Friday, December 11, 2009

Get ya Finger out

Powderfinger has the ability to polarise the music-listening public, that's for sure. Some think they are the greatest stayers in Oz rock history, and they have a point. Others gleefully point out that they've "always found them boring" which, while classic Tall Poppy syndrome and rather dismissive of the huge impact of this band, also holds a ring of truth to it.

I have, at various times, passionately argued both sides of the equation: Double Allergic was a defining album for Australian mainstream rock; Internationalist and Odyssey Number 5 were aberrations of style over substance; Vulture Street was a welcomed return to form in the shape of leather jackets and a bit of 'tude; Bernie's solo effort was a watershed piece and a stylistic cornerstone for acoustic soloists; Dream Days and the new album, Golden Rule, showed brief moments of inspiration, but were generally yawn-worthy. Like many other rock-pigs of my ilk and age, I've seen the Fingaaah in a multitude of settings from crusty pub gigs (Backroom at the Great Northern was a genuine musical journey, as was the Rec Club at JCU in the Ville) through to the raucous stadiums (first Splendour ranks as one of the best). While I wasn't exactly champing at the bit to see them at the Q150 finale concert, it was to be the Tiger's first foray in all things Finger-related, and FKN CUSTARD WERE REFORMING FOR 1 NIGHT ONLY! Yeah it coulda been pretty spesh, come to think of it.

Custarrrrrro blasted through a 50 minute back-catalogue set and brought back so many memories of early uni and early Brisbane gigs, parties and events that it was almost like watching a sepia-tinged movie of my life in my mind's eye. It was everything you would have wanted and have no doubt missed from the genius which is Custard on a good night - even Dave's continual big-upping of each and every guitar "solo" by excitedly re-introducing the guitarist ("Ladies and gentlemen, Mr Matthew Robert Strong!") was endearing and sweet. The dudes were loving it, it seemed and it was one of those great moments in Brisbane music history. But then came the Finger.

This night was all about Powderfinger and a big WTF? regarding where it's head has gone (apart from "up it's own arsehole", as has been suggested). I missed the past couple of tours due to general tiredness of the formula that had become the Finger curse. The last time I saw them was probably at a Big Day Out, and I think I was a billion times more interested in the grease-sodden "hamburger" I'd chosen for sustenance than the supposed rock show from Straya's biggest band going on before me. Not a worry, I reasoned most bands have their cycles and I just resigned myself to waiting for theirs to come back around.

It was in this vein that I was sort of keen to catch them to see if they'd hit their straps again... but all the worst fears were confirmed within just 3 songs. It's hard to pinpoint exactly what went wrong: was it the general monotone sound, devoid of peaks, squalls, snarls and general signs of life? Partly. Was it the band's insistence on focusing almost exclusively on its "smash hit" numbers at the expense of some its songs of genuine skill and poise? Sure. Was it their almost pathological need to turn every number into a building epic complete with false finishes and ubiquitous drum-crashing finales? Definitely. Was it the massive and perfectly timed lighting rig which seemed mostly trained on the audience and partly in existence just so people could go "fuck, look how many lights they have, wouldya"? Yep. It was all of those things, but it was also more.

It was the very clear vibe from the band that this was not who they really were, or even wanted to be. The Finger members have worked very hard on their personal PR and have managed to paint this gorgeous picture of themselves as the Mr Everyman. The bloke next door. The good guy coming first, for a change. And that's cool, because I have no doubt that's who they are in real life. But then they get on stage, and they build this pretense of rock stardom, of a mysticism, aura and style which just doesn't sit right. And being the blokey-blokes they are, they are painfully self-aware of this fakery, fearing the inevitable piss-take from their band mates should one be deemed too much of a "dickhead". Which is cool in a way - keeps them grounded, yadda yadda yadda. But this internal code and self-censoring doesn't allow for fully expressed creativity and, thus, the band were stiff as boards, barring Bernard's awkward one-hand-on-hip, one-hand-in-the-air posing. The between-song banter varied between non-existent, through hollow measures of thanks and enquiries along the lines of "how you all doin'?", to bizarre screamed call and responses which came out of nowhere and added nothing to the proceedings. The final insult came with a truly embarrassing round of Happy Birthday to "Queensland" (it was the state's birthday celebration, but this was presented more as a chore, rather than as a fun or poignant moment). This led into the train-wreck of a run home of massive numbers which were given a generous pedestrian treatment - almost to the point of self-parody. The only saving grace was the encore of Bless My Soul, which deserved its epic-ness (for the upteenth time) and a cover of the Go Betweens' Streets of Your Town, with all the bands on the bill joining them on-stage.

This was, quite clearly, a band all too aware of where it sits within the musical landscape. And, like it's audience, it appears doesn't quite know if it wants to still get into it, or just to finally let it rest.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Top 10 Albums 2009

Am I so egotistical to think that anyone cares what was my personal Top 10 new music for 2009? Well yes, I am. And whaddyagunnadoaboutit? The thought germinated after reading a few of the "best of the decade" lists, like this great one from eMusic, and also reflecting on how my tastes may have changed after getting back into music as slightly more than just a hobby this year.

So, here's my pick of 2009:

We Were Promised Jetpacks These Four Walls

I have to admit the seriously great name drew me in. I now do some of my online music transactions through the above-mentioned eMusic, on a monthly flat-fee subscription basis. I get 30 downloads every month for about $14 AU (fluctuating slightly with the US exchange rate). The site is tops and provides a vast number of sorting and collating tools which can help the decision making process. I go in there every month with one, maybe two, albums in mind. Other times, I just pick a mood or style or era or feel, filter it and see what comes up - which happened here and they lobbed this Scottish post-punk, indie foursome into my Pod. It's just the right mix of crunch, hook, anger and Scotts which is keeping the fire in the ears alight.

William Elliott Whitmore Animals In The Dark

I often spend hours just dicking around on the computer at home, keeping myself entertained and amused and out of trouble. From time to time I crank up the radio player and dial in a genre to suit my mood. Earlier this year Americana took my fancy and a few songs streamed past before this earthy, guttural, gravelly vocal got me searching. I dialled up a few more Whitmore tunes, but dismissed him for weeks fearing it was just another white-middle-class-crooning-man-with-an-acoustic-and-a-tale-to-tell; which is often nice to get into, but more often than not falls flat pretty rapidly due to their general dislike of pushing musical boundaries or trying anything outside of the beaten path (like Jack Johnson, John Butler, even Ben Harper for a bit). He finally got sufficient grasp of my short-n-curlies to wangle his way into my Pod and heart with his deep-south stories and captivating delivery.

Them Crooked Vultures Them Crooked Vultures

I'm gunna lose so much cred here and suggest that I don't like Queens Of The Stone Age much. I like the Foo Fighters even less. Led Zeppelin have always been a touchstone, but I could hardly call them personal inspirations due to the generational differences. So why do I like this supergroup so much? Because it sounds like a couple of crusty rock demons (whom I can identify with) sitting in a jamming room and going: "Man, wouldn't it be fucking cool if we could jam with John Paul fucking Jones?". I like to fancy I can sense Josh and Dave's musical boners on full extension throughout some of these songs, and can almost hear the boyish whoops and hollers as the cymbals slowly fade on some of their rockier numbers. This is pure "fuck yeah!" rock and it gets the blood pumping.

Sarah Blasko As Day Follows Night

Sarah's always been on top of my list of cherished Aus acts. Her artistry has been a pleasure to watch develop from the poppy plaintive pseudo-electronica of her debut EP to this, her genuine heart-break opus which delves deep lyrically and musically. She's put her metaphorical balls on the line here with some pithy, vastly foreign sounds which hark from gypsy eclecticism and viking beats, accompanying some of the most intimate lyrics I've heard for some time. It helps that Blasko seems to have such a self-assured artistic vision, as this could just as easily be a massive train-wreck in given a half-assed treatment.

Pearl Jam Backspacer

Ok, so it's no surprise that the 9th studio effort from my skin brothers would be on this list. It almost wasn't, though. It came out while we were in Japan and flitting around Tokyo with little chance to really get into it. When I got home, one of the first things I did was whack this on the stereo and give it a whirl. And I was disappointed - massively. It just seemed more MOR than I was willing to accept. That was until the Tiger went out and I was able to truly crank the speakers and hear the crunch. It was then that I realised this effort had a massive bottom end and an energy which I haven't heard from them for a while. This was confirmed by the frantic, frenetic live show in Brisbane a couple of weeks back where the Tiger and I were able to feel the full force from the moshpit. If I wasn't sold on this album before, I am now. And I fear I've unleashed a fellow PJ maniac in the Tiger. Can't be a bad thing.

Mumford and Sons Sigh No More

I fell in love with these guys probably more for the way in which I discovered them - they literally stopped me in my tracks while I was faffing around the house one Saturday morning and old faithful Rage was keeping me company. Little Lion Man builds to this great emotive climax of acoustic guitars, stomp boxes, double basses and banjos which I have no hope of resisting. Nu-folk is generally greeted with a rather energetic yawn in this quarters, but something tells me this unit has changed the genre rule book with this effort.

