DEPRESSION Live at the Seaview Ballroom 1987
SMEER – guitar, vocals
Liddy – bass
Dakka – drums
Mark Woods (sound)
Daryl “Tracker” Petske (lighting)
Bruce “Phantom” Penberthy (monitors)
Paul Waste (stage)
Kill For Christ
Out Of Touch
Have A Look
Riots Of Death
Civilisation Of Destruction
Like other ARCA releases, DEPRESSION LIVE At The Seaview Ballroom 1987 also works as a historical document.
In this case, the gig at the Seaview Ballroom – one of Melbourne’s original punk meccas – was Depression’s first gig in two years.
The Seaview Hotel St Kilda, home of the Seaview Ballroom
They went off the road as they couldn’t find the right drummer, but guitarist Smeer and bassist Liddy spent the time writing their best songs.
All but one of the songs on the tape are played for the first time, Smeer is singing for the first time, and new drummer Dakka (16 or 17 at the time) displays his Slayer love by being the hardest hitting skinsman Depression ever had.
Smeer: “That Seaview Ballroom show was a phenomenal explosion of energy, it was good that it was recorded.
“So many people turned up, a vast mix, metalheads, punks, suits, everyone got into it, and the energy level was so high.
“Before we went on, people were saying, “Are you nervous, you haven’t played for so long.
“But I was super-confident because I knew the band would kick serious ass.
“Drak the drummer played everything three times faster than we’d rehearsed it!”
Turning Amps Up
Mark Woods, the gig’s sound tech, recalls Smeer’s amp being exceedingly loud.
“It gave me a fright when he first cranked it up at soundcheck!” chuckles Woods, who’d also worked regularly with Men At Work and The Models.
Smeer: “The speaker box I had with my amp didn’t have wheels so it used to sit on the floor.
“You felt it pumping through the floorboards, which added to the bottom end of our sound.”
Woods’ encounter with Depression came via the production deal their record label Musicland Records had with Trees Music, the studio which he co-ran with Men At Work bassist John Rees.
The Seaview Ballroom show was a preview of the new songs that Trees Music would produce that year on an album called Thrash Til Death.
As a result, the Seaview Ballroom show was recorded on Trees’ eight-track 1/2” tape recorder with decent live production.
Mark Woods did FOH sound with Tracker (lights) and Phantom (monitors), both from Men At Work’s crew were also on board.
Depression friend Paul Waste ran the stage.
Woods: “Right away at the gig it was obvious they had killer songs –‘ Money’, ‘50 Bucks’ and ‘Filthy Trash’ were strong perfect punk songs.
“Smeer was also such a great guitar player, he gave Depression an edge over other bands in the punk scene.
“Without a doubt, he was the king of the punks at the time, a real character with his mohawk hairdo and covered in tattoos but he was a natural leader with a trusting manner and a large personal following.
“His house in Mimosa Road in Carnegie was called Hardcore House and it was a pretty wild place at the time.”
While My Guitar Gently Screams
Smeer’s introduction to guitar came about in an unorthodox way.
“In an episode of the British TV show Coronation Street, this kid went missing and they found him with a group of hippies sitting around.
“I was only a young fellow and I’d never heard of hippies but I thought they looked really cool.
“I went into a record shop a few days later, and saw a copy of Jimi Hendrix’s Smash Hits album, and on the cover he looked like one of those hippies off Coronation Street.
“So I bought the record, and that got me into guitar playing.
“I listened to it over and over again, it was so incredibly exciting.”
Also inspiring him were Sensational Alex Harvey Band, Johnny Winter, The Rolling Stones, John Mayall’s Bluesbreakers with Eric Clapton and Peter Green, ZZ Top and Blue Oyster Cult.
The move into punk circles came after a chance encounter at Caulfield Railway Station with a group of men dressed in punk clobber.
“A bunch of us are meeting here on Saturday night, do you want to come along?” said one.
That’s how Smeer met Spike, original singer with Depression, and got turned on to The Sex Pistols (“they were great, they didn’t give a shit”) and the anarcho-political Crass.
“I got a mohawk and started to get heaps of tattoos and became a tattooist for a couple of years,” the guitarist recalls.
One night when Depression were playing a party, the drummer didn’t show so Smeer stepped in and soon made his way up to guitarist alongside Johnny Feedback.
The Seaview Ballroom Gig
DEPRESSION Live At The Seaview Ballroom 1987 sets off like a firecracker from the get-go.
“Welcome to our first gig for two years”, Smeer calls out, impatient feedback almost drowning him out.
Depression spend no time thundering into their world of darkness, evil and alternate culture.
Opening song “Pagan Rites”, about when the guitarist and his girlfriend would attend pagan camps, is followed by the crowd favourite “Eternal Genocide”, about humankind’s creating their own mess with lines as “Is there no way out, is there no escape, we suffer the consequences of our greed”.
“Kill For Christ” allows him to rip off another guitar solo.
Smeer: “I didn’t come from a very religious family. But I did have some spiritual experiences where everything I wanted to know came into my mind all at the same time.
“I went, What the *** was that! and my mate told me, That’s called ‘enlightenment’.”
Strong newcomer “Money” was written by Smeer before Depression about the evil influence of the green stuff – “You never get anywhere until you have money/ You never put your foot in the door unless you know somebody” – in which the young musician is adamant that every life and musical decision he makes is for passion only.
Whiplash-inducing change of pace “Big Brother” laments lack of privacy, “Endless Armies” is about human beings’ capacity to find excuses to start wars, and the stand-out “Out Of Touch” sneers at how middle class politicians have no relevance to people living on the street.
“Filthy Trash” is about his life as an outlaw: “When I’m walking down the street, the straights say ‘Look at him!’/ They don’t give a shit about the shape I’m in.”
“Have A Look” is how things never change for vulnerable people, “Du-Pre-Sion” is a singalong, the vicious and vein-bursting “Riots Of Death” and “Civilisation Of Destruction” are in the frantic race-up to “Fifty Bucks”, a woe to how many in the punk scene were getting into smack.
Smeer says the Seaview Ballroom tape evokes the same adrenalin rush as the gigs.
“It’s more than three guys pumping out tons of power. Sometimes its not the volume or the way you play but the actual energy from each person in the band that’s throwing it out there.
“We were lucky we had a good audience and you could feel it bounce back to you with even more energy.
“It takes me until 4am before I wind down. So usually after each gig I had a party at my place and everyone at the show came along!”
Woods: “A lot of Depression’s audience could be pretty extreme. At the end of the night they’d either be wanting to party ‘til dawn or you’d be picking them up sleeping around the room.
“The band members looked wild, which is probably why by their own admission Depression had issues getting gigs, but once you met them they had hearts of gold.
“As a heavy rock band they were way ahead of their time.”