by Neville Davies
Beginnings of Life
There are bands known only to their audiences through their records. The faces of the performers lie hidden, obscured by thick studio walls. Icehouse is not one of these.
It had its beginnings on the live stage, in the pub circuit venues of Sydney, where the name of Flowers had almost become legend even before the song "Icehouse" had ever been performed. The commencement of the Eighties decade found Flowers as a noticeable feature of the Australian live music scene.
This young four piece band had advanced, over the previous two years, from Sunday night performances at the Avalon R.S.L. Club in Sydneys Northern Beaches area to the whole Sydney live music scene, and was making some penetration to the capital cities of other states and country areas of New South Wales.
The release and subsequent major success of the debut album Icehouse served to further enhance the reputation of Flowers as a live band in Australia. It also laid the foundations for the bands reputation as a live performer to a much wider audience throughout the world under its changed name of Icehouse.
Nevertheless, it behooves us to remember that live performances came first. Recordings came second, and even today no small part of Icehouses enviable reputation as a live band remains with its origin as an extremely competent performer of classic rock covers. The title of a "punk jukebox" attached to the early Flowers has been described as "simultaneously a derogatory and complimentary tag, suggesting clone like lack of imagination, but applauding both the choice of material and the quality of the renditions". Later history has, undoubtedly, laid the derogatory half of the description to rest, but there is no question that the grounding in making note- perfect reproductions of other people's songs made a large contribution to Icehouses skill and versatility in performing its own works.
Evolution of Life
From this emerging pub band, Icehouse grew into one of Australias most significant live bands, notching up more than a thousand performances, at home and abroad, over a period of more than a decade. Of course, during its life, it has passed through many metamorphoses, sometimes apparently sudden, but for the most part rather gradual.
The difference between the live band Flowers of 1980 and the performing Icehouse band of today is enormous, and results from a steady evolution involving all sorts of changes: changes within the individual performers, changes in line-up, changes in types and range of venues, performance media and audiences.
As Iva Davies has been the only constant member through the history of the band, one could be tempted to equate the evolution of Icehouse live entirely with his development as a live performer. Indeed there has been a very marked development from the nervous, perhaps obviously studied, lead vocalist of Flowers to the apparently confident and relaxed and highly professional Icehouse frontman of the Nineties. In such attributes as vocal capacity, stage presence, movement and audience relationships they may well be scarcely recognisable as the same person.
However, it is a gross over-simplification to accept, as many seem to have, that Icehouse is synonymous with Iva Davies. This fails to recognise the range and quality of the contributions made by a number of other people who have been members of the band. While none of these individually exceed those of the frontman, collectively they are a large and fundamental component of the Icehouse we know today. This is probably truer for live performance than any other phase of operation of the band.
Notwithstanding that, except for the lead vocalist, there has been a total turnover in the composition of Icehouse in the course of a decade, changes in line-up have really been no more frequent or massive than for most bands which have survived for this period of time. Whenever the band has been re-formed to start touring, there has never been less than three long standing members in the new line-up. The periodic replacements have been a rather normal phase of development in the changing live performance environment, in line with the broadening reputation of the band, the wider range of performance venues and media, and the ever-expanding technology of live performance generally.
The Three Ages of Icehouse Live
The work of famous and successful people is often classified into periods within which there has been a relatively high degree of uniformity and stability in their production. A classic instance is given by the manner in which the art works of Pablo Picasso are referred to as coming from his "blue," "pink," or some later period of his very productive life. In the same way, the history of the live Icehouse falls naturally into three fairly distinct phases or ages.
The first of these covers the lead-up to, the release and the subsequent promotion through live performance, at home and abroad of, the debut album Icehouse. This is the era of the young, relatively inexperienced four piece unit, Flowers, which underwent the name change to Icehouse. This was the youth of Icehouse.
