Monthly Archives: March 2011

H-appy H-ouse concert

Having been the recipient of the Freebie Fairy’s benevolence last week (see previous post), it seemed fair this week to hand over some time, cash and goodwill to good people and good causes. This included buying an artwork at a fundraiser for Synergy, a local community gallery which is struggling to survive the gentrification of the suburb in which I live.  In my suburb, in a lovely little bar called Open Studio, I sometimes do short story readings  with music played by accordionist and pianist Dave Evans. One of the stories we presented last season was ‘Bohemians’ by local writer Wayne Macauley. It’s about a man who rents out artists to real estate agents, to add colour to a suburb that has become so attractive because of its ‘bohemians’ that artists can no longer afford to live there. As one gallery has recently closed down and another was holding a fundraiser to meet a 40 per cent rent increase, the ‘Bohemians’ story no longer seemed quite so fictional.

At the fundraiser, one of the endangered bohemians was doing palm readings, as a side-line to selling hand-made fairy wings, hastily-sewn purses and batches of gluten-free scones.  Each batch of scones was more dubious-looking than the last, with the final batch being so un-scone-like that even the palm-reader had nominated them as ‘Experimental’ on a hand-written sign. Of course, the erratic sewing and scone-baking enhanced my assessment of her palm-reading ability no end. (Who thinks Martha Stewart can read palms?) So I sat down at her table. The palm-reader had tiny, tiny hands (with fingernails painted alternately red and pink), and a tiny, tiny voice. In fact, in retrospect, she may have been seven.  But really, who cares? After considering my palm, she was impressed by how ‘protected’ I was. Obviously this was good news but only today did it occur to me to ask the little girl what she meant by it. Did she mean that there are large, square-jawed, no-necked, wired-up men in dark suits and sunglasses lurking in my psychic field, scanning for signs of danger to my person?

After the palm reading, a friend introduced me to a young Spanish woman who had recently arrived in Melbourne from Madrid. She was looking to move off the lounge-room floor of her friend of a friend. I said ‘I’m going to a party later. Why don’t you come? You’ll probably meet someone who needs a housemate and I think it’ll be a great party.’ (And I’ll get to enjoy your crazy Spanish accent, where it sounds like every second word starts with a capital ‘H’.) She said ‘H-okay. H-I’ll come.’

When I was doing the extended trip overseas that is an almost obligatory rite of passage for every young Australian, I benefitted from the generosity of people who took it upon themselves to show kindness to a stranger. One time, my then-boyfriend, F., and I had been picking grapes near Orange in the south-east of France and afterwards had headed to a highway, planning to hitch-hike to wherever our next lift took us. As the highway forked to both Italy and Spain, it was full of hitch-hikers, some of whom had been there for a day or two. We got chatting to a couple who shared some wine with us, as dark clouds began to appear in the late afternoon sky. Just as large plops of rain started to fall, a BMW cruised the line of hitch-hikers and stopped by F. and I. “Hey,” the driver called to us. “Where are you going?” “Wherever you’re going,” we smiled, hauling our packs and apologizing to our new friends. Our benefactors were two long-term mates, possibly in their late 30s, who would periodically leave their wives at home and have a drunken, garrulous weekend away together. They’d probably chosen us because my boyfriend had dreadlocks. People always assumed he either had drugs or knew how to get them. The French guys were going to the port city of Marseilles; ergot, so were we. When we arrived, we checked in to the same hotel and then went to a bar, where we exchanged terrible French and terrible English for hours and all got happily drunk. The next day, F. and I went to leave and knocked softly on our friends’ door – they were still sleeping. At reception we were told by the management that ‘Ze men in room 14 ‘ave already paid for you’. ‘Tell them merci, merci beaucoup; au revoir et bonne chance from the Australians.’

At any given time, we should all be able to run away to a foreign land, with just a passport and the clothes on our back, and know that there is someone kind at the other side of the world, someone who doesn’t know you from a bar of soap, who will treat you like a best friend. They will take you to a bar or a party where you will know no-one but everyone seems strangely familiar. You will not only feel safe, you will know that this is precisely where you are meant to be.  Perhaps this is what the small palm-reader with red and pink fingernails meant by ‘protected’.

