I knew it would be pulp but it needed to be read. The Rise, The Fall, and the Rise by Brix Smith tells a surprisingly rocky and neurotic tale. It’s a pretty candid romp about a damaged person who just seemed to choose all the wrong guys but who ends up mostly happy considering things. There’s nothing much new about Mark Smith here ( except for a disturbing hand-biting episode), but what was great to hear about was her life after 1988. Not being plugged into Brittish TV or fashion I didn’t know about her talents in both fields nor whether she still had dealings with ex band members. The perfect book to finish off on a plane to Perth for work. 3 stars.

Laughing Clowns

Last Friday, a mere 12 hours before what was to be my sickest day in the past 5 years (stomach bug), I saw 1980s band Laughing Clowns at the East Brunswick Hotel.

I see bands so infrequently (and pay for them months in advance) that it’s always a delight. I was also happy to find that some earplugs I’d brought along weren’t needed. As with other bands I’ve seen recently (i.e Moffs / Bats) I found myself in a warm affectionate haze seeing a group of older musicians onstage who have known each other for ever, very aware that this might be the last of the reunion gigs, and happy to banter a little. As with all good gigs, I never found myself looking at my watch or praying they didn’t come back on for a second encore. It was short and sweet and getting late, so let’s just get out of here. I had enough beers to be persuaded to buy a $10 bootleg CD at the desk afterwards, and was served by Ed Kuepper himself. He was as modest as I’d hoped in person.

 I had a lovely time and so did my mate Jonas. If only my camera batteries had worked, you wouldn’t have to put up with this awful photo from my phone.

A good mixed weekend really

I’m not sure where to start really. On Friday night it was a visit (with Yon, his mate Simon and Morgan) to the Northcote Social Club to see The Bats, which btw is becoming quite the northern beer barn nowdays. It’s one of those places that looks about twice the size on the inside you’d expect.  Shame the toilets are so far away from the band action. And the Bats? Well, they were just charming really – pretty much playing most of their new album The Guilty Office, which luckily I’d bought a few days before.


Of particular note was the attractive female lead guitarist (who must have been 50, being a 26 year old band) and the tall blond Forrest-Gump like bass player who got the crowd laughing with his lack of guile and innocence: “We just found out this week, that that last song is going to be in the latest Keira Knightley film; might even end up on the cutting room floor – oh well”. As my friend Morgan said, the Bats play simple same-sounding folk-pop, but they do it so well. The support band was the young Crayon Fields, who I would describe as the Go Betweens in glasses and loud 80’s jumpers (it was hot in there too!), whose lead singer reached new heights in nerdish self introspection and unattractiveness. The synth-based songs didn’t really float my boat but they were ok. Photos to follow.

Next most exciting thing was Saturday lunchtime-ish. Whilst walking dogs on High Street we discovered a pair of unfinished art-deco bedside tables (routinely described as “rare as hens teeth” to find in pairs). They were without the bone handles or polish and I’m not sure that the drawers even worked very well, but they showed great potential. We apparently have first right of refusal, and I’m betting they come up a treat for $285 the pair (which is amazing considering we’d looked at others for 800 before). Discovering furniture gets me excited.

There was a family Christening for Liam on Sunday – painless for the most part, except when my hyper-anxious mother started shout-whispering across the church isle to sister A, that sister B had gone into labour this morning, and that she’d been vomiting and having diahorrea all night before.

We played some solid WoW on the weekend also, and I snagged a tanking trinket: The Black Heart, that for the first time in ages made my heart leap as it’s pretty much best-in-slot. We managed to down the first boss in the brand new Trial of the Crusader (25 man) on our third attempt, though mostly through some amazing raid leadership. The phase 2 where you tank the large serpents and get paralysed or burned is still very confusing to me. Luckily I didn’t screw up too badly.

It was a great mixed weekend. What a pity I’m working the next 13 days straight.

Loud night at the Moffs

An old schoolmate turned 41 on the weekend and I got an invite to the East Brunswick Club to celebrate. After waiting for hours to see New Estate at the Tote a few week’s back, and driving my car there, I was determined to make it a dive bomb mission – arrive 30 mins before the Moffs went on stage and leave soon after. It worked out perfectly. I even managed a few stubbies along the way.

