"As true now as it was in 1975," said guitarist-singer Deniz Tek of Australia's Radio Birdman, introducing the first encore during his May 18th show at New York's Bowery Electric. Then he pulled the trigger on the old Birdman alarm "Hand of Law," with a machine-gun strum and power-trio brawn as furious and exhilirating as the full guitar-army rage pressed into the original track, on Birdman's 1977 debut LP, Radios Appear. "You're gonna never be the same," Tek warned as he slashed at his black-and-white six-string Rickenbacker. "'Cause you're gonna be rearranged."
It is a promise Tek has kept with disciplined ferocity since 1974, when he co-founded Radio Birdman in Sydney with singer Rob Younger. Born in Michigan, Tek knew first-hand the revolt and noise of the Stooges and the MC5. Radio Birdman invented their own, injecting that Detroit precedent with accelerated surf guitars, the New York armageddon metal of Blue Öyster Cult and Aussie hard-rock overdrive. The result, salted with a neo-military independent streak, was that country's first, major homegrown punk and, after Birdman broke up in 1978, a major influence on the American and European garage-rock revival.
A Rare Landing
Tek's Bowery Electric gig was an unusual local sighting. Radio Birdman, which reformed in the late Nineties, only performed in New York twice, in 2006 and 2007. On his own, Tek – who has lived in Montana but is now back in Sydney – performs and makes records between his tours of duty as an emergency-room doctor. But he had the same routine in the Seventies: Tek recently told me that he and keyboard player Pip Hoyle – then both medical students at the University of New South Wales – would go back to the hotel after Birdman shows and and crack open the books.
The set list on May 18th was heavy with Birdman. Armed with a formidable and visually striking rhythm section – bassist Art and drummer Steve Godoy, elaborately tattooed identical-twin brothers – Tek gave the loud pack of devotees in the audience what they (I mean, we) craved: "What Gives," "Murder City Nights," "Love Kills, " the Hawaii Five-0 tribute "Aloha Steve and Danno" (pocket comparison: BÖC throttling the Ventures) and even "Smith and Wesson Blues," from Birdman's hideously rare 1976 EP, Burn My Eye.
Tek covered "Whips and Furs," a 1976 B-side by British punks the Vibrators, in honor of the Godoys, who have toured with a version of that group. He also drew from his 2011 retrospective, Citadel Years (Citadel), a great two-CD anthology of Nineties-and-up solo tracks. "What It's For" and "Workingman's Shoes" had obvious Birdman values but with more evidence of the Delta and Chicago blues that ran deep through that group.
For the last shot of Birdman, Tek fired up the teenage-party politics of "New Race," inviting some of the mad cats from the floor to chant the "Yeah hup!" chorus with him at the mike. It was a modest invasion in a basement club. But the thrill and drill of Tek's performance was as true as the one I watch repeatedly, on YouTube, by Radio Birdman from Australian TV in 1977. Catch that one anytime. See the legend live every chance you get.