Thursday, April 28, 2011

Long live the Arthouse!

In amongst the shitstorm that was stirred up early last year when beloved Collingwood venue The Tote Hotel announced that it was closing its doors for good due to skyrocketing costs of keeping the place open because of having to comply with ridiculous liquor licensing laws (alcohol-fuelled violence, oh we laughed!), it also came to light soon after that popular inner-city (well, on the northern fringes at least) watering hole The Arthouse would also be closing its doors within a year. Well, the combination of a helluva lot of protestors taking to the streets and a white knight by the name of Jon Perring managed to save the Tote and it reopened in June that year, but it soon became clear that nothing would save our beloved Arty. What a shame really. In the three years I've been in Melbourne, I've always enjoyed my trips to this hallowed haven of punk, metal, and other assorted subgenres that are a bit to the left of centre! On Sunday the 1st of May, I and many other Melbournians headed to this great venue one last time. Here's a little memoriam to the venue that's served us so well over the years.

If memory serves me correctly - and "memory" and "the Arthouse" are two terms that often don't quite go together! - the first time I ever set foot in this place was on Saturday the 14th of June in 2008 (thanks to for the exact date!). A bit late to the (p)arty perhaps, but this can be explained by the fact that I didn't live in Melbourne until that year, and once I did move I was very keen to check out this place I'd heard so much about. That night, the bands playing were Psycroptic, Terrorust, Picture the End and Aphotic Dawn. Again, there's always something about going to the Arthouse that leaves you with fuzzy (but positive!) memories, and almost three years on from this gig, I can't remember a lot of what transpired. I do remember enjoying Aphotic Dawn, hating Picture the End so much I spent the entirety of their set in the beer garden, thinking at the time that Terrorust were alright (hey, I was relatively young), and of course really enjoying Psycroptic. They ripped their way through a selection of material from what was then a three-album discography, and even threw in the first ever performance of Immortal Army of One, which would later appear on their fourth album (Ob)Servant. As the set drew to its end, vocalist Jason Peppiatt announced that Alpha Breed was to be their last song, and that was all the encouragement to go through a rite of passage that I think every Melbournian metal/punk/hardcore kid of my era has gone through - stage diving off the Arthouse stage! It was the first time I'd ever stage dived anywhere actually, and upon picking myself up off the Arthouse floor (it was a pretty awful stage-dive really!), I realised I'd lost my watch! After the show, I ended up meeting some pretty cool individuals by the names of Adam, Nat and Jules. Three top people that I've seen at quite a few gigs over the years. So there you have it. On my first night at the Arthouse, I saw some awesome bands (and one awful one), made new friends, had my first stage-dive, lost my watch, and drank a lot of beer! A successful night, I would think!

Over the years there's been many a return trip made to the place formerly known as the Royal Artillery Hotel. Many a great night has begun with an upright, coordinated walk through the Arthouse door and finished with a clumsy drunken stumble at the end. I've lost count of all the great (and some not so great bands) I've seen deliver sets from the hallowed Arty stage - grind, noise, doom, punk, industrial black metal, death metal - you name the genre, if it can be considered even vaguely alternative, it's been played on the Arthouse stage. It's impossible for me to identify my favourite Arthouse memory, but there's definitely a few in there. One that particularly stands out is an evening when America's Pig Destroyer delivered a ripping set of vicious deathgrind. Being the small venue that it is, after the show the members of the band didn't really have any choice but to hang out with the crowd, and a bunch of mates and I got to meet vocalist JR Hayes and guitarist Scott Hull out the front. Then JR decided he was pretty drained after that gig (fairly understandable) and wanted to know where he could get a Red Bull, so Nat, Adam and I decided to walk him to the nearest 7-Eleven so he could get one!

Grindcore certainly seems to be something the Arthouse did well, and over the years ear and brain cells were damaged by ridiculously fast and br00tal acts, such as Fuck...I'm Dead, Captain Cleanoff, The Kill, Roskopp, Super Fun Happy Slide, etc, etc. There was one final grind night on Sunday the 24th, but I stupidly opted to attend a My Disco gig that night. In hindsight I think it would have been far better to see the final night of a genre that's called the Arthouse home in Melbourne over the years of its existence. Of all the genres I think I've seen at the Arty, there's been something about that particular breed of metal that seems to drag me back again and again for repeated beer drinking and headbanging!

