Widescreen Rock and Roll
Singer/songwriter/bandleader Dave Wright is after one thing: A perfect 4-minute pop song.
When he puts pen to paper and pick to guitar strings, however, the Melburnian-by-way-of-Colac knocks out epics and ravers and boozers about girls, cars, Australia, mariticide, Diggers, truckers, sadness, sickness, drunks, heartbroken mothers, angry fathers, desperate sons … and death. Lots of death.
It’s a dark road rutted by American rustbuckets and RSL relics but Dave and his band the Midnight Electric are hellbent on digging rubber into fresh ground and seeing how far a belief in rock and roll in 2017 will take them. HWY, their second full-length album, is a full-throttled battle cry: The fight ain’t over, folks. Get in your car, hit whatever button makes music play loud, and DRIVE. How else to describe an album that opens with a roaring, revving engine and ends with a death on a highway?
The force that insists Dave write songs eschewed by a DJ-dominated, substance-free commercial music age is the same force that taught himself to play guitar on a flimsy nylon-string junker and led him to join a Church band as a fourteen year old, desperate to play in front of an audience, any audience, even one seated in pews. Dave had played piano since the age of eight but guitar was a calling that led to his distinctive, self-described ‘crash and burn’ style of playing/stomping, one any witness to a DWME show would instantly recognise and begin air-guitaring to.
Radio offered little guidance in Colac, a place where no original bands played and aspiring musicians sought escape. Aussie bands 1927, Icehouse and Cold Chisel were early favourites but it was a fellow singer/songwriter named Bruce Springsteen who planted the seed of staring down a spotlight in front of a microphone, six-string in hand. A lack of guitar wizardry and zero confidence in singing did nothing to dissuade Dave from watching Springsteen’s ‘Rosalita’ video from 1978 and grasping a concept of how a band – HIS band – would work. The release of Springsteen’s 75-85 live box set further hardened Dave’s vision, a vision that remained firm through several years of playing keyboards in a variety of Melbourne bands.
What would evolve into Dave Wright and the Midnight Electric began with drummer Liam Cameron-Jayes – the person Dave credits with helping him overcome his reticence to singing his songs – and soon included guitarist Rob Barber and bass player Tim Cavanagh. After playing keys on a pair of EPs – 2012’s Suicide Season and 2013’s For King and Country – Dave brought keyboardist Daryl Johnson into the fold. The addition of a horn section that featured John Bryant on trombone completed the line up that recorded their first album, 2014’s audacious The Lucky Country, a line up that now features Neil Salmon on drums and is exactly the band you’d expect to find standing amid the carnage that is the smouldering wasteland of rock and roll in 2017. Workers, believers, heavy lifters all, the members of DWME live solid lives by day and combust when clustered on stages small and large.
Why this band persists, why they’ve gained a following as loyal and generous as any in Australia – why this band matters – are the songs. Dave writes ‘em, the band fleshes ‘em out, and on stage they resurrect the glory of Aussie rock past and hope for a similarly glorious future. Six of the eight songs on HWY are about driving and two of those songs are over eight minutes long. A record that knocks you on your ass, helps you back up, and knocks you right back down. Dave sought a markedly higher production value for the band’s second outing and remains staggered at just how sonically stellar HWY sounds. It’s a record that recalls Tom Petty and the Heartbreaker’s Damn the Torpedoes, Dire Straits’s Love Over Gold … even Springsteen’s Born to Run.
Heady words for a brilliant album. Turn the lights back on, boys … rock and roll ain’t dead yet.
"Darling leave the lights on, I'm coming home tonight..."