Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Top 10 Albums of 2010

It’s Top 10 time. It’s been a sweet little year music-wise, with Brisbane’s gorgeous pop-driven sunlit sound dominating the ear-holes early on, but some new sounds thanks to my new surrounds have started to creep in. As expected, live music and reviews have dominated my charts as I’ve boned up on artists so I can write at least half-way intelligible critiques. The reviews have also opened my ears to stuff I probably wouldn’t expose myself to ordinarily (Gareth Liddiard and Edwyn Collins, for example). So, here’s what I reckoned was good sounds in 2010. What say you?

10. The White Stripes, Under Great White Norther Lights.

There’s nothing like a great live album, is there? The Stripes never quite grabbed my fancy on a recorded setting - something to do with my natural aversion to overbearing fan-boys which tend to cloud the issue dramatically - but in a live sense, this duo is seriously powerful. This was a duel CD/doco release following the group on a Canadian tour, and it highlights a band keen on presenting its music as honestly as possible: crunchy, loose and with enough rough edges to make it endearing.

9. The Vasco Era, Lucille.

Aw, love a cool concept album. This group’s second offering is solid, with a dominating narrative following the break up of a couple by the names of Sam and Lucille. Importantly, the music has infinitely more depth than it’s first album and relies less on gritty guitars and front-man Sid O’Neil’s screech. Some people have found this appalling (this great review here, for example), but I love a band willing to break the mould so early.

8. Edwyn Collins, Losing Sleep.

One of those reviews which somehow made its way to my top rotation list. The former Orange Juice leader came back from the brink of death to record this star-studded affair and it’s a corker. The themes deal with those awful truths of aging and relevance, which seems weird coming from an artist as accomplished as Collins, but its done so with compassion and tenderness, rather than fear and loathing. Oh, and it’s chock full of some of the most irresistible pop hooks of 2010.

7. Gareth Liddiard, Strange Tourist.

Another review album which wormed its way in under the radar. I really didn’t think I’d get into this initially and actually wanted to dislike it (part of that anti-fanboy thing... I’ve really gotta work on that cynical resistance to some music), but what’s not to like about a laconic story-teller who can weave a yarn about a French tight-rope walker at one end of an album, and book-end it with a 16-minute verbose biography of David Hicks which turns itself into a spittle-flecked diabtribe about modern living?

6. Sharon Jones and The Dap Kings, I Learned The Hard Way

Soul/funk revival in all its refinery. Don a fedora and a white wife-beater and get your mofo groove on, bitches. This is the real deal.

5. Cordrazine, Always Coming Down

Time to take it down a notch or three. After going to ground thanks to freaking out at the reaction to the band’s first album back in 1998, Hamish Cowan finally got the band back together to record its follow up. The decade-long absence has not wearied them one bit, with the dreamy ethereal soundscape just as lush and inviting as ever. And honestly, who couldn’t be soothed by Cowan’s detached falsetto?

4. Glenn Richards, Glimjack

So Glenn broke up Augie March and formed another identical band featuring a couple of dudes from The Drones, his brother and some other bloke. Who the hell cares? This is an Augie March album in the vein of pre-One Crowded Hour. It’s only criticism could be that it’s very conscious of not producing another OCH, which seems to have become a talisman for Richards and co. Still, good to see their live show is less irritating.

3. Gorillaz, Plastic Beach. shit. There is so much packed into this supergroup’s new album that it’s almost too much to comprehend. The Clash’s Paul Simonon and Mick Jones teaming up with Blur’s Damon Albarn should be enough to smack you in the gob with its awesomeness, but with cameos from artists such as Snoop Dogg, Lou Reed and Mos Def this has turned into a spectacle of spectacular proportions. The music is thumping and huge and is genuinely exciting in its delivery. I cannot wait to see where this is eventually heading.

2. Two Door Cinema Club, Tourist History.

How can a trio of pasty Northern Irish lads with foppish fringes, tight jeans and angular guitars sounds so fucking French? There’s an irreverent lightness in touch and an almost arrogant approach to the hook that it sneaks up on you and bites you fair on the arse before you can implement the cynical old dude gene and discount it as pure kiddie pop. Sure it’s that, but it’s also strong and with a driven undercurrent. This is head and shoulders above the throw-away hipster guff out there.

1. The Gin Club, Deathwish.

I wrote this group off a couple of years back as nothing more than a curious piss-around for a couple of serious musos looking to blow off steam before getting back to their other work and a healthy rotation of part-timers getting their pound of stage-flesh before returning to their day jobs... yeah, so how wrong was I? Where 2008s Junk tended to be a large wielding mess, Deathwish provides a tight direction and a consistent vibe. One of resigned optimism and reflective contemplation which, while navel-gazing in all its refinery, never loses itself up its own arse. The dichotomy woven amongst these tracks is intriguing: it’s understated, but grand; it’s simple but dense; it’s accomplished, but also allows enough breadth for a first-time singer-songwriter (Ben Salter’s brother-in-law and farmer Gordon Stunzner) to shine through. Most importantly, it’s built of a straight-forward, no-nonsense song craft of which classics are made.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

The Palace adds pizazz to your rock pig moments

Name: The Palace Theatre
Size: Mid to large. About 1900 packed in.
Who Plays There: Mid to large cultish type bands. Artists keen on presenting an "experience". I reviewed Weddings, Parties, Anything there.

Well, ain’t this ferkin lush? Melbourne’s The Palace Theatre is one of those curious live music venues which almost makes it a bit too good to host sweaty rock gigs - that “Ooh, Ahh” factor when you walk in. It’s an old-school theatre which had all its guts removed long ago and, after a bit of an identity crisis in the 80s where it masqueraded as a plush disco venue complete with dancing podiums and large mirrorballs, it’s now a fully-fledged, opulent live music venue.

Getting there in the first place provided its first hassle, in that I was convinced The Palace was in St Kilda, next to the grand ole Palais Theatre and Luna Park in that beloved triangle, defended by all the nimby yuppies (on the misguided pretence that the development would ruin the soul of St Kilda... without seeing the irony that they themselves were doing more damage than a development ever could. But that’s an anti-gentrification rant for another blog, I’m sure). A quick check revealed my suspicions that a 2007 arson attack on the St Kilda forever put paid to that quandary and confusion, and I found the right venue in the CBD, up the top end of Bourke Street - the ‘theatre’ district. Funny place to build a rock venue.

The name, however, does give it away. It was a theatre, built back in mid 19th century and surviving its many incarnations largely intact. As you wander in from the street, the opulence smacks you in the face with its wide foyer and sweeping double staircase bearing down on you. You can only look, however, as the Art Deco entrance is roped off, apart from the narrow path they allow you to take down one side to have your ticket checked at the booth. Strange.

Most skirt around the staircase and head through the swinging doors to the sides, which leads into the huge, sweeping floor. I had no idea how big this venue was (1800-odd capacity, to be vaguely exact), but it immediately hits you as you wander into beer-hall style floor area. The wooden floorboards slowly graduate a half-step down every few metres, give multiple vantage points even on ground level. As you venture past the huge sound desk and on to the floor proper, you can look back over your shoulder for an awesome sight: 3 levels of people staring back down at you from the stalls above. For a theatre, it’s nothing special - for a rock gig there’s this weird Colosseum feel to all as bods rock and sway over the balustrade, throwing the horns and tossing the hair back and forwards. It’s an awesome sight. Up in the stalls, every level is like the floor in that there are multiple half-steps, with deep in-laid lounges and booths at the back.

There are indulgent-looking bars skirted by deep red lights every level, which is a blessing in that you’re not corralled into a central bar area and spend forever getting libated. Getting around the place is a breeze through internal stairs in the guts of the venue, or via each level’s interconnected foyers. For the punter, this means there’s a bevvy of spots to camp out to watch and listen. As with most multi-level venues, however, the sound quality varies wildly depending on where you are - the sweet spot near the sound desk is almost impossible to claim and maintain through the evening. Taking up prime positions on the stall balustrades gives a great view of both the band and the heaving mass on the floor, but also means your earlobes are almost level with the mounted PA... bleeding ears ain’t my bag. All of this can lead to a restless night for the obsessive punter keen on squeezing the best out of the venue.