The party that I went to with my new amiga M. and friend O. was a combined birthday celebration and house concert. If you’re unfamiliar with the house concert idea, it goes like this: the host books a band or a musician to play at their home and sends out invitations. Guests pay to come along. They get to enjoy seeing and hearing music up close, hopefully without annoying  experiences like having a giant stand right in their line of vision, or having someone just behind their right ear talking to a friend in a very loud voice about something really dull. The band plays unplugged or with a small PA/ amp – and generally receives all of the door charge money. Apparently, the house concert is more of a phenomenon among the folk fraternity in the States but it’s catching on here. On this occasion, the band was jazz quintet Clari and Bari, members of which also play in other Melbourne bands-about-town, such as The Band Who Knew Too Much, Skazz and Afro Mandinko. To cut this down to its essence: great party; great music. M. from Madrid had an H-excellent time. I’m thinking if Clari and Bari aren’t available, I’m going to invite David Bowie to play at my house concert. I’ll let you know when to come. I might get the tiny palm-reader in as well.

Who are you going to book to play at your house?



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Blessed by the free gig fairy

If I had such a thing as a budget, it would have been blown to smithereens at last weekend’s Golden Plains Festival. Luckily, the Freebie Fairy waved her magic wand in my direction this week and said ‘You may go to three gigs in three nights’. I said ‘Why thank you, Ms Fairy. I do believe I will.’

Night #1

Natalie Natiembe

Honestly, it’s not that my vocabulary needs extending, it’s my native tongue that’s to blame. There are certain concepts for which there are no words in English, I’m sure.  In Spanish or German or Russian, there must be a word for ‘when you should be nice to someone because they’ve been really nice to you –but you just can’t because you don’t like them very much’. Or a word for ‘Dylan Moran’s peculiar sex appeal’. Or the word for ‘when something is scary and embarrassing at the same time’. (A friend I won’t even identify by initial drew the scary/embarrassing concept to my attention when describing how she once barked at a rabid dog in the street.  It was being aggressive and she wanted to show who was top dog.)

What has all this got to do with Natalie Natiembe? When I was watching her band, I thought there should be a specific word for the pleasure of having no expectations of an event and then being completely blown away. And another word for the kind of energy that exists between band members when they are listening to each other and have become a whole. Either my vocabulary doesn’t contain that word or English has failed me but Natalie Natiembe’s band had that special chemistry. They were riveting to watch.

Natalie Natiembe is a musician from Reunion Island (east of Madagascar), who did a show at The Toff as a sideshow from her appearance at WOMADelaide. A woman in her 50s, she reportedly only took up singing 13 years ago, having previously been a waitress and an accountant. She came on stage solo and sang a song in French, acapella apart from a hand drum she was playing. It was the gentle, folky type of thing I was anticipating, until her band joined her on stage – playing keys, bass and drums. With a muscular rhythm section driving each beat into the room, Natalie, who until this point had seemed like a middle-aged, slightly shy ‘world music’ artist, morphed into a punk goddess.

Natalie plays a style of music called maloya, apparently a form of blues brought by African slaves to the French colony. I don’t know what this sounds like when it’s at home but at The Toff it was a mixture of beat-heavy rock, reggae and dance music sung by a woman who appeared to be channelling a mixture of Nina Simone, Patti Smith and Piaf.

The sound from this video taken at WOMADelaide is terrible but gives you an idea of Natalie’s amazing performance.

PS: Tune in to PBS-FM 106.7 on Sunday 27 March from 5-7pm for a live set from Natalie Natiembe or listen online at

Night #2

Justin Townes Earle

A friend told me she’d had a one-night dalliance with a hipster. ‘I keep thinking I see him everywhere,’ she said at Golden Plains festival, as another bearded man wearing Ray-Bans, a trucker cap, a buttoned up checked shirt and skinny black jeans walked by. It became one of those festival running jokes. ‘I saw your guy on the ferris wheel, at the taco place, buying ice, playing drums in the band and giving someone first aid,’ I’d report back on return to base camp.

