This isn't really a review, it's just a straight from my head to blog spew.
I was interested to hear that The Little Ugly Girls, an excellent musical unit I associate with a fertile time in Hobart music, were reforming for a one-off gig at a Punter's Club memorial, what ever the hell that might be – actually to get it out of the way, I think pubs, bands and scenes come and go, and that one can wallow a little too much in nostalgia, but the thing is, this is what I’m about to do, and if I could get to the show the LUGs are playing at, I would, with bells on.
Because Little Ugly Girls were a fine band, and had an excellent combination of a very gifted musician (Sloth) and the intense creative energy of Danny and Linda Johnston. There was also a cast of Bass players - Lauren Moore, Cameron Stopps - cripes, I can't remember. It was during The Grunge Years. The focus always seemed to be on Sloth and Linda, and Danny kind of gets missed out a bit I think; he was never a great guitarist in the traditional sense but he used to really think and his playing in LUGs had a very unique expressionist overtone that was nuanced and textured, whilst also being ferocious. He reminds me now of Gareth Williams from This Heat, in that it he always tried to stretch and re-think what he had, and what he could do with it – and this isn't say that he wasn't a whopping good guitar player in the end, it's just that what really made him special was the applied intellect. His sibling Linda was something else again, and far more of performer than again has ever been given credit for. I recall her being mesmerising and ferocious and vulnerable all at once, the mighty voice roaring out the lines that, as the band developed, were far more like poetry than song lyrics. Indeed, by 1996 the band had abandoned a lot of musical tradition, were thinking hard about how to make music, and seemed at the top of their creative game despite earlier triumphs of songs like Power-full and In Plastic. Those early songs saw a good band being a tight musical unit and write well above average hard rock that was well timed for the grunge era, but a series of ups and downs and intellectual criticisms saw the band develop into – well, something else.
Hobart was a melting pot of ideas at the time, with everything being questioned. Noise was being made to some extent and certainly listened to, vital New Zealand band The Dead C were being consumed to some extent, and this had a discernible effect on a few local musicians; people got very high a lot and drunk the rest of the time. It was destructive and creative and Little Ugly Girls, always an emotional whirlpool, were in great form, making excellent new music and shedding skins. Sloth in particular seemed very concerned with arrangement and shutting up when required - less was a whole lot more and the emotional content, the thesis, of the music, was paramount. The controlled, forceful, and expressive nature of LUGs music remained a potent memory for me, but that was all it was: an exciting memory.
That's why I got excited by the posting of this 1996 tape over on 2001 punk greats : a live recording even, because the LUGs were a formidable live unit at their peak. In my mind they would explode on stage, the people becoming more - well, to me a great band is defined by being more than the sum of it's parts.
This tape documents a very experimental phase for the band. There are songs but structure is manipulated and stretched into different shapes, the whole thing almost charting a reducing of song form across the tape's course until we are left with the remarkable Boxenhoodahayda, with only Linda singing, invoking childhood rhyme, taking the very idea of a song back to where we all first met it and using the resonance of that moment to invoke a strong and potent emotion of a childhood fractured and lost. Simple and deft, it lets us know what we have just been – a journey through lives bruised. We have been set up for it since the first song and the realisation that this is an inter-connected song cycle, a play in music is potent to me, maybe more than ever it was way back then.
I have no idea what this music is really about but it has always chilled and saddened me whilst being some of the most purging and honest music I ever encountered. The reach into abstraction revealed much that song form had hidden – listen to The Pit, where it is just the Johnston siblings: a guitar that sounds like a suqalling storm of gulls and Linda screaming into the wind. listen to the controlled detonation at the end of Tractor, the driven rhythm section and mid-air freeze at the end of Slip. There was much of what seemed to pain and anger here, so much hurt that was fashioned by these four people into something unique. Yes, I think LUGs had a lot of personality, and that interaction of complex characters with strong and differing creative ideas produced a fantastic set of songs here.
It's so good to hear all this music again.
It was so long ago, and so far away, and it still makes the necks hair bristle.