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.


Huge said...

Ah-hah! I have found you, Mr Ben.

Thanks for the reference - I'll have to reciprocate!


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