Future Of The Left Travels With Myself And Another

A mate wouldn't shut the hell up about this band, so I tried them out. My mate Mick tends to stay pretty close to the screamier end of the rock spectrum and while I seriously value his opinion, I do realise we have slightly different tastes and so I generally tread with some caution. This one is straight from Mick's noise collection, and is made up of the remnants of Welsh trio McLusky. It's a decent mix of noise, screamery, post-punk-post-Britpop piss-taking which is backed by some great melodic hooks. I'm going to listen to Mick a bit more next year.

The Duckworth Lewis Method The Duckworth Lewis Method

I have no idea where this non-super super-group came into my consciousness. I think I saw them in a Rolling Stone magazine and found the image of 2 hairy musos shouldering Duncan Fearnley cricket bats just interesting enough to read on. It's a duo of 2 Irish underground pop heroes who found themselves so inspired by the up-coming Ashes series that they just had to record a cricket-themed record. It's gimmicky, it's funny in parts, but it's also a serious study in pop mastery.

The Black Crowes Before The Frost... Until The Freeze

There was a small article in a Rolling Stone about how this huge double album was made and it intrigued me. Just a year after their triumphant return, the hairy gods retreated to a barn in New York state and recorded a double album live in front of a studio audience. The feel is electric and energetic with the southern rock champions finding an irresistible groove and a certain dignity of age.

Ben Harper and Relentless7 White Lies For Dark Times

I turned away from Ben for a while as he plumbed the rich vein of ovary-friendly roots-pop. I even dismissed this effort early on as just another way for him to seem like he was reinventing without actually changing. That was until he accompanied me through Japan in his new outfit. It's an evocative collection which still has a strong mind's eye connection to a pretty darned special time in my life and, hence, it goes up on the top 10 list of the year.

And so that's what, where and why for my 2009 Top 10. I'd like to here your top albums for this year and also where you find out about them. I'm always keen to hear of new musical discovery options.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

3 years ago

I forgot it. I fucking forgot it this morning. Well to be fair, we both forgot this morning that it was our "technical" 3-year anniversary. As per the usual mid-week morning routine, my gorgeous wife packed me my lunch and sent me on my way to another day down the salt mines...

Then sent me a text as I was bus-bound reminding me of the event. 3 years ago this very day (or - to be honest - around this day, as we weren't quite sure when this all began), our relationship changed from cool flatmate to head over heels in luuurve. (For those interested in that story, go here to read the blog we started to partly explain our relationship to Immigration).

I could use this opportunity to get all mushy and soppy and wax lyrical on the ways in which this amazing being has enriched my life, but I don't think I need to. For those who knew me before, you'll have hopefully seen the change. For those who've only known me since - I'm sure you wouldn't recognise the Ben of old. She is a force within my soul and the fire in my belly.

To The Tiger - Anata ga daisuki desu

Friday, October 23, 2009

Another Brick In The Wall

The writing's now on the wall for the ole Love Den - quite literally. As of yesterday, the developers have slapped 2 whopping great big white signs of death on the sides of the shop and the old curtain factory building advising of the development proposal.

A quick check online showed an interesting to-and-fro between the council planners and the developer over the past couple of months. Back in late August, Council initially said nup to the original plans on 20 grounds, and suggested more information and changes were to be made in order for the development to be considered. Chief among the concerns were the overall size and amenity of the proposal, with Council being dead against any extension of the commercial property along from the shop up Sandgate Road. Most of the other concerns were rather technical specs regarding gradings, height and car-parking logistics - although interestingly, the Council has indicated the plain looking Kassod tree on the footpath out the front needs to remain, which I thought was rather cute. What was missing, however, was any mention of any of the Heritage aspects of the proposal and whether Council had any issue with it. The omission can only suggest they don't.

The developers responded earlier this week to all 20 points, with slight amendments in the plans to accommodate the requests, and various expert reports refuting the need for others. All in all, it appeared fairly stock standard for this sort of proposal (I have seen a few), with nothing too controversial which could stop the progress. Without hesitation, the developers have slapped the public notices on the buildings and asked for the public to have their say. I don't suspect there will be much public opposition apart from the neighbours - which will be disregarded as nothing other than nimby-ism - so it's just back to the waiting game, with the knowledge that the fateful last day is closer. A factor on our side is that the owners transferred us to a periodic lease just before we went on holidays - which means they need to give us 8 weeks notice to turf us out, but we only need to give them 2 weeks notice (a veritable midnight flit!).

So, it's back to enjoying the Den while it lasts. This weekend, it's Valley Fiesta and the time when the Love Den's proximity to the action pays for itself in my mind. Tonight we checked out Lion Island, who I reviewed abysmally last week (but had a better showing tonight with a crunchier PA), before tomorrow's smorgasbord of Kev Carmody, We All Want To, The Mess Hall and Bob Log III. Sunday's gunna be a bit quieter with just Andrew Morris tickling my fancy, but I'll be saving my energy for that night's gig at West End - Gomez! And I'm reviewing it... I'm really getting back into this free ticket junkety gig thing. I could get really, really used to this again.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

(For) All Of The (Expat) Dreamers

Apart from the "biggest ego in town" motifs, this is a pretty great BrisVegas travelog, accompanied by a pretty rocken song.

Saturday, October 3, 2009

立山(晴) Mt.Tate(Tateyama),fine

A very cool vid showing the climb up Tateyama last week. Mt Tate (aka Tateyama) is one of the 3 holy mountains in Japan. This dude did in September last year, so same sorts of seasonal veiws. Can't wait to do Hakuyama and Fujiyama in the coming years.

Monday, September 28, 2009

Vale Urban Mountain Loafers

It was bound to happen - just days after reading the Doc's obituary for his orange sun goggles, my much loved Urban Mountain Loafers carked it.

The poor buggers have been my clod-hoppers for about 8 years, through thick and thin and in addition to being the shoe of choice for around town, have also been fine travelling companions. They've survived countless music festivals, including being honourable replacements for more appropriate gum boots at the legendary Mudford Folk Festival. They have shod me through thick and thin, across 2 countries (well, parts thereof) and despite many efforts at destroying them through inappropriate use (although this did not, curiously extend to actually climbing any mountains with them, as the Tiger strictly forbid me from taking them on our hike up 3000 metre Tateyama recently. I shall never forgive her for not allowing the Mountain Loafers to realise their true calling in life before they died). Nothing could stop them, it seemed, until their final moments trudging through the sleepy streets of Takoaka (transporting a very hungover body from a mate's tiny apartment, after a very drunken evening where I lost my karaoke virginity). A faint clip-clop sound was drilling into my head-holes with every step, annoying the absolute bejesus out of me. A couple of miffed glances behind me to find the source of this irritating sound were unsuccessful...

until I looked down and found the sole of the right loafer had finally given way and was flapping helplessly away from the shoe itself. Truth be told, this was not the first occasion this had happened, but I just wasn't ready to bid them farewell just then and so hastily glued them back together. This time, however, it was pretty clear they were unsalvageable, especially after I attempted to rip away the offending flappy bit only to come away with the entire soul (leaving them soleless... not soulless).

I picked them up at a post-Christmas Myer sale in Brisbane in 2009, prior to one of my numerous jaunts to Brendan's Byron hideaway. It took just a week of trudging around the beaches, through the hinterland and around parts of the Border Ranges National Park and in and around beer-soaked Byron venues for me to absolutely fall in love with the black buggers. My at times irrational love affair even outlasted my immature dalliance with my 8-hole Docs through high school and beyond; a love affair which left me with permanent calluses on my toes and numerous run-ins with ingrown toenails (although I still kept them in my closet until very recently, even though I officially retired them years ago). And so with still a few more walking days ahead of me in Japan - we're leaving the homestead tomorrow for a few days site-seeing around Yokohama and Tokyo before flying home on Thursday - I was in need of some suitable treads. I've never been a fan of lace-up shoes, and was rather reticent of clod-hoppers which required socks (I'm still in that phase of wanting to show off my Pearl Jam tat on my left ankle, which would be obscured by socks), and thongs have never really been my style. With that in mind, we set about finding if rural Japan had anything fitting that narrow brief. Our second store threw these up at us:

I'm still not sure about the boldness of the colour, but they're comfy as shit and are pretty easy to match with most clothing I wear. So, Vale old Mountain Loafers and welcome the Red Riding Hoofs... may you serve my tootsies well.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Family gatherings, Nagai-style

The pinnacle of our trip to Japan - apart from visiting ill Obachan (Grandma) - was the chance for the family to host an important family gathering with us in attendance. It was a Buddhist ritual of which I'm only partially aware of the intricacies, but it essentially paid respect to one's ancestors and happened only every few years. So as Tuesday rolled around the house was prepared with the rice paper wall/doors removed in the 'formal' part of the house to make a giant room focused on the freshly polished shrine in the corner. After Otosan 'officially' welcomed Satomi and I 'home' in front of the 30-odd suited family members, the formal proceedings began... which, in my world, meant just over an hour of sitting on my knees on cushions on the tatami mat floor, listening to 2 monks chant endlessly, interspersed with occasional bell ringing.
While fascinating and spiritual in one sense, it was also quite draining and the clock in my peripheral vision just made things worse in terms of time seeming to drag. My patience held out, thankfully, and the mass was soon piling into buses and cars for the short trip to a local hotel for the second part of the day - the formal sit down dinner.