That said, The Palace is one of those unique “special moments” places, guaranteed to stick in your mind long after the event. Like Brisbane’s The Tivoli before it become The Zoo v2.0, The Palace booker is discerning and looks to fringe and cult bands to raise the roof. We caught Weddings Parties Anything’s pre-AFL Grand Final gig (supported by an on-fire Gin Club), and later this month a two night set by soul-revival queen Sharon Jones and The Dap Kings is sure to entice. It all leads to a unique “ohh, ahh” moments which are always a pleasant way to frame a gig memory.

Saturday, November 6, 2010

My Top 50 Albums

A few weeks ago, a trio of grizzled old rock journos launched a book about the Top 100 Oz albums of all time (just in time for Christmas, kids!) which, naturally, sparked a bit of an argument over there at Twitter (“can’t come to bed yet, honey, someone’s wrong on the internet”). That ended up with Messrs Dr Yobbo and Beeso raise the stakes of their musical friction by posting their own lists... and those bastards know that I love compiling top 50 lists, so here’s mine.

50. Doug Anthony All Stars, Icon
49. James Blood Ulmer, Bad Blood In The City, The Piety Sessions
48. Gorillaz, Gorillaz
47. Dan le Sac vs Scroobius Pip, Angles
46. The Gin Club, Deathwish
45. Jurassic 5, Power In Numbers
44. Angelique Kidjo, Oremi
43. Harry Manx, Wise and Otherwise
42. Custard, Loverama
41. The Swell Season, Strict Joy

This 10 was mostly newer stuff which has crept into the earholes in the past 5 or so years and gets returned to most often. I have various playlists on my iPod to accompany my day, the most used one of these is a list called New Stuff, where songs added in the past 3 months are rotated up to 3 times before being automatically removed. It’s where I ‘taste’ most new music, those which pique my interest, I play their album from start to finish at least once. Ulmer, Gorillaz, Dan le Sac and The Gin Club crept into this list via those means. Kidjo, Manx and The Swell Season are part of my ‘maturing’ tastes. Custard, J5 and DAAS are just good fkn fun.

40. Skunkhour, Chin Chin
39. Butterfingers, Breakfast at Fatboys
38. The Mess Hall, Devil’s Elbow
37. The Cat Empire, The Cat Empire
36. Asian Dub Foundation, Punkara
35. Placebo, Black Market Music
34. Something For Kate, Beautiful Sharks
33. Nick Cave and The Bad Seeds, Murder Ballads
32. Shihad, The General Electric
31. Michael Jackson, Bad

Truth be known, I love to shake my booty. Sure, I look like a dick when I do, but so does a crowd of thousands around me when I do crack out da moooves. Save SFK and Cave, this 10 is just great moving albums. A friend of mine bought a vinyl of Bad to school when it was released and I remember being awed by it: I was a bit confused about the ways of the music industry at that age and believed that Jackson himself had physically put this package together and distributed it. I’ve been lucky that I’ve been able to retain that wide-eyed joy of experiencing new music well into my adult life and still get a buzz by it.

30. Jeff Lang, Half Seas Over
29. Gomez, In Our Gun
28. Salmonella Dub, Inside The Dub Plates
27. Cordrazine, From Here To Wherever
26. The Go Betweens, Friends of Rachel Worth
25. Bruce Springsteen, Devils and Dust
24. Toothfaeries, Where?
23. The John Butler Trio, Three
22. Faith No More, Album of The Year
21. Ben Harper, Fight For Your Mind

Holy crap, there’s nothing more intoxicating that a dude with a story to tell and an ability to work their way around a fretboard, is there? I’ve always been a sucker for good story, a melodic hook and a little bit of noodling on a guitar. Take Faith No More and S Dub out of this group, and you’ve essentially got a gang of solid singer songwriters.

20. Paul Kelly, Nothing But A Dream
19. AC/DC, The Razor’s Edge
18. Hungary Kids of Hungary, Escapades
17. Midnight Oil, Diesel and Dust
16. Guns N Roses, Use Your Illusion I
15. Metallica, ... And Justice For All
14. You Am I, Hi Fi Way
13. Sarah Blasko, As Day Follows Night
12. Michael Franti and Spearhead, Everyone Deserves Music
11. Red Hot Chili Peppers, Blood Sugar Sex Magik

Wow, this was a lot harder than I thought. Not only to whittle down an initial list nearing the 150 mark, but also to define what it was I was trying to rank. Sure, the rules were fairly clear cut (no live albums, no compilations or EPs and you must actually own the album listed), but what I considered to be worthy of my all-time top 50. I cut and re-introduced many, before realising that I’m still being heavily influenced as much by new music at the age of 30-odd as I was when I was in my teens (when the likes of The Razor’s Edge, Gunners, Diesel and Dust and RHCP gave me woodies). Sarah Blasko’s new effort (released last year) is as near as perfection in the quirky, heart-on-sleeve angular pop as I’ve heard. Likewise, Hungry Kids of Hungary are at the pinnacle of their game and represent a gorgeous groundswell of striped sunlight sound coming out of Brisbane right now. While the album’s only been out for a couple of weeks, the tunes are very familiar thanks to a bevvy of singles, EPs and gigs over the past couple of years. In all seriousness, there’s a great little scene happening in Bris right now - rivalling, if not exceeding, all offered during the heady mid-90s guitar-pop with which many still associate with the Valley scene - and it was a true joy to have dabbled on the edges of it (and, no, Melbourne hasn’t shown itself to have the same qualities as yet.. I’m giving it time).

10. The Beatles, Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band
9. Bob Dylan, Highway 61 Revisited
8. REM, Monster
7. Radiohead, OK Computer
6. The Frames, For The Birds
5. The Church, Gold Afternoon Fix
4. Smashing Pumpkins, Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness
3. Augie March, Strange Bird
2. Nirvana, Nevermind
1. Pearl Jam, Vitalogy

But when it all comes down to it, epic era-defining rock is where it’s at for this heart of mine. Give me a soaring chorus, a middle eight out of left-field, a face-melting solo or two and charged lyric, and I’ll show you one very happy music fan. And while I’m proud to say that my top 50 reflects a deepening mood and a penchant for discovery, I’m also quite happy to wear my influences on my sleeve and stick by them.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

All roads lead to the East

Name: The East Brunswick Club
Size: Small, probably about 300 pax
Who plays there: It's one of many small venues on the Melbourne local circuit. It's sister venue is the larger Corner Hotel in Richmond (which does all the ticketing), and it seems this is the smaller option for the bookers. We've seen Hungry Kids of Hungary, Jeff Lang and Cordrazine there.

Ahhh, this is better: sticky floors, paint peeling off the walls, a dank den of bad air circulation and a swirling odour of stale beer, urinal cakes and desperation. This is what a rock venues are all about; and we’ve found it in our adopted ‘local’ in the East Brunswick Club.

By stroke of luck or by design, the ‘East’ or ‘EBC’ was our venue of choice for a few weekends in a row, and it’s actually a pretty cool place. It’s an old brick corner bar which, over time, has sprawled over into a rear courtyard and the building next door. The main bar room has been converted into a pub dining room and small beerhall, with widescreen teevs providing entertainment for the sports buffs. This room does a decent atmos when a Wallabies game is on, and the dining option is quite acceptable pub fair with a twist, even though the ubiquitous parma does tend to dominate.

At the back of the main bar room you can head out to the scraggly courtyard or, probably more enticingly on cold evenings, off up the dark little corridor, into the tiny reception area-cum-box-office and through the doorway into the building next door, which has been colonised into the band room. Immediately clear is the fact that this is a small room - you wander into the back of the dark space and you are confronted by an unnecessarily large sound desk, complete with a stack of equalisers and machines which go ‘ping’. Looking past that, you have a small flat floor area, a long hole in the wall to the left which serves as the bar, and a relatively high stage area. On both sides at the rear of the room are two small risers - one housing the merch area, the other just an open viewing space. Both risers are vantage points, but end just shy of the mixing desk, meaning that the optimum listening space (just behind the sound-desk) is interrupted by the hundreds of people movements as they squeeze through this small opening to get to either the bar or the front of the room. All small rooms have their quirks, I guess.