At the Justin Townes Earle concert at The Forum, the one-night-stand guy was out in force. There were hundreds of him in the audience; he was mixing the sound and was also on stage playing violin and doing backing vocals. Tell me, how did this beard thing start? Was it Iron & Wine? If you ask me (and I know you didn’t) beards are only good for one thing and that’s covering up a weak chin. Don’t get me started on The Abe Lincoln.

Justin Townes Earle plays guitar and sings very well.  He’s a good songwriter. He also seems down to earth, in that ‘I was born in Nashville to a famous musician and I live in Manhatten now’ kind of way. He’s got this whole retro designer folky thing going on whereby he’s photographed for his album cover slumped over a bottomless cup of coffee at a truckstop diner while wearing suspenders by Marc Jacobs. When he finished his concert with a couple of great covers, (including Bruce Springsteen’s Racing in the Street). He said he was tired of singing his own songs – and I believed him – as he is of the generation that can share with their fans how bored they are playing the same tunes over and over when touring a new album. I bet my friend’s hipster one-night-stand can’t get enough of him. Seriously though, it was a good concert.  No, I’m not being ironic. I’m so not cool enough for that.

Night #3

Chris Isaak

This is why Facebook isn’t necessarily a waste of time…An ex-colleague announced in her status update that she’d received free tickets to see Chris Isaak. Having passed by a poster for his concert the day before and thought ‘I wish I was going to see him,’ I commented: ‘I’m a pretty shade of green right now.’ She wrote straight back: ‘Why don’t you come with me?’ Why not, indeed.

That’s how I found myself standing on the side of a racecourse in Mornington, 40 kilometres out of Melbourne, the luminosity of the supermoon failing to compete with Chris Isaak’s mirrored suit (his second outfit – the first was an aqua suit with cowboy embroidery and just a hint of sequin action). When his band played the opening bars to ‘Wicked Game’ the audience collectively sighed and I smiled remembering my old friend V. swooning to that song when it first came out in the early 90s. Chris Isaak must either love that song or be a complete trooper because he must have had to include ‘Wicked Game’ in his set for every concert he’s performed in 20-odd years. And after 20 years, he’s still hitting that high note, sweet and pure.

Check out the video of the gorgeous young Chris in white singlet serenading Helena Christensen. Poor Helena spends much of her time in this clip looking sad because she’s lost the top of her bathers. You won’t be surprised to hear that when I watch this, I have a screaming level of envy for Helena. It’s not really about Chris kissing Helena’s neck, or her being serenaded by one of the greatest singers alive today. It’s because I can imagine how much Helena would have laughed while making this video.

“I had the pleasure of meeting the late great James Brown,’ Chris said, during the concert, in his deadpan Californian drawl. ‘And he said one thing to me…what he said was ‘Aarrhh!!’ (Chris makes the sharp, guttural sound of a cat coughing up a furball). ‘Well some folks would have just let that go. But I’ve been living my life by that ever since.  Lord knows it hasn’t been easy…’.  Oh Chris Isaak, I so want to play table tennis with you.

Among women over 30 of alternative bent, Chris is not so much a sex symbol as a demi-god known as ‘Chrisaak’.  He is the fifty-something man who can sing Jerry Lee Lewis and Roy Orbison covers in a mirrored outfit that would put Liberace to shame, yet can also be seen in a John Waters film, a satire on suburbia, the plot of which is summarized thus: ‘An uptight, middle-aged, repressed woman turns into a sex addict after getting hit on the head, and  then falls into an underground subculture of sex addicts in suburban Baltimore.’ He was also a boxer and a member of the SWAT team in ‘Silence of the Lambs’. Is there anything this man can’t do?