The second or "middle" period parallels the Primitive Man and Sidewalk albums and covers the three years from late 1982 to late 1985. In this, a somewhat more sophisticated six or seven piece band, with a sprinkling of English members blended in with the Australians, carried the name and music of Icehouse around the world.
The third period saw out the remainder of the Eighties, the Measure for Measure, Man of Colours, and Great Southern Land albums and continues on through the Nineties for the Code Blue album and who knows what further ventures. This is the Age of Maturity.
Joy and Pain of Youth
The young band Flowers spent 1980 in activities centred around the release of their first records. May of that year saw the appearance of the single "Cant Help Myself" and the quartet promptly set forth on a tour of the eastern state capital cities in association with another emerging group from the same management stable, Mental as Anything. Unfortunately, the tour suffered an early setback when Iva Davies was flown home from Adelaide for treatment for a severe throat complaint. However, performing soon resumed and by the time the debut album itself hit the streets in early September, Flowers had almost completed another major tour supporting the visiting British group X.T.C.
At this stage of their career, Flowers four piece line-up of vocalist/lead guitar, bass guitar, drums and keyboards had been stable for more than a year and had been gradually introducing a higher content of their own original material into their live set of classic covers. Their increasing popularity as a live performer had arisen from their extension from the Sydney pub circuit to larger venues throughout the eastern states. They had not yet reached the status of a headlining concert act and spent most of their time as supports in the shadow of major acts from Australia and overseas. In this role they had ticked up a record of successful tours with The Stranglers, The Angels, X.T.C., Magazine, and Elvis Costello.
The popularity and success of the debut album escalated demand for Flowers performances. To some extent, this imposed a further burden on the still developing performers, in that they now faced the almost impossible demand of matching the quality of the recorded versions of their songs in their live shows. Their alleged failure to achieve this was the subject of some criticism of their first headline concert performance in December 1980 at the Paris Theatre, Oxford Street, Sydney: one of the last concerts held there before the theatre was demolished for redevelopment.
New Year Resolutions
The year 1981 brought ample opportunity to correct any deficiencies in the performance of Flowers own material on stage. It became the busiest and fullest year of touring in the whole history of Icehouse in the Eighties. It commenced with a highly successful outdoor concert at Sydneys Wanda Beach on January 10th. Then followed a tour supporting Roxy Music, which carried them further afield in Australasia than ever before: to New Zealand in late January to perform at the Sweetwater Festival and to Western Australia a month later. Flowers remained in Western Australia for a few more performances, alone and with The Angels who were just winding up a major world wide tour in Perth.
This touring brought a new stature to the live Flowers. Both critics and audiences found that the live performances were adding an entirely new dimension to the recorded versions of the songs from the debut album. The band became more relaxed on stage with the greater confidence brought by success. A review of one of the gigs with Roxy Music stated: "Believe it. Flowers wont need to do any more supports, at least in this country, and, indeed, this prediction was fulfilled. This Roxy Music tour in 1981 was the last time Icehouse operated as a support band in Australasia.
With little respite, Flowers launched into a further series of Australian concerts, this time in their own right. This Odd People Tour, in May-June 1981, was the last for the band under its original name. It was accompanied by an exhibition of photographs of unusual characters taken by Angels guitarist Rick Brewster and his wife: hence the title, Odd People. Large blow-ups of the photographs were projected onto a screen as a backdrop for the band performances, and this was probably the first significant attempt to complement the music of Icehouse with on stage visual effects. In this case, the atmosphere of loneliness and decay which pervades much of the music from the Icehouse debut album was felt to be reflected in the images of odd and lonely people. The tour culminated in a final concert on 27th June, 1981 at the Capitol Theatre, Sydney, where Flowers was supported by The Numbers and Men At Work, and at the conclusion of which the name change to Icehouse was announced.
The final phase of the youthful age of Icehouse live, covering the latter half of 1981, was the first overseas tour and the ultimate return to Australian shores for a short triumphal march before taking a well earned rest from performing. The overseas stint commenced with a short spell of sell-out concerts in New Zealand which established the popularity as a live performer which Icehouse has held there ever since. Then followed a series of oscillations between the United Kingdom and North America.