Ordinarily, I was told, this dinner would be prepared at home and served by the women in the family. It was immediately clear on entering the dining room why this was not even attempted at the Nagai household - what waited for us was a 13-course Japanese feast, with huge amounts of flowing Asahi and sake. Sure, 13 courses of Japanese food isn't that taxing on the gullet due to the small serving sizes, but still there was no logistical possibility of this being attempted in the small Nagai kitchen. No-one seemed to mind, however, as food and drink we quaffed by the excitable gents and demure ladies hell bent on making this a memorable day. The food, to my palette, was similar to the other formal dinners I've had in Japan - a mix of strange (baby squid served in a squid ink sauce), exciting (sesame tufo) and quaint (braised steak served with three tiny pieces of vegetables) and best tackled by throwing caution to the wind and repressing the gag reflex as much as possible. The drinking aspect of the day is a communal affair, with the pouring of beer and sake for another being an important social lubricant. It prompts a reciprocal gesture and, of course, a bit of light banter and chatter, all building to a great sense of sharing and getting to know each other. Satomi and I took nearly an hour to work the room, with the gathered Nagai family members and neighbours all interested in Satomi's new hometown (near the Goldu Coasto for those familiar with Oz, and north of Sy-den-ey for those less conversant with the big brown land), my age (which all believed was hard to judge) and the ubiquitous plea for us to bear children.
Seriously, I've never been nagged so much about having kids as much as I have in the past 2 weeks! Not only at this gathering, but our regular visits to Obachan in hospital rarely has less than 10 mentions of having at least one great grand-child for her to dote on.

Anyway, with the meal drawing to a close, we poured back into the hotel's courtesy bus and embarked on the rowdy drunken trip back to the farmhouse for the critical 3rd part of the evening - the male bonding session of drink, deep fried foods and lots and lots of laughter and spirit. As the women-folk repaired to the living quarters, the men gathered in the shrine room and settled in for the evening, sans jackets and ties. With partial translations from Satomi, and quite a lot of drunken gesturing and drink spilling, the night carried on in jovial fashion.
The Nagai (and Nagai neighbours) seemed truly appreciative and accepting of the first foreigner in their precious inner sanctum of Japanese masculinity, and were even planning a 12-man Nagai tour of Australia, with yours truly as the official guide. Something tells me I'll be needing a brand new liver by the end of it.

After a few hours of soaked frivolity, various wives started materialising to haul their sweaty messes of what once were their husbands back to their homes to sleep off their poor states. Which left just the immediate Nagai family (including Ojisan - Uncle - who drove up from Nagoya for the event) to digest the day and what it meant. Otosan seemed genuinely thrilled with how everything turned out, particularly how Satomi and I were accepted and welcomed into the flock. I was truly humbled by Otosan's including me in this very special event, and conveyed it as being proud to call myself an honourary Nagai. And so with that, we retired and slept off the excess; but even today, I still feel I amazingly blessed that I was able to not only bear witness to such an intimate part of another culture's spiritual process, but also to be such an accepted and included member of this proud and rich family. The  overall theme of this visit has seen me feel more at 'home' and comfortable than the first visit (which in reality was a blur of excitement and social fuck ups) and truly amazed by where my life has taken me to allow me to call a tiny rice farming village in provincial Japan as 'home'.

And now, with just a week until we fly back, it's a case of cramming in as much as we can in a short time. Tomorrow we head up to Tateyama (at 3,000m it's the highest mountain I've ever seen), and then will spend Saturday evening at a dinner party in a friend's really small apartment in Takaoka, before taking the bullet train to Tokyo on Tuesday. Tuesday night will be spent at another friend's place in Yokohama, while Wednesday, that night and most of Thursday itself will be spent enjoying all Tokyo city has to offer, before the night flight back that evening.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

On gohan

It's been all systems go around the homestead for the past few days as a break in the wet, dreary weather has sparked a flurry of rice harvesting. Which has been a boon for me, as I've been able to see and experience first hand the joys of harvesting this important Japanese staple dish. Harvest time is quite an important part of the calendar in this part of the world, and not many conversations are complete without some mention or discussion on this year's crop and yield. I seized the opportunity to quiz Otosan and Okasan (Satomi's Dad and Mum) about the intricacies of life on the land, Japan style.

For those who aren't familiar rice fields, in Japan at least, are typically rectangular fields about 150m long and 40-50m wide and are sunken down from the surrounding land so as to provide a basin-type effect to assist with water retention. In this part of the world, the fields are omnipresent - kilometre after kilometre of this rare flat expanse of land is covered with these fields. There are even some very small fields for cultivating rice in some of the larger urban areas around here. The road system follows the rice fields, resulting a patch-work of almost dead straight roads criss-crossing this area. Between the roadways and the fields lies the complicated water system - an array of gutters and drains which constantly flow with water, fed from the nearby dams and transported using gravity. Various locks can be switched to direct the flow in different ways, with plugs being opened to flood the fields ready for planting. The level of public infrastructure is impressive in its complexity, but in comparison is probably as logistically difficult to organise as is providing power, town water and sewerage systems to the farther flung Australian farms. And it's not provided cheaply, the burden borne by the farmers themselves through various taxes and levies.

The term rice farming is probably a bit of a misnomer, as rice is just one element of the mixed bag of crops these farms tend to produce. Selling all their produce through the single desk trading association (known as JA), farmers are often given quotas to fill, and nothing above that quota will be accepted. Since there are no real free markets to sell excess rice, the farmer has little choice but to abide, and hence has to diversify to ensure income. Coupled with the fact that the fields are heavily worked (it's coming to almost 8 generations of continual cultivation just on this farm), it's pretty common to see crops such as taro and daikon radish interspersed with rice crops. Out of the Nagai's 8 fields, only 5 grew rice, with one growing taro and 2 growing sunflowers. The sunflowers, interestingly, are not for cultivation, but a grown to ensure the field is now overrun by weeds if left to its own devices for a season. Luckily, JA compensates the farmer is they are left with non-income bearing fields as a result of the quota system. That said, farming in this part of the world is barely above the levels of subsistence, with Okasan (and, on occasion, Otosan) required to take out part time jobs to keep up with the cost of living. Which is sad, but unfortunately not unique to Japanese farming communities, as far as I know.

So, on to the harvest itself. Since arriving, the weather's been a little bit shit - rainy, overcast and a bit yuck. And not all that conducive to harvesting, as the dryness of the grain is quite important (to stop spoilage, I would suggest). A break in the weather the other day, however, saw us don the gum boots and gloves and take to the field with a couple of small sickles. Luckily the manual harvesting is just for the corners of the fields, which the motorised harvesters find hard to reach. Thank Christ for that! This is quite deceptively hard work, requiring some decent techniques to ensure you don't lop off a finger or toe, as well as some hard-core lower back workout with the constant up and down motion of cutting the bunch, then bundling them for drying.

It takes about 4-5 hours for the motorised harvester to clear a field of its goodness. It's a fairly straight forward contraption, with the machine lopping the plants off at the base, shaking the grains loose from the tops, and threshing the stalks before scattering them back over the field as a natural mulch. Four rows are tackled in a run, with the majority of the time taken up by emptying the harvesting machine's fill of rice into the truck, then emptying the truck's payload into the sorting machine back in the shed at the homestead. It's a 2-person job, with 2 fields able to be tackled in a fairly long and tiresome day. The removal of the rice from the field is just one step, however, with the grains going into a huge cleaning and sorting machine which shakes the shit out of them to remove the outer husks, as well as sorting them into grading. A small batch is removed from the beginning of the harvest, is whitened at a vending machine at the local shopping centre, and then cooked up for the family as celebration of the new harvest. Apparently it's a lot nicer than 'old' rice, and while there are noticeable differences from the stale versions we buy at the supermarkets, it's not remarkably different to this uncultured pallet. (I go along with it, though, as the buggers are just so damned proud of what they do!). And with the harvest seemingly coming to an end, the Nagai household erupted with celebration last night - which in this part of Nippon means a sashimi and oden dinner, which was delicious. With just the taro just to harvest, the farms rests for a little before the winter crops get sowed and it all starts again.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Nippon rules

So we made it to Japan after a trouble-free, but not altogether comfortable flight and commute. Travelling JAL was certainly a step up from my only other international flight experience - Jetstar - but no so much that it made the budget carrier look bad (and if Jetstar continues to offer their ridiculously cheap fares, I'll no doubt be a frequent flyer of theirs).

Curiously the odour was again the first thing which hit me as the biggest cultural difference. Japan smells old, and musky - like a dampness which set in about 20 years ago and never really had a chance to dry. The entire country seems to smell like a stuffy, cigarette smoke-drenched room (which I know only too well, thanks to my past), and the the interior of the public buildings have that depressed, 1980s hopelessness about them which is at once annoying and endearing.

