Glebe Town Hall: Week 204

Phia performing at Glebe Town Hall for High Tea: Sydney, Australia

For most people high tea is a sugar-filled, decadent afternoon treat. For Sydneysiders in the know, High Tea is also an invite-only folk music event that happens twice a month.

The musical headquarters is located inside a small loft in Surry Hills. The street-level entrance leads people through a graffiti-covered passage, up a few flights, and out onto a walkway that is curiously squeezed between two buildings. It’s a bit of an urban rabbit warren.

Because the venue is so intimate, it’s not always easy to get tickets. You have to follow the High Tea Crew Twitter account so you know exactly when the event list has opened. The event fee is payable at the door and, as always, a table covered with tea cups and hot kettles awaits guests at the entrance.

High Tea at Glebe Town Hall: Sydney, Australia

If the tea fails to excite, there is no charge to bring in your own bottle of wine. There aren’t a lot of chairs but there are plenty of cushions around the room. The lights are low, the candles drip, and the large art deco windows front a twinkling nighttime city landscape.

The only difference this time around was that for the season opener, High Tea was being held at Glebe Town Hall. This historic venue was built in 1880 and the main hall fits up to 200 hundred people, which is a lot larger than the loft in Surry Hills. Although the Town Hall lacked the quirky layout of the usual venue, the table of tea was still there and I suspect the program organizers spent a lot of time tracking down more cushions.

Glebe Town Hall: Sydney, Australia

High Tea kicked off with Phia- an Australian/German loop pedal and kalimba playing songstress. She was classically trained on the piano and is the first to admit her parents weren’t too happy when she first ditched all that training for the kalimba. Her boyfriend is the only other member of the band and is probably the most timid musician I have ever seen on stage. He looks a bit like a lost puppy- which I mean in the nicest way possible. It was the second time I’d seen them perform and I liked them even more than the last time.

The Maple Trail closed the program and as it got close to the end of their set, I lay down, closed my eyes, and listened to the music. The group sounded a lot like The Wallflowers and it reminded me about my childhood in Florida and the excitement of owning my first few CDs (which obviously included The Wallflowers).

While I’m guilty of enjoying a bit of nostalgia, I’m lucky enough to be simultaneously happy about the past and the present. And where I am- inside the Glebe Town Hall with friends and tea and wine and music- is pretty darn good.

About: High Tea

How to get to the Glebe Town Hall: 160 St Johns Road, Glebe NSW 2037

About: Phia

About: The Maple Trail

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Atomic Bomb: Week 201

Atomic Bomb

William Onyeabor is a Nigerian synth pioneer that was, “responsible for some of the most searing Afro-funk and space-age jams you’re ever likely to hear.” The majority of his music was released in the early eighties and shortly thereafter he turned born-again Christian and refused to speak about himself or his music.

Almost thirty years later, a group of musicians from the US are keeping the groove alive with a Sydney showing of Atomic Bomb at the Enmore Theatre. The core group is composed of Sinkane, Money Mark, Luke Jenner, Pat Mahoney, and Pharoah Sanders whose shirt glowed under the stage lights like a purple velvet oil slick. Sanders, a Grammy winning jazz saxophonist, is pushing seventy-five but not afraid to drop low when caught in the grips of a good beat.

Enmore-Theatre-Atomic-Bomb-3

Then there were the special guests, the Mahotella Queens. The South African vocal group entered the stage wearing bright red shirts, white skirts and a large red hat with their country’s flag. Two of the singers were members of the original lineup from the 1960s while Amanda Nkosi was the newest member. She was the only one young enough to do a high kick, but that just meant she’s spent less time on this planet perfecting her swagger- and the Mahotella Queens had some serious swagger and some serious voices.

As this was an Australian show, Gotye was on board as a guest singer and he killed it! His vocals were rich and there was something about his lanky, mellow demeanor that just fit the vibe of the music.

