Sunday, November 16, 2008

Harry and Jeff

You know your city is cool when...

... you can spend 2 weekends in a row sitting in the sun watching some of the world's best Blues and Roots artists. For absolutely nix.

With the Tiger and I still buzzing off the great weekend which was Valley Fiesta, as well as a cool show by Franti and Spearhead, we scoured the gig guides trying to search out our latest fix. It didn't take much searching, however, as staring at us clear in the face were 2 standout gigs - one by Harry Manx and one by perennial favourite Jeff Lang - on successive weekends. Better still, for one reason or another, both gigs were completely and utterly free!

First up was Canadian Harry Manx's gig at the Queensland Multicultural Festival. With a blustery and drizzly day on hand, The Tiger and I decided to stay in for most of the event, only venturing out towards the end of the afternoon in order to catch Harry at his finest. After being switched on to Harry's goodness a couple of years back by guitar purveyor Steve-O, he's been a staple of many live music experiences in the past couple of years. The Tiger was introduced to him this year, and instantly fell for his unique blues style, not to mention his cute Grandpa-style banter and humour.

Both were in abundance today, as the usual trio expanded to a quartet (incorporating keys into the stripped-back guitar, drums, bass standard) entertained a wide cross-section of punters one could expect in a free, government-sponsored orgy of "multi-cultural harmony". With the sun just breaking through the clouds in time for the gig, we settled into a comfy grass-covered seat in the amphitheater and became as equally enthralled with Harry's music as we were distracted by the dozens of kids - and some adults - using the music as a fitting soundtrack to their hulla-hooping in front of the stage.

Pulling on his back catalogue, Harry seemed intent on ignoring the status quo for free or festival events, and steered well clear of his better known tracks in favour of some more obscure numbers mixed in with some hard-core jamming. Sitting mostly on his custom Mohan Veenah guitar - a mix of an acoustic lap-slide guitar and a sitar, of which I'm still yet to totally understand the mechanics - he did manage a couple of covers (his now famous Voodoo Child included) before exiting the stage and leaving us wandering around the city unsuccessfully searching for a place to have a beer, a feed and watch the cricket on a quiet Sunday evening.

Fast forward a mindless working week, and we're back out in the outdoors and listening to some kick-ass tunes. This time the musicality was provided by blues blood brother Jeff Lang, who was once again drawn to our northern sunshine. After a rather uneventful Japanese society picnic or something, we ferried it from New Farm park down to North Quay for the annual "Groove and Grape Festival" in a rather small and nondescript park in front of the Condrad Treasury Hotel. The festival itself had been on all weekend, and was now into its 2nd or 3rd year, but it was a first time visit for TheTiger and I. Loftily named Groove and Grape and billing itself as a food and wine festival meant that there were some high expectations in my mind of some decent food and some rather nice wine to be had. After embarking on a fact-finding mission to determine if it did live up to expectations, we were slightly forlorn - the food was a marginal step up from music festival deep-fried goodery, with some token pastry offerings to make it look slightly more swanky. If their haughtily described "cheese and crackers" was anything to go by (it turned out to be nothing more than an individual serve of Arnott's dry Water Crackers and some no-name cheddar scraped from the bottom of a barrel), then their mouth-wateringly described "beer battered fries" would be nothing more than the floppy, sloppy, taste-less chips which could have been sourced from any shopping mall food court bain-marie any day during the week.

So it tanked on the food stakes? Who cares, this was about music and wine, yes? I mean, half of the festival name was derived from the wine's root ingredient, so you'd expect the offerings to be mildly ok, wouldn't you? Oh... no, not really. The wines were any old slop the large barrel-houses were trying to off-load in the truck full, obviously after being rejected by the wine-buying hordes for the past year or so. Having to part with 4 hard-earneds for a plastic cup of some South Oz brew was sickening. The snifter of plonk could hardly have even been considered enough for a "tasting" where I come from. So, after one $4 "tasting" we did the next obvious thing - forked over $20 for a bottle. It would go well with our lovingly crafted beer-battered fries served with a smattering of sea-salt. And smothered in red and sweet chilli sauce just to give it some hint of flavour.

