Apology Not Needed

The Go-Betweens
London Astoria
August 1988

Sometimes it’s nice to be proven wrong. In a brain possibly softened by the Seekers I’d harboured a notion that the back-from-Oz Go-Betweens would struggle to fill the Astoria. In the event, however it’s serious sardine time. Self-indulgent dreamers that they are, The Go-Betweens have always wanted to be as hip as the Velvets and as big as a Beatles-backed Jesus! This heaving theatre seems like an honourable compromise.

I’ve long since stopped banging the drum for the Go-Betweens. Five LP’s in, they’ve become the Turin Shroud of Rock; you either believe in them or you don’t. From the squeals that greet the marvellous, set-opening ‘Bye Bye Pride’ to the frantic, futile, braying for a fourth encore, it’s steamingly obvious where the sardines stand.

The cause of their enthusiasm is the flowering of the latest Go-Betweens incarnation. There’s a new bassist - John Wilstein replacing the domesticated Robert Vickers - but the real shift is the convincing integration of Amanda Brown. Now that the shock of her role - Violins (Not to mention Oboes) in Rock! - and her clothes (the woman couldn’t dress a salad) has receded, it’s clear that she’s brought to the Go-Betweens something more than just a lick of paint.

As tonight’s ‘The Clarke Sisters’ and ‘Bow Down’ showed, both her voice and brooding violin ( the work of Emmylou Harris and Scarlet Rivera on Dylan’s ‘Desire’ is strangely echoed) draw new tones and twitters from songs in danger of becoming overly familiar.

Her is-she-really-going-out-with -him relationship with Grant Mclennan has also, of course, added new plotlines to The Go-Betweens’ perpetual soap opera, and tonight was something of a classic for dedicated GB-watchers. Grant’s cryptic asides and some fairly evident tension between him and Amanda - Robert Forster caught in the middle like a reluctant UN observer - didn’t suggest the full Terry ‘n’ June bliss-quotient. Adding the this impression was Grant’s singing, the snarled anger of which turned ‘Someone Else’s Wife’ and the new ‘Was There Anything I Could Do?’ into the highlights of this set.

The downside of all this fun is that The Go-Betweens heartbeat - the impeccable balance between McLennan and Forster - seems slightly askew. Great songs like ‘Right Here’ and ‘Apology Accepted’ never quite took good- night flight, while a lumpy stumble through ‘Cut It Out’ was downright crook. In these circumstances, all those encores seemed just a touch excessive.

That said, The Go-Betweens, in their artistry, instinctive feel, and sheer bloodymindedness, remain a shining beacon, forthwith rock’s potential fulfilled. As such, the government should nationalise them forthwith and pay them to carry on indefinitely. Tonight, like most every night, even Mrs T would have had to admit it was taxpayers money well spent. The Go-Betweens - never to bow down, and still the reigning pleasure.

Danny Kelly