INXS Revisit ‘The Biggest Pub Gig’ They Ever Played: Interview
You can credit longtime INXS manager Chris Murphy for the band's concert film Live Baby Live. The band was booked to play Wembley Stadium on July 13, 1991, and Murphy recognized the magnitude of the event, realizing it needed to be documented.
It had been five years and a day since the group played that same venue, opening for Queen. This time, they'd be back headlining a massive lineup of music, sitting on top of a bill that also featured Jellyfish, Roachford, Jesus Jones, Deborah Harry and Hothouse Flowers.
Murphy went to extreme lengths to get the concert filmed, going so far as to take the band's fee for the gig and using it to help bankroll the production. When singer Michael Hutchence asked how much they were getting paid for the performance, the manager made a zero with his fingers, telling the frontman, “17 cameras and a helicopter, mate.” The singer’s response was, “You ************!” as he ran out onto the Wembley stage, where he would deliver one of the greatest performances of his career.
If 1987’s Kick was the album that finally allowed the group to open the doors to success, Live Baby Live showcased the power of INXS as a live unit. By the time they reached Wembley, INXS were riding high with 1990's X, which included the hit singles “Suicide Blonde” and “Disappear.”
While some bands may sprinkle new songs throughout their sets, INXS played five songs in a row from X at the show, ultimately performing almost all of the album -- a total of nine tracks of the original 11 from the LP.
The confidence onstage at Wembley is impossible to miss. “That was a pretty cheeky thing to do in a stadium show where very few people knew the record,” guitarist Tim Farriss admits now. “We were really coming off the back of the Kick album, so once again, we were treating the stadium like it was just a pub and breaking in new material.
“There’s a lot of the songs, but one of them in particular, when I watched that film and listened to the recording of 'Hear That Sound,' it kind of blew me away. It was so much better than I remembered it. We only played that probably on two tours and then we just forgot about it. Now, I look back and think, ‘Geez, man, we should have kept that song in our set for a lot longer.’ Because it cracks on that show.”
Fans will have the opportunity to revisit Live Baby Live as it returns to theaters for one night only on Dec. 9, newly restored from the original 35mm film masters and presented in 4K Ultra HD with a new Dolby Atmos sound mix prepared by Giles Martin and Sam Okell at Abbey Road Studios. Tickets are available at INXSCinema.com. (The event is presented by CinEvents / Eagle Rock Films / Fathom Events.)
Farriss takes an exclusive look back at the landmark gig for UCR.
Watch the Trailer for INXS' 'Live Baby Live'
What are some of your favorite moments that you really enjoyed as you were watching this gig?
It was quite an incredible experience the first time I saw it in the cinema, which was only just two or three weeks ago. I was by myself in this cinema, because there was no one else from the band here in Sydney at the time. I went along to hear what they had done at Abbey Road and see what Eagle Rock Films had done with the digitizing of it, turning it into the widescreen format. And man, it was a really weird experience, being by myself. I was looking around like, “Well, there’s no one here!” I was the only one clapping. But man, it brought it all back. It was great. What amazes me about it is that it’s just us. The first time we did Wembley Stadium, we were touring with Queen and we were doing a big stadium tour of Europe and the U.K.. We did two nights opening for Queen at Wembley and we always thought to ourselves, “It would be great one day if we could do our own show here.” Lo and behold, five years later, there we were. But we watched the Queen show and they were phenomenal, one of the greats. They put on a huge show. There were these big balloon things floating up in the sky and then a grand piano would come out. [They had] pyrotechnics -- it was the full regalia of every sensory thing.
[Five years after that,] we just kind of walked out there and jammed for 30 seconds during the intro -- that wasn’t rehearsed -- and then we just had fun. It was just the six of us with a few lights and a big PA and an awesome audience, and everyone just went off. That’s really what amazed me. There was no dancing girls or backing vocalists. It was just the six of us, treating that big stadium like any other Australian pub. To this day, it kind of amazes me that the crowd was so entertained. They didn’t need everything else, which kind of blows me away. And it blew me away watching it, because I sort of got the vibe of being in the audience for the first time, looking at ourselves. Which I’d never really had that experience.
At a time when bands were carrying really big productions, you guys kept things pretty minimal. It’s largely just the band and a bunch of gear, just playing live. For the time, it’s a pretty no-frills presentation.
I mean, I had like literally two or three effects pedals. That was it! Andrew [Farriss] might have had three keyboards and a tambourine or maracas or something. But we had a great night too. I’m just really glad that we recorded and filmed that to the level of production that we did. We didn’t shirk on that. We used 16 35 millimeter motion picture cameras and we had a chopper flying around with one of them getting the aerial shots -- there were no drones back then. And you know, no one in the audience had an iPhone!
There’s the story how your manager, Chris Murphy, took the fee that INXS was going to get to play Wembley and used it to finance the recording of the gig. When did you find out about that, and what was your reaction at the time? As the story goes, Michael Hutchence learned that right as he was going onstage.