Never mind, it was the Groove part of this festival we were really here for, and so this is where it really shone through. Setting up himself, I noticed a lovely return to the stage by drummer extraordinaire Danny McKenna. A regular in years past, Danny had been side-lined for recent Jeff live offerings, as he pursued the "disturbed folk" genre as a guitar and bass duet. And while he hasn't put a foot wrong with this move, I was still shivering with anticipation of seeing the raw syncopated power of the bearded Danny McKenna adding weight to Jeff's sound again. As the set began, it was clear they hadn't actually played or rehearsed with Danny for a long time, with the drummer seemingly struggling to find the beat, especially to the newer tunes which were recorded without a drum at all. As the set progressed, however, the beat found itself and he was let loose to run free on some of Jeff's older and more lumbering tunes like London and The Save. Both songs in particular truly outlined the band's faith in not only each other, but also with the crowd. Usually in such festival situations, artists such as Jeff tend to limit their forays away from the more well known songs, and even within those songs only restrict themselves to faithful renditions of the studio-versions of them - censoring themselves, if you will, in order to not alienate a possible new audience. It was not to be today, however, with the band rightly judging the audience to be on-side and tolerant and so let the songs wander around within a very loose structure - meaning that all 3 members had a chance to show their worth and take the sames in different directions and tangents. The skill shone through brightly as Jeff managed to wrangle each and every tangent back to the song's cores, leading to massive endings and amazing crowd appreciation. Being a festival, however, the timings were limited and just 7 or so songs into the mix the slot was over and so was our wine.

Bidding farewell to Jeff and to the now annoying sunshine (only annoying due to a developing burn raising itself on my arms), we headed for home and the local bottle-o to continue to wine-y goodness (sourcing the same bottle of wine for $12 no less!). The glow around us may have been wine-related, or it may have been sun-related, but I'd like to think a whole swag of it was related to seeing 2 amazing musicians in 2 weekends for absolutely nothing. This city really does kick ass sometimes.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Spearheading a return to form

It's great when a gig turns into a big love-in of jumping around, singing at the top of your voice and smiling like your life depended on it. Remove the walls of the venue, and the musical impetus, and the actions of those (including myself) present at Friday night's Michael Franti and Spearhead gig would have surely landed us in some sort of institution. It's been a while, but it seems Franti is back on form and setting the room ablaze with his special vibe.

Walking into the gig halfway into the first song (and unfortunately missing support act The Winnie Coopers), we were greeted by a steamy, sweaty mass of bods. A sea of humans all focused on one 6 foot 6 inch tall dread-locked man standing on stage, beckoning its every move. At his call, the collective bounces, raises its hands in the air, responds to his calls and claps the beat when he demands. Stepping into the room, the excitement is palpable, with everyone bopping, moving, gyrating and even fist-pumping their way through Spearhead's first Brisbane gig since 2006.

Feeling like it was time to get freaky, we headed to the bar, only to be greeted by the price list... which start with cans of domestic beers for $7.50!




Picking myself up off the floor, we handed over the $15 for 2 beers and headed back into the room to search for a vantage point. Heading over the other side of the venue, we squeezed in amongst a few small groups of music lovers as they each bopped to their own little gig. And then it hit me - this was less a gig than a collective of small group parties, all having their own version of a great time, with Spearhead as the soundtrack. Girls gyrated and rotated, occasionally spinning on their heels to sing a meaningful line back to their friends behind them. Guys frantically nodded their heads and tapped their toes, with some of the more game amongst them actually dancing (what??!?! When did this happen? Guys don't fucking dance?!? This gig must have been veeeerrrryyyy cool). As we wedged ourselves amongst this throng, we caught our first full glimpse of the band and realised that they were having probably the most fun of all up on stage. The 5 piece, which sometimes extended to a 6 piece with the addition of Jamaican vocalist Cherine Anderson for that much missed female touch, was working off each other and taking the seemingly never-ending songs in all sorts of weird directions: false endings, bizarre key changes, out-there timings, elongated codas, and extended jams and crowd call-and-responses. More notable than anything they were playing, however, was the sheer excitement and happiness they each seemed to exude while on stage. The Tiger noticed it enough to comment on it, pointing out that she had never seen a band so happy to be on stage before. Awesome!

It had been a few years since I'd seen the band, or Franti himself, in such a spirit. In fact, it would have been way back at the beginning of my musical journey with Spearhead, the release of Stay Human, that they were in such form. The past few years, and couple of albums by both Spearhead and Franti by himself, had the distinct air of someone who was struggling with concept of being in an important social position, and it risked turning into a shit heap where the political will of the band and individuals threatened to swamp the music itself (like U2, or late Midnight Oil). This gig (and the new album All Rebel Rockers) showed, however, that they had turned their focus back to their artistic purpose and had spent some real time perfecting their craft. And tonight's smiles - on both the band and the audience - showed they were succeeding in that mission.

