Brigitte Handley & The Dark ShadowsNow I know how Christopher Columbus felt. Or 'our' James Cook, before he invaded Australia. In recent months, I've had occasion to invade Wollongong and surrounds. Forget the smokestacks, steelworks, hoons, machismo, mullets and bogans. Focus on the sometimes wanky northern villages, beaches, biketracks and escarpment. On that basis, Wollongong has much to offer. A good deal more to offer than The Aunty Jack Show would have you believe. Look past the dingy, dirty, Nablus part of Crown Street upper. Right behind it, at Five Crown Lane, you'll find a well-concealed gem: Music Farmers. Now, God forbid I should give a venue, let alone a shop, or cafe, a free kick. But MF is much more than either. Or both. It's an allround hangout for music addicts. And every Saturday arvo is prime time for a fix. Recently, my belle and I lucked into, for example, the sublime Laura Jean, who's out-and-about, seemingly everywhere, quietly making a loud noise. Just last weekend, we happened upon the last, raucous gasps (we were late) of Fangs Of Satanic Soccer Mums; for all intents a metal band (you might call it punk, or the ridiculously nebulous hardcore), formed from members with commitments elsewhere, as well. Firstly, you gotta love the name. Secondly, they laid out, in such a delicate and meticulous fashion, quite the most understated and enticing merchandising table I've ever seen, stocked with handprinted editions of tees, cds & patches, sporting what looked to be handmade paper covers and cracking (to use the term of the moment) artwork. If only I were better - heeled, I would've sprung for the lot, just to support 'em. My God, the CDs were even editioned and came with a choice of covers. But enough retail.

The main act, last Saturday arvo (things kick off 'round 2) was Brigitte Handley & The Dark Shadows. She of the mile-high glued hair, wildly accentuated eyes, gothic fashion sense and rockabilly hall-of-fame status has branched-out, into what you might call pop-punkabilly. They've just done some damage, knocking the socks off punters on the West Coast & in Canada, as I understand it, a feat they're currently repeating locally, with an, ostensibly, East Coast tour, right here, at home.

These girls are certifiable: they played 27 shows in 30 days, while in N. America. Yet it tells not. They come across as having palpable passion for their profession and material. Justifiably so. The present gad-about is in aid of their new ep, Stand Off.

Though the sound at MF was pleasing and raucously loud, my one frustration and regret is I couldn't really make out lyrics. The recorded mix fares somewhat better: already I've learnt it might prove a grave mistake not to return Handley's emails. (Listen in to the title track, which rails against the mindlessness & pigheadedness of family feuds, & you'll get the idea.)

The deep, dark, sultry one's penchant for eccentric makeup can't obscure her affinity and affection for melody, which reaches into the power pop pantheon and pulls divine rabbit after rabbit out of a musical cornucopia.

Brigitte, of course, is but one-third of the band: let's not underestimate the complementary skills and enthusiasms of Carly Chalker, on bass & backup vocals; Nerida Wu, on drums. Brigitte wields one or two very distinctive guitars.

Even the most ardent, diehard chauvanist will be forced to revise all preconceptions about girl bands. These girls give no quarter. They rock, harder than granite!

Brigitte Handley & The Dark Shadows

Music Farmers | 5 Crown Lane, Wollongong
Aug 2nd 2008

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