A joker in a white tuxedo and aviator shades stands on the stage, bellowing those two words into the microphone. He swings a fist into the air. The kids in the crowd below hurl the words back and pump their fists. Behind the clownish bloke, a black-clad band gets ready to play.
It's a furious 1977 night at the Paddington Town Hall in Sydney, Australia. Quite possibly the best punk-rock show happening anywhere in the world is coming to the finale.
"New Race (Paddington Town Hall, 1977) by Radio Birdman:
Sweating under the red banner emblazoned with the flying-saucer-in-alien-crosshairs logo he designed, Radio Birdman guitarist Deniz Tek rips out the Pete Townshend-y intro to "New Race." For a few quick bars, the notes spread through the hall like light through crystals. The drums begin to chug as Tek lands his fist on two subsequent held-out chords. The drums build, and the band peels out.
A twisting, black figure with flicking light-blond locks and skinny, flailing arms shimmies in front of the white drums, blurting hup-like syllables into the mic. There's gonna be a new race/Kids are gonna start it up/All gonna mutate/Kids are saying, "Yeah hup!" frontman Rob Younger barks.
The song goes through several changes and not many more verses — how many does it need, after all? — and ends with Tek shearing the shit out of his guitar. He begins with some jet-engine punk-blues wailing, then switches to wah-pedal squealage. The kids in Paddington Hall squirm and shake until the set ends with a feedback bomb of chucked guitars.
Thank you, Stooges. Thank you, Ramones. Thank you, youth of Sydney. (Oh, and thank you, YouTube.)
The crackly video was shot not long before Radio Birdman's breakup and not that long after its inception. Starting in '74, Birdman, along with slightly less unfamous colleagues the Saints (and plenty of other more unfamous bands), invented Australian punk. Rather, those acts invented punk in Australia, whereas other bands, including fellow 1974 babies the Ramones, were discovering it elsewhere.
Amid personality clashes, Birdman flared out in 1978 after releasing two recordings that can't help but be called seminal: the EP Burn My Eye and the full-length Radios Appear, which was released on Sire Records. A second album, Living Eyes, came out in '81, after the band's demise.
Younger and Tek formed a band called (appropriately) the New Race, which featured MC5 alumni Ron Asheton on guitar and Dennis Thompson on drums. The Race was short, and after practicing medicine for a while, Ann Arbor, Michigan, native Tek became a pilot and flight surgeon for the U.S. Marines. Meanwhile, Younger formed the New Christs, with which he still plays and records.
In 1996, Birdman reformed to play a series of Aussie concert festivals. Intermittent gigging and touring ensued for a decade. In 2006, the band released Zeno Beach, its first all-original record in almost 30 years. The band is now on its second U.S. tour since releasing Zeno, the first song on which is called "We've Come So Far (To Be Here Today)."
Tek had visited Australia as a child, and he decided to move back as a teen to go to medical school. Inspired by fellow Michiganders the MC5 and the Stooges, he started a group called TV Jones. Fate led him to an acquaintanceship with Younger, who had a similarly influenced band called the Rats. Not long after, the two formed Radio Birdman, deriving the name from a misheard lyric in the Stooges' song "1970." (Radio burnin' was the correct phrase.)
Birdman developed a massive, dual-guitar-driven sound that drove punk into Detroit garage rock and detailed it with traces of the Doors — twisting guitar solos, keyboard riffs and Younger's Morrisonian baritone. Unfortunately, Australia wasn't ready for any of it.
"We couldn't find anywhere to play," Younger recalls, "and if we did, we'd get to play there once and get kicked out."
Calling from a studio at a tour stop in Houston, the surprisingly self-effacing singer talks of a tame late-'70s Aussie scene that was loaded with bands either aping such rock gods as Deep Purple and Free or "overly reverent" blues musicians "paying quiet deference to their idols."
Radio Birdman, however, wasn't interested in quiet deference. Nor was the band interested in political commentary, as many of their British and American counterparts were. Birdman wanted to climb onstage and fuckin' squawk.
"What I really liked was the fact that we were abhorrent to some people, that we were objectionable without actually really having to try," Younger says. "I liked the idea that people found us a bit repellant."
What drove the masses toward the club doors — and, naturally, caused a small and enduring cult to form front and center — was the noise. After all, there's nothing objectionable in "Aloha, Steve & Danno," to make an example of one of the band's most popular early songs. It's little more than a surf-punk tribute to Hawaii Five-O, complete with theme-song-miming guitar solo and couch-potato-friendly chorus: Steve, I want to say thank you/For all you've done for me/My night is dark and empty/When you're not on TV. Even the more brassy "Murder City Nights" is basically just about driving around a bit wired on something (hormones, maybe?) while looking for a lover with a power reaction.
Repellant? Maybe Radio Birdman's anthems to hungry youth were just too damn loud and messy. Of course, there were the live shows, too, with their lurching, long-haired freaks and peculiar yeah HUPs, all of which remained vastly unknown to American audiences for the rest of the 20th century.
Then, in 2001, Sub Pop released The Essential Radio Birdman: 1974-1978, which reintroduced America (where there'd really been no first introduction) to a damn good band of old-school sonic rebels. It also helped to cement Birdman's honorary "legendary" status, which, as it turns out, hasn't always been a blessing for the band when it comes to getting the kids out to shows.
Even though Zeno Beach was put out by prestigious indie label Yep Roc, attendance at concerts has been lower this time around. Birdman even had to cancel a recent Monday-night gig in Dallas because of slow preshow ticket sales. It's certainly not because the band has lost its fire — blogger reviews and recent YouTube clips dispel that notion. Younger has a different theory.
"Because of this so-called legendary status that's been ascribed to us over the years, I think there may well be a lot of people who go, 'We'll catch them once,' and that's all they intend to do."
Kansas City hasn't caught Birdman even once yet, and Friday's show at the Record Bar is free. Get tickets at the venue before the show. Get there early. And get yer yeah HUPs out.