The Northcote Social Club is something like a casino’s main room — no windows, no clocks. Tacky carpet. It’s actually a rather ideal space to put a show of mine on — any uninterested patrons have an entire separate bar and a large patio to run about in. The show room has a little bar, so you can get what you need and watch the show. Everybody happy. Today was a mighty hot day — 39 C or about 102 F. (300 K if you need that info) It pays to move sloooooow. That’s my secret, why you might see me in a sport coat, certainly never in shorts unless I’m at the beach. You move slow, you don’t psyche yourself out. Think cool, be cool. Also, don’t be daft–get in the shade. That was nice about this show–it was in an air-conditioned box, and the AC wasn’t too loud. We sound checked, and I went up the road to fetch some sushi for Skylar & I. It turned out to be quite a bit, various sliced up rolls, including one made with Moreton Bay bugs. These critters are a species of slipper lobster, a shrimp on steroids (no claws and flattened, blade like head that borrows a bit from the book of crab design), something in between. Good eatin’. I was zoning out, waiting for my order to be prepared, and I really got into watching the chef prepare the large rolls, and then cut them into slices. To slice the large roll, the roll being about the size of a paint roller, he first carefully eyeballed the midpoint and cut the roll in half. Then, he wiped off the blade (also, I think having a large, very sharp knife surely must be an essential part of the process) with a damp rag, that rested folded up to one side–he just slid the blade between the folds; and then, he wetted the blade, dipping the point in bowl of water, then angling up the blade so the water flowed over its length; voila, a clean, slick blade to make perfect cuts. He’d slice up one half of the roll, then do the cleaning steps again, then complete the job.
I delivered the food, Skylar and I ate standing at the merch table. Doors opened, people began to trickle in. At most of these shows I would encounter people who’d seen the Sydney Festival show, who were there to compliment us, everybody loved this show and went out of their way to tell me, which was lovely. Skylar kicked things off with a short set of her haunting, dreamy songs. My duet partner for the evening (two evenings, actually), Lucy Roleff, sang a tune with her. Lucy is a multivalent, not only is she a great singer and songwriter, possessed with a contralto voice, that sounds like she’s channeling something ancient and deep; but she’s a talented and in demand artist, who has total drawing skills, enough to land her commercial/advertising gigs.
During Chris’ set, Skylar sang and played flute with him; by now I new many of the harmony parts; Chris didn’t know this, so he didn’t presume to ask me to join, but I was standing at the merch table, singing a third part in between he & Skylar pretty much the whole night…whomever was standing near me, got another angle of music, a human-powered version of surround.
By the time my set came on, the audience was running out of places to hidden outdid the pool of light in front of the stage. Where the penumbra, made by the structure of the stage lights themselves, being pointed stageward and essentially eclipsing themselves from the audience POV, made a border between light and shadow, here is the most forward place people were willing to stand during the first two sets. Of course, I wouldn’t have it, and got people up front. Funny how people are, being so shy at heart. I know things went well, it’s a little hard to remember now the details of the set, and since I don’t have a set list, there’s little evidence of what I chose, from my various albums. I will say, what marked this show was the presence of numerous special guests–there was a variety aspect to this show that was unique and, I think, very enjoyable. I can say that Chris, Skylar & I did “Dream Lover”, Chris on piano & I on guitar; we were also joined by Kim Salmon who reprised his interpretation of “Holocaust”; I played ambient guitar, incorporating aspects of the double bass part. I had Kelly from Skipping Girl Vinegar join me on the violin, to do her raga best on “4am Birds” and to solo and riff on “Lover’s Hymn”. Lucy performed the duet, again, the richness low end of her voice was truly like nothing I’ve ever encountered. I’d met singer Sophia Brous at the Big Star show, she was there with Nick Launay, dear old producer of “Amazing Disgrace”, so we met and I roped her into singing backing vocals on “Superwise” and “History Buffs”. She had zero time to prepare, she’s working on her own recordings and a million other projects but she did it, occasionally she’d back down and fade herself out, but then her harmonies would come thru dead on. I love someone who is true to their word–these kind of things are really easy to chicken out of, so my hat’s off to her. And, we had Zac and Kate from the Wellingtons, who’d recently covered “Frosting on the Beater” entirely, come up and join me for “Solar Sister”. Kate sang the harmonies, Zac played acoustic guitar, including totally nailing the solo. My goodness…I mean, that’s a serious amount of special guests and even with that I had time to do plenty of my material solo. I’d call it an unqualified success. Attendance was very good, and I really enjoyed working with Louie, our sound engineer for these days. With the AC on, it did make some noise so using the mic was a good idea, I eschewed it for some numbers but also…I’d been listening to Chris, for example, singing, and thought it sounded damn good.