I had some trouble finding folks at the start, but once discovered, was encouraged to come right down the front next to the speaker stack, which was deafening. My shirt had been pulsing with drum and bass vibrations from back at the mixing desk.  A pair of earplugs saved things completely. Looking around, I saw some familiar-ish faces and ran into Dave Funnell who started comparing them to early Pink Floyd and I nodded like an illiterate.

My mate Yon was agreeably toasted by this stage and compared Tom Kazas (singer) to Mr. Bean. He wasn’t far off as the band said not a lot during the show, apart from the funny “Is anyone here under 25?”. There was a wonderfully psychedelic couple up the front who I was told solo-danced to the Sand Pebbles with no one in 15 metre radius an hour before. Good on em.

Some gigs for a change – Tactics and Harem Scarem

Last Friday and Saturday, I found myself leaving the house around 10pm to go an watch some old bands that were around in the 80’s. One I’d never seen, but had all the records, and the other, I’d seen a ton of times from 1985-1990. Both nights were great because they broke me out of my normal Warcraft-and-then-bed rut, and because I ran into people I hadn’t seen for ages. Firstly at the lowly-attended Tactics show, there was the lady on the door who checked my ticket, who just happened to live a few doors down from us when I was teenager. She was the same same pocket sized, solid girl that I last saw as a 20 year old, when her family won Tattslotto (that was their claim to fame). And then I saw gig-stalwart Norman. Leather jacket wearing, book-toting Norman. Eccentric and exaggerated Norman. Bizarre dancing Norman. Boy did Nick and I have some crazy nights with that guy. And he’s still has long thin dreadlocks to this day. But now he has a girlfriend. So it was nice to say hello to them both. Tactics at the Northcote Social Club Tactics were just terrific, though some of the galloping frenetic songs blurred into one near the end. I had a fair dance and bought a CD afterwards. Dave the singer gave lots of song explanations, a lefty-rant and made references to the drug years of a fellow female band member (who played awkward keyboards and was mortified). So the audience laughed a lot. There was a totally un-selfconscious 50 year old right up the front in a tight fitting beige jumper who danced continually that mesmerised me. Plenty of oldies in the crowd. Julian Wu stood their looking bored as usual. Harem Scarem at the Corner Hotel Next night was a much bigger affair because I had a bunch of friends meet me at the Corner Hotel for a band we all saw a lot back then. In fact Peter Edkins and I met at a Harem Scarem show in 1985. Whilst it was a energetic show, I felt it wasn’t so much like the harrowing blues tunes of Love Attraction and Figurehead that initially drew me to the band. Chris Marshall was as engaging and larger-than-life as ever, but the Barry Palmer trad-blues solos left me a bit cold. Plus I was fairly sober. Times had changed. Julian Wu was there also. As my friend Claire said, he needs to stop being such a scene-queen and take a night off. And then I ran into my old school-mate Mannie, who’s partner was a long-time band-goer and had even seen the Saints and the Sunnyboys (original lineups) in the late 70’s. I kept looking around and finding people’s semi-familiar faces, but most of them I never knew very well back in the 80’s anyway. Some Campers go out late one night like old times. I got a chance to go upstairs on the newish rooftop beer garden and was amazed at what they had done. It was better than being in the band room. I wanted to spend the night up there in the open air. Must go back during the day sometime.

