Flav stuck in New York due to snow. Griff and Brother James denied visas. A two-hour delay while the DJ from Bliss N Eso desperately keeps running offstage to see if he can stop playing The Best 90s Hip-Hop…Ever! yet. And then Chuck, DJ Lord and the live band come out and rip the shit out of Nation Of Millions, top to bottom (bar Cold Lampin’, for obvious reasons). Despite being past curfew, we still get 45 minutes or so of back catalogue afterwards, too – wonder how much it would have been if they’d been on time?
St Stephens, Newtown
Support dude for this churchbound Christmas show was a mountain of a dude called Oliver Mann, who had a remarkable, resonant, sonorous voice that needed a much better showcase than rumbling over his very shitty acoustic guitar hacking. Hanlon did a cute enough set with an appropriately informal vibe, but hours of waiting on hard wooden pews underscored why I haven’t been to a church on purpose in a good fourteen years or so.
Hercules & Love Affair/The Whitest Boy Alive
The GFC Is Affecting Australian Festivals, Part III of XXVIII
It’s hard to say if it was overreaching to try and follow a Daft Punk stadium tour by using the brand to run a festival celebrating your own 10th anniversary – after all, Modular have pwned the charts and the radio this year – but when slow sales turned the "festival" into a mere all-dayer in a giant tin shed, the potential for a fun day for the kids melted into a grotesque endurance trial.
Well, if you had any intention of doing the whole day, it would have - with Andy Butler’s and Erlend Oye’s projects back-to-backing in the late afternoon, the discerning punter (or, okay, sometime media scab) can have a charming hour and a half of twee Scando-dance and then fucking storming live disco. It’s a tragedy Hercules didn’t get a club show as well – there are basically three bears, two skinny girls with short hair and checked shirts, and Erlend Oye dancing around us, and then a swarm of angry, confused shirtless 19-year-old hets. Sure, they enjoy it well enough, but both the band and the core audience deserved a better opportunity to meet each other. Make a second album and come back, Love Affair.
We do try to stick around and catch some of the others, but Klaxons are a headache, and two songs in I realise this is the fifth time I’ve seen Cut Copy this year; by now you’d think they’d be so bored of the set they’d just start doing actual New Order covers – I’d stay for a whole set of that.
Fusebox Theatre, The Factory
It’s probably possible to be a London punk-loving kid who joined Icehouse as a teenager in time for their first big homeland tour, has played sessions for Madonna and Michael Jackson, been drug buddies with Robert Palmer, had multiple bands with Alex Paterson from The Orb and Jimmy Cauty of the KLF, written Jimmy Nail’s #1 hit, composed the music for Spaced and been in Pink Floyd for the last twenty years – and once there getting seduced by Rick Wright’s daughter – and be a boring muso twat, but luckily Pratt is a charming bloke with a great line in self-deprecation. Having a couple of basses and guitars (and the odd pre-taped cue) onstage isn’t just a prop, but actually get integrated for genuine comedic purposes. The anecdotes lean on the big names, which makes sense, but also adds to the disappointment that his publisher wasn’t able to get him any copies of the more expansive book to flog. (Dude moans when I tell him Kinokuniya had a pile of about twenty on a display table during the week – but I’d held off in order to buy and get signed if he had ‘em.). Rated five out of five lols.
The Mountain Goats
Cambridge Hotel, Newcastle
The first-ever Antipodean jaunt for a drum-equipped Goats was meant to happen some months ago, but got bumped for personal reasons; when the rescheduled version ended up having an extra show three hours out of town (for half the price), it seemed an appropriate enough excuse to check out the recovery of Sydney’s northern neighbour. Last time I came up to a gig and actually spent some daytime in town (as opposed to hammer up and hammer back the highway) was early 1997 – to see a secret Beastie Boys show as Quasar at the same dodgy pub – the city was crushed and wilting from the collapse/withdrawal of the mining co.s. Can’t say how business may have recovered, or if the then-disproportionate student population has just been sticking around and repopulating the place, but the urban reclamation of the waterfront is a fucking wonder. A bunch of shitty overpriced seafood restaurants on a docklike boulevard, sure, but the actual design of the new buildings, joining and embracing swimming beaches, new tourist areas, old residential, new hotels, the main drag and a central public transport hub is wonderful to see. Bless ‘em and good luck.
The show? My #1 hope of Wurster’s addition leading to extended WFMUesque banter-joke-improv with head Goat John D. wasn’t realised, and I can’t say that the extra rock power improved the experience – but it was good to see something different from the last several tours just for difference sake, and the moments of heads-down rocking-out suggested that some kind of power-trio acousto-metal sideproject could be a valuable outlet.