The first visit to England involved sessions of video clip production and recording, interspersed with the first performances introducing the band to British audiences. Icehouse nervously approached their first appearance at the Venue, in London on 22nd July, but were enthusiastically received by a packed house including a hefty sprinkling of expatriate Aussies bent on barracking for their fellow countrymen. This latter fact, particularly, appeared to rile some of the rock journalists present and resulted in the press reviews of the gig ranging from the damning to the delighted, but with more of the emphasis, unfortunately, on the former. Nevertheless, in a subsequent series of supports to Hazel OConnor, Icehouse performed admirably and was again well received.
Early August saw Icehouse starting out on the first tour of North America. They opened at the Ritz in New York, where the audience was described as being "pleasantly surprised" at the quality of this hitherto unknown performer from down under. Followed a steady stream of well executed and well received performances throughout the United States and Canada, and Icehouse returned to England in September with a sheaf of American press reviews giving ample evidence of the favourable impressions made wherever they had appeared.
The Travellers Return
In England, there was further touring, mainly in support of Simple Minds. Icehouse developed a strong affinity with this emerging Scottish group: so much so, in fact, that they met up again two months later for an Australian tour. Icehouse had completed a few more dates in America on the way home and resumed performing in Australia on 13th November at the same venue from which they had left their homeland five months earlier, the Capitol Theatre in Sydney.
This homecoming tour for Icehouse covered Sydney, Melbourne, Adelaide, Canberra and Brisbane and was generally triumphant for both groups: for Simple Minds as their debut to Australian audiences, for Icehouse as returning local heroes. Even so, the members of Icehouse did show definite signs of tour weariness and the strain of performing the same material too repeatedly for too long.
Throughout the whole Eighties decade, Icehouse averaged approximately forty percent of time in live performance touring. Yet, in this first two year period, this same statistic was near eighty percent. Little wonder then that an extended break was necessary.
The middle period of Icehouse as a live performer started with the most significant changes in format and line-up of the bands history. A six piece line-up replaced the old four piece set up. Iva Davies and drummer John Lloyd carried through from the former quartet and an earlier Flowers keyboardist, Michael Hoste, rejoined the band. Three new recruits, one from Melbourne and two from Britain provided guitar, bass and a further keyboard player.
With extra people to assume the work load, the new Icehouse acquired a more relaxed approach to performing. For instance, the addition of Bob Kretschmer on guitar gave Iva Davies some relief from his former dual lead role, allowing greater concentration on vocals and stage presence.
This soon began to show, as the band headed interstate on tour in November 1982, armed with a batch of new songs from the Primitive Man album to add to the old favourites. Typical of the audience responses to this latest manifestation of Icehouse live was one from Queenslands Gold Coast, where the capacity crowd was reported to have been "left speechless by this amazing Aussie group." The same report claimed that Iva Davies "created sound and visual effects which stunned even the long time musicians in the audience". Then, at the first Brisbane appearance of the six member group "Icehouse achieved meltdown in a way everyone approved of." Clearly, this was a more confident, sophisticated and stage worthy Icehouse than earlier forms.
The other performances of this Australasian tour of late 1982 were no less successful. In Sydney, Icehouse returned to the Capitol Theatre on November 13th, exactly a year after their last appearance there with Simple Minds. They were hailed by a crowd more enthusiastic for their live performance than ever. At the end of that month, they were reported as being "bigger than the Beatles" when the crowd for an Icehouse concert at the Dunedin Town Hall, in New Zealand, not only exceeded the venues 2300 capacity by five hundred, but broke a long term record established there by the Beatles. The tour concluded as successfully as it began with appearances in Sydney, at Castle Hill R.S.L. on 9th December and Selinas at Coogee on Saturday 11th.