We skirted through customs and immigration largely undisturbed, and set about the mission of getting from Narita to Shinjuku via the Narita Express train. The disturbance, however, came a little bit late: prior to boarding the train, Satomi needed a quick toilet break, leaving me to mind the mini mountain of luggage. Being the curious gent that I am, I set about walking in loose circles around the concourse area of the station. As 2 armed police officers wandered towards me, they also caught my attention. Unfortunately, this seemed to raise their suspicions, giving them enough reason to halt my progress and demand to see my passport. (Demand is probably too strong, as even in delivering their front-line aggression, Japanese are painfully polite about it). Returning from the toilet, this little scene obviously caused my wife no end of glee, as tried to stifle her humour enough to properly converse with the gun-toting keepers of the peace and explain my hapless self to them. It seemed to work and we were on our way soon enough.

Even with the glorious title of "Express" which suggests swiftness and efficiency - which I have no doubt it had plenty of both - the train still took the better part of 2 hours to reach our destination. Up and down a multitude of escalators and we finally found the south exit of Shinjuku station and were thrust upon the seething mess of Tokyo city streets at night. Satomi's old friend Yoko-chan was kind enough to meet us and guided us through the fascinating throngs (which is everything you could expect from your impressions of a metropolis like this - bright, busy and bustling), and led us to a charming little pub-come-restuarant which entertained us for a few hours with its cheap drinks, good food and great company.

We decided to catch the extremely cheap night bus from Tokyo to Takaoka - where we could get picked up by the Nagai's - and so set about finding the bus station. Bus station is, by the way, only a label, as all it consisted of was a flimsy card table on the side of the road surrounded by apron-clad lasses screaming out directions and information on which bus is coming next. The side of the street and steps leading to the near-by buildings were choked with others just like us - suitcase carrying travellers eager to get away. And eager in more than just the usual travelling zombie way - but eager to escape the putrid, open-sewer smell that would waft through from some underground construction work nearby.

The bus was a bloody disaster, and every bit cheap-assed. As it was a night bus, all passengers slept throughout the journey - meaning that all of the curtains were drawn and leaving the interior a dark, unfamiliar and somewhat dank cavern. The seats pitched back beautifully, but were amazingly uncomfortable - even just sitting upright brought about sharp pains in the lower back. The temperature and climate control within the cavern was infuriatingly inconsistent and the smell of 30-odd sweaty, farting, snoring unwashed bodies inside was almost gag-worthy. My pristine new watch became my enemy, as every time I was jolted back into consciousness by someone moving, the bus lurching, or just the overall feeling of extreme uncomfortability, its gleefully glowing hands told me I'd only been out for about 10 minutes. This meant that the 7-hour trip was spent being hopelessly awake and unable to do anything about it. Which is not so much a bad thing - I've had similar experiences bus travelling before, but as this was a dedicated "night bus", it was almost unwritten law that you could not turn on a light or open the curtains to watch the scenery whiz by. I've discovered then, that while I sometimes crave the moments of vacant staring into space and letting my mind wander, being forced to stare into an unfamiliar, dark and smelly space, being jolted and assaulted by ergonomically tortuous seats, is probably not the most healthy way to do it.

And so we arrived at Takaoka station tired and miserable. This passed pretty quickly, though, when Okasan arrived and whisked us away through the country-side and straight to the hospital to pay our respects to Obasan - the very reason for our trip. The poor old dear looked frail and poorly, but was still full of spirit and curiosity. The three ladies spent the hour or so nattering away naturally and happily, but this was interrupted every so often by Obasan's back pain and ailing ways - the only outward indication she was ill. We parted fairly soon, but will be back visiting daily for the next three weeks. We're heading off this evening to meet with a friend of Satomi-chan's, but have kept any other plans to a basic minimum so we can maximise our time with Obasan.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

New gig

So Faster Louder liked my work and have welcomed me on board. Yay for slowly getting back into the groove of writing for a real purpose. Yay even more for door-lists!

Here's my first effort - bluesy-rootsy chick Dallas Frasca. Got another one this Friday, but then will have to put things on the back-burner prematurely, as The Tiger and I need to head to Japan for 3 weeks for urgent family reasons.

This comes on the back of a rather pleasant week touring the country-side - Sydney for a quick lunch, Albury for my sister's 21st, roadtrip around old haunts in country Victoria with my big bro, Melbourne for a few days, crazy road trip with Jen to Castlemaine to see Augie March, then home. Phew.

We had only just gotten back into the work mode after that quick trip when we were summonsed to Japan following some poor news regarding Satomi's grandma. The matriarch is none too well, so we've decided to bring out planned February trip forward a few months. We jet out next Thursday, and despite the circumstances, I'm quite excited. I'll get to finally spend a couple of days in Tokyo (one of my all-time must visit cities), plus I'll get to help out harvesting the family's rice crop.

Thursday, August 6, 2009

Tributes of discovery

At the moment I'm loving the starkly different personalities of the tributes/collaborations I've decided to delve in to. I'm loving even more, however, how they come to the same conclusion in the end - the lovely 'derivativeness' of music is not really something to be shunned, no matter how much the post-grunge era has made us cringe at the thought. Be it a full-blown orgy of musical talent (like Neil Finn's various 7 Worlds Collide projects), a posthumous blub fest of emotion (GW McLennan's tribute Write Your Adventures Down: A Tribute To The Go-Betweens), a rock out with your cock out unashamed re-embrace of the mullet (Standing on the Outside: Songs of Cold Chisel), or a black-arm-band view of a musical journey (Paul Kelly's steering of the Kev Carmody love-in Cannot Buy My Soul), the all aim to serve a purpose - explaining the musical journey in more depth.

Neil Finn's astronomical and ballsy idea of inviting a selection of some of contemporary music's superpowers to jam in a small country in the South Pacific and then top it off with a 7-night stint in Auckland started off this collaborative thought process for me. Unashamedly, I stumbled upon this by my obsession with Pearl Jam, whose lead singer Ed Vedder was one of the glittering ensemble of this first iteration of the idea. While Ed took me there, I was mature enough (I hoped) to absorb the other musical beings on display, and since established a strong bond with Johnny Marr and The Healers, as well as a growing appreciation for Liam Finn and a soothing soft spot for Lisa Germano. I've since learned this was redone just recently, and the second series may lead to an album of original songs. The concert, which can be downloaded here, has also opened my ears to the likes of Sebastian Steinberg's projects, a reborn evangelism for Bic Runga and a raised eyebrow regarding my apparent misinterpretation of KT Tunstall.

The collaborative vein on display above led me to eagerly anticipate the Valley Fiesta's hastily thrown together hotch-potch of a tribute for Grant McLennan shortly after he died a few years back. The original incarnation was a bitter disappointment, however, with 2 rather large (and rather unjustified) musical egos battling it out for the "he meant more to me" trophy of self-pity and uncomfortable public displays of sorrow. A couple of months later, Triple J was more prosaic in its approach and nailed together a fairly accurate cast of contemporaries whom you could honestly hear Grant's legacy. I was unable to make the concert on the night thanks to SatomiTiger's birthday celebrations (we were only in our 2nd week of courting, so it was a sacrifice which was I was justified in making), but have since devoured the recorded offering and the delicious interpretations of Grant's body of work by some of my current favourite artists. Sarah Blasko and Darren Hanlon's take on Hold Your Horses was what this was all about.

Move forward a little bit, and it's interesting to see that the musical snobbery of the Oz scene has forgotten the collective joke which was Cold Chisel. No longer the butt of anyone's jokes, current musos were seeing through the facade and reaching into the music which underpinned many a lazy Sunday arvo in the real Australia. Curiousity saw me pick this up, as well as a devotion to Augie March (which took on album track Janelle), but Troy Casser-Daley's owning Bow River has kept me enthralled - its naturalness taking me to the point of a new respect for both Chisel and this previously dismissed country star.

This then brings us to last Saturday's Cannot Buy My Soul: Songs of Kev Carmody gig at the Brisbane Riverstage. I'm happy to admit I followed Paul Kelly into this maelstrom of 1970s black-white musical politics, I took a whole lot more from it than just blind fan-worship. It was heady stuff and the gig itself, while not particularly comfortable (as articulated by NiteShok's spot on review in Mess+Noise), did raise a few eyebrows. Kev hammered home his points of where we've come in race relations, and while it did at times become slight evangelical, the music provided three massive stand-out moments: Steve Kilbey's dramatic delivery of Images of London, Troy Cassar-Daley (and his lovely ladies on backing vocals) with On The Wire and, as I'm sure many will attest to: The Drones' owning the entire amphitheater with River of Tears. Now, an admission is needed here - I've missed the boat on The Drones. For whatever reason, I never found them on my radar until very recently, but I plan on making up for that starting with this powerhouse of bottled up and flung out aggression which was Kev's tale of black deaths in custody. This shit was seriously real, and in the true spirit of tribute gigs, a great discovery of amazing Australian musical spirit.

You can pretty much feel the paint peeling from the walls, can't you? So, anyone got any thoughts on other collaborations or tributes I should check out?

Sunday, August 2, 2009

New Pearl Jam... new tour to come, too.

I know I'm biased, but this song sounds pretty spesh to me. They just announced a run of outdoor Oz/NZ gigs coming this November, too. It's looking to be a pretty massive musical year is ole 09.

Saturday, July 25, 2009

We All Want To

This is another review I've sent to Faster Louder as a taste of my work. Not sure what's going to become of this, but it could be an interesting side-note back into writing for a bit.