Oddest problem was the complete absence of any kind of lighting man, apparently even during the day: softer colour cans aside, there was only one stronger white light onstage, and it pointed resolutely at bassist Peter Hughes’ amp all night – when he stepped back, he was fully illuminated, but the lead singer and only between-song talker remained in facial darkness the entire set. It didn’t do much to facilitate the musician/audience dynamic that typically makes a Mountain Goats show. Neither did the band room layout, for that matter, which saw one entire side of the room curve away and open up in multiple doors to the outside smoking area, which itself opened onto the street with free, unpaid, gratis access.
Still, Darnielle powered through the set with something similar to his usual enthusiasm, and having not come to the city before, was persuaded to break out No Children in the encore. There was an indie disco in the other side room afterwards: we opted for the highway/hammer interface with assistance of V and Cherry Ripe [sponsorship spaces on this blog available]
Kraftwerk, The Orb, The Legion Of Trance Snoozers
Hordern Pavilion, RHI, a car park
The GFC Is Affecting Australian Festivals, Part II of XXVIII
This was an attempt to launch the decade-plus old Global Gathering festibrand as an instant local summer fixture, with a completely fucking mindboggling advertising spend: double-page colour spreads in multiple street press for MONTHS running, display ads in mainstream papers and commuter giveaways… and WEEKS AND WEEKS of Saturday morning Top 40 Video Countdown telly ads! For results they probably could have achieved with one weekend’s postering and two message-board threads: the promoters ended up giving away hundreds of industry freebies the week before, and dropping two entire stages on the morning of the show (some local DJs got repurposed to a VIP area – well, when you’ve got so many VIPs…)
For our crew it was essentially a double-header with two half-interesting support acts, though. Happy to sit around with beers, bratwursts, gozleme and chat on a sunny afternoon rather than rave it up for Sasha on a tarmac carpark, this was a Kraftwerk show with the thrilling bonus of The Orb, maybe live in Australia for the first time ever? I’d seen Dr Alex DJ to about nine payers a few years before in the most monstrous case of promoterfail imaginable, but don’t know if any live incarnation ever made it out here in the 90s…
In the event, shit almost fell over on two fronts. Booked to play twice in the afternoon, one slot might have been just another DJ set, but we never got the chance to find out, as it was in one of the “arenas” summarily cancelled with no notice. Arriving literally in time to walk into the enormous RHI to the twinkling opening strains of A Huge Evergrowing Brain..., we saw the four-piece steadily lose the already-skimpy crowd as a surly Paterson grew more and more disgusted with the stage techs being apparently unable to get some important aspect of actual sound happening. In the end he gave up and threw on a CD-R of A Bloke Off The Internet’s mash-up of Eminem and Toxygene to try and hold the crowd attention while using the one working bit of equipment. By the time this ended, the sound was fixed and the decks/drums/Big Wodge Of Electronics/'dancing stoned maraca geezer who sang twice or so' unit were able to get into a proper set, which was happily heavy on early-90s Perpetual Dawn-era classics, but still took 40 minutes to get the visuals synced and run the Star Trek-stylee Live Orb (no evilbro) credits. The sound was so much better 50 meters back in the cavernous hall that we felt a bit bad that LX and crew might have felt they were playing to no-one appreciative, but at least we weren’t the only 30 (and up!) somethings skanking cheerily back there. A long way from a letdown, but I can’t imagine they wouldn’t have sold out a Gaelic sideshow to even older, fatter nostalgic stoners with better sound and an audience you can see. No sideshows at all on this tour, taking dollars away from the paucity actually arriving in promoters’ pockets.
Okay, we did actually let Sasha distantly soundtrack the sunshine rather than actually heading inside for hands-in-the-air trance from ATB or Above & Beyond. The only curious venture back into one of the three indoor spaces was to check the heavily-advertised “360° visuals” of the ‘Gorillaz Sound System.’ This fucking hideous travesty turned out to be two slide—projections near the back of the room in addition to the eight or so screens onstage, slowly revolving computer animations of 2-D (no pun intended) silhouettes of Hewll designs, while a drummer played tinnily onstage along with the unnamed DJs indie-club fixtures of 50 Cent and Song 2. Was Cass Browne part of this shit? I would have lost it happily to The Rock or C’Mon Cincinatti, but one mate scarpered outside before I’d even had a piss and said to everyone else “shall we cut our losses?” Place was fucking rammed though, the kids either need to get some fractional standards or bung me their dealers’ number.
Five years on from Ooh Wee, a venture to check Mark Ronson and the Version Players on the tarmac was similarly tinged with a readiness to bail at the earliest hint of shitness. A hopeful heart won out though, as in the event his over-stuffed showband of 8 or so horn players, three micro-minimally choregraphed Pipettes rejects and approx 300 guest vocalists brought the revue-style party vibe like a truckful of motherfuckers, and could have been playing the Basement for about a year… consecutively. Seriously, the outlay just on his singers could probably have funded another entire festival, with another one coming out at least every second song. Hey I met Phrase when I came here years ago and he’s my mate Daniel’s mate, so lets have him do two of his tracks! Blerk from Phantom Planet flew across the planet to do one track off my album so we’ll do California as well and OH YOU KIDS will sing your fannyhair off to it! None of my own past guest rappers actually came on the trip so what the fuck, here’s ten minutes of Plastic Little climbing over all the amps, doing covers of Ante Up and their own shit. An actual tour from this mob could have done two circuits of the country, selling out larger venues on word-of-mouth the second time and shifting a plaque’s worth of Version CDs on the way out.
