CRIME CULTURE: They haven’t played a gig in almost 20 years but that all changed last weekend when satirical alt-rockers TISM made a triumphant return to the stage. Longtime fan Kieran Butler was there for all the glorious chaos.

Getting the drop on a secret TISM warm up gig was the stuff of urban legend if you were in any way connected to the alternative Melbourne music scene in the 1990’s.

I was rooting a girl who was rooting a guy who was rooting a girl who was rooting a guy in TISM back in 1995. So I got word that TISM were performing as ‘Machiavelli and the Four Seasons” on a Monday night at the Armadale Hotel. My brother and I ponied up the $10 to get in and saw a full set in front of barely 40 people that night.

At the time I knew none of the guys in TISM. By the end of ‘95 I had started collaborating with ex-guitarist Leak Van Vlalen, had been knocked out cold with a mike stand thrown into the crowd by Ron Hitler Barassi at another TISM show, used the TISM balaclava my brother scored that night to conceal my identity from the media at a Save Albert Park lock on, and recorded an excellent interview with Barassi that went to air on 3CR in Melbourne.

TISM once said something along the lines of: “Heroes might seem so from afar. But if you meet ‘em you’ll think twice…” I can’t be bothered looking up what it was exactly. They are generally wise words, wasted on all of us. However, as far as TISM are concerned, I respectfully disagree.

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TISM’s comeback was announced a few months ago. They won’t shut up about how they are doing it for a million bucks. I suspect they are telling the truth. Bobbi Fleckman said: “Money talks and bullshit walks”. That’s why her alter ego went on to star in The Nanny.

TISM made it clear that there would be no secret warm up shows during the initial blast of “buy $200 tickets to the Good Things festival” social media marketing campaign. I baulked at that, knowing full well a band that had not played live for 18 years would need to have a hit out or two before a highly publicised festival gig.

So I was hardly surprised when I was sworn keep secret a warm up show in Melbourne last weekend. My mind was cast back to that intimate show at the Armadale Hotel. It was to be nothing of the sort. TISM leaked the details online a few hours prior and hundreds of people poured into the Croxton Bandroom for the going price of a tab of Nostalgia: $60 a head.

The million bucks offered by the folk at Good Things have been well spent. TISM have hit the gym and look exactly as they did in their hey day. That is impressive for starters. From where I stood, watching everyone’s favourite iconoclasts in basic black, for just a split second, I was back at The Palace in the late 80s.


TISM looked like TISM did nearly 40 years ago. Wanna stay youthful forever? Stop wasting your money on expensive potions and start wearing a balaclava. The Muslims cottoned onto that ages ago. Or was it the IRA? I forget which.

Those assembled roared in chorus all around me, singing every word in every song with gusto. There was a collective energy that I can’t quite put into words. Which is fucked, because I chose this medium.

I had been terrified it would be shit. Not in a “TISM are shit” kind of way. Actually shit. A sad spectacle of a band that should have kept refusing the offers to reform, bleeding out the wallets of an even sadder cohort of desperate, ancient anoraks. It wasn’t. There were even people half my age who knew every word. The phrase ‘ultimate communion’ is often used with gay abandon. So I won’t.

I hung out with a few members of the band at dinner prior to the show. TISM can still dine out in anonymity even though everyone knows their real names. There were pre-show nerves. The word legacy was bandied about. We discussed cancel culture and how some of the old lyrics might end up on the cutting room floor.

I reminisced about getting my face stitched up at the hospital with the bloke who threw the mike stand that sliced it open 27 years ago. It was agreed that TISM could have invoiced me for cosmetic surgery that has most certainly improved my visage.

After my tab of Nostalgia wore off I did cast a critical eye over the show. Jock Cheese is probably one of the most polished musicians I have ever seen live. Cheese holds down complex bass parts and backing vocals effortlessly. Eugene de la Hot Croix Bun has not lost a step in 20 years. Humphrey B. Flaubert was in fine fettle vocally, and I got the distinct impression he’d dropped two tabs of Nostalgia like a fucking boss.

The beating heart of a TISM show is Ron Hitler Barassi. It has always been thus. He took a nervous energy out onstage and barely missed a mark over the whole hour. He’s a good deal past 60 years of age. There’s a reason that “defibrillator” is a line item on a TISM rider these days.

New guitarist Vladimir Lenin McCartney will be better for the hit out. Playing in TISM first up would be a challenge for any musician. Most of it is on tape. I’d really like to see him play some of the original guitar parts. They’re really fucking good. Keep in mind though, that I’m a wanker.

As fans milled around outside post show, Jock Cheese stood right beside them while they were none the wiser. He asked me what I thought of the show. I told him that for a split second there I was 18-years-old, and that Nostalgia just might be better than heroin.

He asked me where he could get on.

About Kieran Butler 33 Articles
Kieran Butler is a comedian, musician and satirist. He is best known in Australia for his pop-parody musical "Ben Cousins: a rock opera" and has received critical acclaim at the Edinburgh Fringe for "Che Guevara on the Fringe" (**** The Scotsman) and his sold-out "Australia is Fucked" trilogy. More info at

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