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...
TOM UGLY + FIRE! SANTA ROSA FIRE! + AVIATOR LANE LIVE @ THE ED CASTLE / Friday July 3rd 2009
I've been told, I forget by who exactly (possibly someone with a beard) that live band photography is one of the most needlessly difficult of all the photographic disciplines. And short of shit involving children, animals, sport, celebrity portraiture, paparazzi, politics, deep sea diving, outerspace, telescopic, endoscopic, microscopic, prenatal, natural disasters and war correspondency (and the art of timing up an exceptional LOLcat shot) I wouldn't doubt that shit for a second. Fuck all the other extremes, being a live band photographer is the WORST. It's a suicide mission, it really is! Nobody in their right mind would ever choose this as a profession if ever they knew what it involved (and the fact that I do this SO willingly every week should prove that fact emphatically!). Take it from me get out while you still can, your mother was right, it'll never amount to anything. I mean let's forget for a moment that you'll be throwing yourself headfirst into the worst of the worst each week fighting your way to the frontlines; that you'll be dodging fists, feet, flying molotov missiles and wading waist deep into a cesspool of sweat, piss, blood, broken bones and shattered teeth just to get your trophy kill; that it's next to impossible to get a good angle out there when there's a million camera phones sprouting like weeds around you; *pfft* that's nothing duuude! Ask anyone in the field, from amateur to professional (to all those idiots who THINK they're "professional" but still insist on using compact cameras because they sincerely believe it'll make them more badass *cough*): above access angst and an endless stream of arseholes? available light is all we ever bitch about. It can truly make or break a photo, we can never get enough of it and when we DO we're like moths flocking to a lit light bulb frantic to make the most of it..
To illustrate this shit in a way that we can all appreciate, consider the following, this "state of the art" lighting console as found at The Ed Castle, or a Jands 4Pak-D Dimmer System to be more precise (and by the looks of it a really old one at that). Now if you don't have the foggiest clue what ANY of these sliders and switches do, congratulations this instantly qualifies you as an "expert lighting technician" in the Adelaide music scene. I mean suuure, you may need a license to serve alcohol and years of professional training to be a sound engineer, you may even need to know how to play your instrument properly (although we ALL know that's a technicality at best); but when it comes to lighting? *pfft* pretty much any piss monkey, mouth breather and moron can tweak those dials to their hearts content. It doesn't matter if you're a DJ, mixer, manager, tripper or a stoner; all you need is opposable thumbs and you're good to go! And it's into this anarchy that we gig photographers often find ourselves cursing and swearing. Every venue has its own temperament. Most we can adapt to (I for one am rather fond of the lighting found at Jive, the Jade Monkey, The Grace Emily, or even The Crown & Anchor and Rocket Bar if it's a good night). Some are best avoided (Rhino Room anyone!?). Fewer still we dream feverishly about (Queens Theatre and The Governor Hindmarsh). While The Ed Castle sits somewhere in the middle..
At best it's nothing short of brilliant in here, with just a few simple tweaks of the deck you'll find yourself foaming over all the possibilities that pissy little lighting rig has to offer (and I have countlessexamplesonhandtoprovethatshittoo). At worst it reminds me of a reccuring nightmare where I find myself in a dark room with a lightswitch. I flick that switch on, it glimmers for an instant only to wink out again; and no matter how many times I flick it back on the room only gets darker. Or rather like what it's like in here tonight. Yup, while many of you may dream of being burnt alive, shot by firing squad, gassed, strangled, drowned, chased by monsters, married to Tom Cruise (whoaaa shit!) or thrown off a cliff; THIS is my waking hell. This red, blue and yellow sequence that at BEST illuminates the bass player's left elbow for a split second, basks the drummer in blue, and leaves the rest of us fumbling for a fuse box. I COULD wimp out and use a flash but we all know how that would turn out (ie: fast forward this clip of Martin Scorsese's "The Aviator" to the 3:50 mark and prepare to have both pupils blown). Nope, I just gotta grin and bear it, feed off the insanity, hope like hell my camera's pointing in the right direction; and if else fails simply get hilariously drunk, enjoy the music and remind myself it STILL beats a nine-to-five job. These live photos may potentially suck in every conceivable way but at least we've got that.