The place is warm and cosy, both in its sound and environs. There’s a lovely absence of polished concrete, brushed metal and glass furnishings, and the audience of equally devoid of the fucktards generally attracted to such unimaginative decor. It’s at the top part of Lygon Street, but far enough away from the gangland reprisal attacks for which the Carlton part of this strip has become known that it may just as well be on another planet. The area is on the cusp of some form of gentrification - a couple of unit blocks are already in construction - but the old guard are hanging on. EBC is a local pub to an extent, so the inner-urban semi-profs mix with the inner-urban militia-hippy to provide an interesting people-watching mix. For the blokes, it manifests itself in a happy conglomerate of beards styles - from full, bushy, ‘fuck the man’ style jobbies to the tastefully full, but equally trimmed office-approved types (like mine). The ladies are tastefully beardless.

The pub is a little way from any other night-time establishment, meaning the between-set wanderings are a little sparse in highlights. Come 10-ish when the Fox Sports options are limited and the dinner visitors have cleared off, the place is just a regular local bar with a cool little band room. It has that slight air of “trying hard to be cool, but really not caring if it is or not”, akin to the multitudes of RSL clubs and community halls in the northern rivers of NSW who are now run by ex-Sydney band bookers who opted for a sea-change but couldn’t quite give up on the rock n roll lifestyle. This adds to the vibe that this is a little gem worth preserving and a ‘secret’ worth keeping.

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Is The Espy all show and no go?

Music reviews have been a little sparse since moving to Melbourne, and it's taking a little longer to crack into the scene than I thought. Oh well, it'll happen. In the meantime, I'm still going to gigs and checking stuff out, so I thought I'd write about my take on some of Melbourne's venues.

Name: The Gershwin Room at the The Esplanade Hotel (the Espy), St Kilda.
Size: The Gershwin Room capacity is 650
Who plays there? Anyone from up and coming locals, to well known interstaters and some internationals with cult followings. I saw The Mess Hall play there.

Melbourne’s all about its hidden little gems. It’s so in love with itself over them that it even devised an entire ad campaign based around it (aka - the most annoying ad campaign in the world feature a giant ball of wool. Umm, WTF? You can’t tell me ad creatives aren’t sittin around smoking weed all day and starting every pitch with “Hey, you know what’d be cool, man?”). And sure, it’s certainly got it’s hidden little gems tucked away everywhere. I mean some days, it’s hard to walk down the fucken street without tripping over some new swanky bar or art space or showing room. Which I guess defeats the purpose of hidden gems, but hey - who am I to deny some marketing guru’s ball-of-wool-driven wet dreams?

And so if the CBD is the demure, alluring and sophisticated maven sipping her over-priced cocktails in some gorgeous little bar off whatsit’s-name-alley, then St Kilda is surely her slutty little friend raucously sucking down vodka jelly shots, tongue kissing her BFF for a dare and endlessly taking pouty pose portraits to upload to Facebook. Sitting on the bay, St Kilda is not about dark alleyways or hidden gems - it’s about getting it’s tits out and displaying its assets for all and sundry to stare at, even if it may not be the best rack in room. From the gaudy Acland Street cake-porn windows, to the huge toothy grin of Luna Park and the art deco twin spires of the Palais Theatre, St Kilda is about fun and frivolity.

Late on a cold winter’s Saturday night, however, St Kilda becomes a divided suburb, with Acland Street’s coffee and cake-centred clientele filling out one bookend, while a couple of blocks away lies a bevvy of bars, venues and take-away joints on Fitzroy Street. Smack bang in the middle sits The Esplanade Hotel, a big white monstrosity of an old-school sprawling pub which, as its names suggest, overlooks esplanade of St Kilda beach. Locals call it The Espy and it’s one of these venues which somehow attained mythical status as a key element of the musical scene in a city which, rightly so, also places the musical scene as a key element of its personality. But is it really all it’s cracked up to be?

A Saturday night brings all the dregs to the bar, and even by the relatively early hour of 9pm the small beer garden out front is chock full of fully siiiick mates and their moles. The central staircase leads through the tunnel of smokers before a double door leads into the pub proper. The main room is large and dark, with paint peeling off the pressed tin ceilings and the open fire place on the side providing warmth. A large bar takes up the wall on the right, and a free band usually shacks up in the space next to the door which leads to the pool room at the back. This is the free-for-all room, where people meeting for a quick pint are mingled with tight groups out for a large one and yet other groups keen for a cheap pub meal at a relatively cool place. When there’s a paying gig on, whatever kind of audience the band attracts also gets thrown into the milieu.

The main band action takes place in a room curiously titled the Gershwin Room. To get there, one must first negotiate the front gate bouncers, the fully siiiick mates and their moles in the beer garden, the huddled smokers around the front door, the growing masses in the main room, then veer off to the back left and look for a doorway through which you can see a larger-than-life close up poster of Adalita’s upper thighs and the body of her distinctive SG. After entering the doorway and leering at Oz’s first lady of rawk’s legs, you wander down the long corridor which leads to another set of double doors and into the Gershwin Room proper. Phew.

The room is a long rectangular piece of work, probably about four times as long as it is wide (I’m sure there’s a scientific name for that sort of shape, but fuck scients. What’s it ever done for us, apart from discovering alcohol and other psychotropic drugs?). It’s divided into three roughly equal parts. At the back of the room is the entrance and a slightly raised platform to the left with comfy couches and low tables. This is the defined chill-out/chatting area. The middle third is taken up by the bar on the left hand side and the sound desk on the right. The front is a small open floor area before a low, but quite large, stage area. There are interesting tid-bits everywhere - ornate plaster work on the cornices, two odd chandeliers made from deer horns, and stained glass windows on the far wall.

The thing is, though, a band room is nothing if it doesn’t allow for good sight and sound. And this is where The Espy, and the Gershwin Room in particular, is fucked. The sheer length of the room means that you’ve got no hope of physically seeing the band unless you’re 6 foot tall, or you are in the mood to be squashed up the front. Up the back, it’s pretty fucking dismal: the sound is muffled at the higher registers and boomy at the bottom end and, of course, you can see nought but the tops of the heads of the performers. But here’s the catch - considering it’s a rock gig, you’re prolly gunna want to be up the front at some point to get amongst the action... but the centre third is a bottle neck, with the bar on one side and the sound desk on the other funnelling you though a very small and cramped space. And then you’re stuck snuggled under the armpit of some Amazonian while still having no better view than if you stuck it out up the back. But does it sound ok up there? Fucked if I know... at that stage of the night, I’m busy trying not to asphyxiate and the band has become little more than an annoying distraction to the mess of humanity I find myself wedged within. A bit sad, really.

The Gershwin Room at The Esplanade gets a big “could try harder” in the music stakes, with a “yet to show it’s potential” in the memory-making category.

Friday, September 3, 2010

Settling into the new heartland

And so with some sadness, the transformation is complete and the Albion Love Den has been wiped from all but the history books. It's spirit will remain, but now conveniently located in Coburg.

Up until the 71 items were delivered and the boxes were unpacked at our new digs, the whole move still seemed a little surreal. At first it was like an extended holiday, with our temporary North Melbourne abode seemingly like one of the best do-it-yourself B and Bs around. I revelled in walking into the city heart a few nights a week to go the gym; the Tiger became the Queen Vic Market queen; we loved being the surrogate big brother and big sister to 2 absolutely adorable German Shephards.

It wasn't to remain, however, with our short time masquerading as trendy inner-urbanites coming to an end and we had to settle for being trendy-fringe outer-urbanites. Comparing the two realities, it’d be easy to be dismissive of where we’ve decided to settle. The truth is, however, I’ve absolutely fallen head-over-heels in love with this part of town.

The suburb’s got a character a lot like Albion, really. She’s a bit downtrodden, in need of a fresh lick of paint and a bit of tender loving care, and yet it offers up some sweet gems which warm your cockles and makes a place great. In Albion, it was not just the cosy nook I’d created in the Den, but also the little beauties like the cheap eats at Thaiways, Saturday morning boiled bagels from Brewbakers, and late night munchy-runs up the hill to the shops. Here, we’re a stone’s throw from all the amenities (including 2 Coles stores facing the very same carpark... weird), the great Italian coffee shops, fruit and veg markets and a bonza butcher. Nestled amongst it all are the usual array of bits and bobs shops you find in lower socio-economic and migrant-heavy ‘burbs, and the ubiquitous conglomerate of kebab shops.

There’s an unpretentiousness about it - you can almost see the exact line where over-eager local councillors just simply gave up trying to make the place more “family friendly” - and there’s a delightful feel of gentrification being valiantly resisted for just a little while longer. A lot like Albion, really... before the polished concrete and stainless steel brigade barged there way in with their bulging cheque-books. I wonder how long this little gem can outlast the threatening hoards?

