The story goes that the devil came to Robert Johnson and said, “Your guitar playing is woeful. If you sell me your soul, I’ll make you into a great guitarist.” And so it came to pass that Robert Johnson became a guitar legend and the devil collected his soul at age 27.
Similarly with Dave McComb the lead singer of The Triffids, the devil aka Dorothy Parker came though literature when he was 14-years-old and offered him poetic fame if she could take his soul early. Dave jumped at the chance. However the contract fine print stated he would only gain lasting poetic fame after his death at 36.
The recently released film Love in Bright Landscapes tells the story of Dave’s genius and singular drive to produce music and poetry of the highest order. The Perth film premier was launched with a band playing a few Triffids songs before the curtains parted.
This was not any covers band but a curated band to do justice to this special event. Marty Casey (from the original Triffids) and Greg Dear (who recorded his first album with Dave and Alsy MacDonald from The Triffids) add a poignancy to the band.
First song Too Hot To Move is sonically rich and captures the ennui of a hot Perth Summer like nothing written before or since. In The Pines follows. Both sung by Adrian Hoffman who does a fabulous version of Dave’s mid baritone.
Next come the deep baritone songs of Bury Me Deep In Love and Seabirds with Damien Goerke on lead vocal and the eight-piece band providing the full orchestral sound of the originals. They are crackerjack.
The combined vocals of Adrian and Damien almost capture Dave’s amazing vocal range. But Dave had another vocal trick. One that Paul Kelly describes as Dave’s “Sunday sermon”. Step up Greg Dear to deliver such a vocal on Stolen Property. The song is a live highlight from the Triffids album Born Sandy Devotional and tonight it is a living, breathing pulpit of a song. Greg nails Dave’s full guttural narcissistic rant of a lover betrayed.
A couple of “pop” songs and then the finale of Wide Open Road. It’s a slow building masterpiece of a song that is indelibly burnt into the Australian psyche.
Dave’s lyrics and the music of The Triffids were like nothing else when they were released in the 80s. Like a Thomas Hardy novel or a Robert Frost poem, Dave used landscapes to set the mood and convey emotions. But these were our landscapes, WA landscapes. The Triffids playing live were like a divided heart. On one hand, they played solely to you the special listener. You were the only one who could completely understand and identify with the song. And, on the other hand, they were songs for everyone and could be played to massive crowds in stadiums and totally connect with all.
Dave left Western Australians with a musical and poetic legacy that changed the way we perceive ourselves. Tonight it finally feels like he also left that legacy to the world.