Smokey's Blog

we gonna do the damn thing or what

Month: September, 2013

Spring & Fall Tour Diary Part 6: ADL-WA

ADELAIDE – TUESDAY AUGUST 20

 

Doing so many shows in such a short time has definitely pumped up the tyres and my confidence level is criminally high. It should go without saying that it’s all in my head of course. Drifting down my list of concerns is the junkie chase of validation and I find myself enjoying what I thought was an amusingly muted reception tonight. I visualise myself as the away team kicking goals in the face of a parochial home crowd. My in-ear monitoring only picks up crowd noise if it’s audible through stage microphones – or if it’s REALLY loud. Regardless we reefed the sail and charge blindly into the Adelaide headwinds and I was having a fucking ball. We know PK and band are going to nail this thing to the wall no matter what we do but I’ll be damned if I don’t take the piss, affectionately of course, in proportion with my feelings towards South Australia, out of an audience that doesn’t get me.

Repping Delta in front of the grandiose pipe organ of ADL Town Hall (Steve checks Zoe's dbl bass)

Repping Delta in front of the grandiose pipe organ of ADL Town Hall (Steve checks Zoe’s dbl bass)

I got a shock however, as I left the stage and removed my monitors, to hear a bloody LOUD applause, completely at odds with the muted feed that my ears were receiving. Was this gig actuals awesome the entire way through? I don’t know? I started to feel bad about teasing the crowd.

Jane Tyzzle planking Adelaide Town Hall

Jane Tyzzle planking Adelaide Town Hall

Paul invited us into his more spacious backstage green room while they were on stage and Dan had made a playlist of oldtime music that joyfully plays. Earlier that afternoon Dan had bought a painting for $7.50, perching it slanted on the dresser. At roughly 1.5 metres wide and a metre high, questions were already being asked of its transportation on tomorrow’s flight to Perth. It was doomed unless we could find a new home before the night was over.

Dan Kelly's acquisition

Dan Kelly’s acquisition + backstage mixtape

It just occurred to me I haven’t once mentioned my new album on stage this entire tour.
 

PERTH – THURSDAY and FRIDAY AUGUST 22 and 23

 

Our main accomplishment in Perth took place backstage

We accomplished great things in Perth

We’ve had the privilege of getting to know some of the crew that put each show together and it’s a big deal for us to be hanging around them. The idea that we’re the talent and they’re the grunts couldn’t be a more ridiculous proposition and it’s illuminating witnessing their professionalism and senses of humour. Dickie, in charge of monitors side of stage is a quick witted sports loving bloke who makes us feel welcome. Steve is the guitar tech and becomes the subject of crowd whispers each night as he moves on and off stage like a monotone ballet dancer tuning guitars during the show. Christian is the keyboard tech who used to be drummer for a band called Egg and at some point with Pinky Beecroft. He’s hilarious with an infectious laugh and an overly opinionated twitter account.

Crew

Dickie standing left, Steve kneeling, Christian far right. We couldn’t show you Greg Weaver’s face cos he’s too much of a boss.

Being the support act our budget was tight so our soundy for the first 18 shows was the guy who drove the truck. Luckily he was James Leydon, a career roadie and rock & roll loving engineer who took Lozz under his wings (introduced to Phil and band backstage at a Grinspoon gig while we were in Melbourne). On our monitors was Gordon ‘Gordo’ Wood who also recorded a few of our shows we’ll hopefully release later this year. A big thanks to these two guys.

Ping Pong in Perth with Zoe and PK

Ping Pong in Perth with Zoe and PK

In charge of everything is Greg Weaver – an enigma to us but a hero to the whole crew as he manages production and tour logistics as well as doing sound for Paul. There is not a single person who once mutters a bad word about him the entire tour. James matter of factly commented that “he’s always been a soundy but even when he started managing the whole production he never stopped doing the grunt work.” I recall in Newcastle watching him at the sound desk as he air-drummed Bree’s percussive fills and, unaware of anyone watching, subtly swung his arms as his fingers plucked a mean air-guitar solo. This is a guy who loves being part of the show. Loves the whole event and knows how to put it together. He always keeps an arms length from us, never getting too friendly, but crucially, never once making a mistake or missing a name from our doorlist. If we turned this tour into a feel-good movie, he’d be the school principal who the teachers love but the kids square off against, only to have an emotional farewell upon graduation. “You’re the best Mr Weaver!” *kids waving as the bus leaves*

Next week is the final leg of this incredible run. Two regional shows in Victoria and we close it out in Tasmania.

Advertisements

Spring and Fall Tour Diary – Part 5

SYDNEY – TUESDAY and WEDNESDAY AUGUST 13 and 14

 
Anyone who’s seen Paul play will recognise the stage prop placed beside him as he performs. It’s about yay height and so wide. I had wondered, as a fan watching him from the seats, what he kept in there, imagining all sorts of items ranging from his harmonicas (true) to hip flasks of whiskey (not true).

