The Hoodoo Gurus Serve Up A Mixed Blessing In Boston

The seminal Aussie alt-rockers deliver meh results on the Beantown stop of their U.S. tour

Hoodoo Gurus U.S. Tour 2023 poster (Image: Facebook)

The Hoodoo Gurus in 2023: Coming back to a band you once kinda loved – or you have that thought knocking about your memory bank – but, be honest now, you pretty much forgot about.

Time moves on and all that, people change, and until last year’s Chariot of the Gods, their last LP was 2010’s Purity of Essence. The last time I saw them live was 1991.

But when you do dig deep, what you fixate on is their U.S. debut, 1984’s Stoneage Romeos (can’t go wrong with a title taken from a Three Stooges short film), which gave us “Tojo” and “I Want You Back.” And the following year’s Mars Needs Guitars!, with “Bittersweet” and “Like Wow – Wipeout” leading the way.

It was the heyday of alt-rock or college rock or whatever you want to call it where their garage-punk sounds from Down Under clicked perfectly and fit into the Fleshtone-ian firmament of the action being shaken around that time.

In 1986, reviewing them in concert for the Boston Globe, I wrote, “The Hoodoos aspire equally to mess and melody, to pop culture significance and transient trash … In boxing terms, the Hoodoos score a series of knockout punches culminating in a knockout.”

All right, that was then. I stand by those words.

The Hoodoo Gurus 2023 (Image: Twitter)

So, you set the expectations high as you read all the anticipatory Facebook posts from fans and other rock critics and enter the packed, buzzing club, winding your way through up near the front, stage left. A big smile on your face as singer-guitarist Dave Faulkner and his three mates take the stage and Dave issues a hearty “Boston! We’re back! We’re here!” (There had been a COVID-related cancellation and he suggested, though wasn’t certain, one or two others.) Practically the first thing he did was enthusiastically introduce the band members, guitarist-singer Brad Shepherd, bassist Richard Grossman and drummer Nik Rieth, a move generally saved for the end game.

Faulkner is 65 now and the former longhair is quite bereft of moss or those old days of dagginess* – think David Gilmour, young and old – though he’d shorn his locks when I’d last seen the band, too. But the 21st century Faulkner has made a point of saying he refuses to write songs about aging or perhaps age-appropriate songs – he’s always stuck with a firm philosophy. Last year Faulkner told the Guardian, “I always said to myself that I would never write songs about growing old, because I kind of hate that.”

Fair enough, I guess, we’re all older and we do have a lot of songs in the canon about that oft-unpleasant, oh-my-aching-back inevitable slog toward the grave, and maybe an old-school kick-out-the-jams rock ‘n’ roll gig is a place to forget all that, trip back to when we were young, drinks were cheaper, the future was unwritten and Reagan and Chernenko were rattling the nuclear war chains not Putin and his madmen.

There have been personnel changes in the Hoodoos– I mean the band itself is 40, though not active all those years – but since 1988, when Grossman joined, it’s been pretty much the same lineup. Latest addition: In 2015 they put Rieth in the drum seat, himself a vet of two of my fave Aussie bands of yore, Radio Birdman and Celibate Rifles. 

Not trusting memory, I went back to my 1991 Hoodoo Gurus review, which included the lines “not to say the set didn’t eventually cook but the first half of the set was flat … samey and generic.”

And that’s pretty much were I fell Saturday May 6 at Boston’s Royale Club, where the Hoodoo Gurus mixed it up with songs from all phases of their career, omitting only one of my true faves, “Dig It Up,” an Alice Cooper-ish paean to necrophilia. It wasn’t a case of flat early/killer late, but more spread out. This is not to say there weren’t enjoyable bursts of clatter. It started off that way with a big beat – the Hoodoos definitely dig Gary Glitter, for better or worse – with “World of Pain,” a beat they’d return to at the end with “Leilani.” But over an hour-and-45 minutes and 24 songs – most all in the three-to-four-minute range – and most in the semi-frenetic garage-rock vein, the words “samey and generic” once again appeared in my trusty Reporter’s Notebook. 

I actually breathed a sigh of relief when the Hoodoos neared the midpoint with Faulkner saying it was time to “get out the mallets,” a time for “a little gentility, a little sturm and drang – we are capable of that, too” and launched into “Got to Get You Out of My Life.” It was, truly, the first song you could hear what Faulkner (and sometimes Shepherd) are capable of — a mini-gem about severing a longtime friendship with a girl who was a little too stuck on name-dropping and non-truth-telling: “Your endless stories are just too much/They all involve meeting such-and-such/You must excuse me if I lose touch/You can include me out/Yes, I’m out.”

The buoyant-but-deceptive “I Want You Back” was certainly a high point as well. I will always love that simple dry musing about a breakup – “Then she left/As people do,” and then the soaring harmony vocals that go “She says, she says ‘I want you back!” Years ago, I thought Faulkner was singing from his own point of view – he wanted her back. Only later, did I realize it was his fantasy about her wanting him back, which makes the song even better.



Other up moments included “Bittersweet,” “Tojo” and “Like Wow – Wipeout!” Yeah, the hits or semi-hits. But there were too many stretches of meh – loud meh – where the Hoodoos pumped it up, Faulkner sang something that didn’t cut through the mix and then, between songs, told us little tales or swapped in-jokes with band members. One problem there: There ain’t nothing harder to hear that a speed-talking Aussie.

I am now about to fall back into the laziest of rock crit/reporter cliches: The people seemed to love it. And I’ve found, almost to a fault, people who pay for tickets and build anticipation for something they love(d) tend to really like the choice they’ve made. You don’t want to say, “Well, that wasn’t what I’d cracked it up to be in my mind and I wasted $34.” I’m not saying those people didn’t like it or thought it wasn’t as all-out cool as it was in 1986.

I guess that’s my job. 

* “Dagginess encompasses a range of things,” Faulkner told me in 1989, but he was applying it to his long, stringy mane. “I’ve got daggy hair … urban, plain, dumb, no style at all.”


VIDEO: Hoodoo Gurus “I Want You Back”




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Jim Sullivan

Jim Sullivan has written for The Boston Globe, Boston Phoenix, the Boston Herald, Boston Common, the Christian Science Monitor, and Creem. Follow him on Twitter @jimsullivanink.

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