Continuing our wanderings, we tried upstairs, on each side of the stage and at the very back of the crowd behind the sound desk, but there was to be no relief to the oppressive heat and humidity in the venue. It was not to be, and so we settled into our sweaty selves and continued being swept away by the great sounds on stage, and the amazing atmosphere around us. Before long (well, that's what I thought... but it was actually about 1 and a half hours later), the band departed the stage. Unlike most gigs, where this is the cue for the crowd to plead and beg through cheering and clapping for their heroes to return, Franti left us with a beat and a chant to continue. Which it did for a full 3 minutes or so, without break, until they ran back on stage for the extended encore. A mix of reworked classics and new favourites rounded out the night, which ended just as topsy-turvy as the encore break. No big finish, no "boom-crash"-stage lights down-guitar screeching-house lights up finale, but just the song ending, the house lights coming up and the DJ whacking on some Marley at full volume. The band stayed around for a little bit, signing autographs and getting pictures taken, before they finally called it a night and we joined the sweaty masses wandering around the back streets of the valley. Smelly, dishevelled, worn out and tired. But not a single person left that gig without a smile. Franti is back, and about bloody time, too!

Monday, September 29, 2008

Venues suck... Or Am I Getting Old?

Ending off our Fiesta regime, we trotted off to a midweek gig by Gothic guitar maestro Jeff Martin - the one and the same of The Tea Party fame.

It was his first ever real 'solo' show in Australia, with all his other 'solo' shows since he disbanded The Tea Party being, well, less than solo in the true sense of the word. Being a fan of his previous incarnation, and being a fan (by necessity, thanks to my current extra-curricular activities with Fretfest) of solo singer song-writer acoustic shows, I was actually quite excited by this gig.

Things did not bode well, however, as the Tiger and I chowed down at the cafe directly underneath tonight's venue (I'm in 2 minds as to whether to actually name the venue, considering I'm about to slander them). The ticket clearly stated "doors open at 8pm", but that didn't stop a few keen fans turning up extra early and milling around the entrance. Trying hard to be nonchalant and cool, we tried to not listen in to their extroverted conversations. It was impossible. One guy was clearly besotted with Jeff and spent the good 40 minutes or so valiantly tying each conversation piece back to his amazing tales of being an audience member at one or other of the featured artist's shows. He was annoying in a very cute way, and his clobber of black stove-pipes, black singlet, sneakers and shoulder-length lank hair would have been just as welcomed at a newly-reformed The Angels gig as it was here.

Anyway, with the audience segmentation complete, the doors did eventually open and we filed up the narrow staircase and into the long, thin venue of choice for the eve. After scoping this place out for a few local bands before, I was keen to see how it would go with a fairly large international artist and a full room. It's a long, narrow room without much head room and absolutely no stage presence to speak of. A 3-inch scaffolding platform was all that separated the unwashed masses from the talent. Keeping in mind this was an acoustic singer-songwriter gig with an artist known to sit down during his gigs, meant that without getting nose-to-armpit with our fellow audience members left us with a fleeing glimpse of the guitar maestro's middle part for most of the evening.

The back part of the room is filled with very old and worn long couches, along with a feature wall of a pleasant autumn scene and a homely bar area. It gives it a nice lounge-room feel, I guess. Well, it's certainly the feel the owners were going for, I'm sure. Sadly, the very lumpy couches, the inconsistent sound levels from the mixing desk and the constant to and fro of the punters made it feel all too much like a crappy share-house lounge room circa 1992, rather than a serious music venue in Brisbane in 2008 which I had paid $40 to enter.

Never-the-less, I was here for the music and not the decor, so I guess I shouldn't be quick to condemn. Problem was that it took so bloody long from doors open to the main artist getting to the stage that we had a lot of time to contemplate the surrounds. An atrocious set by Jeff's support act (who supplemented his value tonight by being the merch-bitch as well) left a bitter taste and had us tearing down the staircase in search of some kind of respite. Brisbane's sleepy small town tag hasn't quite been disowned yet, though, with the midweek offerings in the heart of the entertainment district being very slim indeed. Unless watching a drunken local getting the full force of the constabulary's move along laws is entertainment... well, considering what was on offer at the top of the stairs, then yes, it was a damn sight better than even that.

