Sunday, 9 June 2013

Review: Trevor Ludlow and Greg Brady live at Long Play 8 June 2013

The irony was not lost on me as I entered the modest theatre at the back of the well-equipped and friendly little bar known as Long Play in North Fitzroy. A handful of the faithful had gathered to witness a show by one of rock's great enigmas, Trevor Ludlow, while a thousand kilometres away in Sydney a bunch of other 1990's warriors called Custard were celebrating the long weekend with (presumably) much fanfare and adulation.

Trevor Ludlow is still best-known as a co-writer on one of Custard's biggest hits 'Girl's Like That' (don't go for guys like us). I'm not sure what his actual contribution to the song entailed, but I presume the fabulous wealth generated from that song made it possible for Ludlow to pursue a more esoteric and certainly less commercial solo career. I personally admire his bravery and unwillingness to follow musical trends. Tonight I was eager to see if Ludlow's self-imposed exile had in any way dulled his musical sensibilities. Could rock's JD Salinger deliver another 'Catcher in the Rye?'

Last known 'live' pic of Trevor Ludlow circa 2007
A hush descended over the audience as Ludlow took to the stage. At first I was a little disappointed at how time had ravaged this once youthful vision of manhood. It was like winning a ticket to Willy Wonka's chocolate factory and discovering that the legendary chocolate maker was simply a frail and frightened old man.

Upon closer inspection, though, it was obvious that Ludlow was still fit and healthy. His once sinewy Iggy Pop-like physique had now been replaced with a body that was more muscular and toned. His hair, which is now shorter and thinner had greyed in a pleasing and dignified manner. It certainly accentuated Ludlow's striking and determined gaze as he peered mischievously at the audience.

Accompanied simply by electric guitar, Ludlow's unique, powerful voice and remarkable lyrics were allowed to take centre stage. His new material was encouragingly upbeat and his set ran the gauntlet from pop to surf, country and some unusual Syd Barrett-esque psychedelia. It was good to see Ludlow experiment with some new guitar tones and it bodes well for future releases.

Ludlow's between-song banter, while amusing, can at times be frustratingly self-deprecating. His lack of ego is part of his appeal, but when you're writing songs of his calibre the 'act' does reek a little bit of false-modesty. A touching rendition of Willie Nelson's 'Crazy' ended Ludlow's brief but enjoyable set and left the few lucky audience members baying for more... But the night wasn't over yet!

After a brief interlude, Brisbane's Greg Brady took to the stage. Brady appeared to be of the same vintage as Ludlow and legend has it that the two met when Brady bought a guitar amp off Ludlow in the early 1990s through the Trading Post newspaper. They have been firm friends ever since.

Brady's set was less song-oriented than Ludlow's and he seemed to spend a lot of time layering guitar parts on top of each other using two complicated-looking loop pedals. At times Brady's expression made it look like he was unsure how these pedals worked and was simply hoping for the best, but his professionalism as a performer left the audience guessing as to whether this was the case.

Archival photo of Greg Brady (date unknown)

I am less familiar with Brady's oeuvre than Ludlow's, but his sweet pop songs were timeless and could have easily fit into any Flying Nun bands' set list, with a subtle hint towards the songwriting of the 60s. The audience was equally as delighted with Brady's performance and I enjoyed both performers immensely.

Afterwards it would have been easy for Ludlow and Brady to simply go off to a quiet area and 'decompress' after the intensity of the gig, but ever the professionals, they were soon spotted in the front bar talking to patrons for a considerable time. I contemplated approaching the pair (especially Ludlow) to question them about their long and sometimes rocky careers in music, but I thought better of it - I have found through trial and error that it's often not wise to meet your idols, as the truth can often not live up to the myth of the man.

Later, as I was leaving, I spotted Ludlow standing alone on the street corner with his guitar and amp waiting for a cab. It made me realise what a lonely life rock and roll can be, but I was also struck by the powerful image of one man and his guitar against the world. I realised Ludlow was part of a long rock tradition and he would not have been out of place in the Mississippi Delta in the 1930s or swinging London in the 1960s.

Sometimes a guitar and the truth is all you need. Trevor Ludlow is the real deal and his legend is as true as the words on this page.

Long may he play!

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