This year I am ashamed to say I didn't actually patronise the Arty that much. It did start off pretty early on though, when Heathen Skulls (who else?!) brought US psychedelic jam-a-riffic trio Earthless on to the stage on the 9th of January, supported by Clagg and Agonhymn. As it turns out, I was recovering from a monstrous hangover; attending gigs on a Sunday always poses quite a challenge! But I was glad that I went in the end, because the three bands I saw were amazing, and the hangover soon disappeared! The Arty's given me enough hangovers over the years, so it was nice to see it finally cure one! I did make sure I got along to quite a few of the "last month" gigs however. First of all it was Sydney-based industrial weirdos The Amenta, with Ruins in the main support slot; naturally, that was a pretty fucking good one, despite the shortness of The Amenta's set. On a Wednesday a few weeks ago, it was once again grind time, and who better to do that than Agents of Abhorrence, Useless Children, Doubled Over and Kromosom (well, they're a little bit more on the hardcore side of things, but anyway)? What a night! But my last gig I ever went to at the Arty was actually a highly successful night - the "sold out" sign was not going to stop me and my friend Joe from seeing Frenzal Rhomb, so with the help of a friendly convenience store bloke, and some paper, a red texta and some sticky tape, we managed to make passable imitations of the wristband on the night, and got our way into the venue! What a show it was.

So on Sunday May 1st, we all battled off the hangover from whatever we went to the night before and headed off to number 616 Elizabeth St for the VERY last time ever. Surprisingly, there wasn't a line to get in, and once inside, the place was quite comfortable to move around in - plenty of people, but not too many! So for one last time, we gathered to drink the final stocks of the Arthouse's fridge (the tap beer had ran out by the time I got there!), share our Arthouse memories and dance to some surprisingly un-Arthouse music - there's a first time for everything, and I suppose the last night of business is a good opportunity to play such "classics" as Livin' on a Prayer, My Sharona and even Girls Just Wanna Have Fun. For this special occasion, invading the Arthouse stage took on a new meaning; as there was of course no band and no musical instruments on the stage, punters delighted in pulling off some truly awful drunken moves to this music they'd never heard at the Arthouse before, and never will again. Of course, many familiar Arthouse faces were hanging around and drinking themselves silly - one could quite easily spot the likes Rob Macmanus (ex-Grey Daturas and now Heathen Skulls head honcho), Jay Jones (Fuck...I'm Dead and The Kill) and of course, POODLE. It wouldn't be an Arthouse farewell without the man himself! I didn't have a lot of money so I had to leave a bit earlier than I'm sure most did, but not before I witnessed the auctioning off of the last ever bottle of beer at the Arthouse! It was a Tasman Bitter, incidentally a beer that the Arty has never sold in its entire history, but had confiscated this evening from someone trying to sneak it in, and it went for $125!

So, in summation, it's been a great few years. I'm sure in a few months they'll be turning the Arty into something highly inappropriate (my money's on apartments, grrr), but even if the building I know and love disappears, what's left of the memories will never be forgotten. So long Arthouse!

Monday, April 4, 2011

"And all I ever find, is a way things could be" - Dead Letter Circus, Corner Hotel, 02/04/2011

Earlier this year, due to my increasingly dire financial situation, I told myself I would try not to attend too many gigs of bands I had already seen multiple times, in other words, those regular local bands. Now I think about it, these bands are the ones that need support the most and the reason they gig so often is to try and gain themselves much-needed fans, but hell, there are certain bands that I have seen multiple times in the last twelve months with very little obvious change to their set, sometimes nothing changes, and I think to myself, "Why am I still spending money on this?" HOWEVER! There's a certain band from Queensland that I have seen numerous times, and every time they come to town, I find myself going back, due to their consistent ability to entertain their increasingly-large crowds. And so it was that Dead Letter Circus rolled into Melbourne town once again, after a very successful 2010 and a well-received lap around the country at the beginning of 2011 with the Big Day Out festival. Opting for some slightly smaller venues than their last tour, possibly due to the "I've seen them before!" factor, the "sold out" signs nonetheless went up again! Along for the ride were exciting new supergroup Floating Me, and in Melbourne, theatrical progressive rockers [Me]. Now, I couldn't really say no to this!

The night got off to a grandiose start around 9pm, with local up-and-coming four-piece [Me]. Despite the unfamiliarity of the material, the crowd that had arrived quickly warmed to their bombastic brand of rock. Very heavy on the keyboards, and led by the impressive pipes of Luke Ferris, the band lived up to the expectation that many had gained from hearing past reviews saying that the band were taking their musical cues from acts like Muse and Queen. Personally, I found the Muse comparison a little lazy, and I thought Ferris's vocals (and the backing vocals of his bandmates) were a lot more Freddie Mercury than Matt Bellamy. Despite the obvious comparisons to their musical influences, [Me] put on a great show and injected plenty of their own style and originality into the tunes that filled their short set. Those that turned up at this early stage of the night seemed suitably impressed, and at the end of the night, I and the group of friends I was with were all leaving the venue with copies of all of their CDs they had on sale!

