To witness Johnny Casino on stage is to witness a man in perfect harmony with the spirit, narrative and essence of rock’n’roll. Head thrown back, sweat pouring from his forehead, his liberally tattooed arms thrashing, plundering riff after glorious riff. Others may pretend, but Casino is the real deal.
In late 2008 Casino and his Melbourne tribe of Secrets – James Saunders, Cris Wilson and Michael Evans – wandered into the studios of Melbourne’s PBS public radio station, ostensibly to play four or five songs on Phil McDougall’s Sunglasses After Dark radio show. Like a rock’n’roll version of mathematical induction, for every brilliant song another was born, until the studio finally called time 45 minutes later.
Live on PBS captures Casino’s set in all its potent glory – from the heavy Chuck Berry riffage of ‘Cowboys and Indians’ and ‘Brother Grahame Says’ to the pounding take on Bob Dylan’s ‘Ballad of a Thin Man’ and the plaintive ‘Can’t Find My Way Thru the Door’. In ‘I Am Who I Am’, Casino pleads the integrity of his case: “I am who I am, not who you want me to be.” Meanwhile, the weight of emotion in ‘Nothing Left to Hide’ demolishes any suggestion of artistic pretence.
After a suitably spirited take on Greg Cartwright’s ‘Stop and Think It Over’ – cut down to four minutes from its customary eight- to 10-minute live mark – it’s down to the water’s edge for a baptism of rock’n’roll fire in ‘Take Me Down to Your River’. The set concludes with a cover of The Saints’ ‘Messin’ With the Kid’. It’s as powerful as the fiery rhetoric of a head-strong youth challenging the institutions of authority – and just a little bit more.
As with any Johnny Casino set, the end is tinged with disappointment: if only the moment could exist in perpetuity then all might be good in the world. But then we’d have nothing left to look forward to. P.Emery
JOHNNY SPITTLES, AKA JOHNNY CASINO, is a legend in the Australian underground rock & roll scene, partly from leading the 90s power rock act ASTEROID B-612 and partly due to a series of records with his bands EASY ACTION and the SECRETS. Live On 3PBS, a live radio session produced by a DJ fan, sums up his later career quite nicely. Casino’s M.O. is essentially to take rootsy melodies and song structures and rock the blankety-blank out of them, like the MC5 playing the STEVE EARLE catalog. So while it’s easy to lose oneself in the simple bash-and-crash of “Take Me Down to Your River,” “Nothing Left to Hide” and “I Am Who I Am, Not Who You Want Me to Be” (especially given the great, raw guitar sound from Casino and co-axeslinger JAMES SAUNDERS), there’s substance beyond goodtime rockin’ for those who want it. “Can’t Find My Way Thru the Door,” an introspective ballad, definitely proves there’s more to Casino than gritty blare. The band also happily rips through some favorite covers – the presence of songs by BOB DYLAN, the SAINTS, the ANIMALS and the COMPULSIVE GAMBLERS give strong clues to the mindset in which Casino resides. Live On 3PBS is a perfect sampler of Casino’s artistic vision, and an open door through which new neighbors can easily find their way.