Now, remember last week when I was in Melbourne, and after the Open I went out, and encountered at the adjacent table where I was socializing, a gentleman named Greg who was having a birthday? Remember, he gave me a magnum of very high quality Australian sparkling wine? I had brought it to the club, chilled it, and after show Louie brought it and some glasses down, I poured one for Skylar, and then furiously sold merch…and all of a sudden, everyone was gone. Nodoby was interested in my bubbly. So, I took it home, and drank the goddam thing. Yep, a magnum, pretty much solo. I slept pretty well…like…really.
I got up that morning at about 11 and had breakfast and coffee at the cafe attached to the State Library of Victoria, not far from my hotel, with Sophia Brous, she filled me in on the very exciting process of making her album and other things; then she had a session to go to. I had yet more oversized sushi rolls for lunch, and took a nap. Then, in the afternoon, we headed out to Oakleigh, which to me is a distant suburb of Melbourne, but to a local, is an outer borough. The Caravan Music Club is an entity that organizes concerts in the Oakleigh Returned Servicemen’s League, more or less an Eagles Hall/Elks Lodge. I love these old places, so homey. All carpeted, of course. There’s a small dining room, a carpeted bar that has kind of a yacht club feel, and then a main ballroom which might remind you of a bingo parlor. A large stage and a real piano, in tune, no less. It’s both happy and sad that there aren’t many Returned Servicemen left — it speaks to the fact that the Greatest Generation is dying off; but it also speaks to the fact that we haven’t had a World War in a long time. There used to be a lot these guys around–every neighborhood has an RSL. Chris, Lucy, and Chris’ string players and I sound checked and dined together. Lucy did a set to open up, the audience wasn’t as thick as the night before, but being really suburban, it was good that there was a table for everyone, it was very comfortable and cozy. Lucy is mesmerizing, I’ve already told you how great her voice is, and her songs are thoroughly captivating. We had time in the hours before the show to catch up and get her back story. A very kind person.
Chris’ set was great, this was day two with the same string players so that gave them more confidence and produced excellent results. I got up and played the ol’ Joanna on “Lovesick Blues” and “You Are Beautiful”. I had charts, and played with confidence, and this piano sounded great.
So, my set…I have to say, from a purely musical standpoint, this was I think my best show of the tour. The piano makes it special, always, and my voice, having gotten a decent night’s sleep behind it, was flexible and pure. The audience was present, but so numerous that there were semi-interested or distracted or out-of-range people, it was a nice sized audience and they were relaxed and supportive, so I was as well. I wondered if there was something magical about the space itself. The feel of the building was just so nice…it seemed to inhabit me and the evening both. Lucy joined me for the duet and for “Superwise”. Chris & I did “I Am the Cosmos” with Chris singing lead and myself playing piano — transposed down a 4th. As usual, I don’t remember what I played really, but I remember the feeling (remember, during the show I am really in the moment, so, I lose track of time and sequence for the most part). I just know the feeling of the night, how it felt to be there, and it was perfection, can’t ask for a better show.
