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.


beeso said...

great post. Interesting seeing a perspective from someone who hasn't grown up with it.

Albion Love Den said...

Thanks Beeso. As you know, rooms are as important as the band when it comes to vibe and feel. Nothing worse than seeing a good band being killed by a shit venue.

Anonymous said...

ALD, The Espy is / was the only venue that served me triple bourbon on the rocks and let me heckle a comedian. I must've done alright because his manager told me I'd wrecked his career. "It's not my fault if he's not funny..."


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