Saturday, November 12, 2005

My life was saved by rock and roll

Well, not really. It wasn't like I was poised on the brink of suicide when a chance encounter with a Velvet Underground or Sex Pistols song renewed my optimism and sense of wonder about the world and made me coil up the rope or put down the razor blade.

The title of today's post (which hopefully most of you will recognise as a paraphrased line from the Velvet's classic song 'Rock and Roll': if you didn't, you go buy a copy of the band's 1970 album Loaded immediately) seemed like a good intro to a brief discussion of some of the best gigs I've ever been to, which was inspired by my mention of seeing Nirvana live at the Palace in my 20 factoids tag response.

So, in no special order (because how can you determine a scale of bliss?) here are a few of the most mind-blowing-or-expanding, moving, or simply thrilling gigs I've been to over the past 38 years of my colourful life to date.

1. P.J. Harvey live to air on 3RRR at the Rooftop Cafe, Monday 29th January 2001.

Most of my friends are already sick of hearing me wax lyrical about this particular gig. This was an intimate performance by P.J. and her band, live at the sadly-missed Rooftop Cafe in Victoria St, Fitzroy, and broadcast live to air on 3RRR FM. There was an audience of about 150 people squeezed into the Rooftop's outdoor garden, and amazingly, clusters of people on every surrounding warehouse rooftop desperate for a view. Thanks to my position as a volunteer announcer at the station I got in early, and managed to secure a prime vantage point just in front of the middle mic-stand and foldback speaker, beside friends Bec, Mindy and Tom. When PJ and her band came out to play, it turned out that I was sitting literally at Polly Jean's feet.

This was a magnificent, passionate gig that was continued for an extra couple of songs after the broadcast proper had ended. When the band played 'Sheela Na Gig' I almost died from an overdose of sheer joy.

It was also one of the only times in my life that I've had an empathic insight into the attraction of women's breasts for heterosexual men; I was so close to P.J., and looking straight up at her, that every time she took a breath I could see her breasts heave. That makes P.J. one of only two women in the world I've ever had any vague sort of attraction to: the other was the shaven-headed powerhouse Skin, from the band Skunk Anansie.

One of the best things about this gig, by the way, is that you can listen to it by going here, to the archive section of the 3RRR website.

2. Einst├╝rzende Neubauten @ the Old Greek Theatre, Richmond, July 1988

This gig was memorable for a few reasons. I'd bought the ticket as a 21st birthday present for myself, I'd taken a tab of acid, and Neubauten were simply transcendent. Industrial junk, power tools and guitars became resonant instruments that set your internal organs vibrating. An awestruck audience of goths, punks and experimental music fans became a single, seething entity as the band played such songs as 'Der Tod ist ein Dandy' and 'Z.N.S.'

If you're not familiar with the band (which is fronted by the cadaverous Blixa Bargeld, formerly a core member of the Bad Seeds) then I urge you to obtain a copy of the DVD/video 1/2 Mensch, directed by Sogo Ishii, which combines stunning live footage from a Japanese tour, surreal and disturbing filmclips, and menacing, post-apocalytic interludes introducing the various band members. You should also grab the two-disc CD compilation Strategies Against Architecture II, which provides a great synopsis of the band's first decade.

3. Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds @ the Big Day Out, 1993

I'm pretty sure it was the first Melbourne Big Day Out where Nick Cave and the band played at sunset, at the end of a hot and humid day, just as a thunderstorm and cold front rolled in from the west. Thunder, lighting, and Nick's crows-nest hair and voluminous shirt whipping and flapping in the sudden wind. When the gods provide your band's special effects, you know you rock.

