Backstory. Spines Live 1986.
(Independent / Bandcamp)
Celebrating their 40th anniversary as a band, Wellington’s Spines – still going, many different line-ups but always led by the mercurial songwriting of Jon McLeary – have dug deep into their archives to reveal a previously unreleased live album from 1986. It even features a few songs that have never been recorded.
This version of the group – maybe its finest iteration, at least for the stage – has McLeary’s voice and guitar as angular and spiky as ever and supported by Wendy Calder on bass and Ross Burge on drums. There’s a lithe spirit to the rhythm section – effortlessly moving through bits of rock, ska and punk (Pokerface) with a few hues of new wave pop (Death Commandoes) and shades of reggae’s influence on post-punk. There’s even some deep Talking Heads-like funk in the way the bass drives One Way Step.
So, this live recording is taken from Oliver’s Cabaret – a mixing desk tape that was digitized by unofficial Spines member (and one of the carriers of the legacy of the group) Steve Holloway, and mastered by Maurice Priestley (producer of the modern version of the group’s most recent studio album).
It captures the group in support of album, The Moon – though there are also a couple of tracks from the Act Your Age EP, one song from the 12” single Punch/Your Body Stays (Punch) and a small handful of unrecorded songs.
Parties and Parties – never captured for an official studio recording – is this album’s opener. It immediately showcases this very fine rhythm section and is a powerful starting point for reconsideration of this band, one of the great undersung Kiwi acts from the early 80s era when bands ran the pub circuit and thrilled crowds with hook-filled songs and just the right levels of anger and energy.
One Way Step from Moon is next, this has that Talking Heads-like bass feel and has McLeary singing in a way that is not out of step with the Mockers and Dance Exponents at this time.
Punch is next. It’s a devastating lyric hiding inside a catchy, clever sliver of a song, Pokerface (also from The Moon) rides along on a bit of ska bounce and feels like a lost chance at a great pop single to hear it now, dressed in these clothes.
The same can be said for Act Your Age track, Death Commandoes. Instantly catchy, the guitars very 80s (or course) and sounding a lot like keyboards at times.
You Should See My House (another new one for this set, also from The Moon) has the shaky paranoia of The Cure and a special type of shimmering post-boogie; it’s the Spines sounding a little bit Dunedin-y although very, very English. Little hints of early XTC start to creep in here and elsewhere across the record.
It’s back to Act Your Age for Beverly – which has McLeary in his dark post-punk balladeering revelry – as with Body Stays or Lily and I; he’s all but doing a dramatic-reading of the lyric. It’s basically voice and guitar with some minimal percussion building up to work like punctuation.
Are You Withered Or Not? (The Moon) returns us to the late-70s Eno-collaborating Talking Heads (More Songs/Fear of Music-era) and yet another song you listen to now and marvel at how lost to time, and suspended for all time it is – this is fresh and exciting and should have been one of our national anthems. A pub song to line up with Hello Sailor and the Pink Flamingos, Coup d’Etat and The Pelicans.
Jon’s love of prog-rock isn’t always on display in his songs, but damn if the intro to unreleased song, The Heels, isn’t like Bruford-era Yes; that’s just one thing – of so many – Ross Burge can do of course. The song itself features no real prog affiliations beyond the military precision of Burge’s snare rolls and fills. But what a song! And to close yet another unreleased song, Losing Colour, an insatiable pop hook drives this one – just a simple, clean chorded vehicle for capturing up the live energy shared between the band and audience. Also wait for McLeary’s guitar work to go full Adrian Belew, to go all Jerry Harrison, to go Andy Partridge and Gang of Four too.
Backstory is something you’ll want to hear if you’ve ever been curious at all about the Spines. It’s something you’ll love forever if you’ve ever been any sort of fan at all. And it deserves a wide audience – it’s such a polished performance, by the band then nearing its final throes as an entity first time around. They had done the work, played the gigs, made the records, it was all there and that’s all so very clear to hear. We’re lucky to have this – and good on them for carrying on the fight to be heard. Just a few bucks on Bandcamp. Chip in and share the good word/s.