Friday, July 30, 2010

What I Got, You Gotta Get It.

It’s funny what sticks in your head while watching a band sometimes. Most of the time, if the music’s right, you’re floating a little bit off the floor as the waves of emotion sweep you up and along. Other times, it’s more earthly and realistic - like the dull ache in your lower back, or wanting to drill a hole in the back of the head of the six-foot-tall knuckle dragger in front of you.

On occasion, however, the band itself provides a shake-of-the-head, what-were-they-thinking type moments which you just know is fast-tracked on to the cringe file in a few years time. Tonight while enjoying’s live coverage of The Temper Trap from Splendour In The Grass, I was struck by bassist Jonathon Aherne’s awkward playing style. At first it was entertaining and quite a thrill, but it soon became irritating as his arms-akimbo schtick and hail-flailing antics proved themselves to be nothing more than window dressing. Blech, check it out.

I got to thinking about how a band’s presence leads a lot to how they’re interpreted. Augie March, for example, are a band who compliments their intricate style with their gentlemanly couture, and it wouldn’t be Metallica without some form of hair-fling (that said, their current collective receding hairline has got to detrimental to a good head-bang). It got me wondering which musician’s behavious lends most to helping to solidify what’s going on with the music. Keeping with the bass player theme, and I think you’d be hard pressed to go past RHCP’s Flea in terms of someone who not only plays what he feels, but let’s that be abundantly known through his expressive movement.

So whatdya reckon? Whose on-stage antics bug the shit out of you? And whose gets your juices flowing the most?

Monday, July 19, 2010

Our beautiful matriarch

The word matriarch is such a fitting misnomer for me when talking about my family. The Greek word speaks of a fiery, silver-haired maven who commands all those before her into quivering servitude. It suggests a matron used to getting her own way and making that fact known to all around.

For the Surridge family, our matriarch was the polar opposite of the poetic imagery, but her impact was just as forceful. Audrey (aka Mum, Grandma and Great-Grandma), while silver-haired and occasionally imposing with her unshakable simple, homely faith and open-hearted kindness, was a beacon of gentle calm. In the face of some very considerable adversity, Mum (as I confusingly came to call her early in life) fought hard to maintain a stable shelter. For most in my family who didn’t venture far from the nest, this may have been overlooked and possibly taken for granted, but for those of us who’ve been imbued with the perpetual itchy-feet, the vision of that modest, gorgeous home on the main highway in Albury was a beautiful touch-stone and battery recharger.

Matriarch the word, however, does fit when considering what it was that Audrey was able to achieve in her life. A simple farm girl, she nabbed the handsomely chiseled town-boy and set about making a family and a home. Through some of the world’s greatest societal upheavals, Audrey and Roy brought five head-strong, very determined children into the world. With fierce determination, they fought through the catastrophic murder-suicide of my Uncle and picked up the pieces of their family left behind to provide a temporary home for their three boys. She sailed through the continual upsets and disappointments from challenging family members and continued to welcome all with open arms. And with steely determination, she fought through the loss of her life partner and maintained a proud home through thick and thin.

Our matriarch passed away tonight and it’s left quite a hole. As far as I know, it’s last of the grandparent generation for my family and it’s shifted everyone up a notch in the family tree. For me, Mum’s passing has brought back how important the family unit can be, regardless of its foibles. And it’s given me a great appreciation for what Audrey was able to provide - it sounds simple, but it’s infinitely far from it.

Saturday, July 10, 2010

Rhythm of life

Was it a rut? Some people thought my living at the Love Den was a sure sign of ruttage, as I set about doing as little as possible and just staying put for as long as I could. And I guess it was a self-imposed rut in that sense, but with a clearly defined theory: I needed to know what it felt like to sit in a comfy chair and watch the world turn for a bit.

You see, as the step-child of a soldier and the son of a rather gypsy-ish woman, my only memories in childhood revolved around the rigmarole of finding new friends, fitting into schools, working out the pecking order... and getting the shit kicked out of me from time to time for not getting that pecking order right. Basically all the joys of being, as the term goes, an Army brat. Even after being removed from that lifestyle, the itchy-footed wanderings still regularly overtook the family, until my early twenties when I realised I’d lived in almost as many houses as years I’d lived. Soon after that realisation, I had a full-body urge just to sit the fuck down somewhere nice and catch my breath for a bit. Albion Love Den was the place, and took more than a decade for me to feel it necessary to move on.

The moving around may not have been all beer and skittles and happy roaming families, but it also wasn’t a depressing tale of being the constant awkward new kid and getting lost on the way to the shops, either. One of the benefits, in hindsight, was the ability to re-invent yourself without the burden of a collective memory - the other was the almost immediate injection to the rhythm of your day-to-day life.

Living in the one spot, I found, my natural daily routine tended to seek the path of less resistance. Like muscles against a force, or birds on the wing, my travels were more about efficiency and finding the easiest, simplest way to get shit done. It became more about maximising the time doing the things I loved and less about exploration and seeking new things. Not that I was fully embracing the suburban hermit dream, but I did find the work-gym-home triangle, with the occasional Valley gig a bit of a yawn-fest towards the end. And as a result, the cycle naturally slowed until a near-crippling boredom of Brisbane started to set in.

A change of scenery, however, naturally injected a wad of extra digits to my energy levels. Everything is new and exciting and wonderful and enchanting and full of life. The new surroundings thrust subtle nuances at my senses which excite and turn me on, and I can think of nothing more enjoyable than cruising around her artery-like streets for hours on end: achieving nothing, but soaking it all in and trying to gauge the mood of it all to eck out my own niche amongst it.

Even the mundane tasks of day to day life have gotten a nitrous-oxide injection, with Melbourne noticeably a quicker and more urgent city than Brisbane. Getting to work in Bris used to be a leisurely hour or so on public transport: train, then a short wait in the city, then a bus chugging through the inner-eastern suburbs. In hindsight, it seems positively sluggish compared to my daily commute these days: within an hour of waking, I’m saddled up on the white mountain bike and am hurtling myself through the misty, dark streets of North Melbourne, heading for the train station. I dodge trams and weave in and out of the traffic and delivery vans, before a 20-minute public transport commute to the northern suburbs. The trains themselves are jet-powered compared to QR’s silver bullets, with shorter dwell times at stations and absolutely no mercy should you be running even 5 seconds late.

The weekly shopping trip to Toombul Coles has been replaced by regular visits to the Queen Vic Market, just around the corner. It’s cheaper and much better quality, with the atmosphere enlivened by the vendor’s cries of “$2 bag, $2 bag” and the jostling with Italian grandmas to get the juiciest, plumpest mandarins. The gym trips, now down to just two visits a week thanks to the daily cycle commute, see me strapped to the iPod and lightly jogging or quick-stepping from home down to Melbourne Central. There’s something purely indulgent about calling the inner-city gym as my local, even if it’s just temporary until we find a place of our own.

It’s true, I’m completely keyed up with this new phase of life and I’m so energised by the power of this place. Sure, things are a little tough at the moment (money-wise, house-wise, etc), but the energy and tempo of Melbourne is doing things to me which I’m really excited about. Yes, I’m smitten by this sexy bitch of a city.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Leaving the Love Den

Leaving the Love Den was always going to be painful. What, after 11 years in its warmly glowing warming glow, I could confidently say I knew it's each and every crack and creak. I knew those creaks in a way in which I'd never known a house before - my tenure at the Love Den was the longest I'd ever lived in any one place my entire life. Those cracks were my constant from way back when I finished uni; through my stint as a working journo; through a fairly monumental career change where I gave up on the life I'd strived for since I was a teen; through heartbreaks (both caused and felt) and through countless episodes of the most defining shit-talking, drinking and smoking fests. The pain of leaving those creaks and cracks was most acute, however, when confronted with cleaning them for the first time in 11 years.

First cab off the rank was getting rid of the mountains of shit which had spontaneously appeared within her fours walls over the years. Chief amongst these was the ancient fridge which was initially included in the lease for the "partly furnished" deal. This thing was an absolute monstrosity of 1970s electrical engineering. The interior spawned a life of its own, with its internal freezer only being usable for about 3 days after the frustration-driven manual defrost cycle (with the use of numerous tools through years, including hammers, kitchen appliances and hair-dryers). The white exterior had long been pock-marked and stained, and then ceremoniously covered in an array of stickers, magnets and other Useless Junk.

