The Half A Cow 25th Birthday show at the Petersham Bowls Club wasn’t just a celebration of a label. It was the celebration of an attitude; a celebration of the distinct mix of cheerful defiance and staunch creativity that has buoyed the company from its very inception. It’s not luck that has kept the thing going for all these years. It’s hard work, and it’s immense talent, and if the gig proved anything, it was that Half A Cow and Nic Dalton, its founder, have twenty five more years in them yet. At least.
The night was kicked off with a short set from Sneeze, the genuinely ground-breaking group formed by Dalton and Tom Morgan. With their particular penchant for mixing up the anguished with the amusing, Sneeze are one of the very finest bands these shores have seen over the last two decades, and their return – the gig was the first they have played in years – was greeted with the admiration it deserved.
From there, Smudge took over. Tom Morgan, Smudge’s frontman, proved to be as distinguished and controlled as ever, with the peerless Adam Yee on bass and the legendary Alison Galloway marking out the punchy time on drums. Smudge were perhaps the most quintessentially rock and roll band on the roster, but that didn’t mean that they didn’t know where the quiet, gentle moments of the gig lay either. A heartfelt rendition of The Outdoor Type stopped the room in its tracks, and even a song like Divan was belted out with so much passion and quiet, carefully considered tragedy, that it oozed pathos.
The gig also marked the long awaited return of Godstar, a supergroup containing members of Smudge and Sneeze, and songs like Ersatz – sung with tenderness and skill by Galloway – proved to be an incredible reminder of Godstar’s many talents.
By the time Sneeze returned to close out the night, the mood was euphoric. Making their way through their back catalogue with skill and efficiency, Morgan and Dalton belted out classic after classic, replacing Doctor Of Love’s string section with bassy instrumentation, and performing the brilliant Wu-Li with so much energy and aplomb that it felt transformative. Clad in a flower-studded cape, Dalton was soulful yet sincere, with Leticia Nischang and Simon Gibson similarly impressing on keyboards and drums respectively.
By the time the bombastic If It’s Catchy It Means You Stole It barrelled to a close, the mood was high. It had begun to seem almost improbable that so much great music had been turned out by the one label, and the talent in the room had become truly awe-inspiring. As balloons began to flood the stage, all the players seemed elated, with Dalton in particular grinning from ear to ear. Who wouldn’t be happy? Not only has his label turned twenty five, it has remained one of the premiere homes of good music in Australia. Half A Cow isn’t a label. It is a powerhouse.