<Gotye>

Since I came to know you baybyyyyyy,

I’ve been telling you how sweet you are.

I’ve been telling you how good you are.

Now I want you try to tell me how I look.

Tell me, tell me, tell me, tell me, tell me, tell me. 

Please tell me how I look.

<Mahotella Queens>

You loooooooooook so good.

Fantastic man!

Towards the end of the show Sinkane, wearing a slim-cut two piece suit and wide brim hat, came out from behind his keyboards and got the entire audience to get low. It was not an easy position to maintain and just before my thighs burst, we all rose back up together and jumped up and down to the music and to relief. Hanging above the stage was a projection screen with a recording of a woman dancing on roller skates.

William Onyeabor might not appreciate his music anymore, but it was pretty obvious to the crowd that the only downside to Atomic Bomb was the length of the show. We wanted a million more encores.

About: William Onyeabor

About: Atomic Bomb

How to get to the Enmore Theatre: 130 Enmore Road, Enmore

Tasmania: Week 137

Formal night on the Sea Princess

Consummate: showing great skill and flair

The first thing I noticed were the neatly uniformed hosts aboard the Sea Princess. They turned down my room every night and brushed the crumbs off my table cloth. If I wanted to order a cocktail, all I had to do was look up- hosts were patiently scanning the room with a plastic tray and a notepad in hand.

Maybe I was too sensitive to people just doing their jobs, but I felt like the word thank you was hemorrhaging from my mouth. One thanks to use the hand sanitizer outside the buffet hall, two thank you’s for a napkin, four thanks to order a cocktail, and another eight words of gratitude randomly dispersed during dinner. Of course I was grateful for the impeccable service; I just wouldn’t have minded a little more neglect.

Invitation for the Captain's Circle Cocktail Party

The second night on board was the formal dinner; black tuxedos and white gloves circulated through the crowds, handing out flutes of champagne. The heart of the ship was styled like a Miami hotel circa 1980: all plate-glass and gold-toned banisters. The ground floor was marble and there were skinny palm trees flanking the glass elevator and white grand piano.

For some reason I was expecting ballroom dancing but in reality there were at least four different studio backdrops which took up a large portion of the floor. The captain gave a small toast and then a few people took turns pouring more champagne onto a pyramid of glasses filled with blue champagne. My friend had rented a tux with a black bow tie and patent leather shoes and when we sat down to dinner I noticed our host’s jacket had the same cut and his starched white shirt had identical pleats.

Formal night on the Sea Princess

Patter: the jargon of a particular group, meaningless talk, chatter

The Princess Patter is the ship’s daily newsletter. Each night, while we dined and watched choreographed musicals, the four-paged newsletter was placed in our room’s mailbox- one blue and white Patter for each of us.

Champagne Art Auction, Walking in Comfort & Relieving Back Pain, Skin & Make Up Tips, 50s & 60s Music Trivia, How to get your smile 6 shades lighter?

Page 2 of the Princess Patter on the Sea Princess Cruise to Tasmania, Australia

The activities were questionable, but the enthusiasm for freshly delivered mail was hard to squelch. I convinced my friends to attend a line dancing class taught by a skinny Welsh guy named Martin. He was young, but his thinning hair and comfortable yacht attire made him seem much older.

“Now if you feel your hip is hurting, don’t push it,” Martin devilishly instructed the crowd. “You will feel really silly filling out the insurance claim forms.”

Martin also hosted the Singles and Solo Travelers group. While he waited for people to cautiously trickle into the Razzmatazz Club, he impatiently tapped his foot and leaned against the leather upholstery. About sixteen people showed up, more people than the club usually held at any given time during the night.

The majority of attendees appeared to be comfortably retired women, however there were a few exceptions: one divorcee, one shy young guy with braces, and a retired Australian priest who quietly sang to himself when he wasn’t talking. The first two questions people always asked were: where are you from and how many cruises have you been on?

