By RUSSELL BAILLIE



He's standing near the front, about the same distance he was when he saw Blam Blam Blam in his mid-teens, all those years ago. They were the first great band he saw. He still knows all the words. And as the songs reconstitute themselves, it's like a small but important part of his life flashing before his ears.



They've started with their guitar band version of the theme to Doctor Who. Which, as geekier members of the audience crammed into the inner city bar of Tabac on this night will remind each other, was one of the two B-sides to classic single Don't Fight It Marsha (It's Bigger Than Both of Us).



Then it's off into a set which runs through just about everything they recorded in their two-and-a-bit years of existence in the early 80s. The trio of Don McGlashan, Mark Bell and Tim Mahon - who met at Westlake Boys High School - haven't played together in public for 20 or so years.

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But they're obviously enjoying pouring themselves into their old songs, whether it's the twitchy likes of Battleship Grey and Luxury Length, the ska-shaped Gotta Be Guilty and Maids to Order, or the pyschedelic slow-burners of Last Post and Call for Help.



The set starts out exuberant and just gains in vitality from there, hitting higher gear when for the final laps, McGlashan surrenders the drum stool to ring-in, betchadupa's Matt Eccles, who wasn't even born when these tunes were created.



Up front with a guitar, which he never was in the Blam days, McGlashan is a reminder of his career since, much of it as frontman for the Mutton Birds, his other great New Zealand band.



But the Blams' songs weren't prototypes. Many still carry the stamp of angry, ironic young men from the Muldoon era. In the ranting spoken vocal of Respect, bassist Tim Mahon - who lost an index finger in the tour van crash which ended the Blams' career in 1982 - creases his face into an impersonation of the man we used to call "Piggy" but perhaps sensing how quaint that now looks loudly exclaims: "We've still got Richard Prebble."



Mahon, after spending much of the 90s as a tireless promoter of South Auckland music, is now a real estate agent. The reunion coincides with the release of his first solo CD, Music From a Lightbulb (credited to The Moth), on which his fellow Blams make guest appearances. Bell is a guitarist-to-the-stars and a frequent contributor to New Zealand Musician magazine. Having put the Mutton Birds to rest, McGlashan is finishing off his soundtrack work for the last series of Street Legal and working on his debut solo album.



The reason for the reunion is the True Colours concert series starting in Christchurch tonight and heading to Auckland next weekend. The Tabac gig is a warm-up.



Talking after a soundcheck a few hours earlier, McGlashan says they had always said no to invitations to re-form. But it seemed to be reunion season, with compatriots of their era, the Newmatics and Spelling Mistakes also attempting one or two last flings. A Newmatics reunion gig last year helped to persuade them.



"There are some bands I wouldn't like to go and see in their 40s because it might look all safe and self-congratulatory," says McGlashan. "We didn't last very long and we didn't get very big and we've come back into it with enough force that these four gigs that we were going to do will have all the passion that we had back then."



And while they're amused at the idea of old fans getting all misted up while bellowing along to Marsha, they just might show a younger generation how strong their best songs remain.



Bell: "I think young musicians are a little more accepting or interested in the roots of New Zealand music than we were. I know I was pretty opinionated when I was in my 20s about what I liked. I had very fine parameters and anything that didn't fit within that was shite. And kids now are so open to anything if it's done with passion and commitment, it doesn't matter who it's by, how old they are, or what colour their skin is, they'll like it - and they can maybe sample it."



What do they notice about the songs now they didn't back then?



Mahon: "They're clever."



McG: "I'm surprised at how good they are. I don't look back very often at things and getting my head around all these songs made me quite excited how much energy is in them. With some bands the songs come first and then the band puts the song together and gives the song life.



"Songs like Luxury Length and I Like My Job, they weren't so much completely formed ideas, they were like our opportunity to pour our band energy in."



Bell: "I think the tempos have come down and it's not necessarily because we are older and can't play that fast. It's just that I don't think those tempos serve the songs with the benefit of hindsight and, having a bit more experience, we play them a bit more relaxed and try to get them to groove more. We were sort of bursting with energy and we didn't have much experience in the studio when we made them."



The night ends with a triumphant one-two hit of Marsha and then the anti-anthem There is No Depression in New Zealand.



By this time our man down the front is beside himself. He pinches a set list from the stage because he's been too busy singing himself hoarse to take notes to write this story.



Performance


* Who: Blam Blam Blam



* What: True Colours concerts



* When: Tomorrow, Wellington Town Hall; Friday May 30, St James, Auckland