I first heard of Spiderbait when I was looking for the perfect song to set as my mobile phone’s alarm tone in Year 9. I was searching for something that’d shock me out of sleep and force me to get moving. The Aussie trio’s 2004 cover of Black Betty worked a treat, and is potentially the only song I’ve used as an alarm tone that I haven’t eventually resented.
Spiderbait formed in the 90s, and have since brought their unique brand of Aussie alternative to a number of big-name festivals, including Splendour in the Grass, Falls Festival, A Day on the Green, Big Day Out and Homebake. These two dudes and one lass are seasoned performers, who've supported international acts such as the Beastie Boys, Hoodoo Gurus, Primus and Rollins Band as part of national and overseas tours. As part of a slew of national shows, Spiderbait took over The Gov on Thursday and Friday nights to treat audiences to their third and arguably most celebrated album, Ivy and the Big Apples, played in full.
Fun fact: The album name itself stems from the town all three members of Spiderbait hail from. A couple decades ago in Finley, NSW, local elderly woman Ivy Matheson won a gardening competition due to her wondrous apple orchard. Ivy and the Big Apples was the title used by the Southern Riverina News when the story was reported.
Turns out, it wasn’t only Ivy’s orchard that was a winner. Ivy and the Big Apples saw Spiderbait’s popularity soar, and resulted in extensive triple j air-play. Buy Me a Pony, the album’s third track, took out the Triple J Hottest 100 for 1996, and was the first time an Aussie artist had cinched gold in the competition. Calypso also received a lotta listener love, and achieved number 13 in the ARIA Singles Chart in June of 1997. Despite this feat, the song is probably best known for featuring in 10 Things I Hate About You, in a scene where protagonist Kat Stratford (played by Julia Stiles) is reading The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath. If they hadn’t dominated with this album enough, ‘Bait also received a whopping seven nominations at the ARIA Music Awards of 1997, and went home with Best Alternative Release.
Surf punks Numbskulls kicked off our Thursday date with ‘Bait, blasting their way through a 40 minute set, the lads showed why they were chosen to get the room ready for the main act. Having also supported the likes of The Living End and Frenzal Rhomb, the group rapidly and effortlessly whipped the crowd into a frenzy. The Adelaide locals commanded attention from the audience with their thrasher punk style and musical camaraderie, whilst playing their hits of the last 26 years. Despite having been a band longer than I’ve been alive, and going on hiatus for a decent chunk of that time, Numbskulls have a loyal following who were out in full force to turn The Gov into a proper punk rock show. Fans old and new were left hungry for more as the dudes left the stage.
By the time Spiderbait’s set commenced, the crowd was eager to get moving. Progressing chronologically through Ivy and the Big Apples, ‘Bait opened with grunge track Chest Hair before moving onto Hot Water and Milk. As soon as guitarist Damian ‘Whitt’ Whitty played the opening chords to Buy Me a Pony, the audience turned raucous and a mosh pit kicked off, proving that growing old is unavoidable, but growing up is a choice. Crowd-pleaser Calypso came two songs later, with bass guitarist and singer Janet English’s angelic voice cutting through the grungy haze.
One downside of doing an album tour is that, chances are, the fans know what’s coming, especially when you’re playing a specific album in track listing order. To combat this, the band entertained punters with on stage banter and even a guest appearance. Mid set, drummer and vocalist Mark Maher (better known as Kram) decided to take a break and let a local kid try his hand drumming (who did a bloody good job and even chucked the crowd a shakka after his stint). Kram also regaled the audience with tales of paying $50 a week rent (the dream) and how it was once possible to get drunk off $20 (arguably still possible). Continuing to move through the album, Spiderbait showcased their musical prowess with Kram’s quick wrists, Whitt’s fast fingers and English’s melodic vocals.
Rounding out their performance of Ivy and the Big Apples with the final (and 13 minute long) track off the album Driving Up The Ceiling, the band left the stage as the crowd demanded an encore. No prizes for guessing that Black Betty was among the songs played. The audience sang along with Kram as he smashed his drum kit to within an inch of its life. Despite being a cover, Spiderbait’s rendition of the 1930s African-American work song has become one of their defining ballads, to the point where most don’t realise it’s a cover (sorry, Lead Belly). Old Man Sam and Fucken Awesome rounded out the encore, and ‘Bait bid The Gov goodnight.
The trio’s experience, tenacity and don’t hold back attitude took punters back to the peak of the 90s, giving those who’ve now got families and 9-5 jobs a chance to let their dreadlocked hair down, break out the Doc Martens and relive the glory days of Australian alt-rock. ‘Bait will definitely be getting a second date.
Header image via The Gov