Anyway, we trawled back up into the belly of the beast and endured yet more interminable waits before the artiste of the night deigned us with his presence... only to be gone before he even had a chance to start due to his guitar not actually working properly. I mean, these guys took a full 50 minutes setting up a stage for one guitar and a microphone... and couldn't even get that right! In an almost comical move, Jeff tells us he's leaving the stage for them to sort out before coming back on. A couple of minutes later he does just that, and proceeds to make light of it and pretend as if it happened all the time. I don't know, maybe it does. But really, this is not a $40 show and any artist doing what he just did to his audience is truly taking the piss.

I decide to forgive first sins, however, and allow him the good grace of being listened to before fully condemning him. The room's sound was pitiful and tiny... with absolutely no bottom end in the sound to speak of, the first 3 songs or so sounded like very slow versions of the chipmunks, crossed with that sound made by your matronly Year 4 teacher dragging her fingernails down the blackboard. You know the sound...

Not his fault, sure... I get that. And so I forgive yet more sins and persevere even longer. We settled into the back of the room and tried vainly to block out the inane chatter of the bar staff who are clearly non-plussed by the fact that there is someone on stage trying to peddle his wares. Their talking, laughing and general mischief was completely inexcusable, especially for a venue purporting itself to be one of Brisbane's homes of the musical elite.

Still, this didn't have my blood reaching its limits of heat resistance. What got it to that critical boiling point was the complete lack of self-awareness, knowledge and acceptance of where the artist was in the real world. Listening to his gig was like listening to a facsimile of Rachmaninoff, sent while on a severe hang-over. The guy was churlish, sloppy and bored. He veered between self-mockery and Spinal Tap-esque moments of brilliance, and all without any air whatsoever of irony or sarcasm. Comparing his setlist to that which peppered his released live albums, and you could tell he had struck on to a formula and was milking the fuck out of it at every opportunity he could. The boys hanging at the front of the stage, consisting of endless clones of the black-singletted lank-haired friend from the beginning of the night fed this viscious cycle of self-love and bullshit until it was clear to almost everyone except those in that tight front-of-stage circle that the artist had firmly planted his head up his own asshole. With little to no hope of it being removed any time soon.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

The Love Den's Final Fiesta Finale Part San

So here was Sunday, probably the biggest day of the festival in my book. A plethora of acoustic and blues artists were awaiting my ears for the day, but an over-riding sense of lethargy had set in early. Deciding to skip a couple of the earlier in the day artists, the Tiger and I wandered into the Valley (via our new love Campos Coffee) late in the arvo to be greeted by some lurvely sunshine coupled with a nice breeze.

James Grehan was on the list today, and his dreamy styles did not fail to disappoint. Apart from the ill-placed advertising (I mean, who puts a huge video screen as a stage backdrop?), the set went off without a hitch and James seemed to garner a few new fans. Even his ever-present Dad, studiously recording the entire gig as usual, seemed impressed by the turn out. Knowing James from smaller, intimate gigs, I was keen to see how a potentially rowdy and demanding open air day time performance would be handled. And it was with aplomb. His earnest and sweet delivery, matched by his serious guitar playing and shimmery falsettos, seem to break through even the piped pap music emanating from the bar next door.

An early break in proceedings had us wandering a bit and stuffing our faces at the PhoB Vietnamese local, before heading back into the throng. The Tiger headed over to the Brunswick Street Mall stage, while I camped it out at the Chinatown Mall, finally catching Gentle Ben and His Sensitive Side. A band which is probably as close to Valley royalty you can get, it had an impressive array of pure, raunchy, dirty, sweaty, sexy moves down pat. This is saying something, considering it's basically that intense dude from Sixfthick, Dylan McCormack and that dude with the huge mutton chops who I think lives at Ric's (I thought his name was Barry, but it's Tim or Nick or something. He was referred to as the Mayor of the Valley, which seemed fitting). Interestingly, the Mayor's stand up drumming style turned out to be only one of the strange things of band: with the histrionics of the singer, and the out-right boredom of the guitarist and keyboardist making it all a little bizarre. Still, nice for a rocky change. I've been a little mellow and acoustic by necessity with my musical choices lately, so it's good to get out and see some posturing and posing and rocking out. It's still fun.

