Billy Thorpe

Live at Sunbury

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Much as 1972's inaugural Sunbury Festival came to be regarded as one of the definitive moments in Australian rock & roll (often referred to as Australia's Woodstock), so too did Billy Thorpe & the Aztecs' double-vinyl documentation of their blistering headline set arguably prove to be the crowning achievement of their career. A veteran of Australia's first wave of ‘60s pop and beat groups, the English-born Thorpe had already scored numerous hits while leading different variations of his Aztecs, but it was in front of Sunbury's 35,000-strong congregation that his reinvention as scruffy, electrified, blues-rock shaman was crystallized, leaving a younger generation of listeners with mouths agape, eyes bulging, and ears bleeding. In no uncertain terms, this was a take-no-prisoners assault upon the stage, and after "softening" them up with an urgent "C.C. Rider" and a swinging "Be Bop a Lula," Thorpie and his merry men really let ‘em have it with his self-penned wild man rave-up, "Momma," a grimacing showcase not only for his powerhouse voice but also his sizzling fretwork (one can almost see Angus Young taking notes in the crowd). Next up was a slightly more subdued romp through the B.B. King blues standard, "Rock Me Baby" (where Bruce Howard's piano work really shone through), followed by the band's current hit single, "Most People I Know (Think I'm Crazy)," with its infectious folk-rock chorus punctuated by additional solo guitar bursts, and then the closest the Aztecs ever came to hippie dippie sentimentality in the slow grinding "Time to Live." Live at Sunbury wrapped up with two protracted jams on Rufus Thomas' "Jump Back" (with Thorpe blowing a mean harmonica) and Jessie Hill's "Ooh Poo Pa Doo," which was transformed into a spirited call-and-response singalong of massive proportions between band and audience, which, as good as it sounds on record, must have felt totally transcendent in the moment. All in all, the enduring impact of Thorpe and co.'s performance that night lies in the stunning power of its simplicity, since both the group's covers and originals (not to mention their Everyman, right-off-the-street wardrobe) showed what magic could be achieved with classic rock & roll, a stack of overdriven Marshall amps, and a confidently bad-ass attitude. This is why, perhaps more than any other artist/album combination, Thorpe and Live at Sunbury (which would peak at number eight on the Australian national charts) deserve the most credit for kick-starting the ‘70s' pub and hard rock scenes in Australia, spawning future heavyweights like the Coloured Balls, Buffalo, Buster Brown, Rose Tattoo, and most notably AC/DC.

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