I remember the Wiseacre sticker taking pride of place on the bottom third of the front door, despite no-one ever admitting to liking them enough to defile my fridge with their name. In to the mini skip she went, along with my ancient double bed (which could spawn a whole other blog of its own memories, if you know what I mean. Nudge, nudge, wink, wink. Say no more, say no more. A bit of the ole 'workbench' action, eh? A bit o' rumpy pumpy on the Love Lorry, yeah? A bit of ee-eeee, aw-awww on the Caravan of Luuurve, see?... Yeah, I'm talking about wanking), a fine selection of chip-board 'furniture', a couple of old bike frames (one of which had to be broken away from the house with an angle grinder thanks to me losing the key many years ago), the back-breaking cloth-covered dining chairs and the 2-seater couch donated from Jinna all those years ago, but had long since lost its arse. Like many of us, I suppose.

With the shit gone, the next task was the 'music room'. For those who never set foot within her, the Love Den boasted an open scrapbook of musical memories in the form of a wide, short hallway linking the front of the house with the lounge area at the back, whose walls were adorned with band posters, gig tickets, postcards, wrist-straps and torn out pages from magazines and street press. It was a tradition to end a great night out seeing a band by Blu-Taking the evidence on the walls and you could trace the various inhabitants through the years in a clock-wise direction around the room. There was so much history on those walls, even pre-dating my time there, that it's hard to pin-point the stand-out memories from the hundreds, possibly even thousands, contained. There was, however, one poster representing a gig which I sadly missed, twice, but at the time consoled myself with the "I'll catch them next tour" thinking - only to have them disband soon afterwards. I'd interviewed Irish band The Frames right when they were trying to crack into the Australian market and was naturally taken by their smooth, emotional guitar-driven anthemic style. They toured Australia for the first time soon after I'd interviewed them, but I'd decided to take a little break at that point and headed to Melbourne for a week... right when they were playing at The Zoo. Nevermind, was my thinking, they'll come back. And they did about a year and a half later, when I was going through a relatively rough patch and was unemployed. Being in a constant state of poverty, I'd decided to stop reading the music press so I didn't get tortured by the shit I was be missing out on. I had no idea they were touring, until I was out in the Queen Street Mall one afternoon, wandering around with my new girlfriend trying to think of cheap things to do. We walked into HMV and I instantly spied a poster bearing The Frames' name - and it stated they were playing a free gig on the top Mall stage at 1pm that day! Halle-fucken-lujah, I cheered to myself as I checked the time... "Oh, you're fucking joking? It's 2.2opm?!?!". I'd fucking missed them, again. The pinched poster was a fair consolation prize, I figured.

Yeah, this room, more than the Love Den itself, personified my growth through the years and was a very tangible link to what I've devoted my adult life to - being an unabashed, die-hard, true-blue believer in great music. Taking this down and deciding what to cast aside and what to take with us was easily the toughest thing I had to do when kissing this old girl goodbye. The wheels of progress we chugging away, however, and so with all our stuff packed and shipped out, the shit dumped, the load-bearing Blu-Tak and picture nails removed, it was time to don the sugar-soap and try in vain to scrub away every note of our existence from those faded VJ walls and polished wooden floors.

Where the fuck did this stain come from?

I never knew my feet were that dirty. I mean, being constantly bare-footed and proud of it, it's pretty obvious they'd be grubby, but the stains on the wall underneath my computer desk were fucking ridiculous! Without a footrest, I'd unconsciously rest my feet on the pale-blue wall while frittering away the hours at my keyboard, which led to a mess of brown and black feet stains spanning a 1m wide radius. Of course, it wasn't all just mindless frittering at the computer screen - there were those 8-months or so when Satomi was back in Japan just after we got engaged, and our only tangible link to each other were our nightly webcam chat sessions and the occasional 'on-line date'. Ahh memories... are no match for sugar soap and a scourer.

Who was the dirty fucker who did this?

Oh that's right, it was me - throwing a tea-bag up under the small wall overhanging the stove in a bizarre attempt at one-upmanship after Steve-O had hoisted a slice of peanut butter toast across the lounge at me one wintery eve. This little game of house-hold brandy would kick in every now and then (generally in response to poverty-induced extreme boredom), with one of us setting up a fortress of sorts on the old lounge or papasan and hurling relatively soft household items at the other. Generally off our trees, this game could go on for ages and would only end when my subliminally implanted idea for munchies (well, not so much subliminal, more obvious... along the lines of "Go get me some ice-cream, bitch") would take hold in his mind and he'd be off up the hill for some sugary goodness.

Nicotine ain't just bad for your lungs, kids

It was a proud smoke-friendly household, the old Love Den. From the moment I took up residence, my pack-a-day habit moved in too. There were brief moments of outside smoking only, generally around the time new flatmates moved in and not wanting to freak them out. That resolve would last until either the first good movie was on telly which I didn't want to miss a second of to get a hit of cancer, or said new flatmate decided it was high time to take up an evening of green and amber fuelled shit-talking around the kitchen table with me. The result was off-white walls which slowly but surely took on an orange-brown hue, noticed clearly when pictures or posters were taken off the wall only to have their outlines marked on the VJs. Sugar soap and a number scourers tried, but failed, to remove evidence of this excess... and let's hope a couple of years of smoke-free clean living since has done a better job on my lungs.

Oven cleaner is not just for ovens

There was a time when I fancied myself as a bit of a budget-special cook, just a slight nudge up the scale from hopeless experimenter (I'm looking at you here, Jensy). Monday nights were always a specialty, with Secret Life Of Us usually accompanied by a house-guest and some interesting, if pedestrian, take on a pasta-based staple. Or there were the days when the Emma and Joey show would roll around just for the sake of it, bringing with them their own organic goods to whip up some of the most fantastic sustenance I'd ever eaten (preceded by some of their own organic 'produce' which probably heightened my love for their dinners, if you catch my drift). All of this excess coupled with the day-to-day grime of living under a flight path, a block away from a train line and on a main-road combined with an almost pathological hatred for unnecessary cleanliness (my thinking was that if it wasn't attracting vermin, then it was probably clean enough), meant this part of the house was a sticky putrid mess. Sugar soap and scourers weren't cutting it, so Mr Muscle oven cleaner did wonders in bidding goodbye to this evidence.

Who the fuck scratched this fucken floor?

The papasan took pride of place in the various incarnations of the Love Den lounge. It's a big double-sized mofo who grumbles and protests the minute you fall into it, but never fails to engulf you in it's charms. For the first few minutes, you attempt to get yourself comfortable, but realise it's nearly impossible to do so gracefully and so you adopt a lying position akin to a palsied cat passed out in a litter tray. It felt luxurious and wrong initially, then alluringly snuggly, but it soon turned to back-achingly annoying and thoughts of escape started to creep in at about the half-hour mark. But, it entraped you with its deceptively hard exit procedure requiring gymnatic-like poise and feline-like reflexes - but which invariably shifted the entire mechanism a few centimetres back against the wall, and in the process scarred the beautiful polished wooden floorboards. It was this papasan which was the prime position in the household brandy wars, it was also the place where Jen, Brendan and I would sit wilfully every evening when we were underemployed to conduct live over-dubs on episodes of Neighbours, turning them into the most sickeningly depraved porno movies you could imagine. Let's just say Bouncer the dog was a shining star in these alternative realities, which didn't just cross the line of good taste, but gave it a fully-fledged frontal wedgie as it zoomed past at warp speed.

And that was that - 2 days of flurrying activity wiped away the physical evidence of more than a decade of my life, and chunks of many others, from this rented property's walls. When I moved to Brisbane from North Queensland all those years ago, I was craving some stability and made a promise to myself to set down some roots and try to experience what it meant to feel connected to a place. I did that, and then some, and in addition to that, I had somehow created a place which many also had a strong connection. Which is, I guess, is the crux of that stability - it's not about not changing, it's not about stagnating; it's about providing a warm resting place for you and yours and ensuring it does all it can to enrich your world. To me, it's this, from my good mate Brendan in response to a recent late-night emotional email rant:
the Den was always there.. it provided reassurance and stability during some tough times.. equally, it was a place where I have rarely laughed harder and felt more joy.. those walls are caked with memories (you don't want to know what I've caked the papasan in...) but most of all it was the people within those walls that have been among the true foundations in my life and that's infinitely more important than any single piece of real estate

Saturday, May 1, 2010

Step, 2, 3... Die, 2, 3

There are many things I have seen come and go in my time as the chief custodian of the Albion Love Den: countless flatmates and friends; innumerable intoxicated evenings; about 15 failed restaurants on the strip; a procession of pithy billboard beacons shining into my bedroom; my youth and vitality; and the last patches of non-grey hair on my head. The latest in the string of departures has, however, caused me great joy for my remaining time here - the demise of the much-reviled Roofayels Dance Club.

