Kim Salmon and Ron S. Peno are two names synonymous with rock music in Melbourne. Throughout the ’80s and ’90s both Kim and Ron have carved their name into the rock scene, Kim with his work with The Scientists and Beasts of Bourbon amongst others, and Ron in his previous life as frontman of Died Pretty, but since 2004 they’ve been exploring alternative country with their other project, The Darling Downs. On Saturday night they launched their third album, In The Days When The World Was Wide, to an adoring crowd at The Toff in Town with support by Skyscraper Stan and the Commission Flats and Fraser A. Gorman.

I arrived about ten minutes late and was greeted as I entered the venue by the sight of Fraser A. Gorman alone with his guitar on stage, playing to a very timid crowd who were huddled en masse a lot closer to the bar than the stage. I’ve seen Fraser before but usually performing with Big Harvest, and seeing him alone and unguarded seemed almost voyeuristic. With the stripped back renditions, we had the chance to see him baring his soul through his excellent songwriting which was displayed without the usual frills of his band’s accompaniment. His trademark dry humour between songs was met with the occasional heckle, which he responded to brilliantly every time.

Skyscraper Stan and the Commission Flats were on next and, short of Fraser’s warning that he was “a giant”, I had absolutely no idea what to expect. As the curtain opened I was introduced to Skyscraper Stan, who definitely met the expectations of his title, and he and the Commission Flats launched straight into a high energy fusion of rock, blues and bluegrass. I found out later they describe their style as ‘troubadour rock’, an apt definition for these musicians and Stan, whose lyrics and performance tell an exciting story. Gemma Sharard, who features on two tracks on their EP Tall Stories, lent her astonishing vocals to the third song in the set, ‘Fools and Handsome Men’, and contributed backing vocals to a few more songs later on. Stan’s stage presence was powerful as he danced around the space like a man possessed. He and guitarist Oskar had a few close calls as their moves outgrew the confines of the stage and at one point the clash of guitar on guitar was heard as they collided but they played on regardless, exciting the crowd and generating some movement on the dance floor.

The Darling Downs came on and opened with three tracks off the new album, with Salmon and Peno backed by a full band. The crowd responded well to the new tracks, using it as an opportunity to warm up before the band took leave for Kim and Ron to play some songs from the back catalog. With the arrangements pared back to just guitar or banjo and vocals, there was an obvious change in the mood on stage as the songs became more sombre and soulful. The friendship between the two is extremely evident and at times their behaviour borders on homoerotic, something that Peno plays on for the crowd’s gleeful entertainment, cheekily serenading and caressing Salmon during ‘In That Jar’.

While they both have an expansive body of work behind them, and the fan base to follow, they don’t rely on that to get by. The music is a big change from both of their previous works but Salmon and Peno pool their combined talent and create some fine country music, with Peno shining as a balladeer – something I’m sure he’d never intended to be when he was touring and recording in the early days of Died Pretty. Ironically though, while the music is different, it seems neither Salmon or Peno are able to shed their rock personas entirely with Peno strutting around the stage, pulling shapes like he always has and Salmon somewhat abusing his acoustic guitar at times, even in one instance at the expense of being in time with the rest of the band. But the crowd didn’t care, it was the show they wanted and the show that they received.

Lee Snipes



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