AVIATOR LANE (****) myspace :: Our opening act you may recognise as Michael Radzevicius on guitar, Rory O'Connor on bass and Thomas Smeets on drums: lifelong members of the sadsack sorority. Or as blackening blurs A, B and C with downcast expressions as captured on my camera tonight while I proceed to pull most of my hair out screaming. Still, to the infinite credit of whoever is clearly NOT doing the lights (ie: the sound engineer who's clearly already got his hands full doing the live sound) this intangible murk still accompanies their set beautifully. For out of all the manic depressives that love to call this city their own (and believe me we're upto our noose knots in them) our opening act could arguably be considered their "queen" of all things whimsically suicidal. Not just thanks to the exceptional talents of both Rory and Thomas on bass and drums respectively (who you've likely seen in everything from Steering By Stars, Horse & Cart and Zeta) but also for the one and only Michael Radzevicius, quite possibly the wettest blanket ever to front up to a microphone. His beardly brow beaten presence is the very definition of despair. His ethereal singing voice: equal parts warm, world weary, wimpy, and weepy (or equal parts Roy Orbison, Elvis Presley and Paul Dempsey on a few too many pain killers) is demasculation personified. He's the world's smallest violin playing for each and every one of us in turn. If ever you've been dumped, dumped hard, holed up in your bedroom, painted the walls black, black fingernails, penning black poetry, listening to The Cure and pissing into milk bottles only to emerge weeks later a hollow shell with a wickarse moon tan: this is just the sort of music that would make you smile moments before promptly returning to your bedroom again to blow your brains out. For years he travelled alone, solo acoustic, bumming people out one by one; now after a few lineup changes he's got a dedicated team that can truly take us to low places. They welcome you in like rock bottom with a languid dream pop sound, drenched in an ocean of reverb. Equal parts Death Cab For Cutie and The Doves (with a few sprinkles of Pavement and Dinosaur Jnr); only with all the upbeat elements removed and in its place the sight of someone slowly rocking back and forth in foetal position waiting for that phone to ring. As much as tonight's set may've potentially been one of their funniest (especially thanks to Matt Hayward in the crowd constantly heckling them with shit like "stop playing songs about your mum!" only for Mike to shoot back with "yeah? well it's about YOUR mum.. it's a song about whales!") with all those dappled guitars, slow grooves and Tom's distinctive shuffle in the mix, you still want to wallow in it for days. They've got an album out called "Common Distance", they're in the process of recording a new one; buy them both, and you may leave the house again!
FIRE! SANTA ROSA FIRE! (****) myspace :: This is the twenty sixth time I've seen our opening act live. Every time I've seen them live, I've essentially written the SAME review: "Spoz introduces band, Spoz insults band, Spoz lists three or four other bands they potentially sound like (which may also be an insult) then Spoz leaves a teeny tiny compliment at the end so said band doesn't kill him". And yes, it's pretty much the same review I've also written for EVERY live review you've ever read on this blog. There's numerous reasons for this (beyond the bleedingly obvious reason that I like to drink a lot). Firstly I assume no one has ever heard of said band. Secondly I assume no one ever remembers said band (even from a month ago). Thirdly I assume no one actually pays attention to anything I write in the first place and thus I can pretty much string any 'ol shit together and no one will be any the wiser cellophane herpies chloroform sasquatch potato salad. Still, there's only so many times you can pull this prank. So much so, Sam Stearne their drummer wondered out loud just how the FUCK I was gonna come up with another one tonight. But then somewhere between gig seventeen and eighteen they finally got a song on Triple J high rotation and now EVERYONE knows the name "Fire! Santa Rosa Fire!". Mission accomplished!! So now what the fuck do I write about!? Well as it turns out a whole lot actually (and not just live reviews consisting of nothing but cheap shots at the expense of their keyboardist Art). In the last nine months Fire! Santa Rosa Fire! have been recording an album. If you loved "War Coward" (so much so you could knock yourself