With the slight drizzle now steadying into a bit of a run shower, Jackie Marshall took the stage and we set about meeting up with some long-lost friends. The former Tulipan singer still seemed to hit all the right notes, and certainly had the moistening masses in the palm of her hands. Unfortunately, my increasing gaggle was not as musically interested as I, so we ventured up the road a bit for some ales and piped muzak while catching up and chin wagging.

The rain had well and truly settled in now, and the conspicuous lack of activity on the main stage had me suspicious that the wetness had spoiled the fun. A quick check with organisers confirmed this, but also informed us that the headline act had been relocated down to the Chinatown Mall. In waiting for the rearrangement, we took in a bit of Katy Steele, which wasn't on the original list of anticipated artists. Being not a big fan of her main incarnation Little Birdy, I was pretty keen to avoid the pseudo-rock chic chick, but now she was thrust upon on us, I was pleasantly surprised. Clad in a skin-tight outfit splendidly replete with massive red sparkly heels and bleach-blond locks, this lass not only had the looks, but the sass and sound to boot. Armed almost solely with a beautiful white Strat (apart from one or two acoustics, plus a keyboard number), she worked the crowd with amazing dexterity and threw up a few of the gems that no doubt some of the great unwashed were salivating for. In all, a rather entertaining mix of attitude and musicality.

With the last time we saw him an unmitigated disaster (at the putrid Joe's Waterhole in Eumundi), Jeff Lang was almost the entire reason for getting out and about all weekend. Still in his stripped down mode of himself, stomp box and bass player, he powered through some newer versions of his own brand of "disturbed folk". With the rain now pretty steady, the crowd thinned considerably, leaving a core collective either braving the wetness or huddling under what sparse shelter there was. Despite the very short set, Jeff was in fine form, showing off all his guitar virtuoso ability early on, and backing it up with some seriously delightful melodies and deeply powerful story-telling. Add to that and enthralled and entranced crowd lapping up every move, and it proved to be a fitting end to a weekend mixed with discoveries and old friends.

And so that was it for Valley Fiesta 2008. And with a newly-extended 6 month lease coming into affect on the Love Den this week, it may prove to be the very last in which this place serves as the base to one of my most favourite contemporary music festivals in the land.

Saturday, September 13, 2008

The Love Den Fiesta Finale! Part 2

Day 2 brought with it an unseasonal heat, and very little wind, so I was blessing the Gods for not getting a stellar day time line up happening. It gave the Tiger and I an excuse to do some hard-core Love Den sitting and chilling, something we'd missed lately due to some other commitments. We tried reading, we tried watching some movies, we even tried cleaning, but when it all came down to it, today was just a day for lazing, and so that was what was achieved, saving our energies for the night assault.

As the sun dipped below the Enoggera hills, we both exited the Den for our respective night-time social gatherings. Sat-Tiger was off to shabu shabu with a group of ex-JETs, planning to drag some of their full carcasses Valley-side for some Fiesta-ing before night's end. Me? Well, it was pretty obvious I was going to be sharing my time between 3 musical stages and possibly a greasy pizza shop or two, for the rest of the eve.

Tonight kicked off with The Boat People, Brisbane's own banal smug-pop heroes. Despite their obvious formula-driven musical theories, they seem to be bounding along in leaps and, well... bounds. But, something tells me this group of 30-something smirkers have reached their zenith. Don't get me wrong, I happen to like their style, but I know deep down that their particular brand of pop sensibility is driven by a deeper sense of bitterness; which has a natural shelf life. Personally, I think that shelf life expired some time ago. But all power to them as they attempt to milk something out of their careers. Interesting to note that the sound issues which plagued bands on this stage yesterday were continuing, with absolutely little interest from the stage or sound crew. To me, there's something very wrong with a staging company when a band, which is essentially driven by a keyboard player, has the keyboard missing from the mix for a couple of songs. The poor muso had to not only continue playing and singing, but also diagnose and fix his own sound issue (a crappy lead), with not even a wink or yank from any of the stage crew. Absolutely pathetic, if you ask me, and totally not fitting the professionalism demanded for an outfit to take on such a large, open-air event.

