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.