For the past decade (and a bit), my bedroom windows have been just over the road from the unchanging drone of ballroom dancing instructions, as Roofayels went about discovering if anyone in Brisbane actually could really dance (apparently not). Delivered in a perfectly monotone nasal Aussie drawl, the dance calls came with a backing track of Ricky Martin, the Venga Boys and Baha Men... oh fucken joy amongst joys. Monday nights were the worst - their 'come one, come all' beginners classes which culminated in an ear-splitting group dance-off right on bedtime and so served as my unwanted lullaby ("Step, 2, 3... together, 2, 3... back, 2, 3..." she bangs, she bangs. Oooh baby, when she moves, she moves). 

Over the years, we'd tried everything to rid our earholes of this pollution - like pumping out Sepultura and Metallica with the volume cranked to 11, or vaguely threatening them with a noise complaint following a particularly awful summer night where they decided a teenage girl sleepover was a good idea - sure, that wasn't necessarily a bad idea... just allowing them full access to the PA and encouraging their scientific experiments on what effects reverb and microphone feedback has on S Club 7 medleys was probably not the club manager's shining moment. Heck, I even had one flatmate who took it upon himself to freak out each and every female club member by standing in the window of his darkened room every night, watching them shimmy and shake to their heart's content (he didn't grasp the concept that the back-lighting from the rest of the house actually accentuated his rather imposing silhouette to them... yeah, he wasn't the brightest of sparks).

So seeing them pack up their PA, rusting industrial fans and 1970s era plastic school chairs was not met with too much sadness this morning, as you could probably imagine. Sure, it's the end of an era and yet another sign of the "wheels of progress" (attached to either large wrecking balls or tunnel boring machines) motoring through Brisbane's northside. The building they're in - the second story of an old picture theatre which makes up the bulk of the Albion strip - is being turned into a boutique hotel upstairs and "upmarket" shops and salons downstairs. You know, for all those prissy pretty young maidens and faux-hawk heroes who are eager to spend a night soaking up the exciting ambiance of the Albion restaurant strip, but who cannot bring themselves to booking a night in the tres uncool Albion Manor or Hampton Court (I think it's something to do with there not being enough polished concrete and stainless steel. They love that shit). 

Fuck it, what do I care? I'm leaving in a month, so whatever happens to this neck of the woods is of little concern to me. This small change just means that I may be a little less homicidal on Tuesday mornings towards Ricky Martin or whoever the fuck let those motherfucking dogs out.

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Is Splendour A Farce?

So Splendour In The Grass was announced this week, and what an absolute stir it's caused. Easily, it can be said, with this one mega-announcement, it has stuck its head above the parapet of mainstream festivals and has stamped its mark as Oz's answer to the mega music festivals of the world. It has, to mind, a wonderful mix of massive mainstream acts, top-line local performers and enough of a smattering of "who the fuck?" moments to tease the interests. There's one massive 'but': it's the privilege of parting with upwards of $450 to enter the party.

As I commented over at farcebook on one of the many convos happening regarding this very fact:

"It is quite expensive - pound for pound, Glasto is cheaper per day... but most artists on their bill are touring around Europe at the time, so they just skip over to the festival as part of their travel."

"Bringing all of the headliners half-way across the world is a fucking expensive task. Added to that, due to the glut of mainstream fests in Oz (and the world) ATM, exclusivity of at least 2-3 of the international headliners is key. This means that, per show, the headliners are getting more per ticket = higher ticket price."

"Sure, it's bloody expensive - but I think the killer will also be the 3 days of essential entrapment into the festival food and bev cartels. Woodford Folk Festival is the only multi-day fest I've ever been to which doubles as a sort of fresh-food mart - you can get almost anything there either cheaply pre-made, or fresh so you can make it in your camp yourself. I don't think Splendour will take on that philosophy, and it certainly won't allow the Peat's Ridge- style BYO alcohol. So 3 days worth of Langos Hungarian Deep Fried Bread and $12 cans of mid-strength piss will be a deal breaker for me."

As much as I would love to be a part of this 10 year celebration (and with fond memories of this brand's tentative first toe in the water to a restricted 7,500 punters), and as much as I feel this is a make or break in terms of business models for Oz festivals for years to come, I just don't think it's got enough to entice my currency from my pocket.

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Dinners are getting fancy at The Den

I always knew the Tiger had impressive culinary skills. Even way back when we were just flatmates, she would whip up cool and interesting meals when it was her turn to cook.

At first I thought I was just impressed because of the different culinary cultures, but over time I've come to appreciate that she's a dedicated and passionate lover of food who is willing to turn her hand at almost anything... and most times she has succeeded with flying colours. Baking has been a particular focus lately (and a danger to my diet regime!), and she thinks nothing of doing up a quick batch of mochi with red bean paste and strawberries - even though it's a multi-stage process over a couple of days with finicky ingredients.

After last week's posh nosh, though, she's got a renewed vigour for the evening meal. Of particular interest was the bloody beautiful rocket, poached pear and Parmesan salad at Aqua Linea. It was simple and unobtrusive, but the combination of flavours and the simplicity of it stole the night, and so she's now on a mission to both replicate it and build upon it. Her first attempt using the same concepts was present the night before last:

There's miso and a small bowl of rice, with the main plate filled with a grilled piece of yellowtail (Japanese buri) with a simple honey-soy-miso paste, and a salad of spinach, string bean and red grapefruit. It was bloody delicious and impressive to look at. I married well, no?

Monday, April 5, 2010

Celebrating 2 years above the Aqua Linea

It was our two year anniversary last Tuesday and continuing on the grand tradition (started, coincidentally, 1 year ago), we decided to pull out all the stops and go fancy for a bit of nosh.

Last year's bash at Bishamon would be hard to beat, but with a little extra money in the bank thanks to an early anniversary present from the in-laws, we decided to step it up a notch and go as far out as possible before we stepped into the black hole of stupidly-priced nonsensical twattery (aka anything on Eagle Street, particularly anything starring a TV chef). Teneriffe's Aqua Linea fitted the bill nicely.

From the gin and tonic aperitif right through to the chocolate "gravel" of the dessert, it was a polished, yet restrained affair. A bottle of 2008 Cloudy Bay Sav Blanc (cheekily marked up way beyond its means) was swiftly delivered, along with a couple of slices of dense, creamy pumpkin bread with olive oil to line the stomach. As usual, pork belly screamed at me from entree list, while the Tiger opted for the rather enticing prawn and leek ravioli. The belly was, however, a touch on the dry side with the soy-braise hardly present - but the peanut dressing pulled it through; and you can't really go too wrong with what is essentially a thick hunk of bacon. The texture of the rav seemed quite light and watery - reminiscent of steamed dumplings rather than traditional pastry. The filling was dense and the creamy sauce plentiful; we were both touching the happy side after that effort.

We both eyed the duck for mains, but the Tiger capitulated and opted for the Black Angus fillet instead. The tea-smoked duck was beautifully presented: a thinly sliced fillet, rare in the middle, on a bed of sugar snap peas and a scallion roesti. A fig compote rested against the end of the fillet, and assorted greens danced around the remainder of the white square. The steak, meanwhile, was a study of ordinariness - the round fillet on top of a runny potato mash (a-hem, sorry... pommes mousseline), surrounded by the vegies. Basically, a sexed-up version of meat n 3-veg... how pretentiously unpretentious.

But fuck it, it tasted orright, dinnit? The duck had the unmistakable earthiness of the tea embedded within the flavour, but the roesti (bascially a potato cake) was the clear winner - crunchy and crackly on the edges, but soaked with the duck juices in the centre. The only criticism, and this is almost too absurd to utter considering the amount it cost, was that there was just a touch too much on the plate. Meandering through each element meant the duck lost is sheen and became a little too congealed and fatty towards the end, while the roesti finished in a messy mulch. The wonderful side dish - rocket with cinnamon poached pear, Parmesan and lemon oil - is now in the process of being dissected and incorporated into the Tiger's growing culinary arsenal.

