A Loving Look Back At The Greatest (And Wildest) Performances Of ‘Recovery’

From Sarah McLachlan breaking our hearts to Jon Spencer breaking the set, these are the performances we're still talking about.

Recovery ABC Best performances photo

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It’s been nearly 20 years since Recovery vanished from our screens, but its anarchic punk legacy looms larger than ever.

Despite only being on the air for four years, the ABC series defined live music TV for a generation of Australians — and despite numerous attempts to kick start a music show in the years since, nothing has quite reached the heights of Recovery. 

Its charm lay in its unfussiness, its unpredictability, its determination to not take itself seriously in any respect. Dylan Lewis and Jane Gazzo were enthusiastic flag wavers for Australian music, and the energy they brought to our Saturday mornings enabled most of us to power through the hangover and get off the couch.

In honour of the great show, we’ve decided to take a look back at the best performances of Recovery. From international stars to homegrown heroes, these are the appearances that we’re still talking about 20 years on.

And it may not be a performance, but it would be remiss for us to begin without an honourable mention to perhaps the most bizarre moment of the show — when a very sleepy Rivers Cuomo was interviewed on the couch by Lewis. Dive in, and enjoy.

All Saints — ‘Never Ever’

For the most part, Recovery chose guests from the left-hand side of the dial; wild, punkish raconteurs rather than stadium acts. But every time the show dipped its feet into mainstream pop, it hit gold, as this extraordinary performance by British-Canadian girl group All Saints proves.

Emphasising the Biblical implications of their name, the four-piece go full pop gospel, swirling a series of  vocal melodies around one helluva impassioned chorus. Nineties pop never sounded quite so full of hope.

Jon Spencer — ‘2 Kindsa Love’

Turns out the sacrifice you make when you invite rock ‘n’ roll god Jon Spencer onto your show is the safety of your camera operators — not to mention your set. In this legendary raucous clip, Spencer, performing the theremin-heavy ‘2 Kindsa Love’, leads an impromptu deconstruction of the artifice of music television.

Darting into the audience, picking on one cowering cameraman who keeps getting in his way, taking a nasty looking tumble onto the floor, and generally making a nuisance of himself, Spencer somehow never misses a beat. Recovery — and Aussie TV — was never quite the same.

Silverchair — ‘No Association’

Twenty-two years ago, Recovery — not to mention the Australian public at large — couldn’t get enough of Silverchair. Hence the Silverchair special, an hour’s worth of interviews with the beloved band, live performances, and clips of Daniel Johns mumbling away in the back of a designer car.

Every minute of the available 60 is worth your time, but the standout is definitely the band’s fiery performance of ‘No Association’ — a loud-quiet-loud classic that ends with Johns going the hardest he ever went.

Grinspoon — ‘Champion’

So you wanna be a champion?” snarls Phil Jamieson, kicking off one of Grinspoon’s most memorable over-the-top live performances.

It’s a pure serve of lurching, ’90s goodness, complete with red-and-white striped beanies (the height of fashion!), a bass line so dirty it’s wanted in three states, and a Mike Patton-indebted chorus. But this isn’t just some dusty time capsule — pound for pound, this is as purely pleasurable as Australian independent rock gets, even today.

Public Enemy — ‘He Got Game’/’Shake Your Booty’

Unquestionably the coolest band to ever grace the Recovery stage, Long Island’s Public Enemy scorched the stage when they rocked up to the studios in 1998.

Those record scratches, that delectable walking bass line, that gigantic clock necklace — this was ’90s hip-hop at its best.

TISM — ‘Whatareya?’

Balaclava-clad indie dance act TISM arguably hit their creative peak with the extraordinary music video for ‘Whatareya’, a gleefully anarchic clip that sees the band invade a workout video.

In this Recovery highlight, they stage the whole thing once more, complete with fitness gurus, an intimidating-looking gorilla, and a whole host of audience participation. Nothing quite like watching TISM drag a distinctly uncomfortable looking bouncer into the throng and making him two-step.

Oh, and that kid at the three-minute mark steals the goddamn show.