A small wander lead me over to the Chinatown Mall stage for the seminal Brisbane band Ups & Downs, reuniting for the second time after the Pig City festival gig last year. Having missed the gig (possibly a political issue... I have a personal angst with someone involved in that project. Mainly, though, it was due to me going overseas a few weeks afterwards), I was hungry for news of a couple of the bands who reunited for the gig. One which came out of the woodwork in the reviews was this band, with most reviewers heaping overblown adjectival praise on these pop heroes. Having been aware of their future incarnation Big Heavy Stuff, and their influence on the Brisbane and Australian music scene of the mid to late 90s, I was more than keen to check them out. The mall stage area was filling nicely, and by a decent collection of grey-haired gents (making me feel at home), before the 4-piece took to the stage. The jangly guitar, heavy beat and nasal vocals immediately evoked The Church and REM, before their own brand of the sound crept through. Working hard to put my finger on it, I catch up with a mate during the set and we agree that the sound is altogether familiar, thanks to our personal generational grounding in the 90s pop/rock era of Brisbane and wider Australia, but it was also an important piece of the "historical jigsaw" which lead to that sound. In short, they left me wanting lots more, and reminiscing for a sound and possibly a scene which had left Brisbane some time ago.

With 20 minutes between sets, a wander was in order. This led me to the toilet block, and an interesting re-enforcing of my earlier fears of being seen as old. Exiting the toilet, I was confronted by 2 teenage girls, obviously who were waiting for their friend to return. To amuse themselves, I think they were pointing out boys to each other and gauging each other's reactions. Unbeknownst to me, one had pointed me out to other, who seriously did not approve. As I round the corner, I heard girl 1 anxiously blurt to girl 2: "Ewww, he's like 100 years old! As if!"... Ahhh... I didn't mind, but maybe that was just a sign of my maturity? Anyway, enough about my geriatric complex - back to the music.

Squeezing next to the sound desk, it was clear that Bluejuice were a lot of people's pick for the night, with the crush starting to form around the critical areas. I'm not sure why this was happening, though, because to put it plainly: they sucked. I mean, really really really sucked. With a line up of 2 "singers" or maybe "MCs", bass, synth and drums, I'm not really sure what they were trying to do, musically. It was a hotch-potch of styles which, if done correctly, could have been a really decent recipe for musical genius. Done half-assed, with a solid dash of self-hype, record-company hype and iTunes support, a generous serving of "fuck-you" Sydney cool attitude, and you've got the outcome of some great commercial success. As the cliche tends to prove, though, commercial success does not necessarily bring musical greatness. The 2 can be mutually exclusive. So, apart from the style and attitude, what do I find distasteful about this? Am I being critical just because the audience is made up of dirty meatheads who wouldn't know music if it sprang out of their morning hair-goop regime? Possibly. But I give myself more credit than that. I like music, I like it when 2 vocalists or MCs can interplay with each other and the music to bring about some sort of uplifting feeling thanks to their harmonies. What I don't like is a band made up of that intention, but all it manages is 2 boys yelling into microphones trying to out-sing each other, and both failing miserably at maintaining notes, pitch or timbre. Then compensate for that by jumping around lots. And the kids lap it up...

Heading back to sanity, I once again risk life and limb by crossing Ann Street and heading back to the Chinatown Mall. A couple of necessary line-up changes meant little to the end result for The Gin Club, the baby of Salty-dog Ben Salter. The eclectic alt-country collective revolves around the stewardship of both Salty and Georgina, as well as other core members. Tonight they seemed a little flatter than normal, although this may have been related to the 30-song recording schedule they had just completed, as well as the late addition of 2 members to fill out the sound. Never-the-less, they did pull through towards the end with Wyld Bitch providing an endearing send off for tonight's festivities.

On the way home, I head back up to the main stage to check out the much-discussed Urthboy. Having only been educated about this MC earlier today by my Japan hip-hop expert, I was pretty keen to check him/them out, if only to provide a reference point for a lot of Australia's recent hip-hop scene. As a main member of seminal hip hoppers The Herd, and also a record company exec with one of the land's most influential hip hop companies, Urthboy was someone clearly not to be messed with. And entering the stage with his co-MC (a female at that, which provided a nice harmonic counter-balance) and DJ all dressed as fairytale characters, it was hard to take them seriously. They led through a furious couple of first songs which left no-one uncertain as to who they were or what they did, and to my untrained hip hopian ears, they certainly were the real deal.

And so Day 2 proved Fiesta drew to a close and these bones and ears turn to rest, before the Sunday acoustic and blues vibe of Fiesta. Bring it!

