I have been quietly kicking myself for not going to Melbourne’s All Tomorrow’s Parties (hereby referred to as ATP) at Mount Bulla Ski Resort for a little while now. The Brisbane leg, located at The Riverstage near the Botanic gardens, may have been presented by ATP but it wasn’t the real deal. I have been obsessed the UK version of the festival to the point where I have been to five of them within a two year period. It is truly is the king of festivals, one which I can happily confirm all the stories you hear are true. It’s a festival full of music fans; great sound quality; organizers that actually care, about the quality of the event; comfortable accommodation and most importantly not one shirtless sweaty nineteen year old on speed and no girls wearing fairy wings or food colouring dyed hair in sight.
From all accounts the Melbourne event, the only city in Australia to get the full treatment, was one of the best festivals ever staged despite low ticket sales. I’ve been told that the atmosphere was fantastic and people’s recollections of it echoed the memories of some of the best weekends I have ever had at the English ATP events. The reality is that we live in Brisbane, a city famous for not being included on tour schedules at all, and as such we should consider ourselves lucky that we were given an amazing week of bands of such calibre and obscurity.
Being a school night and due to other logistical issues I arrived just as the Necks were playing their final notes which was disappointing but unavoidable. While walking into the Botanical gardens the first thing I noticed was the average age of the punters. This is officially the most grey hair I have ever seen at an outdoor concert. Still the crowd that had assembled looked clearly grateful for the chance to see some of their favourite bands, from back in the day, play in a one package deal.
Robert Forster and band came out next and played a satisfying mid-afternoon set, although, and this can be said of almost any band put into this situation, playing in a mostly empty if slowly filling field, while the majority of the crowd are disinterested and awaiting the headliners, isn’t the ideal time slot. Not surprisingly a large chunk of the selections drew from his recent solo outing, The Evangelist. More surprising was that instead of taking the easy option of playing ’80s Go-Betweens favourites to pad out the set, he opted for numbers he penned during their three album reformation such as “Surfing Magazines”, “German Farmhouse” and “Darlinghurst Nights”. I will try to amend past instances of laziness and make sure to catch him next time he plays at the Zoo or the Powerhouse.
Spiritualized are many things — mesmerising, soulful, transcendent — but one thing they’re not is a band suited to an afternoon festival slot. They demand hushed reverence and a suitably moody light-show to showcase their blues’n’gospel space rock. Apart from the lack of atmosphere, which was obviously out of their control, there are two glaring problems with Spirtualized’s performance. Firstly most songs are between six to eight minute in length which severely tests the patience of all but the most smitten Spritualized fan. Case in point the second song aired, the narcoleptic “Shine a Light”, from first album Lazer Guided Melodies. Sure the slide guitar is gorgeous for the first couple of minutes, but by the eight minute mark most people are in snooze-ville. The main problem though is their stage presence, or lack thereof. Never the most magnetic of front-men Jason Pierce reaches new lows in the “Audience? What audience?” stakes with absolutely no acknowledgment of those in attendance either verbally or otherwise, including, most heinously, standing side on for the entire duration of the performance. Technically the band can’t be faulted, but despite the admirable effort of the bassist to wear a leather jacket in 30 plus degree heat and some gyrations by the two back-up singers, they’re pretty stationary too. Mid-set Spacemen 3’s confessional “Walking with Jesus” picks up the pace slightly and then three songs from Ladies and Gentlemen We Floating in Space including the title track and “Come Together” finally kick the show into a decent gear, before the distortion soaked finale of Spacemen’s 3 “Take Me to the Other Side”. Despite being partly salvaged mid-way, Spiritualzed’s turn on stage is disappointing and unlikely to convert any to their cause.
The anticipation from the crowd which has been slowly building all day has finally grown to a boil as The Saint’s take to the stage. I was overseas when they played their (then) one off reunion at Pig City, at the University of Queensland in 2007, and was borderline ecstatic that I was going to be given the opportunity to see them belt out (I’m) Stranded to an appreciative home town crowd. It’s not too often you get to see a sea of grey hair lining the front of the stage, getting ready to shake their asses to some glorious punk rock.
First surprise of the gig is that they open with “Swinging For The Crime” and “This Perfect Day”, both fantastic songs of course, but they are from Prehistoric Sounds and Eternally Yours respectively. As far as nostalgia goes, the Don’t Look Back series of concerts is a great celebration of a high water-mark moment in an artist’s career. It has a reputation as solid as the ATP festival itself and essentially started the craze of bands playing their most popular/revered album as a tour package. It is generally considered a minor honour to be asked and has proven to be a great way for artists to celebrate their past while retaining their credibility.