If a rose by any other name is still a rose, according to the saying, is Screamfeeder by any other name still Screamfeeder? Well, yes - but as Brisbane band We All Want To's first EP Back To The Car is evident, this may not be an altogether good thing.

First a bit of back-story. Screamfeeder was one of these darling little indie bands which popped up in the booming post-grunge era Brisbane. They shared stages with the likes of Powderfinger, Custard and Regurgitator during those band's formative (and some still claim, best) years. Their music was always lauded as an intelligent post-grunge dirge which won them a solid following, but never mainstream success.

Fast forward 10 or so years, and the band never really faded away. Vocalist-guitarist Tim Steward and bassist Kellie Lloyd have always been main-stays of the Brisbane indie crowd, with solo shows and the odd "reunion" gig. In fact, just this year they did a quick run of gigs highlighting their career peak album Kitten Licks. Tim maintained the solo path, eventually settling on a 5-piece collective to back his live efforts. This band has now been christened with the devilishly vague moniker of We All Want To and the 4-track EP is a taste of what's to come.

On its own, the songs hold up superbly. Title track Back To The Car is delicious pop irony, telling various latter-years coming of age yarns. Second song I've Been Listening To You For Too Long continues the achingly gorgeous hook-based songwriting, with new female foil Skye providing the perfect antidote to the spiralling vocals. A reprieve from Tim's nasally flat delivery is given as one of the other male members takes on vox with Two Way. This song also marks the only significant departure from the tell-tale soft-loud-soft guitar-driven late 90s feel of the rest of the teaser disc, as keys and an alternating rhythm drive a maudlin feel. This Ship Has Sailed pushes back to 1996, with escalating driving drums and bass allowing the melody to creep up under the radar to a peaked finale.

There's hardly anything to fault with this short insight into a longer effort promised later this year. While the dirge has definitely been turned below 11 and the songs have a much fuller sound than the previous incarnations, it fails, however, at being significantly different from the lead man's inescapable past. And that may lead to accusations of lack of originality and creativity by some.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Augie March - Hi Fi Bar Brisbane

I posted this review to Faster Louder as a taste of my work. Hopefully they'll like it and I'll get a few reviews out of it

Augie March have built a solid reputation for unpredictable gigs over the past 10 or so years. Depending on the collective will of the band, the room and the punters, gigs can swing between self-indulgent pap teetering on the edge of disaster (led by frontman Glenn Richard's overt perfectionism) to achingly gorgeous moments of holding a room in complete silence and awe. Tonight's gig at Brisbane's new(ish) house of music, The Hi Fi Bar, swung more towards the latter as the band set about wrapping up its story to this point with the aptly titled Watch Me Set My Strange Sun You Bloody Choir tour (a mashup of album and previous tour titles).

First up, however, The Drone's main men Gareth Liddiard and Dan Luscombe get a chance to warm up the PA in this yet-to-be-finished room amidst the usual pre-gig chattering. The two men bounce off each other with great harmonies and superb licks, and manage to bottle the almost infamous on-stage intensity of The Drones. Liddiard was even spied sporting a smile or two as they ripped through the list of songs showcasing the raw bones of what makes The Drones tick, with the low intimate feel almost making it feel like you were eavesdropping on their weekly jam sessions.

Warm applause acknowledged their existence as the curtain drew on the support act and preparations were made for the main. The room was nowhere near capacity as the curtain drew back after a short wait and the band sauntered on for what was being touted as their last full-scale Brisbane gig for some time. Early signs pointed towards another horrendous gig, however, as Glenn grimaced at some unheard and unseen misdemeanour from drummer David Williams in the first few bars of There's Something At The Bottom Of The Black Pool. It wasn't to be, however, as the band kicked in well during the difficult middle section of this gem from their second album Strange Bird and set the tone for the evening: a fan-pleasing romp through their impressive back-catalogue. Only 4 of the 16 songs in the set list were, in fact, from their newest albums (2006 breakthrough Moo, You Bloody Choir and this year's Watch Me Disappear). This may have been due to a fan-led song poll on their website leading up to this tour, but the up-beat mood of the band indicated the trip down memory lane was also their intention with this swan-song tour. Early highlights were peppy The Offer (from Sunset Studies) juxtaposed with the mournful and bass-driven Dogsday from the new album, showing not only the journey this band has managed, but also a glimpse of where their sound could go should they choose to continue.

A deserving champion towards the middle of the set, and the traditional quieter moments, was the superb crystal sound of The Hi Fi Bar itself. While the walls and decor may still be some way from being completed, the all-important sound system was given its moment in the sun with such an intimate sound from the Augies. A solid 4-song middle section drew heavily on their sombre and noodling moments, with each nuance from guitarist Adam Donovan and keyboardist Keirnen Box clearly transmitted to all areas of the venue. It may not sound like much, but for Brisbane punters having to endure walls of feedback and muddy mixes at their well established music institutions, the impact of this simple technical milestone should not be sneezed at. The recent establishment of the venue was commented upon by Glenn as a sign of the city's bravery and love of music, a speech which segued perfectly into the obligatory One Crowded Hour - conspicuously played not begrudgingly this time around - and the rare Just Passing Through to finish out the set. A 3-song encore had the band unleash the jamming beasts, as they worked through classics Hole In Your Roof and finished with the building and driving momentum of Clockwork to round out the characteristically unpredictable gig.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

I'm sitting in a void

According to the documents lodged with Brisbane City Council today, I'm currently sitting in a void within the building which is to replace the Albion Love Den.

That's right, the development application is seeking to demolish this gorgeous old girl and build in its stead a 3-storey unit complex consisting of 11 very small 2-bedroom units (only 75sq m each!), an office built right on the Sandgate Road frontage, keeping the old shop and also knocking down the asbestos-laden storage building next door. This is the jewel within their crown, as the building houses the reason for the heritage listing - a 1930s brick baker's oven, which they hope will be restored and used in a future courtyard.

The developers do have a bit of an up-hill task ahead of them. Firstly, there's the Heritage Listing itself, which they have argued is erroneous to have the house included. The original Heritage documents cited the shop with attached residence as an important signpost of the inter-war period development of Albion. The problem is that the house is not actually attached to the shop or the old bakery. In addition, they argue, the house has been "extensively-, unsympathetically- and irreversibly-altered" which essentially cancels out its Heritage value.

They are also using this argument to try to convince Council to ignore the Demolition Control Precinct which also exists over both the shop and the house. Demolition Control was an important streetscape-saving Heritage measure put in place by the Soorley administration (I think) which states that if there are 3 properties in a row which were built prior to 1946 and displayed typical architectural styles of the era, then they were to be saved. This may be their sticking point, I feel. Despite what they claim was unsympathetic alterations, these were primarily internal the house was divided into units sometime in the 60s, I think) and did not significantly change the street view of the house. They claim, however, that the building in of the verandas on the front and side of the house have canceled out its historic value and hence should be excluded from the DCP.

So that's where it's at. I'm kind of relieved to have confirmation that there is finally something happening. It's been nearly 2 years since old mate Ray sold up, and the speculation going around has been frustrating. I have mixed feelings about the development itself, which may be part nimbyism, part sadness at the likely loss of my old girl, and part angst that another chunk of Brisbane history (albeit a small chunk) is most probably going to get bulldozed to make way for another corporately bland "modern" development devoid of soul and style (or "Leggo" type developments which are infecting our urban landscape, according to my mate Jules).

There is an internal conflict in my psyche, however, as the development completely fits into my view of sustainable urban development - high density mixed use projects, close to public transport and amenities to reduce the sprawl and hence reliance on cars. I'm keen to write up a response during the public submission phase of the development, but I fear I'm just not too concerned about the actual physical buildings and future of them.

After 10 years here (celebrating the milestone this month, I think!) I know it's time to move on, and I'm happy to do so. I just wish the rents would reduce a little... sheesh, it's madness out there! I did speak to the real estate this week, and they anticipate we'll get at least another six month lease, which is a relief. My mate Geoff also spoke to the architects who anticipate nothing would get going until at least 2010, so there's some time.

Now I've just got to get back to enjoying the void.

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

The beginning of the end

It's been coming for a while, but this is the first indication that the Albion Love Den is to be demolished: a development application lodged with council yesterday. The details are extremely light on, but it seems pretty clear from the application for building works that this is more than just a spit and polish for the old girl.

Looking at the history of these applications, though, it still could be another year or so before any real movement around the place. It seems, too, that our owners may be in for a little bit of a battle, as Council also states it's part of a "demolition control precinct" and a heritage place (cultural and adjoining). I'll endeavour to get some facts about what these constraints mean. Our lease comes up for renewal in early September, so it's back to the waiting game.

Saturday, June 27, 2009

Hottest 10 of all time

Triple J have asked people to vote for their all time favourite songs, so that they can compose a Hottest 100 Of All Time, yet again. Now, despite Triple J not being the repository it once was, and acknowledging that the whole shebang may be a rip off, here's my list (in no particular order):

Bob Dylan – Masters Of War. The relentless rhythm allows the gravity of the powerful and earnest lyric to shine through. It’s structure is deceptively simple, like most of Bob’s work.

