A Restaurant Like Alice
The Angry Penguins @ The Tin Cat Cafe (Garden)
2:00pm, Sun 15 Mar 2009
It’s a bit steamy out the back of the Tin Cat Cafe on this Sunday afternoon; it’s been a hot week, and the weather’s about to break… there’s a storm a-comin’. Which makes it an apt day to see A Restaurant Like Alice, with its perfunctorily accurate subtitle “Songs of Protest, Peace and Draft Dodgers”.
Now, from that title you’d expect the setlist to be nothing but anti-war bellyaching – Dylan and Guthrie – but The Angry Penguins (Andrea on keys, Chris and Mark on guitar, and John on bass & harmonica) demonstrate a deeper appreciation. Opening with tracks that come from older American protests – Sixteen Tons and Strange Fruit, it’s not long before they place us in the middle of the Civil Rights Movement, before eventually pushing through into the sixties and the songs of peace that accompanied the Anti-War Movement.
This wasn’t just a cavalcade of hits, though; throughout, The ‘Penguins explained the actions of participants in these protest movements – the well-known international events and their local counterparts – and took us on a descriptive tour of the smaller bars and hangouts that formed the counter-culture movement in Adelaide (including my beloved Catacombs). There was even a bit of audience participation; a faux protest march (complete with placards and bras to burn), and a storming audience-powered rendition of Eve of Destruction (that, incidentally, knocked The Beatles’ Help! off the Billboard #1 spot in 1965).
After an hour or so (that just flew by), there was an interval – a chance for vocal chords to take a break, for those that were stuck in the muted sun to try and garner some protection. I had managed to perch myself in a sheltered bar area at the back of the Garden, though I had to contend with the noise of the fridge overpowering the performance; as such, I didn’t notice the light rain that began to fall. When The ‘Penguins returned, they warned that any rain would force them to stop the performance; they were uncovered, and – with a couple of electric guitars and a keyboard – they (understandably) didn’t want to take any risks (how cheerfully ironic for the counter-culture socialists! ;)
Regardless, they leapt into more anti-Vietnam songs, but it was clear that the impending rain was a major concern – one eye was always on the heavens. A couple of songs in, and they glumly announced they’d have to stop the show – but were happy to start again when the weather cleared.
I sat out back for awhile; a lot of the crowd remained unmoved (though, it must be said, they were the lucky buggers who were under cover). After ten minutes or so, it didn’t look like the weather was shifting, so I left to head back to town for my next show. On the way out, I bumped into one of The ‘Penguins having a smoke out the front of the Tin Cat; thanking him for the show, I explained my forced departure and discovered they had another half-a-dozen songs up their sleeves.
The Angry Penguins are a leisurely lot, but they know how to belt out a decent tune. All contribute vocals but, given their Baby Boomer status, their voices sometimes struggle – but are always earnest. And, most importantly, they kept a packed crowd entertained and enthralled this afternoon with great songs and history… my Dad would be so proud if he ever read that.