Anyhow, I digress. Initially, all impressions were that The Saint’s were going to be awesome. They certainly don’t look like the young western suburb upstarts they were when they wrote the songs, but they can still belt them out with enough energy, to put bands half their age to shame. The song selection was fine and eventually they started playing tracks from (I’m) Stranded. Ed Kuepper looked as cool as man of his age can be as on stage he is still every inch the punk rocker holding a grim, blank stare on his face for the duration while playing the absolute hell out of his guitar. The contradiction to vocalist Chris Bailey’s stage presence couldn’t be greater, with Bailey having an air of pomposity about him, flailing around on stage with bad dance moves and indulging in random and pointless self-satisfying comments. The two practically have no interaction at all during the course of the set and while The Saint’s never really manage to sound dangerous during the show they come damn near close.
The real WTF moment comes at the end of the set when they exit the stage without playing “I’m Stranded”. Like everyone else in the crowd, once it becomes apparent that the album isn’t being played in order, I was expecting this rather obvious set inclusion to be held off until the final number for maximum impact. When it becomes glaringly obvious they aren’t returning, I and thousands of others are baffled for a number of reasons. Firstly it is the titular track to the album that they were advertised as playing, in its entirety, as a Don’t Look Back set. In some fantastic, final act of punk-defiance, after delivering a good to great set, apparently for the last time ever, in their home town and with it’s two major protagonists both present, they flip the bird at us and refuse to give us the song we really want to hear. A final “Fuck you, Brisbane!” for ignoring the band the first time round. With some distance from the concert, that moment is more like a mild bad taste after a refreshing desert, and not the faeces in my gelato that it felt like at the time.
By this time the crowd who are milling around the dusty grass bowl has grown to a more than respectable number that will hopefully ensure that Brisbane is included on the tour schedule next year. Nick Cave, Australia’s most successful credibility-intact musical export owns the stage this night. In all honesty it was never really an ATP event but more a tease of what we missed attached to a Bad Seeds show. Nick struts out on stage and launches into the brooding “Night of the Locusts” from their madly successful Dig Lazarus Dig!!!, then we’re treated to the organ infused rendering of the title track before the band started to work their impressive back catalogue into the set. Highlights included impassioned readings of the “Weeping Song'”, “Red Right Hand”, “Deanna” (introduced with “This is song about a girl I used to know, when I was… younger”) , “The Mercy Seat” and “Papa Won’t Leave You Henry”.
Nick has his demented “cabaret show from hell” front-man routine down to a tee these days, not surprising after twenty years of practice, and as you’d expect is a true showman. This is maybe the third or fourth time I have seen The Bad Seeds, not including Grinderman, and one noticeable change in the band dynamic over this time is the rise in stature of Warren Ellis from supporting character to co-star. Initially he stood up the back of the stage with the rest of The Seeds, now he plays the Keith Richards role to Nick’s Mick Jagger, albeit a Richards who plays the violin and all manner of instruments that I’m unable to name. Power to Warren though, the guy is a complete rock star, despite looking like a member of the Ned Kelly’s Gang that has been let loose on stage after too many acid trips.
Still one can’t help but feel for Mick Harvey as while he’s still allowed to play in front of the rest of the band his role is much reduced. Nick now plays guitar on stage and Warren is constantly hogging whatever limelight is left, not that Mick ever seemed to want much attention. When Nick goes over to Warren with a towel, hugged him, and then patted the sweat from his face, Mick looked a little left out in the cold, sort of like watching your wife of 25 years get with another man.
Since Cave and Ellis have become best buddies and each others muse the quality of Nick’s work has been at its best since Murder Ballads so it’s hard to fault the relationship. (It turns out that not long after the ATP concerts Mick announced his retirement as a Bad Seed and Nick’s trusty side kick after a quarter of a century. Thus there was a little bit of history witnessed tonight, as it marked the end of an important musical era in Australian rock history). The Bad Seeds close their set with a roaring “More News From Nowhere” only to return quickly to encore with the three song punch of “Lyre of Orpheus”, “Get Ready For Love” and a feisty run through of the always crowd pleasing “Stagger Lee”.
All in all this was a pretty great afternoon and evening for music in Brisbane. As you leafed through the program it was hard not to get a little jealous seeing some of the musical spoils our fellow country men in southern states got showered with but tonight still stood far and above most of the other summer options on offer in the sunshine state. Really, if the Saint’s had just played “I’m Stranded” I wouldn’t have a single thing to complain about. Personally I can’t wait for what musical delights ATP are planning for us next year. In fact the mind boggles, at what band they could be thinking of asking to curate it next…
Scott Daniels (except Spiritualized Caleb Rudd). Pictures Charlyn Cameron.