Really wanted to show you the contents but Kim Jong-Un Kelly wouldn't hear of it.

Really wanted to show you the contents but it’s like North Korea out here.

In truth, it’s much more. Masquerading as a modest stump, it actually resembles the inner console of a whiz bang technological stump. If Bond were a troubadour musician who sung about Donald Bradman and St Kilda this is the shit he’d put on his rider. The crew watch over it with the zeal of the Four Angels guarding the Ark of the Covenant. It has lights that pulse dull and bright; like a woo-ha gadget that seems incredible but is actually frustrating when you can’t find the ‘on’ button. I’ve seen Paul use it in countless gigs but it’s purpose is entirely unclear. As my finger curiously descended on it the panicked lunge of a crazy-eyed strongman crew member who understands who puts food on the table shooed it away.

What is it? I asked.
Nothing. Came the reply. Get back in your lane Levinson.

So that’s it then.

THIRROUL – FRIDAY AND SATURDAY AUGUST 16/17

 
Thirroul

Anita’s Theatre shares a common thread with half of the venues we’ve played on this tour; originally built to be a cinema – the King’s Theatre in 1925 – it converted into a roller skating rink in the mid 60s before closing in the mid 90s. Just quickly, by all means bring roller skating back but please no more rollerblades. Tonight was hectic, this show was added late so our tour drummer Lozz was unavailable. She’s been incredible and is now confidently smashing every show. Replacing her was our usual drummer, Lisa, but we had no time to rehearse, hence the hecticness bruz. She couldn’t do the tour for the standard reasons – being on call with Family Man for session work in Jamaica. Lisa Purmodh is one of the countless unsung musicians in Australia, deeply revered among peers but little known beyond the audiences lucky enough to see her. She drove 5 hours from the mid North Coast to do a 40 minute set. Then turned around and drove 5 hours back.

This is the life for career musicians, often for a hundred bucks. Disclaimer: not me of course; I paid her in gold bullion. It’d be understandable to point out the madness of it – but that’d be missing the point, it’s all part of the long slog. This is the passion. The job. We gamble defiantly, sometimes blind to our delusion; hoping some day it’ll pay off. It’s people like Lisa that make me feel like a fraud.

850kms for a 40 minute gig? Sure why not.

890 kilometre round trip for a 40 minute gig? Sure why not.

Jane and I have been guesting with Paul toward the end of his set and for two nights in a row he’s had to stop our song as he hits the wrong key in his harmonica part. It’s spectacular. I watch side of stage in awe at it happening for the second time, and his fallibility is a dart in the bullseye of my closet love of getting it wrong. The crowd laugh. There’s a trust there so they think he’s playing. And then they realise it’s just a fuck-up and the air gets warmer as he joins the rest of us as a mere mortal. In a flash he’s back. The brilliance is not in repeated precision night after night but the crafty navigation out of an unfamiliar mess. If you ever want a masterclass in performance don’t bow to those who nail every note, see how they dance out of a scrum, a slip or stumble – that’s the window into a pro’s genius. The crew shake their heads at both the mistake and the speed of recovery.

PK obliges Lozz' request for a harmonica lesson in 10 rare free minutes.

PK obliges Lozz’ request for a harmonica lesson in 10 rare free minutes.

When we reverse out of the carpark we narrowly miss some punters leaving the gig before driving up the winding road home.

CANBERRA – SUNDAY AUGUST 17

 
They come during Paul’s set, heads down dragging their feet through the loading dock. Decked out in old caps, flannies and big jackets, loaders are the godforsaken bastards that come out at midnight to help load the tonnes of gear into the truck. There’s no real chance to get to meet your average loader – they sit around forlorn on empty roadcases waiting to lift things. These fellas range from family blokes to zombies in Canberra Raiders gearnseys. I thought about asking for a photo to share here but I visualised violence so here’s another picture I found on the internet.

Loaders are actually good blokes.

Loaders are actually good blokes.

The loader is sadly ignored unless they’re an early loader; road crew hate the early loader. That’s the loader that rocks up early in order to see a free show. It struck me as a fair enough perk of a crap job to see a few songs in exchange for getting out of bed at 10pm in 4 degree Canberra cold but the road crew are on em in a flash.

Roadie 1: “We’ve got an early loader.”
Roadie 2: “Fuckin’ early loaders.”
Roadie 3: “Fuckin’ hell. I’ll sort it out.”

One day off tomorrow. I’ll drive back to Sydney and pretend to work by popping my head in our Marrickville office. Then it’s Adelaide on Tuesday, Sydney on Wednesday and Perth on Thursday.

Spring and Fall Tour Diary Pt 4

GEELONG – WEDNESDAY AUGUST 7

 
The facebook message reads: Is there any specific reason you’re not coming to Geelong? I think it’s quite rude.

