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Radio Birdman

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Although the best-known band of the early Australian punk scene of the late '70s was the Saints, the first band to wave the punk rock flag in the land down under was Radio Birdman. Formed by Australian émigré Deniz Tek (originally from Ann Arbor, MI) and Aussie surfer-turned-vocalist Rob Younger in 1974, Radio Birdman's approach to rock & roll was rooted in the high-energy, apocalyptic guitar rant of the Stooges and MC5, sprinkled liberally with a little East Coast underground hard rock courtesy of Blue Öyster Cult. Their first EP, Burn My Eye, released in 1976, was a great record and still remains a seminal chunk of Aussie punk. Loud and snotty, with Younger bellowing his guts out and Tek on a search-and-destroy mission with his guitar, this was a great debut that set the stage for the impending deluge of Aussie punk bands waiting in the wings. After the release of their debut LP, Radios Appear (the title comes from a lyric in the Blue Öyster Cult song "Dominance and Submission"), in Australia a year later, Radio Birdman seemed poised to break Aussie punk worldwide. And although the American label Sire (then the home of the Ramones) was quick to sign them and distribute Radios Appear internationally in 1978, there was a gap of three years before they released a second album, Living Eyes. During that time, dozens of other Aussie punk bands stole their thunder, and Radio Birdman split up almost immediately after Living Eyes was released. Sire never released the record outside of Australia, and Radio Birdman, who should have been the biggest band in Aussie punk, was now a highly regarded punk forefather. After the band split, various members were busy forming other bands: Tek formed the New Race with Younger, ex-Stooges guitarist Ron Asheton, and ex-MC5 drummer Dennis Thompson, released a handful of solo singles and EPs, and became a surgeon; Younger started his own band, the New Christs, and produced records by the second generation of Aussie punk bands influenced by Radio Birdman, most notably the Celibate Rifles; other Radio Birdman alumni ended up in assorted Aussie bands such as the Lime Spiders, Hoodoo Gurus, and Screaming Tribesmen. Now the grand old man of Aussie punk, Tek formed a part-time project with Celibate Rifles guitarist Kent Steedman that rocks with the same reckless abandon Radio Birdman did when they were changing the course of Australian rock forever. Tek also reunited with vocalist Rob Younger in 2001 on the second album by Deep Reduction, one of Tek's many side projects. Radio Birdman also staged occasional reunion shows, starting with an appearance at Australia's Big Day Out Festival in 1996. 2001 also saw a renewal of interest in Radio Birdman thanks to an excellent compilation, The Essential Radio Birdman: 1974-1978; it was released by Sub Pop in the States, where much of the band's catalog had been out of print. Murder City Nights: Live, a document of a 1976 concert in Sydney, arrived in 2003, and in 2006 Deniz Tek, Rob Younger, Chris Masuak, and Pip Hoyle joined new members Jim Dickson (bass) and Russell Hopkinson (drums) in the studio to record a new album, Zeno Beach. Along with extensive Australian touring, the American release of the album brought Radio Birdman to the United States for the first time. Two concerts from the 2007 leg of Birdman's U.S. tour were featured in part on the 2010 album Live In Texas. By the time Live In Texas appeared, Radio Birdman had split again, as Younger opted to focus his time and energy on the New Christs. However, in 2014 Radio Birdman returned for another Aussie tour, though Chris Masuak's absence from the lineup proved controversial among fans. The tour was staged in part as a warmup for the release of a career-spanning box set, featuring remastered editions of the group's albums, studio rarities, and an unreleased live disc. ~ John Dougan

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