Getting Serious with Bowie
The New Year of 1983 found the music from the second Icehouse album starting to make inroads into the European market and Icehouse took the opportunity to test out its reborn format on live venues in the Northern Hemisphere. The popularity of the single "Hey Little Girl" necessitated a number of television appearances throughout Europe, but live gigs still formed a significant part of this second overseas tour, and greatly enhanced the reputation of Icehouse as a live band in countries such as France, Germany and Holland.
David Bowie was impressed by these European performances to the extent that Icehouse was sought by him as the main support act for the European leg of his famous Serious Moonlight Tour. This touring in May-June 1983 exposed the Australian band to a wide range of audiences and a great many people. In Britain alone the crowds witnessing the performances were estimated to total at least 700,000. The touring with Bowie concluded with a three day stint at the Milton Keyes Bowl just out of London and Icehouse went on to headline a sell out concert at the Lyceum in London before returning home in July.
There followed another break from live performance until well into the next year, while the members of Icehouse pursued other ventures of their own. When they did re-form, it was to finalise the recording of the Sidewalk album and undertake the touring necessary for its promotion. The line-up remained unchanged except for a reduction in the keyboards from two to one and the temporary addition of guest saxophonist Joe Camilleri. First performances were in Europe in May-June 1984, with a high content of TV appearances in the first instance, but with the opportunity being taken to run the band into top live performance gear by a few gigs, mainly at smaller venues, particularly in Germany.
The remainder of 1984 was spent in touring, in Australia from mid-July through August, then back to Europe in September. A further six week tour in Australia followed from the beginning of November, and this bracket of touring concluded with a few performances in Japan around Christmas. A break from the Icehouse performing was provided in October, while Iva Davies accepted an invitation from Japanese rock star, Yukihiro Takahashi, to join a band of international celebrities brought together for his Wild and Moody Tour of Japan.
A couple of line-up changes in Icehouse were necessitated during this period. These resulted from the earlier resignation of keyboard player Michael Hoste and through the conclusion of Joe Camilleris guest stint just prior to the second tour of Europe. From auditions in England in June, two replacement keyboard players were recruited. One of these, Simon Lloyd, was also a saxophonist and, thus able to fill the role vacated by Joe Camilleri.
Throughout this touring associated with the Sidewalk album, Icehouse maintained the image established throughout Australasia and Europe by the touring for the very successful previous album, Primitive Man: that of a very polished and talented group of musicians, capable of turning in a captivating performance of fine music in a wide range of venues. At times, there were criticisms of some of lack of spontaneity and audience rapport: a little too cool and clinical. Perhaps these occasions were mostly associated with periods of tour weariness, but the challenge was given to improve this aspect of performance. The quest for full maturity in live performance lay in warming up the Icehouse.
The Age of Maturity Begins
This challenge was ably met during the latter half of the Eighties decade and there would be few to question the warmth and professionalism of Icehouses live acts of this period.
During 1985, the only performances of Icehouse were in a rather different medium from their usual. This was the few weeks season in November of the ballet "Boxes," a collaborative production of the Sydney Dance Company and Icehouse. These performances only involved part of the band and it was not until March 1986 that they fully re-formed for serious touring. At this stage the new material written for and recorded on the Measure for Measure album had to be rehearsed and added to the live set.
The Measure for Measure Tour commenced at the beginning of April 1986 and extended, with a rather heavy schedule, over the next five months. It warmed up through a number of country venues in western New South Wales and moved on through the major cities of the Eastern States of Australia during April and May, before heading to the U.S.A. The line-up for this tour featured replacements for drums and bass guitar, with the latter position having a couple of trial starters during the course of the tour. In fact, the spot was not permanently filled till the end of the Measure for Measure Tour, preparatory to the subsequent Cross the Border Tour.