Community Cup

It’s been a few years, so I was glad to accept Ash’s invitation to the Community Cup 3RRR/3PBS/Espy Hotel footy match yesterday at the Junction Oval in St. Kilda.
Nothing could have stopped me once I saw the weather; a blue sky on a very crisp windless day (pretty much the shortest day of the year) where things peaked at 12.1 degrees at 4pm. On arrival, things were a little different it seemed – all of a sudden there was merchandise (pretty reasonably priced too) – you could get T-shirts, scarves and stubby holders. I don’t remember that at all last time I went. They also had a decent official “Record” with team lists, so we scoured them for our favourite presenters and then went spotting numbers. Tim Rogers from You Am I played, and American Bob Log the Third played the national anthem on a kazoo, whilst a very chilly lady in a bikini stood by draping the Aussie flag in the mud – was that intentional I wonder? A few of Ash’s camping buddies turned up so we rushed to get some seats and found a spot that was soon overshadowed by the scoreboard shade, so we shivered and made bets about how long it would take the sun to creep around onto us. One of the lovely things about the event is that it’s not treated too seriously; plenty of “rock chicks” played and the umpires wore Ramones leather jackets and wigs. There were a billion well behaved dogs which put mine to shame. It was a complete ogle-fest as lesbians pashed on behind us, fashionista’s strolled round looking out-of-place, and plenty of women tom-boyishly kicked footies to each other in the quarter-time breaks. Swoon.

When we left just after the half time band Mach Pelican (who are soon to be deported to Japan after 12 years in Melbourne) it was 4pm, and without lights, the last quarter would surely have been played in gloom and confusion. I wonder who won?

Faster Hammers

I just got home from seeing the Fiery Furnaces – one of the few bands that I own every CD of (some I think illegally). It was good, but it was not as good as I’d hoped – where were the pianos, or even the keyboards? That’s the problem with turning a two person studio band into a 4 person rock act . Despite the slightly indulgent wizardry of Matthew Friedberger who spent a regular parts of his set doing sonic impersonations of the Melbourne spaceman busker, a few of the songs felt a little flat and atonal. It didn’t help that sister Eleanor (who so resembled an overly tight-jeaned daggy 80’s version of my own sister, that I realised that unbelievably, it’s a cultivated, must-have look nowdays) had a cold and announced it a number of times. Then they had a little gripe about the feedback, and a mention of how quiet the crowd was. It didn’t seem to be going terrifically in Furnace land. But, I thought the crowd was good hearted, they clapped to the end, and the band did a 8 song encore, including a great version of Slavin’ Away, and some decent Bitter Tea songs like Waiting to Know You. I’m glad I went, – the crowd was fairly young, and they all had lots of hair, speaking of which, I saw Julian Wu up the front taking his photos. But if you didn’t know all the songs I imagine you’d have been lost amongst the restless 20 second song medleys and electro bleeps of these theatrical folks from Illinois. I hope the couple with headbands who were pashing on mid-set in front of me got home safely and recover from their night out on Ecstasy – they were having a ball!

New Estate

Despite a lethargic weekend in general, where my total achievements were the repair of a bike puncture, 2.5 hours of piano, several Hoegaardens and an hour of dwarven rogue roleplaying on the WoW Lightbringer realm, I managed to get out and see some bands at the Carlton Music Room, which is a mysteriously located room in the bowels of the Dan O’Connell Hotel. It must have been ten years since I’d been there; normally a place famous for its St. Patricks Day throng in more summery seasons. new-estate.jpg
Having been to the Northcote Social Club for all my more recent gigs – been awhile now though, it was awesome that the ever-reliable Andrew had reserved me a seat and we could actually watch the bands without having to jostle for position like at the Mountain Goats or Steve Malkmus shows. Having seen the Pink Stainless Tail before, I knew what to expect. If that band could just be a bit more inventive with their music they would be the closest thing to The Fall that Melbourne has seen in 20 years, singer Simon Strong already possessing the rambling, incoherent and shambolic sensibilites of mentor Mark.E.Smith. The in-between band Go Genre were interesting enough, but I found myself chatting to Andrew about his photo exhibition, the quiet lifestyle opportunities available in Preston backstreets, and enjoying my Coopers a bit much. The band I came to see – New Estate was from a recommendation by David Nicholls in Beat awhile back. Little did I know his partner is in that band – the sly dog. Luckily they were the best band of the night, and I’ll have to track down the CD that they said they had just finished recording – or even see them again. All three of us folk seem to have recorded this event in our weblogs for posterity; perhaps the most comprehensively reviewed Tail gig to date.