Apparently Chris has had the same band for 25 years. In concert, he takes the piss out of  them.  He told the audience the pianist was doing real well getting over his alcohol and sex addictions. Having invited some women on stage, he pretended to be one of the girls explaining to her Mama that she didn’t do anything bad while out at the Chris Isaak concert. ‘Sure, I danced with one of them. But I swear he wasn’t a musician, Mama. He was a bass player.’

What a wicked game he plays. And that’s why we all want to play with Chrisaak.

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I will survive – or at least have ice in my drink

Last weekend I travelled halfway between Geelong and Ballarat to the Golden Plains Festival. A good time was had by all, but about the festival, all I’m going to say are two things:

  1. I arrived home yesterday, exhausted, at around 5pm and kept my regular Monday evening running appointment – I am applying the gold star to my forehead as we speak.
  2. What a ridiculous amount of preparation is involved in going camping for a weekend. Continue reading


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Summer’s last gasp

Hands up if you didn’t write a blog post because the weather was so glorious over the weekend. You too, huh?

There have been journeys, mostly out to see bands. Judging from those bands – The Wagons, Little John and Sonny & the Sunsets – I’d say the over-riding theme of my week was lush vocal harmonies driven by the last sweet breath of summer. Have a little listen to Sonny & the Sunsets and tell me this doesn’t sound like summer waving goodbye. You can just see it turning up its collar as autumn blows gently on its neck.

Turbans were my other theme for the week. It all started in Hobart (see previous post) at a new restaurant where the staff were swamped, service was slow and one of my companions was starving. Urgent distraction was required lest my friend attempt to eat one of my arms. (They’re not above a bit of cannibalism in Tasmania.) I noticed a diner at another table was wearing a turban – not the full desert-type turban but one of those elegant 1920s types. ‘So,’ I said to my male companions. ‘Do you think you’d be better able to carry off a turban, or a cape?’ We agreed that only vampires and superheroes can get away with capes, so by default we’d be more likely to rock a turban.

I thought about turbans again yesterday when I was cleaning the house before heading out into the sunshine. I was listening to a CD of the band Tinariwen. Now there’s a band who can rock a turban. But they’re desert-dwellers from Mali, so they’ve had some practice – and it’s easier to not look affected in a turban if it’s keeping your brain from frying in 50 degree heat. Tinariwen play a hypnotic rhythmic blues featuring electric guitar, chanting vocals and hand claps. Listening to them reminded me of stumbling upon their performance at one of the smaller stages at WOMAD and being completely mesmerized by their music, their sway and their dress – layers of soft cotton to keep out the heat and dust. As I was listening to the CD, I was pulled in to the rhythm and soon enough was dancing around the living room, my cleaning forgotten. Ah well, you know what they say…Dirty House, Fun Times.

I danced right back to a memory of dancing with a woman from one of the desert tribes of Rajasthan, India. I had gone with friends to Pushkar, where every year, at full moon in November, Rajasthan’s desert people come to trade livestock and entertain/harass tourists at the Camel Fair. We had found a great room to rent, with a rooftop where we would sit at sunset and watch the teeming mass of people in the street below. The men wore turbans of bright primary colours – pinks, blues, acid greens – and the women wore saris in the same lurid shades. Seen from the rooftop above, the turbans and saris moved along the street in an endless kaleidoscopic of swirling colour. I thought about the two Rajasthani desert women I’d sat opposite while on a ferris wheel at the crazy circus/carnival that came to town for the fair. The women had giggled and screamed as we lurched into the air – and continued to scream and giggle throughout the ride, occasionally leaning forward to give my friend and I happy punches in the arms. These desert gypsy women have considerable biceps from carrying pitchers of water for miles. Every time they leaned forward to punch us, my friend and I also screamed and giggled, with nerves and anticipation of pain.

This week I’ve travelled from the contemporary/retro Californian beach sounds of Sonny & the Sunsets to the desert folk of Rajasthan, surfing that summer wave until it’s a mere mirage disappearing into the dunes…those dunes that are, in fact, the drawers containing my winter woollies and the cupboard containing the heater.  Well, hello there autumn. Didn’t think I’d be seeing you again so soon.

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