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.