unconscious in time to the beat) then there's plenty more where that came from. Tonight's set was a showcase for some of the best of them; some you may've heard of before, some you wouldn't have. From the rollicking jams of "Animal Spirit Guide", the angular attack of "An Rabbit", the ecclectic lightness of "April / May" to the dappled grooves of "Dogma Dart.. Don't.. or Dork!?" (is it too obvious that I stole all these details from their handwritten setlist?) there's a surprising range and depth on display here. Sure their live act is still a comical ensemble of freaks and geeks spazzing out under a spotlight: not least of which the sight of Dave Williams doing the "bobblehead hunchback" on his guitar while Caitlin Duff freaks the fuck out behind a microphone stand like a rabbit caught in oncoming traffic; but they're also showing a newfound cohesion as a unit too. They're bringing together all those insane extremes from their past: from hummingbird dancepunk, brooding post punk, triphop to art rock, and blending them into a sound that's distinctly their own. And as much as I could easily list three or four other bands like I always do, they sound more like Fire! Santa Rosa Fire! than anyone else now; they've got their own unique shit going on. Their new single's coming out in two months, their debut album sometime after that. And as much as I've relentlessly made fun of them for all these years, if the quality of recent gigs are any indication? I'm actually really looking forward to see what they'll come up with next!
TOM UGLY (****1/2) myspace :: Whenever I go see a live band I've never heard of before I preferably like to go in cold. No press release, blogger buzz, word-of-mouth, magazine article, or whatever-the-fuck; not even a cheat sheet sneak of their myspace just to see if they blow a goat. For me the live gig is where it's truly at. I mean why else would I write all this shit? for all the free alcohol, the door entry, fans, stalkers, groupies, the endless infamy and the notoriety!? (YEAAAS!! I'm an Adelaide scene celebrity *cough* wait.. isn't that just an oxymoron? aarrr fuckit!). No it's all about discovering new shit first hand. As such I knew very little about Tom Ugly prior to tonight: short of the occassional mention on Triple J as winners of "Unearthed High", maybe a half heard song I never knew was theirs, and a one word description claiming they were "electronica" (which pretty much tells me nothing). As for the rest? I discovered that the minute they walked on stage. For one they look surprisingly little like a highschool band. You actually have to keep reminding yourself of that fact throughout their set. I mean sure they look the part, all kinds of gangly and a little bit goofy; but in a world where Tame Impala exists; these freaks look like grizzled war "veterans" by comparison (it also helps you can hardly see them lurking about in the shadows either). Weirder still they absolutely KILL on a live stage (so much so I initially suspected they were miming, the real band were hiding elsewhere, and I was watching the music video to New Order's "Crystal" instead). And that's not where the weirdness ends either. Unlike every other buzz band attempting to rip their schtick from the eighties, they're the goth electronic aesthetic of the late nineties. Yup, the late nineties. In their songs "Roll Again" and "Bad With Love" you can hear everything from Placebo, Suede, The Mavis's, Stabbing Westward, U2's "Pop" and Smashing Pumpkin's "Adore". They remind you of shit you'd see in Buffy The Vampire Slayer playing at The Bronze, or a band you'd see opening for Barcode and Circle Clan at The Proscenium back in 2003 (hmmm I wonder if anyone will get THAT obscure reference!?). In the flailing antics of their lead singer Tom Parisi (pulling all the cheesy crucifixion moves) you're reminded of everyone from Dave Gahan from Depeche Mode, Brandon Boyd from Incubus to Jim Morrison from The Doors (which either means he's a genius waaay before his time, or he'll be a drug addled pincushion by the time he hits his early twenties). From beginning to end they pound out brooding dancefloor grooves that are as infectious as they are wildly anachronistic. They have the crowd going apeshit, they own this room and they're still in highschool!? sheeiiit!! Tonight's the first leg of their nationwide tour with Fire! Santa Rosa Fire! and as much I was itching to give this band hell (I mean c'mon!? how hard is it to win Triple J Unearthed!?) something tells me this shit'll be well worth catching.. whodathunkit!?