Screamfeeder — ‘Bridge Over Nothing’

As unstoppably, gleefully chaotic as a drum kit kicked down the stairs, Screamfeeder’s ‘Bridge Over Nothing’ is ratcheted up to the next level in this blistering performance.

The song starts fast and only gets faster, culminating in a sonic blur of a chorus and the surprise entrance of a dude in a hoodie pushing over a wall of speakers. Blink and you’ll miss it.

The Living End — ‘Prisoner of Society’

Double bass-toting greasers The Living End exploded into the public eye with their third EP, Second Solution / Prisoner of Society. It’s that second song that became their trademark, and for good reason — it’s an unstoppably magnetic punk single, as urgent as a shiv in a prison shower.

In this Recovery stand-out, the group take the tune to bold new places, strengthening its antic pleasures and discovering new ones. It’ll melt your face off.

Magic Dirt — ‘Rabbit With Fangs’

Nobody has ever looked cooler than Adalita crooning ‘Rabbit With Fangs’ while wearing a pair of gloriously 1997 sunglasses.

Dirty Three — ‘Sue’s Last Ride’

Dirty Three are pretty much the best live act that Australia has to offer, so it’s thoroughly unsurprising that the instrumental three-piece absolutely demolished the Recovery stage every time they took to its boards.

But of all their showings, it’s this version of ‘Sue’s Last Ride’ that takes the proverbial cake. Beginning with Warren Ellis on his knees, plucking his violin, the song lurches in between Mick Turner’s sturdy guitar work and the unrivalled percussion of Jim White, finally breaking down into a series of melancholic trills.

Every major Australian city should erect a bronze statue to this band, and this performance.

Midnight Oil — ‘Redneck Wonderland’

Clad in a red hazmat suit, moving around the place in his trademark lurches, Peter Garrett proves why he’s one of Australia’s most energetic bandleaders in this unstoppable performance of ‘Redneck Wonderland.’

Hell, it’s even good enough to make you forget that the man spent his time in politics cosying up to the American imperialists he spent literally his entire musical career decrying.

The Superjesus — ‘Down Again’

A pivotal moment in The Superjesus story, the chart-topping single ‘Down Again’ saw the band shift into a new gear, giving the grunge movement their distinct and melodic spin.

It’s a song that changed the direction of Australian indie rock, and this live performance shows off every one of its myriad of pleasures.

Natalie Imbruglia — ‘Torn’

What more do you need to know about ‘Torn’, Natalia Imbruglia’s era-defining cover, and the song that put the young Australian onto the international map? The song’s been discussed half to death, and rightfully so — it’s pop at its best, an earworm with a conscience that sounds as fresh today as when it was first released.

There’s nothing left to do but to watch this four minutes of pure auditory satisfaction.

Sarah McLachlan — ‘Building A Mystery’

Most international Recovery guests paled in comparison to the homegrown talent on display, and bigger acts tended to buckle under the weight of their own perceived superiority. Not so Sarah McLachlan.

The Canadian singer-songwriter took to Recovery with nothing more than an acoustic guitar and a stool, and transformed ‘Building A Mystery’, one of her finest songs, into an aching paean to love.

Gerling — ‘Death To The Apple Gerls’

Sure, wearing tiny backpacks onstage might have gone out of fashion (thankfully), but the music of Gerling sure hasn’t.

As energised and abrasive now as it ever was, ‘Death To The Apple Gerls’ is one of the great hidden pleasures of the annals of Aussie indie rock — this weirdo jolt of fizz. Watch it to find reserves of energy you didn’t even know you had.

The Avalanches — ‘Run DNA’

Given how publicised their return to music has been, it’s weird to remember that The Avalanches were once something of a hidden gem — a cult outfit that shunned the headlines in favour of a series of distinctly strange, sample-heavy singles.

But hey, watching this clip of the group deconstructing their minor hit ‘Run DNA’, it’s no surprise that within a few decades they’d take over the planet — their talents were too raw, too impassioned to stay hidden for long.

Joseph Earp is a writer and critic based in Sydney. Follow him on Twitter