Ed Kuepper Tanks 1 8 2014

Ed Kuepper at The Tanks

The words living legend and Aussie icon get chucked around an awful lot these days so it’s refreshing to check out someone who actually fits the bill. Ed Kuepper, with a remarkable career spanning 40 years, has founded pioneering bands and released absolute shit loads of solo albums. From punk originals The Saints in the early 70s to the truly unique Laughing Clowns in the 80s to a frenzied solo career studded with song writing gems in the 90s and 2000s to touring guitarist with Nick Cave’s Bad Seeds in the 2010s, this bloke has always played a major part in this country’s music. But he’s done it on his terms, flying under the radar and never becoming a household name.

As befitting his perennially outsider status it is not a sell-our crowd but it’s an audience packed with real fans, all involved from the first song, intensely listening and most vocal in their appreciation. Towards the end people were even dancing. Ed liked that. He looked like he was enjoying himself too, connecting with the crowd in a wry amused way, spinning a few yarns in a unhurried fashion.

Its a solo show -just the musician and a few guitars and it was special fun listening to some classic tunes without all the instrumentation. Sometimes it took a few moments for us to recognise a song -the cheers of delight showing just how much of this man’s music has sound tracked people’s lives. Without a band the focus is right on Kuepper who at nearly 60 years of age is just fantastic.

His voice sounds not much different than it did 35 years ago, clear and cutting as ever with his patented delivery – somewhere between a yowl, a drawl and a croon. He’s a damn fine guitarist, his timing and attack most precise, everything anchored by a real craftsman’s skill and then topped off with a true artist’s choice of unique ideas. There is a complexity to his playing that many ‘mainstream’ guitarists would be hard-pressed to match and there were times throughout the night that you forgot there was just one musician on the stage. Like any really good player he makes it sound and look so easy but right on the money – his care and concentration obvious and never faltering.

It was a by request show and Kuepper was kept busy remembering and playing a plethora of tunes the audience threw at him. As one of the most prolific Australian musicians (he got up to releasing three albums a year in the 90s!) his back catalogue provided him with an absolute arsenal of songs to blow us away with. From tracks off his new album The Return of the Mail-Order Bridegroom, through solos classic like The Way I made You Feel and Electrical Storm and way back to Laughing Clowns and Saints songs he certainly had the goods. Teasing us at the 90 minute mark by pretending the show was over he came back out to a yahooing, stamping crowd to play another half hour – giving us all bloody good value for money. Nice one Mr. Kuepper!

Through the Saints and Clowns he is often associated with the dirty urban rock of punk, or cerebral ‘difficult’ left-of-centre music, but I reckon Ed Kuepper has also nailed something else entirely. In his often luminous and spacious guitar playing I can hear a lot of country. Not country in the American music sense but something Australian, something indigenous. In his chiming riffs and subtle repetitions there’s a sense of journey, a sense of place -filled with red dirt horizons, deep rivers slowly rolling down to the glittering sea, wedge tail eagle shadows flitting across the ground, Moreton bay Figs laying out afternoon cool. This is the kind of country traversed by the acts like Warumpi Band, The Cruel Sea, Gondwanaland, Saltwater Band and the Triffids. He has that rare quintessentially Aussie flavour -something matter-of-factly epic but not over thought and overblown.

Ed Kuepper is just getting better with age and the performance he gave here in Cairns confirms what a talent he his. The sheer mass of material, his relevant longevity and the skill and dedication in the live and studio execution of his songs proves why he absolutely deserves being up there in the pantheon of our song writing greats.

Gawain Barker
Pic by Todd Macalpine