Chris & I flew up to Brisbane, where Nick & Nadia picked us up. Nick’s a guitar slinger/record collector/DJ, Nadia’s his missus. They scooped us up in a rental van and took us to the hotel. The rooms weren’t ready to Chris & I headed off in separate directions for lunch (you see, Chris actually wanted breakfast, so he went to the local pancake house). I found Sushi on Gerorge or whatever it’s called, just blocks up from the hotel, which had a radical selection of the famous oversized Aussie hand rolls. These things are about the size and shape of the cardboard tube at the center of a bog roll, eating four of them is a hearty meal indeed. If only I could stop myself at 4. This establishment’s sheer variety of ingredient set off the shark parts of my brain, I stuffed myself — imagine sushi rolls that contain fried chicken or pork, seaweed and avocado, pumpkin, sweet potato…delightful! I wobbled back to the hotel, then did my swimming exercises in the sad little pool, and then went for a walk in the searing heat, crossing a bridge over the River Brisbane. Over the river there’s a cool wind blowing, so this was quite nice.
It wasn’t long before NickNNadia came back with the van, and we went to pick up the rental gear. The van itself was a rental minivan, and guess what–the seats don’t fold down. So, getting all the stuff including the piano was a tricky proposition but it did happen eventually. Then the fun part–the Black Bear Lodge’s load in is from the alley, up a three story fire escape in the rear of the club. Yep. So, we had some help from Tim the sound engineer (they are all or mostly named Tim), getting that piano up the narrow fire escape was something indeed–no room to turn the thing, as the stairs curved you ran out of room to maneuver. Horrible. The club does have a piano, but it was pretty wonky and in the end I didn’t use it–it’s on the opposite end of the club from the stage.
Soundcheck was done, and I had precious little time to eat, but we had Brisbane’s “Chinatown” — realistically it’s as Malay, Thai etc as it is Chinese, but that’s what people were calling it. I picked a Chinese restaurant in fact. It was busy, but they had a table. I ordered hot tea (for the singing) and Moreton Bay bugs in a spicy Szechuan sauce. I felt odd that I was ordering bugs but had to politely and calmly inform the restaurant that I didn’t want the still living cockroach that was swimming in my tea. It’s the tropics, so I wasn’t offended; the restaurant staff was horrified and you could tell they were amazed that I wasn’t raising a stink. I just wanted the bugs I wanted, not this one. No big. The food came, it was great, and I was back in time to see the set by my duet partner, Seja. Seja is a genius who plays various instruments–she played guitar in a latter day version of Regurgitator. She also makes full scale or miniaturized, depending on her whim, models of vintage analog synths out of felt.I mean, wow. For her set she chose to play guitar, and she kept referring to spots in the song where there would normally be a keyboard solo. At one point, I humorously ran to the stage, and played the piano (backwards, as it was facing away from me), a one-note solo.
Chris performed his excellent set, with his string players for the evening. And then I came on and did mine. I would say that this show was probably the most difficult — Brisbane is notoriously tough on attendance and this show didn’t disappoint in that regard–we had a pretty small audience, and almost no young folks, the demographic was hovering around 50, which is fine, but…doesn’t bode well for my future in Brisbane. You need young blood, too. The door people talked and chatted during my set, it was audible. My voice was pretty tired– we had to get up early and fly that day; naps are forbidden when I change time zones, so I don’t end up jet lagged; and I pushed my voice hard the night before, since I was into the show, I really went for it. It wasn’t miserable, by any stretch; but the night before was a tough act to follow and stakes just didn’t feel high here. Seja was a wonderful duet partner, however. She is also 6’1″ or so, quite an impressive figure.
About a year or so ago, I was sent an anthology of music from the band Ups & Downs, who were around in the 80s/90s, currently they reunite occasionally. Peter, from the band, who had sent me the CD, was present, Great band, I hadn’t encountered them before. I have a great supporter, too, a journalist, Noel, who always writes good stuff about me. It’s a cool city, and the people who came to the show were lovely; just hard to make it an event there, it seems, lately.
After the show we had to drag all the stuff down the fire escape, and then I got to bed; we had another relatively early flight the next day.
