INXS Play First Club Date In Years; New Singer Fills In

Ex–Noiseworks singer Jon Stevens stands in for late frontman Michael Hutchence.

MELBOURNE, AustraliaINXS, fronted by Australian singer Jon Stevens, regaled a sold-out crowd with a set of hit songs and old favorites during an unadvertised, one-off club date — their first in many years — at the Mercury Lounge on Sunday.

Stevens led the rock band Noiseworks in the late 1980s, when INXS were enjoying their greatest pop success with singer Michael Hutchence. Hutchence committed suicide in 1997, and INXS has performed only a couple of shows since, including a June 1999 gig with R&B singer Terence Trent D'Arby.

"It has been a word-of-mouth thing rather than a properly advertised show," INXS publicist Chrissy Camp said of Sunday's show, during which Stevens and INXS played most of the band's major hits. The band is currently on the road doing the Tim Rice Spectacular — a musical revue staged by the lyricist of "Evita" and "The Lion King" — with their crew and all their gear, so it seemed an ideal time to do a club show, Camp said.

Though Stevens was behind the microphone, it was drummer Jon Farriss who led the group onto the Mercury Lounge stage with a rock-solid beat, his white-gloved hands twirling his sticks between snare hits. Garry Gary Beers walked out and picked up his bass, Kirk Pengilly and Tim Farriss slung guitars around their necks, and Andrew Farriss stepped up to his keyboards.

The absence of Hutchence, whose stage-prowling, hair-flinging charisma made INXS an unforgettable live act, brought on a feeling of nostalgia for the group's heyday.

But Stevens was self-assured as he stepped into the spotlight. His own band was often considered the natural inheritors of INXS's Australian rock crown. The success of their first two albums, Noiseworks (1987) and Touch (1988), was fueled by such singles as "Take Me Back" and "No Lies."

Stevens Takes The Wheel

Stevens, who has since kept himself busy with projects including prominent roles in a number of musicals, proudly displayed a driver's learner plate attached to the front of his microphone stand. As the show began, he confidently joined the band in recreating the opening of 1987's Kick with back-to-back versions of "Guns in the Sky" and "New Sensation" (RealAudio excerpt). "Taste It," from Welcome to Wherever You Are (1992), and "Kiss the Dirt," from Listen Like Thieves (1985), followed, and the packed-in audience responded with resounding applause.

Pengilly said Stevens had learned 20 songs in two weeks. "But you guys know all the tunes anyway," Stevens said to the audience. "They're f---in' great songs."

As if to prove the point, the band swept through four crowd-pleasers — "Heaven Sent," "Mystify," "Disappear" and "Never Tear Us Apart" — the latter climaxing during Pengilly's powerful sax solo. Besides a few minor mistakes, in which words were forgotten and choruses and verses mixed up, Stevens' muscular presence, both visually and vocally, was well-received by the band and the audience. INXS wrapped up the show with a string of hits, including "Original Sin" (RealAudio excerpt), "Bitter Tears," "Kick," "Devil Inside" and, finally, an extended version of the Listen Like Thieves classic "What You Need" (RealAudio excerpt), for which Stevens' learner plates were replaced by P, or "provisional" plates. "Hey, I've graduated," the singer laughed before launching into one of INXS's best-known songs.

The audience at the small venue was thrilled, chanting "I-N-X-S!" until the band returned for the first of two encores with "Elegantly Wasted." A spirited version of "Don't Change," from 1982's Shabooh Shoobah, stirred everyone in the club. The second encore concluded the gig, an hour and 20 minutes in total, with a full-tilt version of "Suicide Blonde" (RealAudio excerpt), from the X album (1990).

Coming Full Circle

"We don't like to look at it like we're ever going to replace Michael," Jon Farriss said on Australia's "Today" show. "Michael's irreplaceable, and filling his shoes is a term we don't like to use, because that's not the way we look at it. What we're really doing is celebrating the music that we've done with Michael in the past, and it clearly takes someone to sing it to do it."

Stevens said, "Obviously, Michael's Michael, and it's not about replacing anybody, it's just about the guys playing their music."

INXS is open to doing more shows with Stevens and other singers, Farriss said. "It's a full circle, it's come 'round," he said. "To put it on a spiritual level, we've sort of come back to a very positive place, finally."