The Adelaide music scene: to many of you it might be little more than a touring speed bump between Melbourne and Perth but to us it's a way of life. Feast within, on all its dysfunctioning splendour, as we bring you the highly satirical, laughingly fictional and intellectually imbecile tales from our rock & roll wasteland...
LEADER CHEETAH + THE MIDDLE EAST LIVE @ THE ED CASTLE / Saturday February 28th 2009
Just but once a year, on a Friday night in February, all hell breaks loose around here: the Fringe Festival opening night. They outnumber me thousands to one, no wait.. fifty thousand to one, maybe even more; swarming bug-eyed, screaming, wailing and flailing from Frome Road all the way up into the East End Parklands. They're cramming into every crack and corner like spackle, till I can't move, breathe or sneeze without putting an eye out. They're a forcefield of meat cooking and buzzing to the mad symphony of lights and there's no end in sight.. Fuuuck! This night of nights when Adelaide truly comes alive! This is their night! Isn't it mindblowing? Isn't it awesome? Isn't it the best thing EVER!? Yup it sure is.. and I take one good look at all of their smiling faces, see what I'm up against, and then I get the FUCK out of there! It's just too much! One end of the scale these are all people I know, and at the other end it's a George Romero film. Then on Saturday it happens all over again with Soundwave Festival? Thousands upon thousands stumbling, fumbling and climbing over each other like rats in a sewer and me still wishing I'd bought a ticket? Nine Inch Nails!? don't get me started! The odds are stacking against me this month. These aren't people anymore, they're a threshold exceeded: 6.8 billion and rising to a planet that should only host 0.5 million. This is my dream come true, my nightmare, and me running for cover. This is their world now, they roam free, they pick the bones clean. I need to quieten the voices, I'm making a hasty retreat. I'm searching for an antidote, any music articulate in this mess: music singular and introspective. I don't need laser lights, pipes, explosions, or circus midgets; I just need a place fucking far away from it all where I can drink myself sane!
Yup, welcome to the Adelaide Festival Binge! (that's no typo). It's when the silent majority, the "dark matter" that makes up this metropolitan miasma, a million or more, rise to torment the living. Any other time of year you'll find them safely sequestered in the suburbs watching The Biggest Loser, Today Tonight, banging Top 40 ringtones, filling up shopping centres, playing the pokies, popping out fat kids and jerking off to porn; but for that one brief shining moment, from late February to mid March, they bless us with their presence. They'll swarm the city centre wide-eyed in wonder, hit up all the festivals, galleries, venues and gardens, shriek unintelligibles at the Clipsal 500 and applaud enthusiastically at anything burlesque, drag, trapeze, fire breathing or whimsically cockney in a standup comedy. They'll drink their fill, form conga lines, gorge themselves silly on all things "arty-farty" then disappear for another year to scream at the footy and flip you off in traffic. It is as awe inspiring as it is terrifying. We've all been there.. the Fringe is freaking awesome! it's a wacky world of whimsy! But not now.. not just yet, I caught a glimpse of it on Friday night: all shaky camera work and unseen gargantuan beast, and fuck that maaan.. I'm fleeing to the frontiers!! But why you ask!? why wouldn't I simply dive into the thick of it? why wouldn't I have captured Fire! Santa Rosa Fire! in their shining moment of glory!? WHY.. DAMNIT WHY!? Ask anyone who's ever worked "hospitality hell" on New Years Eve.. that's fucken why!