Then there's:
  • Luscious Jackson at the Melbourne Big Day Out 1995, because I got to get up on stage and dance with the band.
  • The Disposable Heroes of Hiphoprisy at the 1993 Big Day Out; one of those bands I knew nothing about at the time and wandered along to check them out simply out of curiousity, only to be utterly blown away.
  • The Flaming Lips at the 2003 Big Day Out, whose spectacular live show made me feel like I was tripping even though I was totally straight at the time: lights, giant ballons, trippy visuals, and a stage crowded with dancers in furry animal costumes. Groovy!
  • The Polyphonic Spree at the Palace, St Kilda, January 2004. One of those gigs that you walked out of in love with the world. The encore, when the 20+ members of the band appeared at the back of the venue and walked in a snaking, singing like through the crowd and back to the stage, was one of those rare moments of pure, perfect delight.
  • Michael Franti and Spearhead at The Laundry, Fitzroy, 2001. Another live-to-air gig for 3RRR. I arrived tired and grumpy; I left grinning from ear to ear, utterly transported into a better world.
  • Magic Dirt at Wall Street (now the Hi Fi Bar), Melbourne, date unknown, supporting Fugazi. The first time I'd seen the band live, and one of several times they broke up on stage before our eyes. Two of the band members had just split up (never fuck a band member; like fucking a housemate, it's doomed) and the tension between them resulted in a truly spectacular, abraisive, empassioned gig.
  • Fugazi and Shellac at the Collingwood Town Hall, date unknown. Not the same tour as above, but another spectacular show. Especially memorable because of the fantastically clear live sound, and the way Fugazi's Guy and Ian dealt with a wannabe stage diver: they wrapped themselves around him, literally enveloping him with their limbs so that he was unable to move.
  • Scottish post-rock outfit Mogwai at the Prince of Wales, St Kilda, 2002. One of the loudest gigs I've ever attended, and one of the most sublime.
  • Iceland's Sigur Ros at Hamer Hall, Melbourne, 2005: music of such rich and textured beauty that it made me weep.
  • Blur at Monash Uni Clayton campus in 1998; at the time I was mostly hanging out at punk gigs, so it was great fun experiencing something so perfectly pop. Never have I seen more people excitedly dancing and bouncing around the room as when the band played 'Song No. 2'.
  • Mid Youth Crisis reformation gig at the Arthouse, Carlton, 2002. MYC were legends of Melbourne's punk and hardcore scene in the 1990's. After a smack-induced breakup, the band reformed to play two amazing gigs at the Arthouse. Thanks to my mate Ian Cook, who was mixing for them, I had a perfect vantage point. A fucken awesome show from a legendary band. There's a great live CD of one of these gigs that was released in 2003; well worth picking up if you find a copy.

I'm gonna end the list here, cos otherwise I'll be writing this all day. Suffice to say there are plenty more memories where those came from, many of them suffused with late nights and sticky carpets at the Punters Club (RIP), The Tote, The Empress, The Corner, The Richmond Social Club (RIP) and many other great venues. Long live live music!


gun street girl said...

Man..... you are reigniting my burning, painful sense of dissatisfaction that I wasn't born a few years earlier... for reasons like; missing out on awesome rock shows. I thought I'd finally gotten over it too.

Alex Mills said...

Sadly my life has been devoid of mega gigs.. I can't say I've ever been to a truly mind-blowing show. The only two that even close were:

The Necks @ The Corner Hotel, 2003.

The first set was a wall of noise; out of key, out of time, but with such ferocious power, I don't think anyone knew quite how to react. Avant-garde to the extreme.

The second set was some of the most amazingly melodic, ethereal improvisation I've ever heard in my life. Tony Buck worked up to a 4/4 beat, and by the end of the set people were dancing quite openly.

The Whitlams also @ The Corner, 2001.

I only mention this because the opening act was Dave McCormick, and as an encore they both got up on stage together and banged out a 20 minute version of Dylan's Tangled Up In Blue.. Best encore ever.

Pretty pissweak list.. I really should get out more. :p

Alex Mills said...

By the way, have you seen Van Sant's new movie? Last Days, I believe it is..

richardwatts said...

Gun Street Girl: Don't worry, I have that gnawing dissatisfaction too. I never got to experience the Melbourne punk scene in the late 70's-early 80's for example. Sigh. And part of me would love to have lived in the 1940's and 1950's so that I could have had the chance to see Jack Kerouac reading his work live. Dammit, where's a time machine when you need one?

Millwood: Nah, ain't seen Last Days; I missed its brief theatrical release, guess I'll have to wait for the DVD. Any good? I loved Elephant and Gerry though.

richardwatts said...

Oh, and I've just edited this post and added a bunch more musical highlights, having actually had a few hours sleep at last.

gun street girl said...

Could you tell me more about Einst├╝rzende Neubauten? Afriend once said they thought I'd appreciate them, but I was drunk and forgot to take the cd home with me, are they anything like Throbbing Gristle?

richardwatts said...

Are Neubauten like Throbbing Gristle? Not really, I'd say ... but then again I'm not as familiar with Throbbing Gristle as I probably should be. They combine cacophany with melody, especially on their more recent albums. They imbue their quiet moments with menance, but can also invest their brutally abstract songs with frightening bursts of noise, and a sense of dread and catastrophe. I think they're amazing, but they are an acquired taste...

Rowena said...

I miss the Punters so much ... the first time I ever went there was circa 1991 when I was a little shoegazer girl - Sydney band Jupiter was playing, as well as the stripey-shirted Splash. I would kill to feel that sense of wonder and excitement again.

I had a fixation on Blixa Bargeld round this time too. I've always loved things/people that scare me.

Anonymous said...

Nice list Richard - I am proud you have stuck to yr guns - I often catch you doing yr rrr show and quietly reminisce about the old days. What ever happened to ian cook - I think the last time I saw him was at the giant anti war rally a decade or so ago. You forgot to mention One inch punch - one of my favorite bands to see back then - would be great if going out was like that these days - maybe see you at the shellac show in October ?


Just some random idiot from way back when.

richardwatts said...

Cheers Anon - I still see Cookie around from time to time; he's still mixing gigs and seemed pretty happy & well the last time we caught up (which was admittedly a while ago...).