"We've got to make a living, so here's our show..."
So goes the opening refrain of Tripod's 2009 Pod August Nights, a longstanding annual tradition for the group. And if by some strange twist of fate you haven't yet heard of Tripod, a proud Melbourne institution if one that's hard to classify, then these opening bars are as good an introduction as any.
If you were forced to, you'd describe Tripod as a trio who write funny songs. But to the extent that you can call funny songs a genre, the majority of acts employ music mostly as a token accompaniment to their comedy. Tripod on the other hand could easily be a straight musical trio in their own right. The musical ability of these three Melbourne lads never ceases to amaze. With just two guitars, vocals, a keyboard and the occasional bit of trumpet, they're able to shift effortlessly between musical styles. One imagines the reason they chose the perpetual obscurity of funny songdom is that they are simply incapable of taking themselves seriously and can't resist finding humour everywhere they look.
Their loss is our gain.
Regular fans will know what to expect from a Tripod show - some new material, some old favourites, a few well-chosen cover songs and a healthy helping of unscripted audience interaction and witty on-stage bickering.
The song about a geek's reaction to the sudden appearance of a hot girl in the comic shop got an early run and is always a crowd pleaser. (With Tripod it's sometimes easier to describe songs by subject rather than title.) Other old favourites included Lingering Dad, Autistic and Thursday - a song about going out on the town, going reasonably hard and having a fairly good time. I also have a rather odd soft spot for the song about the guy who wrote the theme from MASH, which the boys composed in a sort of withering tribute after a protracted struggle to secure the rights to perform said theme as part of one of their other songs.
Tripod shows often have the feeling of being a rehearsal which the audience just happens to be attending - things go wrong, the guys sometimes stop and start, change their mind about what to play and improvise as they go. It's not a criticism, in fact it's actually part of the fun. Scod, Yon and Gatesy exude natural charm and are so laid-back that every show is unique and carries the intangible prestige of a private bonding moment. This phenomenon perhaps goes some way to explaining the group's sometimes obsessively loyal following. Nowhere has that been more true than at the band's infamous all-improvised Song in an Hour shows.
In this year's Pod August Nights, Tripod were roadtesting songs from their forthcoming show - Dungeons & Dragons: The Opera. The best of these was a song called Taking A Life, a soulful parody of the existential anguish fantasy adventurers surely suffer when killing a living creature. There was also the soft-rock country ballad Blow This Town - a song that has one trick which it plays unashamedly and as often as possible, and the more unusual Gods Are People Too, which one can only imagine will make more sense in context.
The boys wear their geek badges with pride and Dungeons & Dragons: The Opera looks like it will be lots of fun, not to mention promising to earn the band even greater nichedom. But if songs like Not All Of Queen Were Gay (which explains that technically only 1/8th of Queen were gay and this therefore makes them statistically only 2.5% more gay than the average band) are anything to go by, they don't seem to care.
It's in the cover songs that the band's musical talent really shines through however. On opening night we were treated to a performance of Radiohead's Paranoid Android and a rendition of Jackson Browne's Doctor My Eyes which was intended as a sort of circuitous tribute to the King of Pop. The guys did say though that they're more than likely to change the setlist each night according to whatever whim takes their fancy, so you never know what might be in store if you decide to go. Perhaps you'll also be able to enjoy the show without having to contend with the slightly offputting sounds of an exuberant and apparently interminable jewellery auction next door, though the rest of Trades Hall's proud defiance of what makes a conventionally good performance venue will no doubt still imbue the proceedings.
To sum up, this year's Pod August Nights delivers the goods for Tripod's loyal following and is as good a place as any for the uninitiated to get their feet wet. Enjoy!
Pod August Nights
Venue: Bella Union at Trades Hall | Corner of Victoria & Lygon Streets, Carlton South
Dates: Thurs - Sun, 20 - 30 August, 2009