Landed at Sydney around midday, and soon our promoter Adam was there to pick us up, along with Skylar. We got our stuff, stuffed all the luggage into the rental SUV and headed for the Blue Mountains. Katoomba is like a mix of Aspen and Taos, if you placed this hybrid near Lake Tahoe. It exists because it’s on the edge of a vast wilderness, and it exists to be an artsy little colony, as well. The Clarendon Guest House is a lodge with a dining room theatre, a tiny little thing. Rumor has it the hotel is very haunted on the top floor, the old part of the lodge. Our rooms were up there…small rooms with only a washbasin. There’s also a more modern wing with en suite rooms. I think the change in ownership is recent, a family from China owns it, the young woman (I assume the daughter of the owners?), Stella, who was our contact, couldn’t be sweeter. There’s a nice old piano, so we swung that into action. Our sound engineer, Kent, is a charming fellow who originally hails from New York; he married a local and moved here in the 1980s; now he runs a sound company, and also is involved with a historic train depot nearby, he’s a trainspotter par excellence. We had some well familiar faces come up for this show — Darryl from Orange Humble Band and his good lady Cindy; Easter Dark/Orange Humble/Lemonheads alumnus Bill Gibson; and the lovely Dave Faulkner, the Hoodoo Guru who was with us the previous week for the Big Star show. Could you find a lovelier gentleman? He was really proud to show me around in the short space between soundcheck and dinner, while Chris & Skylar were sound checking and rehearsing, he & I zipped off to the famous Echo Point, a vista of such breathtaking magnitude that it rivals the Grand Canyon. You look out across endless twisting valleys, with table mountains poking out of the nearly unbroken carpet of forest. A “W” of stone, the Three Sisters, is just off to your left. I said it was like a scene from “Avatar” and or “Lord of the Rings”…primeval, exotic…
Back at the club, another celebrated singer in my life appeared, Hannah Gillespie. I produced her wonderful album a couple years back. She’s been well involved in raising her young boy, and she trekked up with her family, camped nearby. Dad took babysitting duty for the evening so Hannah could see the show.
The tables were nice & full…except for one off to the side/front– that reservation never showed, and the absent Peter became the butt of many running jokes at his expense. This was a lovely show, again, when there’s a real piano it’s a whole ‘nuther thing. Skylar backed me up for “Superwise”, “History Buffs” and the duet. I can’t really explain Skylar’s particular magic…she’s so easy going and effortlessly brilliant. Her voice is not particularly alto, nor soprano. It seems to carry a wide range of rich harmonics with it–it’s pure, but it’s also haunting. She seems to have perfect pitch, but she consciously bends notes to the blue spaces. And she’s hilarious, too. She’s not a clown, but she’s got a quick wit which she uses judiciously–making it all the more devastating.
So of course we did “Dream Lover” with Chris and she; and, Dave hopped up and we did “Big Black Car”, with me on piano. The venue is subject to a local statute that says the shows must end at 11pm–but as Kent pointed out, there’s nothing illegal about just hanging out in the lobby, which also happens to have a piano. So, nearly everybody headed out that way, the lobby being very much like a family living room. Drinks were had, and I played basically another set on piano and acoustic guitar. This was mostly covers and fun stuff — Beatles, Big Star, and the like. Solar Sister, I’m pretty sure. I wrapped with “I Don’t Want to Spoil the Party”, Dave kicked in with some harmonies. I retired to the merch table and God bless Mr. Faulkner, but he bought like 2 of my albums and one of Chris’. I introduced him to Hannah, and he gave her a pep talk– you might have noticed that Hannah didn’t sing with me, she just hasn’t been focused on music lately with her young boy in her life. Dave retired, Darryl and most others headed back to Sydney. However, a fellow named Conrad and some other locals took me back to theirs and we destroyed an immense amount of white wine– I put the ‘hard’ back in Chardonnay. I ended up on Conrad’s couch.
…and in the morning strolled back to the guest house–I wasn’t really ready to spend the night at the mercy of the third floor phantom, anyway. Due to my indestructible nature, no hangover. I popped by the gourmet espresso place, Cassiopeia, and then strolled over to the Clarendon, for a bath, and eventually my crew started to come to life, and we drove to Sydney, stopping for sandwiches on the way out of town, which was a demonstration on how to be the most laid back town ever…nobody was in a hurry to serve us, or get paid. Good sandwich, tho.