The Tiger decided to end the night with a decadent flourish - the bittersweet chocolate torte - while I finished the vino. Unfortunately, the torte didn't live up to expectations, but hey - you can tell desserts were purely an afterthought at this sort of establishment. And so with the bottle drained, and a couple of green notes passed to settle the bill, we strolled romantically along the riverfront, happy with our pleasant celebration of our nuptials and excited that our next one will be spent in our new city.

Sunday, April 4, 2010

Fast food ads amuse me

No, seriously. We've been having a blissful Love Den-based 4-day weekend which has, invariably, included a few hours plonked in from of the idiot box. I don't tend to consume much teev during the week, so it's been interesting to reconnect.

One thing which has caught my fancy has been the tone and text of fast food ads. About a year ago, I personally made a conscious effort to remove fast food from my diet (as part of the overall Get Fit Ya Fat Bastard Before You Become a Typical Old Fat Bastard plan... also involved swapping the pack-a-day fags for gym membership and a new bike). Watching fast food ads has provided me with much mirth, as they no longer hold the mouth-drool factor which clouded their efficacy previously.

Working for a major supplier of fresh food ingredients to most of these companies, it's been interesting to watch from the inside the transformation of their predominantly lard-arse fair, through the pseudo-healthy options, to out-and-out Heart Foundation tick territory. And now they seem to be back full circle: and for KFC at least, they seem pretty effin proud of the double-time march back into meal options dripping in saturated fats, caked in salt and dipped in sugar. (I can't find the actual advert, but here's a little bit on the whole campaign to rid the world of Tower Burger-less angst. No, seriously. There was even a petition... I'm. Not. Makin. This. Up.)

Going in another direction entirely, both Maccas and HJs are trying to re-invent themselves as "sophisticated". First it was the bullshit me-first campaigns (and the entire promise in general) of the bullshit Angus burgers. But this little gem has me all giggly... the key line - "ahh, garlic mayo. Mmmm" - pretty much brands its target market as gruff buffoons with little to no cuisine education.


Tuesday, March 9, 2010

The Connolly Team on da move

I love it when a plan comes together - John "Hannibal" Smith

Like Mr Smith, I too get a bit of a woody when plans come together. Especially the potentially life-changing plans that are currently on the Connolly family's doorstep, its knock getting louder and louder by the day, demanding attention. Screw this obtuseness - the Albion Love Den is about to get a wrecking ball thrust through her, and we're taking this opportunity to get the fuck out of this flea-bitten cesspit of humidity and confused boredom and are moving to my spiritual home - Melbourne.

To recap, briefly, on the Love Den situation - about 2 and a bit years ago, my legendary landlord Ray decided enough was enough and upped-stumps, selling this gorgeous girl on to an investment company. He gave me hollow assurances that the company was interested purely in the place as it was, possibly giving it a lick of paint and some other sprucing, but keeping it otherwise as is. It was as clear as testicles on a canine, however, that was not to be the case - with development after development being announced, planned or rumoured for Albion, it was clear that any investor worth their salt would realise they could make a motza just out of the value of this well-placed block. It was on-sold a couple of times (with us being subjected to invasion after invasion for 'insurance appraisals', 'fire inspections', 'valuations' that it almost felt like we were on permanent display), before a development application was finally lodged. Eight months later, and the plan was approved last Friday. It's a matter of days before the real estate agent nails the big pink fuck orf notice on the front door and we do a midnight flit.

Initially, the impending eviction was quite stressful. I've been here for nigh on 11 years; it's the longest I've ever lived in any one place in my entire life. I grew up here. I defined myself here. (Yes, I've cried here. Laughed here. Gotten stoned here. Fucked here. Spewed here...). Looking for places to move to in Brisbane just seemed defeating and sad. And bloody expensive. And so a plan was hatched, after an innocent comment from my Dad over Christmas, to look into moving states.

Coincidentally, at the same time as the housing situation was becoming uncertain, so too was the career. The company I'd been working with for a few years was sold to our competitor and uncertainty was in the air regarding the future of a lot of people's roles. As this new company was based in Melbourne, I decided to take the bull by the horns and stake my claim not only to taking on a now much more expanded national role, but also my claim to having the company move me to head office. And they accepted that plan and we're now approximately 8 weeks away from uprooting to a whole new city.

It's all very exciting and daunting and confusing. While I've moved around heaps in my life, it was always under the watchful parental eye or easy share-house hops with just my bed and a couple of boxes. Now I have a whole house full of stuff, a wife to think about, and absolutely no idea on how to start a new life in a new, almost foreign city. Wish us luck. More importantly, however, tolerate our tale of woe as we negotiate the wonders of moving house as this little plan not only comes together, but becomes a great big annoying reality.

Friday, February 5, 2010

still Spinning In Daffodils

I was totally going to review this gig on the blog. I had some choice phrases picked out with some highlights and pithy observations. But then I found this clip, and any pointless words I could have spouted seemed stupid.

Rock dinosaurs unite - this is what it's all about. The Josh Homme swagger, the animalistic, sexual Dave Grohl pounding and John Paul fuckin Jones strapped up with a 9-string, lit up throbbing bass guitar. About half way through they lock into that magical rhythm and then spin back and riff off it... anyone who's spent any amount of time playing music with mates will know that feeling. That euphoric and almost orgasmic moment when you tune your ears into what your band mates are playing and are comfortable and confident enough to bounce off it and make something work. It's a bonding, almost sexual time (and, unfortunately in my experience, all too fleeting... much like my sex life).

What's not shown here is the 2-3 minute spooling intro before Grohl smashed that crash symbal to cue his bandmates in. Also missing is the ending, where JP fuckin J (he evidently has 4 names now, thanks to Hommes' intros) swapped that monstrosity of a bass for the electric piano and chased that melody all around the keys in a whimsical fashion, befuddling the crowd.

This was pretty fucking spesh. Moment in time type spesh.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Get some grub up ya

Late 2009 sparked a bit of a culinary experimentation mode for the Love Den inhabitants, thanks to a birthday present of one of the most amazing cookbooks I've owned - SBS' Food Safari. The show is pretty cool, but the book is a great romp through the ethnic colours and flavours that Australia's multicultural base has granted us. I almost immediately got hooked on the wholesome and exotic sounds which the melting pot of African cuisine presented, and so kick off the journey with a homely meal of Mahindi Ya Naz (corn in coconut sauce), which, the book explains, is typical on the Swahili Coast. It suggested combining this with suqaar, a Somalian meat and tomato stir-fry and mahamri (or Swahili buns) - sweetened, deep fried breads.

First up, I whacked all the ingredients for the buns into a bowl and set aside to raise for a bit. The main flavour here is the sweet cardamom, which tempers the slightly sticky and doughy bread. When ready, the dough is shaped and

lightly deep fried to achieve a very slight crust and golden texture. (The Tiger gave the remains of the mahamri-dough a Japanese flavour by
inserting small balls of red bean paste before deep frying - which was

The corn was next on the chopping block, simmered gently for 10-15 minutes in tomato puree mix with coconut milk powder (which is surprisingly hard to source).
To be honest, I found the mix rather wasteful, as 90% of the flavoursome elements remained behind in the saucepan come eating time, but whatever. It was an interesting way to prepare a rather bland and unimaginative veg.

The suqaar was a fairly straight-forward and no-nonsense stir fry of red meat (we chose lamb) with some capsicum and finished with tomato puree. When served up you could tell this was not haute cuisine, but neither did it even pretend to be. You could see thousands of African mums whipping out this old gold standard as quickly as any Moonee Ponds mum would reach for the safety blanket of rissoles and mash on a tired Tuesday eve.

The experimentation has continued since then, with The Tiger admittedly taking over the culinary goddess duties. We'll blog the highlights from time to time.

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

In search for the new Love Nook

And so begins 2010, which shall be dubbed The Year The Love Den Died (or possibly just Relocated, but I'm feeling rather dramatic this eve). It's been a relatively shitty start to the new decade, with the usual string of complaints relating to workload; the current toxic office environment; not having enough time or money for the things I love; even finding some of those things I love rather underwhelming... all bubbling to the surface and putting me in a dark way. Only to be greeted with the news today that the developers had lodged their Final Response to council amending their plans for the development which is to replace this beautiful old wooden girl. The amendments don't, however, extend to leaving this place the fuck alone to exist in its Love Den-y goodness, alas.

