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The writing s on the wall
The writing's on the wall

While American commercial rockers Matchbox Twenty were the headliners, Aussie legends INXS stole the headlines by declaring Sunday night's gig at Perth Arena could be their last.

In what could epitomise going out with a whimper rather than a bang, INXS drummer Jon Farriss said the band were calling it quits after the support slot in the city where they spent a year cutting their teeth with pub gigs in the late 70s.

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However, yesterday there was doubt: either the comments were taken out of context - Farriss meant Sunday was the final date of the Matchbox Twenty tour - or the drummer had let the cat out of the bag. Saxophonist and guitarist Kirk Pengilly apparently denied the split on a Sydney radio station, but no formal denial was forthcoming from the band's management.

Either way, INXS are expected to release a full statement today.

The chart-topping, globetrotting rockers, who boast hits such as What You Need, Don't Change and Need You Tonight, have been riding a rollercoaster since November 22, 1997, when Michael Hutchence was found dead in a Sydney hotel room.

The surviving five members never considered drifting off to other projects - they have always maintained that INXS would continue in one form or another, even without their charismatic singer.

It was always about the band, which in 1987, at the height of their fame in the US thanks to mega-selling sixth album Kick, knocked back the cover of Rolling Stone magazine because the publishers only wanted to shoot Hutchence.

INXS returned a year after his death, performing with Jimmy Barnes at Mushroom 25 Concert at the Melbourne Cricket Ground. They played again a year later, this time with Terence Trent D'Arby on the mike at the opening of Sydney Olympic Stadium in Homebush.

When Noiseworks singer Jon Stevens officially joined INXS in 2002, the band defended their return to full-time touring. Five years had passed. The mourning period was over. Time to move on. "The honest answer is because we're musicians and we make music," said middle brother Andrew Farriss, who forged a unique songwriting partnership with Hutchence, his childhood friend.

Soon after Stevens quit the line-up, the lads went down the unusual path of finding a replacement via the TV talent quest Rock Star: INXS, landing the services of former Elvis impersonator J.D. Fortune. The Canadian joined them to record 2005 album Switch, their first recording of new material in eight years, and go on tour.

Their gig at Challenge Stadium in 2006 sounded like a crack outfit led by a karaoke singer - because that's pretty much what it was. The INXS originals were still world class, Fortune less so.

"I don't understand how we can tarnish (our legacy)," Pengilly told me when Switch was unveiled. "I mean, what we did as a band is still intact and we are still the same five guys. We have every right to continue to play music as a band."

Absolutely, and INXS are not the first band to try to continue without their lead singer.

AC/DC rocked on post-Bon Scott. Joy Division's members rolled on as New Order after the death of Ian Curtis. But INXS have not been able to recapture their old magic with new personnel.

Two years ago, they worked with guest singers including Matchbox Twenty's Rob Thomas, Eskimo Joe's Kav Temperley, Ben Harper and Fortune to re-record classics such as Never Tear Us Apart, New Sensation, Mystify and Just Keep Walking for an album taking its title from their first chart-topping single, Original Sin. The album scraped into the ARIA Top 50, peaking at No. 49.

I wasn't there on Sunday night to witness the "final" gig with latest, and perhaps last, singer, Northern Irish songwriter Ciaran Gribbin, so I can't say whether INXS finally discovered a singer with enough charisma to distract fans from the fact he's not Hutchence.

The writing has been on the wall for a long time, and maybe the band has finally decided to read it. All good things must end and, as Pengilly said, we'll always have the hits.