Some wonderful anecdotes and tomfoolery

What a strange, but interesting album. The first time I heard it (4 days ago), I was terribly disappointed, having assumed it would be just like their last record. I had forgotten that the Fiery Furnaces previous releases had taken some adjusting to at first, and that was what made them so special. This band changed my expectations of what a record could be like, along with bands like Pere Ubu and The Fall. So, after throwing my own little tantrum about how they’d finally taken creative indulgence too far, and furiously scouring the net for reviews from other similarly disenchanted fans, I found that there were some folks who not only liked Rehearsing My Choir, but loved it. I jumped to judgement that these were people who would applaud anything new, and wouldn’t know a catchy tune if they fell over it. Or, that they had awarded it top marks just to annoy the people who hated it. Folks everywhere seem completely polarised and give this record a 1 or a 10, with little in-between. Well, I’ll be the in-between and rank it a 7 (or a 3 of 5 on Amazon). There are some fascinating lyrics, familiar stage production/radio serial style vignettes, and dollops of catchy tunes in there if you listen for them. At first I disliked the inescapable grandmother’s voice (in fact, I still have a hard time believing it’s a ladies voice, no matter how old) but it’s a voice so theatrically filled with history and drama, that I found myself drawn into the stories. You could spend a lifetime examining these lyrics and still be blown away with their originality and imagination. There is sadness and joy, melancholy and anger. The songs aren’t as strong as previous releases, but there is plenty more to like about this release than a lot of the tripe from girl-with-guitar soloists or AC/DC imitators out there nowdays. This is not a release for the faint hearted, or for someone who wants a verse-chorus-verse-chorus format; it sets a mood that makes it difficult to choose what to play afterwards. I ended up playing it twice in a row today instead.

Skanking anyone?

It’s always been difficult to find a happy middle ground for Kim and I. Particularly with books and music – we’re just so damn sure that what we each like is great, and that sooner or later the other partner will come around and realise the errors of their ways. We have a big collection of books, but have only read a half-dozen in common. We joined the Brunswick book group and struggled with books that neither of us liked, but at least we tried. Then along came a Nick Hornsby book, and she’s flat out refusing to read it! With music when both in the same room, we settle on a strange mix that’s inoffensive to both parties – 80’s Alternative Hits, New Romantic stuff, an occasional Go Betweens or Pixies or Jam record. But I know that what she really wants is to belt out some of that Aretha Franklin crap AND DRIVE ME OUT OF THE HOUSE VIA BLACK SOUL. Oddly, we both seem to have gone through Ska phases in the 80’s. Kim hung out with the Rude Boy crowd and bought cheap Australian equivalents of the Freddy Perry shirts and envied the whole Brit Scene. I shaved my head, wore a pair of workboots and saw the odd local shows by No Nonsense, Strange Tennants and Looney Tunes. When I found out that The Special Beat (a mixture of members of The English Beat and The Specials) were touring, I knew it would be the sort of thing we would both enjoy in our own way. For the second time in two weeks, the Corner was totally packed with a 30-50+ year old crowd who were gunning for a good time. I didn’t realise it at the time, but there were die-hard Specials fans there who had waited 25 years to see their favourite band. So, IT WENT OFF LIKE A FROG IN A SOCK. The two singers, “Ranking” Roger (Beat) and Neville Staples (Specials) alternated best-of songs for an hour and a half, 95% of that topless, whilst a bass player jogged on the spot, and “Ranking Junior” – his son joined in the toasting. There was a great deal of pogo-ing and skanking amongst the crowd, and in some songs, the singer just stopped and let the crowd sing whole verses. Talk about a knowledgable audience. I felt like a bit of an imposter, but did my fair share of jigging (Kim did more than most) – how could you not? They played the slow crowd pleaser “Message to you Rudy” and the awesome “Save it for Later” and personal favourite “Best Friend”. We went home buzzing. Two days later I couldn’t stand it anymore and dragged out “I Just Can’t Stop It” for a pre-breakfast singalong. Ranking-Roger.jpg
Ranking Roger, the skinniest, most musclebound punk-toaster you’ve ever seen.