2:32AM - Weirdly victorious against all the forces of darkness that assailed me tonight (I know! it's amazing what can be achieve with nothing but a compact camera, an ISO 400 setting so the low light "grain" doesn't fuck me up, using every exposure trick at my disposal, taking well over six hundred photos, holding my breath all the while so I didn't blur them out, deleting all but one sixth of them afterwards, only to Photoshop the fuck out've the rest *pfft* I mean, it's almost like a monkey could do it!?), I celebrate in fine form by doing just what I always do when I'm at The Ed Castle on a Friday night: by stealing as many foaming jugs of Azz Strangelove's beer rider as inhumanely possible and then fleeing the fuck out of there before he knows what hit him.. SCORE!
4:00AM - From The Ed Castle and beyond I completely bypass that wildly entertaining portion of any given episode of Spoz's Rant where I attempt use the lamest of excuses at my disposal to explain WHY I've ended up at Supermild again (as let's face it: once you've seen one bloodless coup, zombie apocalypse explosion, scenster infestation and serial killing spree all rolled into one with a wedge of lime..? yeah, you've pretty much seen them all!) as I while away the next hour or so sinking piss in peace, laughing it up with the mental patients and doing very little of any consequence. And let me tell you, it was everything I dreamed it could be too! (To think this is how normal people live it up without ridiculously over elaborate music blogs to feed each week!? AWESOME!!). Still I clearly had to go fuck THAT up the minute I made the foolish mistake of stumbling into the beer garden, and wow did I pick an inopportune moment to do that too!?
"Wuh.. what? why are you looking at me like that!? I didn't see anything I swear!" just like Sascha and Gus didn't concoct this entire fucked up publicity stunt simply so they could make yet another appearance in Spoz's Rant (nor did I hit an all-time low letting them get away with it either.. YES!!). Aaaah remember when this blog used to feature nothing but live reviews, indepth interviews, CD reviews, upcoming events and represented nothing but the very pinnacle of what Adelaide's music journalism could possibly ever aspire to? *pfft* me neither. What's my point in all this? I forget..
4:33AM - And so moments later, after screaming hysterically attempting to claw my own face off (or in other words "what's new?") I came to half an hour later to find myself back inside. Here taking THIS photo for no other reason than I thought it was the most ridiculously awesome thing at the time (for every reason that I'm clearly not out've my fucking mind for thinking it was worth posting in a blog just now). And as for why it's all blurry!? clearly it's got everything to do with Supermild being ankle deep in carnivorous leprecauns (and I'm attempting to shake off at least three of them with their razor sharp teeth who are attempting to chew through my leg right about now) and absolutely nothing to do with my ability to hold a camera steady after all the beer I HAVEN'T been drinking. Because as we all know, Spoz never drinks and neither should you!
4:40AM - And since none of you would ever believe I was being sincere in that last statement (I mean *pfft* when am I ever sober!? I'm never sober! I'm drunk all the fucking time!! so much so I love nothing more than to write this blog whilst tripping balls on blotter in a bathtub to the sweet sounds of Jefferson Airplane's "White Rabbit" being thrashed in a loop) here's two hiiilarious photos I forgot to delete off my camera, featuring me being a blithering idiot with "No Face" Tara: for no other reason than she made the monumental blunder of walking past me just now..
Yup, it really was THIS head explodingly exciting to be in Supermild tonight. Don't you wish you could've been here!? I know I wish I did tonight, cause I barely remember a single moment of it!
It's all about available lighting when you're a live band photographer: frequently fleeting, flickering and forever beyond your control; or at least that's what you start with. By the end you'll be left with a whole lot less. No light, no focus, no fucking clue, battery light flashing, slamming into walls like a dodgem car, falling up flights of stairs and stumbling into incoming traffic: shellshocked yet grinning ear to ear in what little victory you've claimed. It's you swearing blind that the venues you visit are only getting darker by the hour, by the day, month and the year like you're living out that nightmare again and again. It's you feeding off of those ever more impossible odds. It's the thrill of the hunt. It's never easy I know, but if ever it was? duuude it wouldn't nearly be as fun!