neeson, airbourne on stage in the 1970s with his limbs extended as if to underline his status a real star.
In front of the photo, nursing instruments on chairs, were Angels founders Rick and John Brewster, along with John’s sons Sam, Tom and Harry, midway through their ‘Brothers, Angels & Demons’ show.
The image was mesmerising and iconic – it has thankfully not yet made its way onto Google images where it can be endlessly right-clicked and copied. Not only did it represent a man who we lost earlier this year, but an age we can never have back.
Australian hard rock razing the country with all its bluster, passion and simplicity is beginning to feel as distant as Gough Whitlam and the Vietnam War. Doc may as well have been sporting grey hair and standing on the steps of Parliament House, so poignant a portrait was this of innocence lost.
I just wanted to walk right past the Brewsters into the front row of that show that Doc was dominating, back to that time and place – and it hurt that I couldn’t, that I would never be able to.
The Brewsters’ show, which continues its staccato national tour in Adelaide over the coming days, does not dodge the irrational longing we all feel for the past. Instead, it takes us on a journey right to the end of rock’n’roll’s third generation, a place none of us really wants to go.
John and Rick’s grandfather was a concert pianist and composer of symphonies who died backstage. Their father was Head of Music at ABC Adelaide – and here they are on stage with John’s three sons. The power of music to transcend even mortality is powerfully evident.
The premise is interesting – even if the man playing the recording missed an on-stage cue early in tonight’s show. Rick and John were once involved in an incident during which storms caused them to circle Darwin Airport for three hours before being greeted on the ground by emergency services.
So we have stormy sound effects and a God-like voice asking the Oz Rock luminaries whether they deserve to live or die, based on their lives’ achievements and sins. What follows is a format made famous by VH1 Storytellers, with songs placed in the context of the events around them.
There are Angels tracks such as “Face The Day” but also virtual re-enactments of the band’s early incarnations such as the Keystone Angels and Moonshine Jug & String Band. The sight of Rick, who famously performs entire gigs motionless in dark sunglasses, playing a skiffle board and doing a jig in front of the stage frankly defies belief.
On the night we attended, with the death of cricketer Phillip Hughes still fresh, the sight on rear-projected video of a full beer can hitting Neeson in the head as the band played the Opera House was especially disturbing.
The Brewsters dedicated Angels ballad “No Rhyme, No Reason” to Hughes.
While at a certain stage of life, many of us associate rock music with our youth and become more aware of our own mortality with every musician who leaves us, “Brothers, Angels & Demons” takes us beyond this morbidity.
In a Brewster Brothers song, John asks: “Would you do it again? All the moments of pain, the stress and the strain? The mistakes, the heartaches, the wars? If every scene, frame by frame, had to be lived, exactly the same? Would you do it again, if the decision was yours?”
Their answer to the booming voice from the PA, in the face of death, is “yes”
And for me, the lesson from tonight’s music, pictures and stories is not to long for the past as it is portrayed here – but to make sure I am one day able to honestly respond the same way.