There still seems to be a few flaws in the developer's arguments, mainly centering around the scale of the proposed 3-story building and its impact on the attached Heritage Listed bakery and shop, as well as the visual impact on the pre-1940s street scape. But being rather negative and cynical about, I feel this current council is decidedly lacking in the romance required of them to deny such a development based on the above two factors, so I'm sure it's a given that the rubber stamp will be rapidly and enthusiastically brought down on this application. Before long, no doubt, the very place where I'm sitting will be no more and there'll be at least 11 more cashed-up bogans to boast about their owning "a delightful 2-bedder in the restaurant district of the inner-northern suburbs" (to whit, my response of "Oh really, you mean that glorified 75sq m shit-box with the fetching views of the cement trucks hurtling down Sandgate Road" will probably result in a bloodied nose. Mine. Again).

Here begins the happy task of house-hunting for the first time in nearly 11 years. The last time I did this, I had a crappy double bed, a bookcase, a stereo and a couple of suitcases of personal effects and CDs. I now have, in addition to the now even-crappier double bed, a 2-bedroom unit full to bursting point with rapidly depreciating furniture, decrepit soft furnishings, a champions' collection of CDs and books, as well as the accumulated detritus from 11 years of being in the one place and share-housing. Yep, this is going to be as shit as it sounds.

The Tiger and I have begun the relatively monumental task of trying to learn and organise what it takes to find a cool new place worthy of a Love Den tag, get approved to move in, get everything over there, clean this place up, etc, etc. Oh fuck. We have, however, found a non-faff related use for the much-maligned Google Wave to keep all our ideas and house-hunting endeavours in the one place, which is actually quite nifty.

All of this organisational joy, however, will not save us from the coming hell of dealing with the plastic real estate agents and property managers as they sneer and jeer at this couple who is "still renting in 2010, why don't you just buy your own place?" Grrrr... FUCK YOU, wench. Hmm... yeah, I got issues.

Wish us luck. Most importantly, provide us a solid alibi if you read in the news of a trail of beaten and battered plasticed, make-up plastered, fake-tanned real estate agents and property managers through the northern suburbs of Brisbane.

(And, yes, there'll be some sort of party planned to kiss this slice of heaven goodbye)

Saturday, January 2, 2010

What have I really been listening to?

In the spirit of the times, I've still been devouring "best of's" for the past few weeks and it's gotten me more High Fidelity-esque over my own habits than ever. Thanks to my obsessive-compulsive tracking of my individual song listens through my account, I can present the albums I listened to the most in 2009. The results were a little startling at first, but then it sunk in that my usual fascination with live shows kicked up a notch this year thanks to a recent foray back into reviewing. Even more interesting is that while compiling this list, each album has attached itself to a mind's-eye type memory which it invokes every time I hear something from it:

10 Michael Jackson - Hello World: The Motown Solo Collection (112 plays): Yep, I contributed to the absolutely ridiculous amounts of MJ being played around the world following his death. Reading just a fraction of the mountain of obit words written in his honour, I realised I'd totally blanked a major part of his career - that of a totally arse-shakin black man gettin his mo-town orn. This triple album is pretty decent and covers some precious moments in this man's career. Pity it became what it did. (The mind's eye recollection is of doing housework and mundane shit around the house)

9 Neil Finn and Friends - Live Neil Finn Auckland 2008 (114 plays): A few years back, Neil Finn invited a few righteous dudes to EnZed for some jamming which culminated in the album and DVD Seven World's Collide being released. It was pretty monumental - the likes of Ed O'Brien and Phil Selway from Radiohead, Johnny Marr from The Smiths (then The Healers, now The Cribs... the dude likes "The" bands), Eddie Vedder and pre-solo Liam Finn rocking out with Betchadupa, all getting together to jam on each other's songs and play 7 nights straight at theatre in Auckland. Fast forward a few years and a similar thing happens, with a slightly different group of musos getting together a Neil's studio to write and record an album of completely new stuff. It's Neil with Ed and Phil again, as well as Johnny Marr, but also with the likes of Bic Runga, KT Tunstall, and even muthafucking Wilco! The album's since been released, but they also played a gig and I downloaded the unofficial bootleg and swallowed it whole. Numerous times. (Mind's eye: travelling on a Brisbane City bus down Wynumm Road at East Brisbane/Norma Park, over Canning Bridge and that delicious view of the city at dusk).

8 Mumford & Sons - Sigh No More (115 plays): These dudes went stratospheric almost immediately on arrival. And while I can almost taste the inevitable coolness backlash, I'm still devouring them while I can. Contemplating a ridiculously-priced festival ticket just to see them this month, too - thanks to the "no side-shows in Brisbane" bullshit embargo. (Mind's eye: striped sunlight reflecting off the Love Den's polished wooden floors in the late afternoon).

7 Ben Harper and Relentless7 - White Lies for Dark Times (119 plays): As mentioned previously, this accompanied me through the Japanese country-side. Like certain wafting smells of a slow-cooked roast can throw up vivid images of home-cooked meals, a couple of bars from any song on this album instantly takes me to hurtling through the mountains of Nippon on a shinkansen.

6 British Sea Power - The Decline of British Sea Power (120 plays): This album and band should really have been in my Best of 2009 list, if only their '09 offering was anything like this breath of angsty noise from 2003. An moodier, crankier and crustier version of Joy Division (if you can imagine it) these dudes have been my best-kept secret for a couple of years now. They're in that category of bands who I think should be more popular, but I would hate it if they became the super-mega-star-wankers of so many of their ilk (Editors, Bloc Party, etc).

5 Jeff Martin - Live in Dublin (121 plays): This was a review-prep album. The recorded gig and the one in person confirmed pretty much every one's fears of the former Tea Party frontman - he's disappeared so far up his own arsehole that it's depressing to be a witness to it. That said, his intimate knowledge of the sweet spots and juicy tunings of a 12-string guitar will always be pretty hard to resist.

4 Gomez - Out West (Live) (131 plays): This was mainly for review purposes. They were coming to town, they're a big band and I wanted to bone up so I at least came across half-knowledgeable. The version of Tijuana Lady on this double album is face-melting.

3 AC/DC - AC/DC Live (139 plays): Acca Dacca! They announced their tour early in 2009, so in the hype of getting tickets and psyching myself (and my increasingly worried wife) up, I sourced as much of their back catalogue for studying. The live album also crept into my "best workout albums" list, as it is the right length and tempo for a bloody decent hit at the gym. And the final song - "For Those About To Rock (We Salute You)" complete with perfectly-timed pyrotechnics... it doesn't get much fkn better than that now, does it? (Mind's eye: Fitness First at Fortitude Valley. This album actually invokes the smell of the gym - which is at once sickly sweet from disinfectant mixed with cheap air-freshener and even cheaper body-sprays, and that acrid musty smell of a thousand wet, unwashed towels).

2 Pearl Jam - Live in Brisbane, 2009 (159 plays): This kind of goes without much explanation. Much to some people's amusement, I still hold a candle up for my beloved Jam. Introducing my wife to them this year (and finally joined by my brother, who never got the chance to see them on past tours) was a pretty special moment. They've continued the tradition of presenting official bootlegs of each and every gig they play and so, within a couple of weeks, this was on the Pod and the moments were being relived in my mind's eye numerous times. (Mind's eye - the view of the stage from about 10 metres away)

1 The Swell Season - Live in Melbourne 2009 (161 plays): They're a beautiful little group, centred around The Frame's frontman Glenn Hansard and his one-time love interest, co-star and fellow Oscar-winner Marketa Irglova. They triumped through the movie Once and took off where The Frames left off in my musical love affair with this Irish dude. In fact, The Swell Season while once just a vehicle for the duet of Glenn and Marketa, now boasts the almost complete line-up of The Frames anyway. They toured here recently, and I downloaded both their Melbourne and Brisbane gigs later on - both were electric, but Melbourne clearly won the day in the most loved stakes. (Mind's eye: Glenn walking to the front of stage to start the gig, belting out Say It To Me Now with guitar and vocal completely unplugged and yet still filling the room. Goosebumps, still).