THE MIDDLE EAST (*****) myspace :: As much as I would've loved to capture the madness and the mischief at the Festival Fringe: the crowds, the chaos, the colour, the epic nipple exploding excitement, and as much as you'll be reminding me for the next year just how skullrapingly awesome Soundwave Festival was so I can kick myself repetitively in the nuts for missing out on that one.. fuuuuck! there's already a million strong media swarm scrambling to pick that carcass clean (and if you hunt down the CCTV footage you could also hobble yourself together a wickedarse zombie flick!). No this won't be a blog devoted to the bleedingly obvious. When you're out there in that lunatic asylum, every week, for three or four years running, when your music tastes have become so ridiculously ecclectic that even YOU don't where the fuck you're coming from half the time (check out my ipod maaan.. it's freaking hilarious!) you go to furthering extremes to get your mad fix, you're uncovering freaky space alien shit nobody's even heard of before! OH YES! The Middle East: the most mind blowingly epic-as-fuck, folk acoustic, knitting circle ensemble you'll ever hope to hear! I shit you not. The Middle East. Remember that name. I don't care if you blew both loads to Alice In Chains and Nine Inch Nails tonight; you really dropped the ball on this one! We all felt the impact the minute we entered that room, it was like a bomb went off: that was our stumbling footfalls cut short to their whisper quiet collage. We're in awe, jaws hitting the floor, eyes rolling out of their sockets. We're tiptoeing now lest we further disturb the delicate balance that they weave in the most minimal of arrangements: that pitter-patter of tiny brushed percussion, that light acoustic, glockenspiel, flute and those voices forming bitter sweet harmonies like bird song aloft, disarming us utterly and completely. I know you're waiting for a punchline here, but I'm dead serious. Ben Revi said they were "better than sex" and he doesn't mince words. The Middle East? fucking whoooaaa!
The Middle East make NO logical sense in any semblance of reality we would ever call our own. Just look at them: squinting into the light, warbling, shaking about like they're speaking in tongues, like they're a pentacostal choir. They're in a league all to their own, or another universe entirely, or if we're really splitting hairs Townsville in northern Queensland but we all know that's a lie, they really hail from the magical kingdom of Narnia. They're a winter wonderland of snow softly falling on cedar, of crackling fires, hot cocoa, ridiculously romanticised children's books about squirrels, and you looking longingly into the white cascade outside of your bedroom window as all the homeless people in your neighbourhood get mauled to death by roaming packs of wolves. Yup, climate change sure is a bitch (and I never knew Townsville had it this bad!) but no one else has ever made it sound quite so beautiful. Think The Fleet Foxes, Bon Iver and Arcade Fire all coming together to sing Christmas carols. Imagine if Jim James from My Morning Jacket sung at your funeral. Picture Bat For Lashes, Jeff Buckley and Chris Isaac trapped in a glacier. They're the bluebird of happiness turning black with frostbite. They're that last red autumn leaf, clinging to the tree for dear life. They're ever so fragile, fleeting yet ever so forgiving to your ears. You only want more. You score this to any cinematic release and you'll be bursting into tears. I'm seeing a plastic bag dancing on the street, in a twirl of leaves.. and.. oh crap.. I think I've got something in my eye! *sniff* The Middle East leave me speechless, stammering, studdering and stupified. They shut me up completely. My mind is nothing but a blank screen and a flashing command prompt and they provide the rest. And when you hear that last song, you'll begin to understand why..
LEADER CHEETAH (****1/2) myspace :: There's something altogether fucked up and dysfunctional about tonight's lineup; and in the best way possible. We're a world weary lot around here, we've seen our fair share of battles, wars fought, won and lost. You can see it in our faces: we're an accumilation of errors, an aggregate of grief mixed with glassy eyed grins grown ever more profound the longer we travel down this road of diminishing returns. And if ever we were to chart this on a graph, or illustrate its end result, it'd look very much like our headlining act, and ever more so like the one who fronts them: Dan Crannitch. For many years now he's been a bartender at The Exeter. Being a bartender is the worst. I don't know this personally per se, the best I've managed was five months full-time in customer service (or now that I think about it.. three or four years in the Adelaide music scene pretty much covers it!) but I recognise that haunted look all the same, the one that screams "kill me now" yet says nothing at all, that distant stare, that vanishing smile, that lingering threat that any day now they're gonna crack and kill the first fuckwit that even dares order another pint of Coopers Pale Ale (hi Eleanor! glad to be back!?). Yup, they see the worst in people, they truly do. They see ME a lot.. and that SO can't be good for their sanity! And you can see it ALL in Dan's face: those lines that wear ever so deep, that messianic complex, how all it would take is three sheets to the breeze, those eyes would roll back in his skull (and how!) and it'd be all over!? Christian Bale in the Machinist would have nothing on this guy; he knows TRUE pain! He's a greatest hits compilation of nervous ticks. The way he yammers, stumbles, limps and circles a stage, swatting imaginary flies with his arm swinging wildly, looking for all the world like a Japanese P.O.W, like a cartoon caricature crawling through the desert in search for a glass of water. He brings a grim determination that truly defines Leader Cheetah. This ain't The Pharaohs, this ain't no buzz band angular shit with your fashion tragic teeth set on edge: this is life and death!