[Laughs] Yeah. Well, you know, I didn’t really care. For me, it was like, "Great! Yeah, we’re going to keep this!" That was one of the shorter tours, that little one and we were touring the X album and we’d been on the road a lot. We toured hard. We were probably one of the hardest touring bands of all time. We really, really worked our butts off. The thing of it is that we were almost completely exhausted, but we’d just had a break. We’d had like two weeks off and for us, that’s a long -- four weeks was a long break. Nowadays, that’s unheard of. So we were kind of fresh and we did a few warm-up shows -- when I say warm-up shows, they’re still big festivals and stuff like that in Europe -- and then we came into London two days before. We had a day off and then we soundchecked Wembley Stadium and that was kind of cool, because we had all of that [wireless] stuff on and I was able to walk out into the middle of where the audience would stand near the mixing desk and check out the stage and see what it was going to be like.
We soundchecked that day and then we went home and chilled out with my favorite, dinner and a show. That means room service and a movie! We were all fresh the next day and we just had a ball. It was one of those things.
Watch INXS Perform 'The Stairs'
It seems like watching a gig like this, with so much time removed from the experience, it would give you some interesting perspective on the songs.
It does. “The Stairs” was another one that really comes to mind, that’s another cracker. The emotion in that and I just love the way it builds. It works so well live and the audience, they wanted to like it, you could tell. We could feel it onstage. When you’re getting that much adoration from a crowd, you shine. You can’t help it. It fills you with confidence. When we took the recordings into the studio to mix and patch up whatever had happened during the show, Mark Opitz, the producer and mixer friend of ours that did it, he couldn’t find anything to patch. There was one little bit where the bass dropped out because the lead came out from the DI, but the microphone still worked, so they just used the track for the bass microphone and we didn’t have to do any overdubs. There was no flat notes. We were all like, “Wow, we were really on fire that night.” So it was really cool and it was very rewarding.
Prior to “By My Side,” Michael Hutchence introduces the song and says, “No waving and no cigarette lighters, please.” What’s the story behind that?
That’s another weird thing about that show. Michael hardly spoke, which is not like him. But he said a few things, and that’s one of them. Another thing he said was that thing I just said about how, “Hey, you know this is the biggest pub we ever played.” I don’t know why he said that. He must have had this thing in his head that night about [the show]. It wasn’t that big of a deal for me. I was a bit nervous, like I am before every show. But I don’t remember being that strung out about, “Oh, we’re playing Wembley Stadium.” But I think it meant a lot to Michael, because the U.K. had been a hard nut for us to crack. Michael in particular had this incredible relationship, for better or for worse, with the English media. So to end up, after having played there before Queen five years before, to come back and sell out our own show at Wembley Stadium, I think he realized the moment. I don’t know what the thing was about the lighters. I’m not sure if that was a thing in the U.K. back then, but it sure was in the U.S.A.. We’d seen a lot of lighters. People would burn their thumbs, man!
It’s striking to watch Michael Hutchence’s performance and just see him transform in the moment. Wherever he is when he walks on the stage, he goes somewhere completely different mentally to reach inside and deliver that performance that he delivers. You can just see that in his eyes.
You know what amazes me about Michael, I never realized it, but I’m looking at that multi-color shirt that he’s wearing and it’s like a rag. It’s falling to bits! Who wears a shirt that’s falling to bits, on your night to shine at Wembley Stadium? And he made it look good!
Watch INXS Perform 'New Sensation'
The band had good success with the Listen Like Thieves album, but it was Kick that helped INXS become huge. For more than a year, you were on the road promoting that album. What was the feeling when you guys went back into work on the next LP, which became X?
We were on a high. We had confidence in our songwriting and song choices, the way we’d choose songs. Listen Like Thieves is a very important record, in the fact that it was the first one that we did with Chris Thomas, the amazing producer. The stories he would tell us [were unbelievable], and he is still one of my closest friends. I see him every year when he comes to Australia and we hang out a lot. We didn’t quite get that album, he was quite a bit frustrated at the end of it. “What You Need” was the last song we recorded and that was the big hit, especially in the U.S., off that album. So we sort of felt like, “Mmmm, we were just starting to get going when it was time to finish." We toured Listen Like Thieves and then we had no doubt. Chris Thomas really wanted to do the next record, so that was Kick. We did Kick in two segments. As we all know, that was a groundbreaking record everywhere. So to follow that up, we had this confidence in some of the songs, but we didn’t want to make another Kick.
Chris Thomas was the obvious choice, because Kick had come out so great and we felt so confident. We wanted to take our music sonically to the next level again. It was an exciting time, and that was when Michael started dating Kylie Minogue and the band was extremely big at that point, and our contemporaries, like U2 and Duran Duran, were all trying to play catch up at that point. There’s always been this little camaraderie and funny little rivalry between the three of those bands. Those were good times that are fondly remembered. We were still high on the confidence of all of that when we went out to tour X. It was a great time.