Up next was a highly anticipated performance for many in the crowd, despite Floating Me being relative "newcomers" to the scene, having formed just last year. However, although the name may be a new one, the individual musicians in the band are certainly familiar to those who have been following their Australian rock over the past 20 or so years - Andrew Gillespie (vocals), Antony Brown (guitar) and Tobias Messiter (keys) are all former members of 90s group Scary Mother, while the rhythm section of the new band is guaranteed to wow the younger crowd, considering it consists of Jon Stockman from Karnivool and Lucius Borich, formerly of Cog! The expectations were high, and Floating Me did very well to justify the amount of hype that is building around the new act. Gillespie perhaps could've interacted with the crowd a bit more, saying very little other than the obligatory "thank you" between songs, but there was certainly no faulting his vocal performance; his Jeff Martin-meets-Chris Cornell baritone is one of the strongest assets this band has. He was also helped out by the ever-versatile Lucius Borich, who surprisingly is still using his overhead swivel microphone that was such a trademark feature of Cog's live performances. Like [Me], the band had to work to win over a crowd who were unfamiliar with most of the material played (their album, although on sale on the night, hasn't been "officially" released yet), but they did have the advantage of well-known personnel, and they did get a very rousing response for Sugar, which was released as a single last year. The band finished off with a stellar Bezhumous, featuring an intense extended drum solo from Borich, and another song which I'm told was actually an old Scary Mother track. Can't wait to see more from these gents in the future, which is looking quite bright for them!

I had hopes that Dead Letter Circus would do something a little different for this tour, particularly an attempt to mix the setlist up a bit with some oldies that we hadn't heard in a while, or even a debut of Walk (which is the only song they haven't played yet from their all-round awesome album This is the Warning, despite now having toured it three times (four if you count the BDO)). However, with the familiar opening of The Mile, it was clear from the outset that the band were going to deliver a performance that would seem just a little bit "samey" to those who had caught the band four times since their album launch in May last year! The flipside of this is Dead Letter Circus are a pretty impressive live unit, and don't disappoint on a stage even if they are bashing out their old tried-and-true routine. I wouldn't have come back to see them again if they didn't blow me away on previous tours, and even though this particular gig wasn't one of their best, there was still plenty of spark to keep the crowd satisfied. On the second song of the night, Reaction, some extra cameras appeared in the photo pit and onstage, with vocalist Kim Benzie explaining that a film clip was being shot for an upcoming release, the news of which certainly excited the already responsive crowd! As the band worked their way through a collection of favourites from This is the Warning and their self-titled EP, the entire venue looked to be having a great night as usual, with enthusiastic pogoing and very loud singalongs becoming commonplace - Benzie didn't even need to ask! The encore of the set was a rousing rendition of the album's first single Here We Divide, before those extra toms appeared onstage and we all knew what was coming. As the introductory speech to album closer and title track This is the Warning played out over the PA, Benzie welcomed to the stage Sean Bailey of Sydonia, and of course, Lucius Borich from Floating Me. I was hoping that, well, because it's Lucius freakin' Borich, they were going to give him something extra to play in the way of drums, but disappointingly he was merely playing the floor toms, in exactly the same manner as Bailey, and toward the end of the song Benzie and live guitarist/keyboardist Tom Skerlj joined in. Sure, five people playing drums at the same time sounds pretty awesome, and looks damn cool as well, but when they're all doing exactly the same beat, and it's being done in exactly the same way that it was done on previous tours, one can't help feeling that it's losing some of its impact. As I said, Lucius should have been given something a little bit more interesting to do, as what he was doing was no more impressive than the performance of anyone else that's joined in this song over the past year. Nevertheless, as the band left the stage and the curtain onstage was pulled closed, the punters slowly leaving the venue were all wearing that post-gig "I'm exhausted but I've had a fucking awesome night!" expression on their faces. Because when Dead Letter Circus play a gig, there's really no other way to be.
The Mile
This Long Hour
Disconnect and Apply
The Drum
One Step
The Space on the Wall
Next in Line
Here We Divide
This is the Warning
(with Lucius Borich of Floating Me and Sean Bailey of Sydonia)
(setlist actually taken from Sydney show. Looks good to me though.)