And it doesn't just begin and end with cheap shots at the expense of Dan Crannitch (aaaah I swear the dude doesn't deserve it.. nicest guy you'll ever damn near meet!). No, his entire band is a veritable medicine cabinet of botched prescriptions. Take Dan Pash: the bespectacled beanpole with the retro 70's headphones five sizes two big for his head, all he needs is a pair of rollerskates and a ratty bathrobe and he'd fit right in with One Flew Over The Cuckoo's Nest! Or what about Joel Crannitch on drums with his overgrown Jim Morrison beard? he already looks like his life is over and he's barely out of his teens! Or the way that Mark Harding handles his bass guitar quite like you imagine an octogenarian would look assembling IKEA furniture; only to start a house fire instead? There's no mistaking it when you see a band like this, it's no fucking act, with brains this willfully damaged they've gotta be the real deal! Leader Cheetah. Most people don't get the whole "Neil Young" thing; better yet mention it to the band (they love it when people tell them that!). No, this shit made perfect sense to ME one 4AM a few nights ago, one of those 4AM moments when you really start to bug the fuck out, like your pissing your whole life away (aaah the midweek blues.. good times!). All the lights were out, "Bloodlines" was playing over a web browser (thanks to this site) and *bam* I fucking felt that shit! Neil Young is just a coincidence, it's evolutionary convergence. They're simply travelling down that same highway, just like Johnny Cash did before him (or Interpol's "Turn Down The Bright Lights" did decades after), fleeing the same inevitability in search of the truth: that the world as we know it will burn, and THIS is the music you listen to with a beer in hand (or twelve) as the sun slowly fades on the west. There's a survivalist quality here, a journeyman swagger, a mexican mariachi band, pistols at dawn, heralding a new age, a new world, a gleaming white cattle skull picked clean of all that was once our CBD. It's grim tidings I know, apocalyptic even, but tonight they feel right at home, comfortably living between worlds and ferrying those bodies up and down the River Styx. And if we but follow them into that desert, that cautionary tale, take peyote and trips balls together, there maybe hope for us too!
Clearly this wasn't the end of my night, not by a long shot, there was yet more to come, details too trivial to mention here (guess where I went to next!? YEAAAS!!) and yet all of it was entirely necessary to understand just what we witnessed here tonight. It takes a few brews for an experience quite like this one to settle in our synapses; the best ones usually do. This is what beer was invented for in the first place. If you're a poker face perfected, a puppet on a string, a central processing unit, a content provider, a cube farm punching a keyboard or a consumer cut down yet still swinging from that tree of life like you've got nowhere else to go, this is where it all resonates like no other. It's music like this that makes us feel human again. We drink a few too many, we rewind that entire evolutionary clock and we're all living blissfully in trees again. There's a million mad fools banging pots and pans making one helluva racket, and at the opposite end of the scale there is us. This was one awesome hiding place if ever we found one tonight!
Yup, it's been a weird week in Adelaide, weirder than most, quite possibly the best (and in many ways the worst). I kept well clear of the epicentre but I could still feel the aftershocks from here. A million strong locust swarm raising the roof and raising this city to the ground. I'm pretty sure they're all dead now; if not give it month and we'll get the hoses out. This was their time, they did us all proud, this city well and truly comes alive but once a year (or at least we'll keep telling them that so they never suspect what we really get upto around here!). But next week just you wait.. we'll give them a run for their money, we'll drink them under the table, we'll keep on coming! Halloween's for the living not for the dead and we'll surely roam these city streets once more.