Friday, September 12, 2008

Love Den's Fiesta Finale? Part 1

Valley Fiesta kicked off tonight for its weekend of frivolity. And for those who know, it also kicks off my re-invigoration with all things Albion Love Den. To me, there's nothing better than the Den at this time of the year... crystal clear skies, a crispness which allows for being comfortable, and just 2 stops away from some of the best music this country has to offer. Who could ask for more?

So, after a quick slap and dash at home after work, we trotted off to tonight's festivities. Apart from one "must see", the rest of the night was more of a grab-bag of odds n ends when it comes to music. An Ekka showbag, if you will, of what Fiesta had to offer.

A quick storm meant our must see, The John Steel Singers were a half hour late in getting to the stage. But it was perfect timing for SatomiTiger and my fine self, as we dawdled along collecting sushi and pizza sustenance on the way. The Singers were fantastic, and everything they'd been hyped up to be, and more. They had some rather large reputations to full, what after being big upped by none other than Mr Go Betweens Robert Forster. And they did not fail in their mission. Part Supergrassy-cute, part school marching-band beat, the Singers are a mix n match when it comes to styles. Ending most songs with a screeching, Mogwai-esque wall-of-sound replete with trombone and trumpets, you can see why these guys have got the scene excited. The late start, alas, also meant a very short set, with only 6 or so songs gracing us before they were ushered off.

We set off for a bit of wander next, taking in all three stages the Fiesta had on offer this year. The "main stage" of the event seemed to be the one we were at, in the middle of Brunswick Street, on a closed part of the road in front of the old Sun building. Walking back across the road, the rotunda of the Valley Mall, which was usually the Fiesta's focal point, had been turned into a DJ stage, which pretty much meant it was almost empty at all times. Wandering through the alley (Licorice Lane, to be precise) we stumbled up into the Chinatown Mall, whose stage was set as normal and welcomed all-comers with its eclectic mix of entertainment. Even with the sad closure of the pagodas during the week for safety reasons, it didn't dampen the spirits in this neck of the woods. The Tiger even got her first in-the-flesh glimpses of some real-life drag queens performing on stage before we ventured back up to the main part of the action.

With the revised timeslot, next item of the list Abbe May was also pushed back 20 minutes or so. Enough time for her to amass a fairly sizeable audience, which was encouraging. Having not heard much of this lass (and band, which also went by the same name; although they seemed very keen to be known as the band called Abbe May, not just the lead singer called Abbe May with her backing band... ego? Hmm?), I checked with one of my musical touch-stones and fellow West Aus resident Brendan, who assured me via SMS she was the shit and worth checking out. A couple of songs in, however, and it was clear this was not the cup of tea I was looking for. It may just have been a too wide juxtaposition between the JSS preceding her, but Abbe just appeared way too serious and earnest for her own good. The glassy clean high notes, mixed with the reverb-saturated sqauls and wails just seemed way out of place on this stage, on this street and on this windy night. The carnival atmosphere surrounding event and night so far - which was enhanced by the freak storm hitting moments before curtains - butted up a little too ubruptly with this screeching soul, and so we opted to wander just a little. After not being able to find much else to hold out attention span, we wandered back to catch the end of her set, which seemed to have gathered a little bit of pace, but still jarred a little bit too much. Perhaps a different setting will put my right as far as this lady and band were concerned.

The rest of the night was spent sampling the Fiesta's other offerings, including a woeful one song by Operator Please, which was made even worse by the absolutely atrocious mixing which had afflicted every artist so far tonight, and a couple of songs by The Winnie Coopers, a mildly inebriating mix of hip hoppie 2 MCs, one DJ (and a bass and drummer, too) which we will see more of when they support Michael Franti and Spearhead in a couple of weeks.

And so we retire our weary bones and ready them for tomorrow's Fiesta offerings. And bask in the Love Den's warm glowing warming glow.

Saturday, September 6, 2008

The Albion Love Den

Just a pic of the aforementioned Albion Love Den. It's the view from up the hill slightly, and across the road. The Den is hidden by the mass of greenery at the front.
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Tuesday, September 2, 2008


I turned 30 a couple of years (a-hem) back and promised myself I wouldn't become one of those boring, rigid, old-school, pot-bellied maxims of "back when I was boy".

Fat chance.

