Revisiting INXS’ First Concert
In retrospect, the longevity of INXS' initial lineup shouldn't come as much of a surprise. After all, their roots stretched back to a cluster of schools in Sydney's French's Forest district. That shared history stood them in good stead as they slowly, ever so slowly, worked their way up to superstardom.
Initially, singer Michael Hutchence, keyboardist Andrew Farriss, drummer Jon Farriss, guitarist Tim Farriss, bassist Garry Beers and saxophonist Kirk Pengilly performed as the Farriss Brothers. Hutchence and Andrew had met at Davidson High, where Beers joined them in an INXS precursor band called Doctor Dolphin. Tim was in a separate group with Pengilly. The story has always been that they all first got together during a multi-band jam session on the day Elvis Presley died, though that could simply be a legend-making fiction. At any rate, with the addition of youngest Farriss sibling Jon, the initial seeds of this hitmaking juggernaut were born.
Only it wasn't that easy. They made a tentative introduction as the Farriss Brothers in August 1977, appearing at Whale Beach for Tim's over-served 20th birthday party. "I thought the show went really well," Andrew said in Jeff Jenkins' book Molly Meldrum Presents 50 Years of Rock in Australia. "But I think my dad summed it up the next day: 'Great show, but everyone was asleep when we left.' I think everyone might have been stoned."
Already, they'd learned to stick together through thick and, at least in the beginning, mostly thin. Andrew had broken up a fight between Hutchence -- a nomadic, artsy outsider -- and the school bully, cementing their friendship. "You form naive friendships when you're young," Andrew told City Pages. "You have no idea you're going to end up together in the pointy end of the entertainment industry. You just find yourself there."
Hutchence was the son of an Australian importer and, as such, saw his family spending time in far-flung places. Then, when his parents divorced, Hutchence's mother whisked him away to Los Angeles. "I spent most of my time in the States by myself, writing prose, poems, and stories," Hutchence once said. "I came back home with a large collection of things." INXS, it seemed, was the first anchor he'd ever had. "The day I left school was the day I left home was the day I joined the band," Hutchence added.
There was no question of staying in Sydney, then, when the Farriss family moved more than 2,000 miles away in 1978 to Perth. The rest of the group dutifully followed. Still, they'd have to wait for Jon's high school graduation before making a serious go of it. So, they wrote songs, rehearsed endlessly, performed in local spots. "We played every bar, party, pub, hotel lounge, church hall, mining town -- places that made Mad Max territory look like a Japanese garden," Hutchence told the Sun-Herald in 1993.
Some 10 months later, the Farriss Brothers band finally returned to Sydney, where they promptly gained the attention of Midnight Oil manager Gary Morris.
The arrangement didn't work out, but something important happened during their brief, unhappy time together.
"I saw a commercial for a brand of [Australian] jam called IXL; their ad featured a guy who said, 'I excel in all I do,'" Morris says in Anthony Bozza's INXS Story to Story: The Official Autobiography. "I'd recently seen the English band XTC when they toured Australia, and I loved their name: XTC -- ecstasy. In that moment, I put all those thoughts together. The name needed to be letters, but make a word. I put the IXL jam commercial together with XTC and the concept of a band that was inaccessible and I had it: INXS."
Well, that's his version of events, anyway. Perhaps because the future members of INXS quarrelled so consistently with Morris over the group's direction, the timeline on this critical change remains in question.
The name is also said to have come from a member of management at Deluxe Records, an independent label that later signed INXS and was run by a booking agent named Chris "CM" Murphy. "Our record company suggested 'In Excess,'" Tim told People magazine. The group agreed, he added, but only if they could shorten it to INXS.
By Sept. 1, 1979, they were ready to debut the new moniker -- where ever it came from -- at the Oceanview Hotel in Toukley, on the coast of New South Wales. But there was still much to do. It would be some four years before they'd belatedly break through in America. In fact, INXS would split with Morris by the end of '79. That said, Murphy was there to step in, ready or not.
"The night Morris offered them to me, I told him I'd take them midway through their third song," Murphy says in Bozza's INXS Story to Story. "I stood there thinking, 'This is pretty funky.' This kid up front is pretty weird. This band plays really, really well. What Morris didn't realize was that I only intended to take them on as their booking agent. I didn't want to be their manager."
That's exactly what he became through 1995. By then, they had done something considered all but unthinkable. "Before INXS, the idea that any group could graduate to dominance of the world’s airwaves from the sweaty beerhalls of Australia seemed as strange and remote as the country itself," Andrew Mueller of the Guardian memorably said. "Before Hutchence, the notion that mainstream international rock star was a plausible career option for someone from Australia felt preposterous."
Less than a year after INXS' debut, they issued a single called "Simple Simon" / "We Are the Vegetables" on Deluxe, followed by the October 1980 release of a self-titled debut and another single called "Just Keep Walking." They went on a 300-show country-wide tour, and then recorded a second studio effort that went into the Australian Top 15 in 1981. Subsequent singles "The Loved One" and "Stay Young" peaked at Nos. 18 and 21 back home.
It was all very respectable, but hardly earth shattering -- at least so far. Then this close-knit group had its next light-bulb moment: In April 1982, Andrew Farriss, Hutchence, and Pengilly set out with a tape of their music -- hoping to spark interest in the U.K. and the United States. A new deal with WEA followed, and their follow up album Shabooh Shoobah reached the Top 5 in Australia. "The One Thing" crept up to No. 14. It would be 1983, however, before they signed a recording contract in North America. That coincided with the long-awaited chart-topping Australia single "Original Sin" -- and INXS, finally, were on its way.
They'd continue together for 15 more years, selling some 30 million albums, until the shocking death of Hutchence in Nov. 1997 -- outlasting anyone's expectations, maybe even their own.
“Can you imagine? It’s like a marriage, although, when you put it that way, it’s quite a sick concept, I suppose," Jon told Pop Culture Classics. "A very bizarre experiment, especially considering how long we’ve been together, which is since 1977. Of course, it’s a marriage. Trying to get two people to decide where to have dinner is hard enough -- let alone having originally six, and now five, original members."