Maturity Turns Queer
In this phase of performing Icehouse live came into its own to a greater extent than ever before. Both people and sound seemed to acquire new heights of animation and excitement, evoking like responses from their escalating audiences. To some extent, this was aided by some of the new material in the set, which had the members of the band leaping and dancing on stage to an unprecedented degree. Particularly in this vein were the performances of the second hit single from the Measure for Measure album, "Baby, Youre So Strange," when a ballet of "babies" from the audience was usually recruited and allowed to indulge their individual strangenesses on stage, while Iva Davies leapt and high kicked through their ranks and a barrage of enough undergarments to stock the lingerie department of a major store.
With this sort of stagecraft added to the usual impeccable musicianship, the reputation of Icehouse concerts as a moving, exciting and even hilarious experience expanded enormously through the Measure for Measure Tour, both at home and abroad. This image carried on through the Cross the Border Tour later in 1986 and became the starting point for the band that re- assembled in July 1987 for the Crazy Tour. It may well be speculated that, in the final count, the Measure for Measure album contributed as much or more for the image of Icehouse as a live band than as a recording band.
And Gets Crazier
The Crazy Tour in Australia consisted of forty dates spread through July and August of 1987 and through venues throughout New South Wales, South Australia, Western Australia, Victoria and concluding in Brisbane, Queensland. This heavy schedule was followed by an American tour in September supporting The Cars. The line-up remained unchanged from that of the Cross the Border Tour the previous year. The set performed was drawn mainly from the first four Icehouse albums with the gradual introduction of new material from the Man of Colours album, released just at the time the tour with the Cars in America started.
Icehouse made a major impact on the live music scene with this touring, both in Australia and the U.S.A. Undoubtedly, this was complemented significantly by the huge early success of the Man of Colours album, which ensured that the band was to have little respite from demonstrating its new wares to eager live audiences for some time to come.
The Man of Colours Tour proper began with Australias Bicentenary year and extended to the end of July. This seven months probably represents the most successful period Icehouse live has yet experienced, and one in which it delighted some of the largest and most varied audiences of its career. One of the first of these included the Prince and Princess of Wales, when Icehouse performed "Electric Blue" at the New South Wales Royal Bicentennial Concert at the Sydney Entertainment Centre. Two days earlier, they had been the headline act at the Rockalonga Concert at Yarrawonga Showground, before a somewhat less sedate audience of eight thousand plus. A fortnight later, a vast sea of people packing the Main Arena of Melbourne Showground witnessed a stunning Icehouse performance concluding the first day of the Melbourne Music Show. An Adelaide audience of family groups overfilled Elder Park on 4th March, 1988 to experience the Night of Colours Concert featuring Icehouse, as part of the Adelaide Festival of the Arts.
A further variety of audiences and venues greeted the Man of Colours Tour on its progress through America in June and early July. Icehouse returned to Australia and wound up the tour in Brisbane before a highly enthusiastic outdoor audience of twenty two thousand lining the river bank at Expo 88.
The popularity of Icehouse as a live band rose to such levels throughout the reign of the Man of Colours album as to justify a sequel tour, even though the constant touring had prevented the preparation of any great amount of new material. This follow-up tour under the title of "Life in a Paintbox" ran for a month in February-March 1989 and, with the exception of one replacement keyboard player, featured the same line-up. It again concluded on a high note with the Concert for 89, at the Sydney Entertainment Centre on 10th March, 1989.
This was Icehouses concluding live performance for the Eighties and it was appropriate that it should be associated with a new attendance record for this prestigious venue. This kind of acclaim and success appeared to follow the live band almost as a normal course in the last two years of the decade. In this period the performers seemed to achieve a rare blend of spontaneity and accomplishment. Sound and staging, dramatic and musical arrangement, acquired new heights of sophistication without the loss of that spark of humour and freshness which had entered the Icehouse performances of the earlier Measure for Measure and Cross the Border tours. Perhaps this was what one Sydney disc jockey was observing in his comment on the MTV telecast of the Melbourne Music Show: "Iva Davies would just have to be the most professional performer in Australia today".