For us it was just a sunset diversion though, something to kill time before heading into the Hordern to grab spots… oh, there’s hundreds of empty seats? We can work with that… for Kraftwerk. This required sitting through 15 minutes of aural waterboarding from what was billed as Fischerspooner, but was actually some unrelated female DJ playing electro-house while Casey Spooner nasalled into the mic thrilling exhortations like “COME ON PEOPLE…. IT’S ALL GOING TO HAPPEN… THIS IS OUR LAST CHANCE… IT’S ALL GOING TO HAPPEN…. NOW! ….NOW! …………….NOW!!! …..NAAOOOOOOW!!!” And so on.
The prancing cockend was predictably wrong, though: for most of the slimmed crowd now in the 5,000 capacity hall, it wasn’t going to happen for five or ten minutes. The Hordern has had an impressive refit in the last year, going from the tin-box vibe of the 1999-rebuild to a slightly comfortably-shaped live room wider than it is deep, with speakers aimed slightly out to try and encompass this comfortably-dispersed audience. The sound still usually sounds KIND of like a big concrete shell, though – this year I’d seen an all-rock Devo lose their thrash a bit in the big ceiling, a mostly-on-tape Pnau turn shrill against the hard floor and plastic side seats, and only a who-would-have-thought !!! find a spacious, welcoming sound at the end of a dance party.
Well, the Teutonic heart-attack-victims of just days before must have had a team of engineers working on soundchecking for a week or so in advance and locking their presets down with barbed wire, because Kraftwerk had the best live sound I have ever heard. There’s not much to say about the songs, or the visuals, or the not-recently deceased members, but it’s impossible to convey how amazing, clear and wonderful the pure digital shed-filling sound was. I’m a fool for not seeing them in a theatre in 2003.
The GFC Is Affecting Australian Festivals, Part I of XXVIII
Over the last 5/10/15/20 years, one-day festivals have been becoming a larger and larger part of the local live music scene. Led by the summer-bestriding Big Day Out and Antipodean-act-only Homebake, bubbles form and burst, but more and more continent-travelling packages have been gaining traction and attempting to “build their brands.” Tonight’s event is an example of the overall bubble wobbling with too much water and not enough soap, if not the bubble actually caving in and the blowpiece having to be redesigned: a first-time travelling dance fest from a newish promoter, what was the Stereosonic Festival in other states had to be broken down into four separate gigs in Sydney due to a OVERLOAD of fests competing for the same market, in the same venues, on the same weekends.
Paul Van Dyk at superclub Home, Carl Cox at fancy bar that put big speakers in for fluoroelectro on Saturday nights The Arthouse, Booka Shade at the Enmore Theatre……and basically “all the leftovers” were shunted into the closest thing remaining to a festival, but actually turning out for the potential better as a late-running rave on a uni campus. With a 3am close rather than a 2pm-10pm running time like most competing dance events, we roll up to this after a day of work, company Christmas drinks, and a 21st in a nearby pub/cocktail bar. Tommie Sunshine, Vitalic and DJ Hell get to use the actual live room, one of the best laid-out in Sydney; Crookers and DJ Funk take over the main cafeteria downstairs (with extra space in the dining room/viewing balcony above and courtyard outside), but apart from the underwhelmingness of their mersh styles, the sound is completely shithouse – not doubt largely due to being open a whole floor above the stage and through half a dozen glass doors at the back… Headman and Dave Nada get a cozy space in the one-time FilmSoc room on the top floor, but being RIGHT BESIDE the live room and TOP AND TAILED speakerwise, it can be hard to find a sweet spot soundwise. Headman makes the most of it with some fizzy trebles, but it’s an uphill battle.
Really though, who gives a fuck, because there’s only one act that’s really brought us here: the Frenchman having blown out a club tour about two years ago, this writer’s been waiting for Vitalic to cave heads out of a laptop for too long, and apart from wishing for 10 minutes of Fanfares instead of a minute or two of Valetta Fanfares, Pascal brings the desired boom. The following gif should illustrate the effect:
Afterwards Crookers continue to eat a big muddy dick downstairs, the Spank Rock DJs are playing a warmup set as a closer in the sideroom and Hell fucking pounds it like a monster (Sunshine moshing at side of stage), but about an hour and a half in, the week, the night, the booze and the muscles combine to pull me away to crash on a mate’s floor.