We drove into Sydney, maybe 90 minutes of driving (napping for me), oh, of course we went to Echo Point so Chris & Skylar could see the view, too. We had to pick up Chris’ larger suitcase at the Pullman hotel, he’d left it behind so he could travel light for the tour; we checked into our hotel for this night, and then drove across town to the Petersham Bowling Club. Petersham is a quaint and quiet neighborhood with some very nice houses (in fact, our drive, thru Paddington, Surry Hills, etc was basically a tour of fabulous homes that you don’t want to know the price tag of). So, lawn bowling is a big freakin’ deal in Australia. It used to be about guys in straw boaters with handlebar mustaches and ladies in hoop skirts and bonnets; now it’s about regular folk getting fucking smashed in the direct sun, and doing a little bowling in between. What the large billiards table is to the table for playing 8 ball, lawn bowling is to petanque. The ‘jack’ or small target marker ball, is off about ten yards or so, and you have to bowl a pretty large ball and get as close as you can to it. The ball in this case is weighted off center, so you can only curve it towards the target. The clubhouse is a pub, really. On the wall are the names of champions and presidents and other club notables going back to 1901. On the wall you’ll see photos of various legends of the game, all dressed up and bowling in their suits as if doing some kind of outdoor sport in 95 degree is something you dress up like Colonel Sanders for. The current president, is a 50 something guy who was in board shorts and sleeveless Grateful Dead shirt. Well, welcome to the modern age. Best of all, they have gigs here. We knew that the current batch of patrons would be leaving when the cover charge kicked in, but for soundcheck…holy shit, it was loud. Big dudes just getting hammered full force. Chris’ soundcheck was literally inaudible. The PA system being what it is, is certainly no competition for beer fueled testosterone. I love that the left and right speakers are both on the left.
We knew that by mid afternoon well over a hundred tickets were sold. The capacity of the venue is 200, but they cap all shows at 160 as more than that is uncomfortable (and don’t forget, we’re going to have some guest list, too). So everyone was happy. We had some nice friends about, and the PBC has a very good kitchen– looking at the patrons, who seemed mostly interested in potato chips and lager, and the fact this place yet again has that British Empire, homely-grubby carpeted vibe, I was expecting the food to be bangers and mash from a tin. I was served a rather sophisticated asian noodle chicken salad, that perked me right up. After dinner I went for a stroll alone; it was still hot out, but not unpleasantly so. I strolled thru the summer idyll of a Saturday afternoon in Petersham park — joggers on the paths, picnics, kids kicking soccer balls, parents wiping ice cream off kids’ chins. I felt serene and it sunk in that I was leaving Australia the following day. I have some dear friends here, and this trip was now almost a thing of memory only, it made me feel very wistful. This is compounded by the fact that free wifi is not a given in most hotels — it can be very expensive in fact– and the placement of Australia in relation to GMT means that almost any hour that I’m awake is when my family in France is asleep. *If* i had free wifi that was also robust enough to carry audio, I could sometimes get a call in after the show. I was homesick, but also, Australia is easy to be attached to. I don’t really see myself living there, but, the sun and the hospitality of the locals and the daiquiri-colored birds all around…it’s pretty inviting. So, I was trying to drink it all in. I felt peaceful. I came back to the venue, and audience and friends alike were there–Nick Launay and I had a good catch up; the folks from the Sydney Festival came, local journalists and radio folks; good old Darryl Orange Humble…and, remember last week when I was in the Melbourne airport, I ended up chatting with a guy, Tom, who had just seen my bag of CDs, and being a drummer himself asked me what I was up to? He ended up buying a vinyl of “Danzig” on the spot. Well, he came to the show with friends; he actually knew the Posies music but didn’t put my name with the band, and he ended up loving the show.