Stevie Wonder – Higher Ground. Gets the rump shakin like nothing else has ever been able to. That riff! Shit…

Beach Boys – God Only Knows. Hopeless romanticism all wrapped up just under 3 minutes.

You Am I – Berlin Chair. This shit was seriously underrated in its time as the Oz music public grappled with a credibility crisis and couldn’t quite grasp that a home-grown talent could come out with something this great. This was one of my first Triple J discoveries in the days just prior to nationalisation of the public broadcaster. I was doing work experience at the local ABC studio during the semester at high school, and the techies taught me how to patch 2JJJ up from Sydney. I felt dramatically cutting edge knowing about this band.

Pearl Jam – Alive. The iconic riff was first heard on a rare late Friday night rage session, as I shared a small 2-bedroom unit in country NSW with my Mum and little sis. Before, I was going through a serious metal phase, so anything with a melody or any form of pop sensibility was immediately discarded. The turbulent family life, however, also left me pre-disposed to moments of dramatic teenage angst and this song, band, movement and style fitting me like a glove. It immediately seeped into my bloodstream and has fuelled a life-long love affair and symbiosis with the band.

Smashing Pumpkins – Bullet with Butterfly Wings. Despite all my rage, I’m still just a rat in a cage. The lyric and pulsating riff seemed to sum up the teenaged, Gen-X angst a whole lot more sensibly than talk of mulattos and mosquitos.

Joy Division – Transmission. This song conveyed the urgency and pioneering spirit of Manchester at the brink of Madchester.

Natalie Merchant – Carnival. This is a wonderful lyrical life journey from the perspective of a person deeply unaffected by the day-to-day drama of it all. You also have to love a song which features lightly-touched bongo as a musical focus.

The Go Betweens – Cattle and Cane. This song has the ability to make you homesick, even if you’re still there.

Augie March – Sunset Studies. A gorgeous maudlin feel with an air of desperate hope. Well all by and by and all through and through, this is the only thing that comes back to you, how you banged her on a cannon in a World War Two park in Gundagai. Such a superb Australian lyric.

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Dave and Hannah send the ocassional chill down the spine... or it may just have been cold.

It's always refreshing to catch a loved artist in a different format. A rock band doing the sit-down acoustic thing has been a proven success; or the All Tomorrow's Parties format of a band playing their seminal album from start to finish are just 2 examples.

Tonight it was checking out young troubadour David Di Marco in a male-female duet, which was quite interesting. I came across Dave as a fresh 17 year old competitor in the Fretfest Find Of The Year 2007, winning the Under 18 age category. His songs are as catchy as hell (with his song-writing belying his young age) and are complimented beautifully by his sometimes astounding voice. He's been a pleasure to work with and listen to for the past couple of years, and was even invited to play at our wedding. Suffice to say I've been an ardent supporter and admirer of his music, and have been keen for him to branch out for some time.

The duet aspect came from his love interest (I'm guessing here) Hannah Shepherd. Setting up under an awning on the footpath in front of a coffee shop in a back street in West End seemed the perfect scene for this 'intimate' show which saw the duo draw a crowd spilling onto the street (which was still great, despite the shivering cold which was rapidly descending). With Hannah on occasional keys and Dave in the familiar acoustic-vox set up, the pair are honest and innocent enough to wear their influences not only on their sleeves, but also within their setlist: the few covers they cracked out included Angus and Julia as well as the benchmarking Glen and Marketa. And while their harmonies were not always on the money, the chemistry was evident enough to know that a bit more work and they'd nearly be there... the silence of the captivated crowd gathering on the street was sure of it. Now Dave just needs to find a way to ensure that pesky g-string stops breaking in the crucial bits.

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Quitting smoking hurts your legs

I gave up smoking just over a year ago. One year and 4 days ago, to be exact.

It's been a pretty cool year. Despite putting on a little weight, I've felt a surge in my sense of health and well-being which you would naturally expect to result from stopping the routine and willful poisoning of your body.

The quitting, however, did have a natural flow-on affect on my sense of overall health. I realised pretty quickly that smoking was just a crutch to excuse quite a lot of unhealthy life choices in recent years: poor diet, lack of exercise, horrible sleeping patterns, binge drinking and regular intoxication by other substances. I'd actively resisted attempting to fix those other things by hiding behind the fact that I was smoking at least a packet of cigarettes a day: it didn't matter how fit I became, or how balanced my diet was, I was ruining any positives by that rather large negative - was my thinking. Without the cigarettes, I know longer had a convenient bunker to hide behind.

So I joined a gym, I focused my attention on my diet and I sought to remove some aspects of my personal habits which were doing me damage. I also bought a bike. I rediscovered this machine as a relatively exhilarating way to exercise and commute. I vigorously explored the city bike paths on weekends, and often found myself wanting more. A lot more. And so it was in this frame of mind that I accepted workmate Mick's invitation to go actual mountain biking last weekend. My gym sessions were going very well, my bike had been recently serviced and I was feeling relatively invincible. And, since my mountain bike hadn't yet actually tasted anything near a mountain in its life, I figured this would be a great way to celebrate my one year no-smoking anniversary.

We trekked down to Daisy Hill on Brisbane's southside and quickly got into the rhythm of things. The first 10-15kms was relatively polite, as I traversed muddy tracks, craggy paths and pot-holed speckled firetrails. It was great to be in the outdoors and I could feel my confidence beginning to soar with every narrow miss, with every drop negotiated and with every rock ridden over without it resulting in my face assisting in my breaking. It was in this spirit that Mick suggested a final trail - more of a "technical route" that a "fast and scary". Sounded fine, I reasoned, and so we made the way up the red-mud clad hill to the top. "See you at the bottom" he called, as we begun the descent down the very narrow muddy trail.

The track was very narrow, with trees and rocks closing in on both sides. Often the trail was only big enough for your tires, not allowing any room for error. A steep hill fell away on the left for a lot of the trip. I traversed a few tricky corners and crags, and my confidence was reaching its zenith. Rounding a rather fast corner, I spied a deviation in the trail ahead - a purpose-laid path of relatively flat stones was gouged away on the left hand side by hundreds of bike tires slipping off. As is often the case, I focused on where I did not want to go - the sharp edge of a stone which dropped off steeply on one side. The focus did nothing but guide me into it. With both hands squeezing the brakes for dear life, I had no option and closed off my mind as the sickening thud of the tire on the sharp rock signaled a spiraling entanglement of my body and bike. The result was a bruised knee-cap and graze on my left knee, and rather deep scrapes on both thighs. These scrapes have manifested itself into two pretty impressive blue/yellow bruises:

Shut up! This camera sucks and it doesn't really do them justice. They're huge bruises! Certainly the most impressive I'd had as a result of physical exertion for some years (as opposed to bruises gained from sheer clumsiness or the like, which are relatively common). Bruises aside, it was a pretty bloody darned fun way to celebrate such a milestone and I can't wait to do it all over again. I think I'm hooked to this exercise-y stuff.

Saturday, May 2, 2009

From Big Things

I've always been a firm believer in a person identifying deeply with a genre or style of art: it's an intrinsic part of our being. Not the artistic vehicle (ie, music, film, stage, etc) as such, but the overall genre, field and intent of the art. I can totally appreciate, for example, the pure bliss of the escapism science-fiction can hold for people. I can admire those who immerse themselves so fully in soap operas, no matter the abject absurdity it brings. For me, however, it's the mirror-to-the-world honesty of heart-felt storytelling which gives me that pit-of-the-stomach resonance with anart form . And so I immediately identify with singer-songwriters as a whole, and straight-talking novelists who 'speak my tongue'; those who actively seek out the beauty in the mundane and find a deeper meaning in the process.

I'm also a proponent of the idea that many people will look towards a select few artists in their lifetime whom they truly hold dear as experts of their craft. Be it Speilberg, Spelling or The Strokes, people will latch on to a touchstone artist which will tap into that special place deep in our psyche. We continually turn to those touchstones as a reference point throughout our lives. It's why I will make a point of seeking out the literary works of, say, Andrew McGahan, Irvine Welsh, Alan Duff and John Birmingham (apart from his alternate reality guff :-) as a way to remind myself of the simple art of lovely storytelling. In music, I have a very similar bent and while I venture far and wide in my musical discoveries, will constantly lead myself back to my touchstone artists in order to give myself an effective reference point. These artists are fairly obvious for most - Pearl Jam, The Frames, The Go Betweens, Jeff Lang and, QPAC's guest this week, Paul Kelly.

Before the main event, however, was a new discovery in my world. Sitting alone and seemingly lost in the massive bare space of the Concert Hall's stage was US swampy blues man Charlie Parr. His gorgeous finger-picked resonator guitar sung beautifully to fill the space, but his muddy vocals and oftenexaggerated and ill-conceived stomp-boxing made it hard to really penetrate to appreciate what was going on. That, and the massive space between the nose-bleed seats and the stage, meant it was hard to feel a connection to something as relatively intricate as Parr's style. He doesn't disappoint, really, and sustains my intrigue for the full 40 minute set, but whether by design or circumstance, fails to fully engage his audience.

