Gurus From Down Under

A band that takes its first name from the villain in the TV show "Lidsville" and titles its latest album
By Jess M. Bravin

A band that takes its first name from the villain in the TV show "Lidsville" and titles its latest album after the worst film of 1965 has a practiced taste for irreverence, and that's what the Hoodoo Gurus plied Friday night at their Boston appearance.

With their splotched and mottled shirts, long hair and boots, the Australian quartet looked 15 years behind the times, but the music they turned out was the kind of straight-ahead sound that inspires adolescent guitarists of all ages. The hundreds of people packed into the Channel didn't know most of the songs the Gurus played--after all, the band was pushing Mars Needs Guitars! (Bigtime Records), its latest and largely unavailable album--but the audience didn't mind, content to bash heads and stomp on feet to the likably driving tunes.

The Gurus didn't much care for Boston club etiquette, however, cutting short their encore to signal displeasure with the violent slamdancing that a minority of the undoubtedly underage crowd began near the stage. "We can't play if someone's going to hurt someone else," said singer and guitarist Dave Faulkner as the band left the stage in a huff, reaching a clarity of insight and purpose unaccustomed in the Gurus' lyrics.

That's because this band shies away from heavy songs dripping with meaning, blending instead the music hall tradition of tunes that tell stories (albeit purposely offbeat ones), familiar relationship ditties (such as their micro-hit "I Want You Back" of a year or two ago), and the sort of vague idealism numbers that all bands that critics like must have.

Tying this together was lead guitarist Brad Shepherd, who managed to out-Hoodoo his fellow Gurus by sporting large circular earrings, a necklace of some unidentifiable carnivore's teeth and, most evocative of all, a cockney chimneysweep's top hat that could have been stolen from Charles Nelson Riley's Hoodoo himself. Shepherd dominated the stage, bounding forth to let the kids up front tousle his hair and producing a series of guitar sounds clever enough to overcome many of the Gurus dumber lyrics.

And though many of those lyrics were quite dumb--"Did somebody hurt you once before?/ There are other friendships left for you to explore"--who could gainsay a band that sings songs with titles like "Hayride to Hell"? (This last song turned out to be a twangy number that, thankfully, bore no resemblance to the compatriot AC DC's "Highway to Hell.")

Anyone who has seen a Mel Gibson movie can identify an Australian accent, but the band's obvious Outback origins made little impression on the dance-oriented audience. "Where in England are you from?" an awestruck female fan asked Faulkner after the concert.

He seemed offended by the confusion: "Do we play synthesizers and sing about out unhappy childhoods?" he replied, singling out what makes this band several cuts above their rivals in the English-accented department of popular music.

And yes, Faulkner confirmed for What is to be Done? readers that the Gurus' new record and its title song are both named in honor of Mars Needs Women, the spectacularly awful sci-fi exploitation flick whose title needs no elaboration.

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Two local faves opened for the Gurus, Dumptruck and the Turbines, whose contrast was a good reminder that there are some great and there are some terrible bands bouncing around this town. Where the Turbines put on a loud and boring batch of noise-rock sounding more like an amplified construction site than a musical ensemble, Dumptruck cruised through a complex and melodic set that, with a bit more stage polish, could have even upset the headline act.

Sounding like an inspired cross between R.E.M. and the Del Fuegos, Dumptruck's jangling guitars and earnest appeal--they reportedly take their name from the same Dylan lyric that denotes The Harvard Crimson's election supplement--make them a top-line local attraction and a band to watch in '86