For years and years, friends of mine asked me, “You’ve never heard Radio Birdman? Oh man, you have to listen to it!”. This went on for over a decade until, a few years back, I finally remembered to put an album on. Since this time I have: listened to everything I could get my hands on, was upset to realise I’d probably never get to see them tour, finally understood why my friend goes by the pseudonym ‘N. Birdman’, realised that Deniz Tek played (one of) my personal heroes, Fred “Sonic” Smith’s guitar, and that Tek often played as a guest with the late 1970’s band that existed so briefly, and were so wildly overlooked, the super-group made up of legends of the 1960s Detroit Rock scene: Sonic’s Rendezvous Band. It is a modern tragedy that so few people have heard their incredible sound.
So, unfortunately Tek no longer tours with Smith’s guitar, and the guitar was humbly retired years ago as it was well and truly thrashed by the extensive touring Radio Birdman have undertaken in their vast career.
Can this band find any more arteries into my heart? Well, founding members of Radio Birdman, Rob Younger and Deniz Tek along with past member, Warwick Gilbert, were all members of another Detroit Rock inspired super-group, New Race, which only included Ron Asheton (The Stooges) and Dennis “Machine Gun” Thompson (MC5) on their enviable personnel list.
Anyway, so here I am, nearly two decades after first hearing their name, standing with a motley crew at The Gov that is packed to the gills with Adelaide’s Rock Royalty. To list the bare minimum, members of Adelaide bands, the Exploding White Mice, Meatbeaters, The Toss, Standard Union, and legendary rock journalist Robert Dunstan fill the crowd.
Radio Birdman play a variety of their hits, including ‘Do The Pop’, ‘Descent Into The Maelstrom’, ‘Aloha Steve and Danno’ and ‘New Race’. The ageing crowd, which included fifty plus-year-old crowd surfers, at The Gov manage to get two encores out of the boys.
I remember reading that Denis Tek once said, about owning and playing, Fred “Sonic” Smith’s guitar, “no one can ever fill Fred Smith’s shoes, or play like him”, but fuck me, if anyone can, it’s Denis Tek. Straight men swoon over him and Radio Birdman’s songs are tailored to his solos. You think you’ve heard a song, and then you see it happen live, Tek’s solos are so hungered for, and the band allows for them to slot so effortlessly into their songs.
The band are in Adelaide warming themselves up in preparation for their upcoming European tour, and it’s obvious that they are ready. They are revitalised, they’re energetic, and as one avid fan commented, “they’re enjoying themselves again”.
You want to know where Nick Cave got his swagger? Rob Younger. I have never seen a frontman commit as wholly to a song, without bearing an instrument quite like Younger. And I’ll be damned if anyone from this era can look quite as at home on stage in a Bonds ringer as Younger can. Also, Mick Jagger, you can take a seat.
Seriously, look up Sonic’s Rendezvous Band, you can thank me later.
Reviewed by Lauren McAleer
Photos by Robert Stafford