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.


Dr Yobbo said...

Impressive space - reminds me a bit of the Saraton Theatre in Grafton (much smaller scale but similar idea.) Was still showing fillums last I saw.

Albion Love Den said...

I love the old converted theatre spaces. Castlemaine has a great one where you can do a dinner/show where tables are set up at the front of the room and you eat your mains through the support act.

Anonymous said...

nice vivid writing. Thanks for taking the time

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