I bought myself a bike recently to work off the post honeymoon "girth of contentment". And skimmed through the once important weekly bibles of streetpress... and realised I knew fuck all of the bands! That's depressing. I used to be hip. I used to be with it. I used to even know these people in bands and used to hang out with them... Ok, well I still do that, it's just that they're no long the cool and happening ones.

So, I resigned myself to the fact that I'd Lost Touch. Resolutely, I kicked myself up the coit and spent the past 2 weeks on a CD-buying, and iTunes and eMule downloading spree to get my sorry ass back into this current decade musically. I've even contemplated seeking some serious paid employment-type review stuff to give me extra motivation to keep up with it all. Wish me luck.

Juxtapose that urge to get back in touch with new music with the Big Day Out's impending announcement that Neil Young will be headlining 09s event? Oh fuck off... now I have to win more tickets?!!?!?!

Life ain't fair sometimes.

Saturday, August 30, 2008

Big houses and bigger fences... what are we hiding?

I went for a walk the other afternoon, up and down the hills of Ascot and Clayfield - the beginning of the preparations for Project Fuji Assault scheduled for next year. As I was walking, I was doing what everyone else like me does and sought every opportunity to sneak a peek at how the other half lived. And I didn't realise how hard that had become lately! Fleeting glimpses up driveways and through iron garden gates was all that was afforded me; with almost every gaudy mansion was walled off from prying eyes by massive 8- and 10-foot brick, cement and besser-block fences, it left me more impressed by the footpath and 'nature' strip than by the mass of wealthy exuberance. Not like the big Greek and Italian jobs of inner Melbourne and Sydney I had grown up with, which screamed out their worth and value and "we're better than you" mentality of the owners like a rather crisp slap across the cold, wintery cheek.

I began to wonder why people spent so much money and effort on their houses - an obvious and realistic status symbol of their perception of their life's worth and value - only to shut it away by massive walled fences and partitions. Sure, I canvassed the obvious reasons for the over-the-top segregation: security to keep out the undesirables (ha, like me!); safety for the occupants inside; and maybe even a little bit of status cringe creeping in. The theories just really didn't stack up to me, but I did resolve that if I ever decided to enter the property market, I was going to make sure I buy the shittiest, dingiest and cheapest house I could find, but then spend a mint surrounding it with the biggest, fuck-offest fence money could buy, just to get the tongues wagging and the neighbours intrigued. And, I guess, maybe that's part of the reason why these fences exist - to provide a tantalising glimpse into their worlds, but not provide you with the whole picture. Just whet the appetite.

Anyway, this thought process led me worry about what might happen to this nation with the impending financial crisis. I look around my peer and professional groups on an almost daily basis and have noticed a definite change in their outlook on life. People not 10 years younger than me have no recollection of the 1990s credit squeeze and what that did to families all around the nation. And that was in a period of mild economic growth and lower comparative house prices. Now, the search for the mighty dollar sees 25-year-olds with debts in the realm of half a million dollars and slim hope to actually paying it back. In fact, with belts stretched to breaking point, even the slight murmur in interest rate talk has seen them shake like frightened lap dogs. It's funny how even half a generations gap has seen the entire collective wisdom removed in favour of searching for a "leg up" in this financially driven community.

This collective amnesia, I believe, has led to a fundamental shift of the national psyche in recent years. Thanks partly to the world economic cycle, the south-east Asian tiger economies (and subsequent Bear markets... which makes me wonder if our doom will be similarly tagged with an animal motif: an eel or snake comes to mind), our own "mining boom" and a decade of ultra-conservative rule, we have developed a national pysche completely different to the one which faced our last great economic bitch-slapping. We have become more US focussed in our introspective dealings and have risen to being a rather heavy-hitting 'aspirational capitalism': one in which the traditional elements of honesty, hard-work and credibility have moved aside for cunning, daring and prejudice in order to forge success.

And that, then, is why I'm worried. I look around at my peers and professional groups and see a whole swag of essentially decent people who have unfortunately bought into this aspirational capitalism and have tagged their sense of self-worth and value to this market. If that goes down, or at least stumbles to the point where those already over-extended lose their bundles, then what will happen to them? Will there be a national out-pouring of grief, with association depression and anxiety? Or will we merely develop a thicker skin which allows us to lose these literal and metaphoric fur coats we like to portray to the world, yet still continue to be an important, contributing community? Time will tell, I guess.