Touring in the Nineties
Icehouse live did not re-appear until almost eighteen months after the conclusion of the "Life in a Paintbox" tour. During the break, quite a marked change had moved across the face of the Australian music scene. The birth of a new decade had seemed to herald a deepening economic gloom rather than a brighter new age. The captains of industry in the music field, as in other endeavours, were now finding it much harder to keep their ships afloat, let alone surging forward under full sail, a sad contrast to the heady years of the Eighties.
In addition to a less viable live music market, Icehouses first performances of the Nineties faced the need to promote the as yet untried music from a new album. This was a far more onerous task than selling a set of songs still at the peak of their popularity as was the case in the tours of 1988-89, and a much less certain recipe for successful touring.
Thus, the Code Blue Tour from September to November 1990 used generally smaller venues and ranged through a wider area than Icehouse performances of the late Eighties. In spite of a few bugs in the first few performances, possibly as a result of the long break from performing and the need to run in a new lead guitarist in place of the long standing Bob Kretschmer, this tour was well received through the length and breadth of Australia. By presenting the usual mature Icehouse live performance over such an unprecedentedly wide area of Australia, it added a further prestigious chapter to the history of the band.
The tour commenced with a few country dates in southern New South Wales before fronting up to the home city with a show at Selinas on 10th September. Then followed a long trek from Melbourne through western Victoria and far western New South Wales, to Adelaide and Whyalla in South Australia. From there the whole band and crew boarded the Indian Pacific Train for the journey across the Nullarbour Plain to their next performance at Kalgoorlie. For the next week and a half, Western Australia received the most comprehensive Icehouse tour ever, proceeding from Esperance near the western end of the Great Australian Bight right round the coast to Broome in the north west.
A Fine Finale
The remainder of the Code Blue Tour occupied the Eastern States of Australia, mainly in the vicinities of Melbourne, Sydney, and Brisbane. With a sprinkling of live TV appearances interspersed through the fairly full schedule of stage performances. The final performance on 24th November involved media, stage, and television. This was Ausmusic 90 for which stage shows, involving a total of twenty nine groups, held on the same date in five major capital cities of Australia, formed the basis for a direct nationwide telecast.
Icehouse provided the final act for the Sydney segment of Ausmusic 90 at the Entertainment Centre with a performance rating as a worthy finale to both that concert and the Code Blue Tour. Critics of the Ausmusic initiative had shown a keenness to condemn the choice of performers for the concert series as a group of "dinosaurs," incapable of inspiring in the cause of todays music, but the enthusiastic reactions of the young live Sydney audience gave the lie to any suggestion that Icehouse live had, with the advent of the Nineties, even begun to approach the Age of Overmaturity. One review, in covering the closing stages of the Sydney Ausmusic Show, made the point in these terms:
"Into We Can Get Together, Cant Help Myself, and Crazy, and Icehouse proved themselves anything but cold. With the closing notes of Crazy, this audience had been given more than good sound, an impressive light show and a collection of great songs, whether they realised it or not they had been given a slice of their heritage of Australian music. No dinosaur, but a living, breathing, sweating and GROWING animal that has fought to survive and won."
Icehouse Live in Time Travel
After only a few weeks break the band resumed performing in the Flowers a.k.a. Icehouse Tour. The new set for this delved back into the past by incorporating a segment in which the 1991 manifestation of Flowers performed some of its early covers from Bowie, T-Rex, and the Easybeats, and for which they had made such a name in the Sydney pub circuit in the late Seventies. Each performance opened with a bracket of Icehouse songs drawn from the more recent albums, Code Blue and Man of Colours, then plunged back in years to a session of Flowers covers, moving into the first Flowers originals and back through the developing Icehouse repertoire to a finale of the very latest releases.
