The connecting factor here is Tex Perkins, but really we’re talking about a hefty chunk of Australia’s ugliest, least velvet underground. On Axeman’s Jazz, the Beasts of Bourbon — Tex (vocals), Spencer Jones (guitar) and three past or present Scientists — play lazy, garagey nihilistic C&W with moderately straight faces. Highly Crampsian in feel, the material and restraint (not to mention prominent slide and scree guitar) invent a new category for the band, one that garnered a considerable worldwide indie following back in ’84, particularly amongst chronic thrashaholics. (The live B-side added to the US edition features an alternate selection of Scientists.)
Salamander Jim posits Tex in front of a new band with similarly anti-social proclivities, making C&W just one facet of a mash rampant with James White/Brown-isms, jagged Beefheartian R&B and even a Stooge cop or three, adding up to a (short) LP that may not be original, but lurches and sputters to a peculiarly intriguing internal heartbeat.
At this point, things really begin to fragment and fester. Australia’s Red Eye label caught a whiff of what the ex-Salamanders were doing and promptly formed Black Eye to isolate them from the rest of the species. Salamander Jim’s Lachlan McLeod assembled Waste Sausage (and later Leather Donut), two dangerously inbred collections of real and spurious “bands” populated by former Jims and diseased cohorts playing brutal and scato-sexual music spanning the lizard lounge to the hardcore pit. Naturally uneven, the overall tone of disgust and DIY invests even the weaker tracks with a sense of place and purpose; the same sort of contextual value that makes Live at the Roxy a genuinely endearing historical document instead of just a shittily recorded live compilation.
Meanwhile, as Stuart Grey from Salamander Jim was turning up the volume to become Stu Spasm of Lubricated Goat, Tex joined with Peter Read to complete the original Black Eye roster in Thug, who may not have planned to crack the local alternative charts with their deliciously malicious debut 45 “Fuck Your Dad,” but unexpectedly found themselves with a genuine hit partway through 1987. Mechanical Ape/Proud Idiot’s Parade, even less cohesive and coherent than Waste Sausage, is the aural equivalent of a dying man’s life flashing before his eyes — assuming said life to be foul and filthy, filled with discord and turmoil — conveniently condensed for the incumbent corpse into 40 or so minutes of snippets combined and maligned for maximum discomfort. Electric Wooly Mammoth varies the recipe only in titling the snippets rather than merely the side, adding McLeod as the third Thug, and being belligerently more juvenile. And clownish. And obvious. And inferior.
The Butcher Shop reunited Tex with Spencer Jones, adding Kid Congo Powers (Cramps, Bad Seeds, Gun Club), first for a much heavied-up Beastlike-cum-Jimian EP, the extended tribal drone of the B-side being its sole mesmerizing factor, while the 1990 LP (with no personnel overlap save Tex and bassist Phil Clifford, supplemented by assorted Sausages and Salamanders) is almost confusing in context for its rote simplicity. Tough in pose but weak in delivery, it sounds like an LP of B-sides and filler.
Which perhaps it is, as Tex reformed the original Beasts concurrent with the Butcher Shop; the only difference between the new group and the old one is that it’s angrier, meaner, more spiteful, more vicious and more capable of flaying with sound. Including the title track from the Butcher Shop’s debut — here splayed out expansively and nine times ballsier — the songwriting on Sour Mash echoes the band’s earlier C&W misanthropy but finally interpolates it into a singular black-eyed drive that invests the hateful narratives with the sort of power, immediacy and personal threat inherent in the best country blues.
Black Milk, with an extended cast that includes pianist Louis Tillet from Wet Taxis, is closer to a Chicago sort of blues LP, the anger and attack subdued, the band subservient to familiar style. Which is not to deny the individual elements — sometimes striking for their respective instants — but taken as a whole the third LP is only modestly rewarding.