The Amazons, from Reading - in Brisbane for Big Sound, and playing Sydney and Melbourne tonight and Friday - got me thinking. They got me playing air guitar and swinging myself like a less limber, less louche Josh Homme too, but they got me thinking.
Whenever there’s a resurgence – or, depending on your tastes in this area, a reanimation – of what we contractually are obliged to call classic rock, there are a few items checked off. A rollcall of the greatest hits of the 1970s you might say.
There’s the crunching and soaring, and often long-long-soloing guitars, which produce riffs with the frequency of Boris Johnson lying. There are drums hit hard, harder, and really bloody hard, with a mallet or hammer (of the gods). There’s usually a male voice, almost always higher pitched, that calls forth the daemons of hell, and scares cats back the other way. And there’s denim and/or leather.
Not as often mentioned, but just as important, maybe even crucial to the product, to the essence of ye olde rock, is a level of showmanship, of outright charisma in the singer. Someone for whom frontman (or, yes, for let’s not forget the likes of Ann Wilson and Cherie Currie, frontwoman) is more than a designation of where to stand on stage.
Just locally, think of Dolf DeBorst of the Datsuns, the more unintentionally amusing Andrew Stockdale of Wolfmother, or Tim Henwood of Palace Of The King. No self-deprecating Bernard Fannings there.
Now consider The Amazons, the all-male, no weaponry, no magic girdle four piece playing rock’n’roll as the Greek gods, or Costa Zouliou, clearly intended it, with most of the checklist (bar the high pitched voice) marked off. And a top ten self-titled album in 2017 already.
Their second album, Future Dust – produced, as was its predecessor, by the authoritative hands and ears of Catherine Marks - has power to burn. And burn it often does via drummer Joe Emmett, bassist Elliot Briggs, lead guitarist Chris Alderton and singer/guitarist Matt Thomson.
It also carries the kind of swinging from the hips rather than the shoulders groove and swagger of a Queens Of The Stone Age, something Thomson is happy to acknowledge.
“100 per cent,” he says. “A big thing for this record was we wanted to find the groove a little bit more so what you are saying about the hips is so spot-on. The first record is very thrashy, almost like a grungy, open chords, hard and as fast as we could [approach], and we wanted to get a little bit groovier and a little bit sexier and darker.
“Bands like Queens Of The Stone Age really demonstrated you can be heavy and dark and sexy at the same time. That’s what we are listening to, definitely, but we were also listening to Led Zeppelin, and Rolling Stones and Fleetwood Mac and more kind of bluesy records.”
Which brings us to that under-recognised element. There’s a need to bring not just a voice but a presence, an almost dirty sexiness to the table for someone playing in this company. Is Thomson, who if nothing else has the long, red hair and the sleek-hipped body to cast about, comfortable there?
“It’s definitely been a process, a process in generally finding out the attributes that unite and bring together those frontmen like Robert Plant or Mick Jagger or David Bowie or even Springsteen,” says Thomson. “I wouldn’t call myself a natural front man. The desire is certainly there but I’m still in the process of finding who I am when it comes to that.
“I think it Springsteen who said ‘I’m not the best musician, I’m definitely not the best voice but I can work harder than all the competition’. And that’s definitely something that I’ve taken on board.”
Being bold enough to go there is not confined to Thomson. Take the way the album starts with the peak-Queens groove and force of Mother, a song which rides a couple of corking riffs that would make fellow Brit heavies Royal Blood jealous. Rather than smack us in the face with one of those riffs though, the album opens with 40 seconds of mood-setting, slowly building drums. Ballsy move.
“It was something we jammed in the rehearsal room and Catherine, the producer, was really the champion of ‘if it sounds good just fucking do it’,” Thomson says. “I think it’s also recognising that our audience can probably take it: they’re not dimwitted, they don’t need the chorus within the first 30 seconds. They’re listening to this band for a reason.
“And it shows that confidence in who we are: we accepted that we are a rock ‘n’ roll band and we are not shackled by the need to appease anyone.”
A rock’n’roll band. Yeah, fair call.
The Amazons play Oxford Art Factory, Sydney, tonight, September 5; Howler, Melbourne, September 6.