This varied programme evoked very favourable responses, and the latter day novelty of Icehouse performing some covers generally went down well. For, as one enthusiastic review put it:
"It is worth noting that when Icehouse covers a song, it doesnt just cover it, it completely envelopes it. The bands version of The Jean Genie would have made David Bowie wish he had let Flowers record it first, and T-Rexs Telegram Sam was simply incredible."
The tour first ranged through the eastern states of Australia before moving on to New Zealand for a further three weeks. Returning to Australia in early March, Icehouse fulfilled another series of dates in southern Queensland and central New South Wales, presenting the last show of the tour to a packed new venue, Waves, at Wollongong.
New Zealand, which had not been visited by Icehouse for a few years, was particularly responsive to the Flowers a.k.a. Tour. In the South Island a spell of flooding rains even failed to dampen the audience enthusiasm. A local newspaper report summed up the reaction to the Timaru Soundshell open air show, held in rather cold weather conditions, after having been deferred from two days earlier because of rain:
The weather hasnt been very pleasant of late, said lead singer Iva Davies to the Soundshell audience, so its really great to see so many here. Thanks for coming.
"If the crowd had unanimously exclaimed youre welcome, come again it would hardly have been surprising. Such was the mood of the night."
Triumphs and Disasters
The great majority of performances do not stand out one from the other. Indeed, the objective of any worthy band is to achieve a uniform high standard in its live shows irrespective of size and location of venue, composition of audience or any other such factors. The very fulfilment of this aim would render performances relatively indistinguishable to the band members, if not to the individual audience member, to whom the outstanding show, for one reason or another, is the one he or she attended. Nevertheless, there are, inevitably, some performances which depart from the normal in either direction and tend to be remembered as triumphs or disasters. Icehouse has its fair share of both.
There are, too, some shows which stand out through their possession of elements of both, when circumstances threatening total disaster have been so successfully overcome as to create a triumph. An early case of this occurred when the young Flowers were performing in a Brisbane pub as a warm-up support to The Angels. There had been trouble with the sound all the evening, with a poor connection causing frequent cut outs in the P.A. system. The crew had been madly, but so far unsuccessfully, trying to locate it. The audience was starting to express its impatience in terms which required no amplification, as Flowers concluded one of its songs in the midst of a P.A. black out. Roadies frantically tugged at cables and connections. Flowers faced the storm of protest, uncertain as to whether to vacate the stage or try again. In a last desperate bid for redemption they launched into their own song "Walls," which opens with a couple of lines of spoken words from the lead vocalist: Listen! If you listen you will hear a reckless heartbeat... etc. Iva Davies literally shouted the first word into the microphone at the very moment when one of the crew, by a happy chance, pushed at the offending connection and restored sound. The crowd, so suddenly hit by this command bellowed over the P.A., reeled into amazed silence. It took the rest of the song for them to recover enough to burst into applause just as vociferous as their previous protests. Honour, as well as sound was restored, and The Angels were subsequently able to face a much more receptive audience than they had expected a few moments earlier.
The Tyranny of Technology
This dependence of rock bands on a maze of highly technical equipment has great potential for live performance failure. Indeed, most of the disasters or near disasters experienced by Icehouse have been attributable to some such failure in electronic machinery or its handling by stage technicians.
It might be expected that these failures were much more likely to occur in the earlier years of performing when road crews were less highly trained, equipment less reliable and venues generally provided fewer facilities to operate it. To some extent this was so, but it is also true that the more sophisticated equipment becomes, the more opportunities for technical failures there are. Since Icehouse has always kept itself in the forefront of new technological developments, the risk of such failures has always been present. Even as recently as the Man of Colours Tour, in an important performance in San Francisco, the band suffered the trauma of finding itself performing soundless to a large, critical audience.
An earlier disaster, which came close to being even tragic, occurred in Amsterdam in 1983. On this occasion, Iva Davies stepped up to and clasped the vocalists microphone, only to find it very much alive with electric power. The shock fortunately threw him off the equipment, but prevented him from resuming performance for some minutes, notwithstanding that the show was being broadcast live over a wide radio network.