As Kelly strides out with his trusty band, it's almost an immediate wave of euphoria enveloping me which doesn't let up until many hours after the gig (and is still giving slight aftershocks with memory). The hall is the perfect venue for such an artist. Every ping, every note, every nuance can be heard amongst the deafening roars of some of his greatest hits. When it comes to touchstones, there are hardly any better than this right now. Superb stories, told in mesmerising ways, by fully accomplished musicians on impeccable equipment and set in a wonderfully sounding room can only be considered a true blessing in my world. And let's not forget the voice, as Robert Forster eloquently outlined in his recent review in The Monthly magazine:

"None of these songs would be as good or as pleasurable if Paul Kelly wasn't the singer he is. It is his most overlooked talent ... there are no growls or yelps, or strange ticks, or Americanisms, or faux-Pommy bits; he hasn't fallen into the horrible trap of so many old and new folk singers who sound like they've just stepped off the boat at Botany Bay, circa 1800. In fact, Kelly doesn't seem to be interested in authenticity at all - it just comes naturally to him, and it reaches further because of that, to the campfires and the bush, the suburbs and suburban pub, and the inner-city sophisticates. His voice - sly and warm, laconic and sometimes frail - may be the closest thing we have to a national one."

The songs flowed beautifully on from each other, and each musician had their moments in the spotlight. Pete Luscombe oozed rhythm through every movement of his polka-dot-shirt-wearing body, Ash Naylor was suitably restrained, but allowed the odd moment of superbly timed riff-work for effect and poignancy. Bill's bass proved to underlying foil to it all, as well as keyboardists Cam's finishing touches on the whole shebang.

It was the inclusion of Vika Bull on backup duties which astounded me the most, however, as she proceeded to slowly steal the show from under Paul's nose. Granted, from an outsider's perspective (The Tiger's, for example), the intrusion of this relatively unknown woman on Paul's songs was a little strange. And, as she proceeded to take the entire lead vocal for a number of songs, the audience might be forgiven for thinking they were gypped with their gig ticket. A little analysis revealed, however, that she was simply interpreting the many Paul songs he had written from and for the female perspective. One by one her booming deep, ethereal voice stole back the feminine side of Paul and his songs. The crowning, tear-jerking crescendo was the tale of betrayal and loss of trust in Everything's Turned To White. Vika took the majority of the vocal, with just Cam's spooky undertone of keys providing the murky underwater backing to this tale of woe. When a guitar-less Paul stepped from the shadows to sing the male protagonists pathetic plea of stupid innocence, it was earth-shattering raw emotion.

Indeed, it was Vika who led the vocal on the first of a triumvirate of sublime music which provided the evening's absolute highlight in my eyes. An extended jam of Sweet Guy had Vika plunging the depths of her vocal range and tone as she let out guttural moans of despair which provided the brushstrokes to the 3 guitarists' riff work ending out this classic of Paul's mid-80s ballads. From there, the band when into full rock mode with Deeper Water, beginning with Paul's bittersweet coming of age tale, being driven largely by a mind-bendingly simple and extremely effective bass and keys riff underlying the whole song. Pete and Paul's crashing finale segued straight into Paul's rebirth song God Told Me To, as the band well and truly found its feet within the massive space.

A double encore ended, somewhat predictably, with the Kev Carmody co-penned classic From Little Things, Big Things Grow. Starting with just Paul solo on stage, each verse saw a new band member casually walk on stage and join in the playing by the time the chorus kicked in. And while Ash needed to kick his guitar tech up the bum for missing his cue, the idea cemented beautifully as the entire band was in full swing by the final, neck-hair-raising chorus which signalled an end to yet another wonderfully crafted evening at the sonic hands of one of Australia's finest musical touchstones.

Monday, April 20, 2009

Night in the sticks

We spent last Saturday night at a 50th birthday party for someone who was, prior to the weekend, simply a friend of a friend.

As far as 50ths go, though, this one was a standout. For reasons I'm yet to really know, birthday girl Carole is nothing like the "typical 50 year old". I sort of knew this prior to the weekend, but it kicked in even more as she regaled the gathered group about her marathon stint at the Byron Bay Blues Festival the weekend before. When a group of 40- or 50-somethings turned up with guitars, a double bass and a saxophone, you know it's going to be a cracker of a night.

Alas, for the Tiger and I, it was not too be a purely enjoyable eve, thanks largely to QRs ineptitude. Rather than go into a big sob story, I'll just say that due to a "police incident" at Ormeau, trains were not running between Robina and Beenleigh. About 6 phone calls later (to both Translink and QR), and I was finally assured that we would not be left stranded some 100-or-so kilometres from home. How pleasant. What ensued, however, was a marathon bus and train trip, still partially intoxicated from the beer bong Carole's young son and friends peer pressured me into. Joy!

This is not to detract from a great night at Carole's. Before the evening, we were merely "acquaintances", hanging out at various gigs and events in Brisbane thanks largely to her then boyfriend John. Accepting the invitation to her 50th was not taken lightly, due pretty much due to where it was (Palm Beach) and my absolute hatred of the feeling of being "trapped" somewhere without an easy plan for escape (as we don't drive, this can be a drama).

Just a few minutes into the afternoon, escape became the absolute last thing on my mind. Carole and her extended family of adult daughters, a teenage son and thriving gaggle of friends and compatriots made us feel completely at home straight away. It was with a sense of sadness, in fact, that we were wrenched away from the madness of her teenage son's beer bong shenanigans to venture home. And, despite the dramas imposed on us by Queensland Rail and Translink's absolute failure at both communications and customer service, I was bouyed by the beauty, joy and love such a humble thing as family, friends and laughter can bring. And it made me glad that my now 1-year-old marriage has (hopefully) put me on that path of such things as I head towards my 50th.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Reflections Of A Sound

The Easter weekend has almost evaporated, and as I sit on the "nearly back at work" side of the scale and look back, I can honestly say I loved every second of its lazy goodness.

Just sitting at home, soaking up the Love Den's wonderfully welcoming embrace as the slow, lazy and overcast days rolled by was sort of cathartic, in a way. I have even managed to sleep in every morning, which is pretty rare in my world (thanks mainly to the construction worker's union remaining strong and ensuring NO work was being done around my home this weekend... it's easy to forget how quiet it can actually be on Sandgate Road sometimes). Hanging out with the Tiger was bliss, too. Our lives have been slowly circling away from each other's in the past few weeks as she focusses on her study, and I find most of my evenings wrapped up in either the gym or the gathering steam of the jamming sessions.

Late this afternoon, however, in the usual innocence of the Tiger's curious ways, I was slapped in the face by where my life had come in the past few years. Researching places to stay down the Gold Coast next weekend for a friend's 50th birthday party, we clicked on to Google Maps. As usual, we get side-tracked and the Tiger takes us on a Streetview tour of Albion... a tour back in time, as it seems.

Google isn't that keen on new-ness, it seems. A cursory glance around streetview shows the pics in my little neck of suburbia were taken about 2 years ago. The office block/restaurant across the road was nothing more than a lone cement slab standing as an omen to its future emptiness (the place is still not fully tenanted!). The curtain shop next door was still the curtain shop (it's now empty); the laundromat across the lane was still the laundromat (before it was turned into the mysterious upholstery shop which never seems to open). Heading down the lane is when you get the most stark view of where this corner of Brisbane has come from in such a short time. On the screen, the corner house was still there: it's now 2-story a construction site, complete with a high-level crane and countless to-ing and fro-ing from very early in the morning 6 days a week. A little further down the road, and the streetview single storey brick workshop is still there and in business. Today, it's a 6-storey concrete slab monstrosity which has topped out and add to Albion's big grey box skyline. Across the road, and the old mill is still completely intact (although, the hoardings are up advertising its future): today, it's nothing more than the old brick mill building, the iconic blue and white silo and a motley collection of weeds slowly taking over the site.

It got me thinking, naturally, of where I'd traveled in the same space of time. Sure, 2 or so years can fly by without you noticing it, but when you pack as much into those years as you can, 2 or so years ago can seem like a lifetime ago. And it also gives you a bit of a kick up the bum to get on your way to filling at least the next 2 years with as much fun, excitement, joy and love as the past 2 or so have been.

And while it's easy to get dismayed as you see the heart of your sweet suburb get ripped out from around you (and possibly even swallow your home), it can also be the necessary siren-song for the end of an era and the beginning of another. I'm rapidly turning this into a positive, as I look at the uncertainty of both my professional and personal worlds, and see it as nothing but a great thing: I know I'll land on my feet... I'm just pretty darned anxious to see exactly where those feet will end up.

Tuesday, March 31, 2009

I'm cool

No, seriously. Like, really cool. Like, cutting edge of everything. Like seriously, amazingly fashionable that people want to do what I do. Want proof?

Take guava, for example. A couple of years back, I lamented the lack of fresh guava in this country. Sure, you can buy guava nectar in the shops, but it's not really the same. And then, what do we find in the fruit shop a few weeks back? Guava! And pretty soon, it wasn't just in the pinko, lefto, commo organic fruitstores... but also in Coles! Lordy above.