When Skylar played her wonderful set, it was still sunny out, and people were trickling in. The way it’s set up is that there are tables the further you get from the stage. The stage has a lower ceiling than the rest of the venue, and it’s tucked in a corner (and right next to the stage is the door to the Ladies room, and for some reason, no one thought to maybe wait til a song ended when I was playing quietly, before noisily letting the door close behind them etc. I joined Skylar for a duet, where I have to sing stratospherically high, and the thing is, I did rehearse with her, and was planning on being pretty free with it–but, to my horror, the monitors were on, and that just threw me off. You see, folks, you have the PA that you, the audience listens to; onstage, there are speakers that have a different mix of things, so we onstage can hear what’s going on. I myself, am almost unique in that I don’t use them. When there’s a loud band onstage, the concept of having a speaker add even more noise to the mix is not a pleasant proposition. I just put in my earplugs and listen to the band. Even for singing, I hardly have any vocal reinforcement in the ‘wedges’ as we call the monitor speakers on the floor. And for these quiet shows, I just turn the things off completely. I’m not even on the stage all the time, so…there’s no point. Most musicians use them, tho. So, Tim (you see?) had set them on for Skylar, so I was confronted, when I sang, with the sound of my own voice coming back in my face, loudly…and it scared me off. It was a struggle, and I felt I wasn’t doing Skylar’s beautiful song justice.
I also joined Chris for his set, for two songs on piano– I didn’t have the charts, so…so I had to be pretty careful about placement–with his guitar and singing, and the beautiful viola and cello parts, I did not want to throw a ten-story clam out there. It went fine.
Now, at about this point, I had to face the realization that these 150-odd people were there to see me. The whole thing changed when I got onstage–the talking stopped, the people stood up and approached the stage (of course I encouraged this, too). These wonderful people treated me like a legend, and I felt I had better do my best to live up to this honorable bestowing of title. The low ceiling acted as a psychological barrier, so I emerged from the stage and stood on a chair, and played the first few songs to set the mood. I ended up staying up front for quite awhile. The feedback from the people was…extraordinary. I can say that when faced with this much love, adulation, respect–whatever you want to call it– it took awhile for it to dawn upon me, that this was really for me–not some other show that was happening somewhere else in the same room, or something. It’s hard to reconcile, and my only response that I had handy was to give back, as much as possible. And with that much mutual commitment in place, this show could really go someplace. I know, I said Oakleigh’s show was the musical highlight, and perhaps the real piano trumps the digital one, and my voice was just a little more effortless in Oakleigh, and the stakes were lower, so I could relax a bit. But here…the stakes were high, and I was able to meet them. I was coated in sweat, to be sure. But, the audience made it worth it—they were among the most receptive, demonstrative audience I have ever faced. I can say that I was held to no less than five encores. Even after the ‘grand finale’ showstopper numbers — “Cosmos” with Chris, “Dream Lover” with Chris & Skylar, “Thirteen” & “September Gurls” with Mike Mills, Chris & Skylar. I did an acoustic Solar Sister that was started with a teaser intro of “Into Your Arms” … I did this knowing Robyn St. Clare, the song’s author, was in attendance…she seemed genuinely touched by the gesture…
There was an audience request for “Any Other Way” which I thought was a pretty cool kind of obscure choice.
I sang hard. I mustered all the psychic attention I could to keep the audience’s attention. Got a good two hour show in there. After the show, the venue pretty much had to clear out, but I got a lot of hugs and signed records and things…just a beautiful buzz. Those of us left at the end of the evening, had a few drinks at a nearby bar, I got tired after a couple glasses of wine and headed home, saying goodbye to my friends.
This morning I had breakfast with Darryl, who showed me the stunning artwork in progress for the Orange Humble Band album…this album really needs to come out this year!! There’s a few touches being done, evidently.
I got in a swim, really nice pool at the Vibe hotel, then Adam and Skylar dropped Chris & I at the airport on their way to the beach (the one thing I *didn’t* get in this time). Been flyin’ ever since.
I’m humbled by the generosity of my hosts in Australia, by the patience of my promoter Adam Yee, by the love and care given by my audience. Working on a return ASAP.