• WORDS Claire Bradshaw

On the Road Again with Thirsty Merc


If there were an award for ‘Hardest-Working Australian Band’, Thirsty Merc would be right at the top of the nominee list. The Aria-nominated pop-rock trio seems to be on the road almost more than they’re off it, playing all manner of venues from pubs and clubs through to festivals and special events.

A venue with a difference that the Merc crew always enjoys playing is Newcastle’s very own Lizotte’s. Live n Cookin’ at Lizotte’s has been bringing local and international acts to the old King’s Theatre in Lambton for the past ten years – Thirsty Merc often among them. The band will revisit the dinner-and-show venue in early May, and they’re looking forward to visiting us once again.

“Any gig in Newcastle’s great,” says Rai Thistlethwayte, the band’s vocalist and primary songwriter.

“This one coming up’s going to be great. It’s a great venue; Brian Lizotte’s a great dude. Great food, really great service, the artists are really looked after. We often do it as a more intimate-style show, so it gives us an opportunity to explore the songs in a different way, and we find it goes down really well with the audience.”

Showgoers are definitely in for a treat, with an up-close-and-personal gig accompanied by a sumptuous dinner. It’s a little different from the usual Thirsty Merc show, with a setlist tailored to the unique atmosphere and vibe of the venue.

“It’s different for us and different for the audience,” Rai explains. “It’s all about the dinner and show experience, I think. We’ve done quite a few things in that format over the years now because we’ve been around for seventeen years. You do get to know how to structure a show like that, and I think we’ve gotten into a pretty good setlist, and got some versions of the songs which tend to cater towards that as well.”

The band’s Lizotte’s show will cap off their most recent run of tour dates, which has encompassed the Red Hot Summer Tour with the likes of John Farnham and Daryl Braithwaite, as well as a string of their own shows in Queensland. It can be quite the gruelling schedule at times, especially for a group whose live shows are such a consistent and essential part of their make-up as a band. But Rai and the rest of the Merc crew have learned better than most how to keep on keeping on, no matter the circumstances.

“You just fight through, and that’s kind of what it is. It’s no different from any job in that way. You’ve got that trust and responsibility to be part of a team, where it’s not always just all about you,” Rai says. “On a long tour, someone’s gonna have a bad week here; someone else is gonna have a bad week the next week, someone else is gonna have a bad week the week after. And everyone’s trying to juggle what everyone in life is trying to do. So I think that’s really the glue in it all – if you kind of think of it as an ‘all for one, one for all’ kind of thing.”

This strong team mentality has seen the band through some incredibly tough times, including a tragic road accident while on tour in 2015, which resulted in the death of their stage manager and serious injury for one of their touring drummers. Nowadays, the band and crew’s support for each other, as well as their history and experience, helps them strike a balance and keep visiting fans around the country, even when things get tough.

“You use your experience and learn from the personal accounts of everybody, and take it all into account – try and keep working towards a dynamic which has more equilibrium and balance, I guess,” Rai muses. “But, you know, that takes time. And the other thing that keeps moving the goalposts is the fact that everybody’s getting older. Sometimes people have different injuries, different sort of emotional things that are happening… so it’s never really cut and dry. You’ve just got to roll with the punches, and work out how to move forward.”

When Thirsty Merc isn’t touring, the band members get precious time to focus on their families and individual pursuits. Rai explores his interest in photography and often spends time travelling overseas and working with other bands as a session musician. Guitarist Matt Smith can often be found out fishing on his boat, and bassist Phil Stack appears with a number of other musical acts, including Australian jazz great James Morrison.

So after this tour, what’s next for Rai and Thirsty Merc? “I think that I’d like to do more solo shows, and also do more gigs and keep going with the band as well – bit more of the same,” says Rai. “But you know, the industry’s always changing anyway – there’s new methods of getting music out there, so we’ll be learning about that.”

Plus, in just a few years, it’ll be the band’s twentieth anniversary. Rai had a few hints about what might be on the cards.

“If I was a betting man – which I’m not – but if I were, I’d say it’d be stupid for us not to do some sort of celebration or tour or new release for a twenty-year hallmark event.”

Stay tuned, Merc fans! Thirsty Merc appears at Lizotte’s on Sunday, May 5. For tickets and further info, visit www.lizottes.com.au or call (02) 4956 2066.

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