Still not convinced of my coolness? Well, let's continue the fruity theme with dragonfruit. Previously, it was a delicacy spied only occasionally in above-mentioned lefto, pinko, commo organic fruiterees. After lashing out one day with ex-Love Denner the Angry German, I was hooked. Now, you can't move in the fruit section of Toombul's Coles without coming face-to-face with a bloody dragonfruit.

But I can see you're still not totally convinced by cutting-edgedness. Well, let's go on a holiday, I suggest late last year to my fellow Love Dennion SatomiTiger. We hire a car and bolt southwards to a little nook called Yamba and Angourie and instantly fall in love. Such a lovely little corner of the world, it is. Realising our gem, we decided to tell the world it was crapola so they continue to be amazed by the slowly decaying and plastique Byron and not trample all over our paradise. And then I see this: the death-knell. Now instead of fish n chips down by the sea, it'll be latte-frappa-wotsits, gourmet fucking pancakes and playing dodge the fricken Beemer.

Seriously, I'm either ultra-cutting edge, or someone's following my every move and taking notes. Either way, I'm cool. Yeah.

Saturday, March 28, 2009

One of those funks

Commenting over at a friend's blog just now made me realise something - I've been a little bit out of the blogging loop. And I promised this one would not become another of those started, not continued numbers. Plus, I should really get back into the rhythm of writing again.

It's not that I haven't had much to talk about. In fact, life's pretty 'interesting' right now. And my head is teaming with a swirling soup of fantastic ideas which may simply be blog stories in the future, but may also be the seedlings of something larger.

I've completely changed my way of living in the past couple of months. Part of this whole 30s/looking after myself/being healthy thing which began about 10 months ago with giving up smoking. I've joined a gym (and still regularly attend!), I've had some personal training and am keeping a food diary. I have no burning need to lose heaps of weight (although some would be nice), but I do have this strong internal feeling that I haven't really been all that healthy for the past 30 or so years, and it's time to turn that around.

That in itself is pretty monumental. By nature I'm a fairly sedentary creature, so being fit and active is a 180-degree turn. But that hasn't been the be-all and end-all of my activity lately. There's an edgy feeling around my workplace at the moment, with whispers and rumours flying everywhere. Suffice to say, with 5 years under my belt at this workplace, I'm a little excited and a little apprehensive about what the future may hold in that regard.

Add to that a renewed musical activity, which is keeping me busy at least 2 nights a week. Nothing too ambitious or thrilling - just a loose collective of 4 mates with a semi-decent grasp of their instruments getting together to belt out a few numbers after work and on weekends. It's been good to get that creative outlet up and running again.

It's been a pretty cool couple of months, actually. A sort of rediscovery of myself in a way. For the past couple of years, my life's focus has been on the complicated and time-consuming elements of conducting a long-distance relationship, then the visa hassles, then the wedding drama and then just settling into coupledom life (can't believe our first wedding anniversary is this Monday!). It's been really enlightening to spend the past few weeks turning a little bit inward again and finding the joy and passion with those purely "me" things again.

And now tapping back into that writing vein... wonder what this will bring. Hopefully not a heap of boring diary entries like this one. But thanks for indulging if you got this far.

Right now, I'm intrigued by shuffle on my iPod. It's really loving Alex Lloyd tonight. Strange.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Top 50,000 countdown

About 2 years ago, I got hooked on this site called - which has taken me back to my childhood feelings in so many surprising ways recently.

For those not in the know, is a music-based social networking site. You download a tiny little bit of software which tracks which songs you play on your iTunes and iPod and presents them in a multitude of charts. It's fascinating stuff, and it's been my bread and butter website since about August 2006. And, as I'm about to click over to the 50,000th song on the chart, I reflected on why it fascinates me so.

49,995: The Church - Pharaoh

And it does go back to my childhood. One of my most prize possessions coming in the glorious double figures was a clock radio one of my family members gave me. Living in pre-JJJ times, I was stuck between a few sparse radio choices for a pre-teen, desperately cool kid. Until I hooked into Barry Bisel and his Top 40 Countdown every Sunday or Monday night. Eagerly, I'd listen to his dulcet tones as he counted down to the top spot for the week (and desperately trying to dodge my 8.30pm curfew to ensure I was awake enough to catch the Number 1, yet constantly waking up the next morning disappointed in falling asleep before it was announced). Barry was a fascinating radio character, interspersing the songs with fascinating tidbits from this world they called rock.

49,996: Tori Amos - Horses

It had me by the short and curlies from that point. I learned how to program the "sleep" and "alarm" functions so that I would fall asleep listening to the radio every night and wake up every morning listening (interestingly - it's a habit only recently broken thanks to a less-than-tolerant partner who does not like the night-time intrusion).

49,997: Andy Mitchell - Tell Me

It's more than Barry Bisel, though. It's also the blissful Saturday mornings spent camped on the lounge floor watching Rage's Top 50 countdown. Lazing about in your PJs, with breakfast crumbs scattered around and anticipating "your song" miraculously jumping from number 48 to number 1 in a week (and being disappointed with it being beaten by Richard Marx YET AGAIN!). It's your Mum being the sweetest she's ever been by waking up extra early to video tape the first 10 or so songs so you could go back and watch them later. It's the skipping to the local shopping centre's dodgy music store (but, by it's nature as the only record store around - the COOLEST. STORE. EVER!) every Wednesday after school to grab the latest copy of the Aria charts and scanning it's reddish/pink ink for the latest trends. And then drooling over the CDs and cassingles on display and dreaming of the day when you could buy it all...

49,998: REM - Aftermath

So here I am, at the age of 32, listening to music and wondering what the magical 50,000th will be. It means nothing, with my 8000 song iPod set to random. My charts will probably not change for some time yet, with the Top 5 dominated by my musical guides Pearl Jam, The Frames, Silverchair, Something For Kate and Augie March. Anyone who spends a couple of hours with me will know they are my top artists.

49,999: Something For Kate - Impossible

And yet... this magical site keeps me coming back. I watch the charts with wonder. I design iPod playlists to deliberately skew the results. I follow artist's links and constantly discover new music....

And, so - with great fanfare, I give you BrisJamin's 50,000th song:

50,000: George - Change

And I'm pretty happy with that.

Friday, March 6, 2009

For the love of God: Don't Look Down!

It's amazing how quickly you can get immersed in the intricacies of a culture, isn't it? At the beginning, you take your cues from the status quo - observing the accepted behaviours and mimicking them in an effort to be accepted. Yet, you (and doubtlessly most others) don't know why the "norms" were established, by whom and for what purpose. Yet we strictly, almost religiously observe them... why?

Take the gym, for example. Having lived the "rock n roll" lifestyle for most of my teens and 20s, the introduction to the 30s (and marriage) brought on the Great Girth of Contentment. So much so, that I took the drastic measure a few weeks back to join the local gym. I've never been to a gym outside of a feeble attempt with the sticky-floored "gym" at high school. And, somehow, I don't think it's ancient, rusting bench presses and dumbells really qualified.

With gusto I take on this new role of gym-junky and I quickly get into the rhythm of the place. I barely acknowledge the door bitch as she swipes my card and unlocks the turnstyle to grant me access. I go about my workout with great pride and regimented discipline - wiping down the machines with disinfectant (for the "comfort of other patrons", you see?); taking the weights off the machines after I've finished (for the "convenience of other patrons", you see?); and I carry my sweat towel and water bottle like my life depends on them. Oh, and I am constantly aware of my "own body odour" for the "comfort of other patrons" (which I find weird, because if I'm being asked to be aware of my own body odour, then surely it's just for my benefit??).

It's back into the locker room at the end of the workout where the real social rules kick in. I learned early on, through trial and error, that your eyes need to stare resolutely forward at all times. Your head must be tilted at the precise angle to make it clear that in no way are you even glimpsing, even out of the farthest corners of your eyes, that naked butt or floppy wang just over the way. Your intent must be kept firmly on your own task at hand, even if that means intently concentrating on the precise tying of your shoes into a neat double bow. Anything to stop your eyes from being drawn to the chiseled crack of an ass just to the right of your head.

Now, anyone who knows me will agree that I'm in no way a prude. I'll take any opportunity to oggle a nice willy, as much as a nice bouncy cleavage. And, with my gym being smack bang in the middle of a predominantly gay part of town, you'd be forgiven for thinking that the social mores may have been relaxed slightly in the locker room? Not so, and I find myself plunged back into high school and the outright fear of being caught catching a glimpse at some other boy's tools and then being singled out as a "fag!".

You can imagine my surprise, then, when a guy opened a conversation with me in the locker room tonight. Even though we were both fully dressed, I was mortified that this dufus had broken the golden rule and had started an actual conversation! How dare he? Did he want to get us both labelled as "homos"??!?! My horror, however, quickly turned to disgust at myself, as I realised how quickly I'd succumbed to the enforced social mores of such a stuffy place. Any other part of the world, and this gent's openness and genuine interest in his fellow being would have been endearing, and yet here I was silently condemning him.

It got me to thinking how quickly one can be swayed by the social mores around them. Sure, a gym is probably an intense microcosm of peer pressure and rules, but I can count at least 4-5 other social situations in my day in which my natural way of thinking is overruled by the social rules of the place. On the train on the way to work. At the line up in the 7-11. At the toilet block at work. And here I was thinking I was a strong-willed individual...