Shhh

Originally I mixed up the dates and couldn’t do this show but it’s a genuine surprise to me that people would care so bless his dear soul for the passive aggressive note. Tonight was another cracker. You know when you’re walking on a footpath and clumsily trip over nothing but pretend it didn’t happen? That didn’t happen tonight. There was a parting of the wild seas of ambiguous stage banter leaving the crowd and your dear correspondent in perfect symmetry*.

*Probably complete bullshit
 

MELBOURNE – THURSDAY, FRIDAY AND SATURDAY AUGUST 8-10

 

There is a strange feeling in the air in the moments before I hit the stage on this tour, as if I’ve opened a door and wandered into a private moment between two people. There’s an intangible tenderness between them that regularly breaks out into elation, masking all but a faint smoke trail of tension floating around the theatre. It says something about the deep affection audience members feel for Paul, and the little ditties he’s given them. He keeps giving them. Watching from side of stage you catch the eyes and open-mouthed smiles from each seat and each row directed at him every song and every set. It’s more than a mere performance of pop songs; it’s an activation of sleeper cells buried in people’s memory. For some it’s close to the surface; they’ve seen him recently; for others, it seems like they’re returning home, at last, for one night.

PK

Music reveals a little of its essence when a story or melody abducts the ear, but its power is awe-inspiring when the song becomes synonymous with memory. They say that couples start to look like one another after years together – or more weirdly – owners start to look like their pets over time. Songs start to look and sound like memories, as if stuck like a barnacle on the hull of a ship, so that the song can’t be heard without being transported back to the intoxicating events they’re associated with. Hard to think of a better example than How to Make Gravy despite, I’m guessing, most of us never having actually done time.

And give my love to Angus and to Frank and Dolly
Tell em all I’m sorry I screwed up this time
And look after Rita, I’ll be thinking of her
Early Christmas morning
When I’m standing in line

That song has an added layer of immediacy for me now because it’s the tune they play before Jane and I join them on stage. The notes ring out and signal and end to our conversations or the quick mission from front of house to the side of stage.

Or the reflection felt in the lyrics to Careless:

I know
I’ve been
Careless
I’ve lost
My tenderness

Soundcheck

It strikes me how beautiful it is that someone else’s words can convey something so hard to express. There are some nights on this tour I get swept up in it. During a moment of weakness when I’m missing my lady, and knowing my baby Jetta is at home and I’m holed up in a concrete basement backstage thousands of kms away.

What if we get caught raiding Mr Kelly's rider dad?

What if we get caught raiding Mr Kelly’s rider dad?

Not tonight though: both these two are with me as we try and manage the long stints – plus combining our love of Melbourne by pretending 5 gigs in 5 days is our first family holiday.

One thing I’ve noticed with city crowds is a finely tuned knowledge of running times – consequently we play to a half empty room each night at Melbourne’s Recital Hall. The bitter, unspeakable pain of an unpleasant opening act proving too ghastly a memory to chance too early an arrival.

Fair enough.

Due to the DIY philosophy that’s brought me to this point in my career, I’ve ended up being in the headline slot for years so I find this dance with the scattered few oddly appealing. When you steel yourself to ignore an older lady blocking her ears, it really makes you treasure the cracks that slowly break into smiles on their faces. By the end of our set any awkwardness has subsided and we feel welcome. They’re still his best friend, but I don’t feel like I should leave the room.

I brought my baby JJ along to some of these shows and I have the unfamiliar experience of pacing the back halls putting her to sleep, eventually setting her down under the baby grand piano in our dressing room. This is the Everest of my rock & roll lifestyle to date. Someone barely important, somewhere, is snorting coke off a toilet seat backstage and aspiring to follow me up that mountain.

At the conclusion of the show, as I gently rock Jetta in the hallway, I hear “can I take her?” Paul had quietly walked up beside me, having changed out of his blue suit into black jumper and jeans. She was completely oblivious, arguably disrespectful, as Paul softly sung to her while a cacophony of noise spilled out of his green room. A dozen musician mates, ex-AFL players and numerous family celebrated the shows in a tiny room overlooking a construction site. Sitting down with him as he held Jetta was a beautiful moment I’ll remember and embellish in future years.

PK, JJ and UB

BALLARAT – SUNDAY AUGUST 11

 
Tonight we play in a cinema. We walk all our gear past people lining up for popcorn. Ballarat is one of those great Australian towns that hasn’t let its history slip through its fingertips. If I prick my ears up as we navigate our way down creaking timber staircases I swear I can hear the ghost of an old gold prospector. Tonight was fucking excellent. So nice to get back to a regional show where the house is full within 20 minutes of doors opening.

Tomorrow it’s back home for two shows in both Sydney and Thirroul, plus a date with Canberra.