Musicians are Human Too
Of course, the slips cannot all be blamed on the crew or equipment. There is always the odd lapse of memory or fumbled note from the band. For Icehouse, these have been very isolated and, in any case, have usually passed relatively unnoticed and not caused any major crash in the performance.
Rather more significant was one slip during an appearance of Flowers at the San Miguel Hotel in the Sydney suburb of Cammeray in 1980. Paraffin oil used for special smoke effects had been spilt on the stage before the show started. As Iva Davies leapt from a raised dais onto the main stage level, he landed on a patch of it. His slip on that occasion resulted in a K.O. as the back of his head met the stage floor. The performance ended rather abruptly without the expected encore from Flowers, and Iva spent the rest of the night in hospital, regaining consciousness and receiving X-rays of the skull.
Iva Davies made another bad slip during the Measure for Measure Tour in 1986, not on stage this time, but on a frosty roadway in the Southern Highlands town of Jindabyne while running back through the cold to his motel after the performance. A broken hip resulted from this one and, while Iva continued with the tour, his normal vigorous stage movements were somewhat restricted for some performances to come.
Chance or Mischance
Every touring band runs into circumstances of sheer bad luck which adversely effect the quality of a performance or even force its abandonment. Icehouse encountered one such period in Canada in 1981 when the vehicles carrying their equipment seemed to develop a habit of becoming involved in road accidents. The first of these, a head on collision near Edmonton, so badly damaged and even wrote off so many items that some performances had to be cancelled. A second accident near Toronto wrote off some of their stage equipment, but caused no cancellation. Both cases adversely affected a number of shows by requiring the use of unfamiliar substitute instruments and equipment.
The success or otherwise of outdoor concerts is very closely associated with weather conditions and, for the most part Icehouse have not been unduly unlucky in that regard. However, they did head a line-up of six bands scheduled to perform at the Central Coast Rock Explosion at Woy Woy Oval in April, 1986. The afternoon was sunny at first, then turned cloudy and showery as the first three sets were performed. Then during the fourth performance came the only real "explosion" of the day, not from the band, but from the heavens. The skies opened and the members of the audience either raced for shelter or, being already drenched, stayed to enjoy novel aquatic sports on the fast flooding oval. The awning over the stage filled with water and finally collapsed under the weight. The power supply was cut off from the disintegrating stage for safety reasons and the concert was over in a few flashes of lightning. The remaining bands, Hunters and Collectors and Icehouse, met no audience that day.
But Mostly, Talent Triumphs
Despite these incidents, any realistic reckoning of the thousand odd performances of Icehouse would rate the disasters as a few dull specks in a sea of highly enjoyable and successful shows. Among these latter there are some gems that sparkle out of the mass as those instances where all the factors of atmosphere, audience receptivity, and sonic and visual quality, integrate so effectively as to produce an extraordinary theatrical experience, but these are difficult for any individual to pinpoint when the general standard is so high.
One might cite the Sydney Ausmusic 90 Show or the Concert for 89 at Sydney Entertainment Centre, the Melbourne Music Show of 1988, the World Expo 88 performance in Brisbane or some of the other big shows of the Man of Colours Tour. Earlier, the open air Wanda Beach show in 1981, the Capitol Theatre concert of November 1982, and some of the performances at smaller venues such as the Royal Antler, Narrabeen, Selinas at Coogee, the Metro in Melbourne, the New York Hotel in Brisbane or any one of a dozen or more others throughout the country, might come to mind. Overseas, there was an epic performance at a festival in Dortmund, Germany in 1984, and another at the Ritz, New York in 1986, to name but two.
However, this sort of exercise doubtless yields different results with each observer and it is, perhaps, sufficient to say that there have been more than enough outstanding performances to make Icehouse highly memorable as a live band. Furthermore, there is always the distinct possibility that the most memorable live performance of Icehouse is still to come.
© 1992 Neville Davies