Top deck of the Sea Princess cruise to Tasmania

On port days, when the ship was docked, the Patter was supplemented with a Princess Port Guide. The insert smelled like a carbon copy receipt and contained information about the weather and an abbreviated history of the location.

Port Arthur, our second destination, was a working penal colony from 1833-1877 and was meant to be a punishment station for repeat offenders. It was also the Australian testing grounds for a recently imported method called solitary confinement. Based on the Eastern State Penitentiary in Pennsylvania, the ‘separate system’ replaced physical punishment with dehumanizing isolation. The tour guide informed me in a ‘glass half-full’ kind of tone that only one person had been driven to suicide.

More than 100 years later Port Arthur would once again be the background for human suffering. On an autumnal day in 1996 a gunman took the lives of 35 people and wounded another 23. Standing there, it was hard to imagine a more incongruent event unfolding in the tranquil harbor filled with crumbling sandstone buildings. The only silver lining was the fact that the massacre became a catalyst for successful gun legislation reform.

Port Arthur Historic Site: Tasmania, Australia

Spring chicken: a young person

Five days into the cruise we docked overnight in Hobart, our last destination. It was 11pm and the cleaners were vacuuming around our feet while we finished up the last of our tropical cocktails. The Razzmatazz Night Club was completely empty so my friends and I followed the young wait staff rushing off the ship in their street clothes. It was college night in Salamanca Place and the eve of a state holiday. It also didn’t help that the drinking age is 18.

As I glumly pushed past hordes of boisterous teenagers tottering around in red stilettos and pastel mini-dresses, I thought about the day I arrived at the White Bay Cruise Terminal. I had felt so youthful because I had neither a walker nor swollen ankles. I could also probably still count the number of grey hairs on my head.

How fleeting that feeling can be when you are stuck in a writhing mass of teenagers.

Left: Berlin Buddha, 2007, Zhang Huan- This piece uses 8 tonnes of incense ash - collected from temples around Shanghai - packed into the aluminum mould opposite. Right: Cloaca Professional, 2010, Wim Delvoye - a man made digestive track that poops at 2pm.

The next morning we caught a ferry to the Museum of New Art. It was the place I had been looking forward to visiting the most and it had somehow escaped being mentioned anywhere in the Princess Patter or the Princess Port Guide: Hobart.

I did find this in MONA’s brochure: Looking at art used to be boring. It still is, maybe, but at least here at MONA you can get drunk and/or rage against the machine.

On describing the permanent collection: When we say ‘permanent’ we mean we change it quite a lot, when we feel like it. There are all your favorites, and some stuff you totally effing hate.

Not quite Princess Patter material.

Actually, MONA is not quite museum material either. As the creator David Walsh puts it, MONA is an anti-museum, “that pisses off the academics.”

I think Walsh wishes more people were offended; truthfully, it was the best art museum I have ever visited. From the posh ferry to the eclectic collections (think kitten pelts and roman coins across from Jenny Saville) to the iPods used to vote on the whether the art was good or not- MONA is way ahead of the curve.

Zelfportret, als grootste worm van de wereld, 2008, Jan Fabre

And for the low, low price of AUD $75,000 you can receive a lifetime membership which will allow you to, “enjoy all the benefits of Eternity Membership – parties, catalogues, annoying pamphlets, being sucked up to. Then – when you die, we have you cremated and put in a fancy jar in the museum. David’s dad’s there already. Don’t you miss out.”

PS. This is not a joke.”

About: Tasmania

About: Port Arthur

How to get to MONA: MR-1 Fast Ferry or MONA Express bus depart from Brooke Street Ferry Terminal in Hobart. MONA bicycles are also available for rental for use on the intercity cycleway to the museum.

Sydney Opera House: Week 98

Polaroid of the Sydney Opera House

“Uh, let me take your purse?” Barret tentatively suggested as he reached for my brown leather bag. “Why don’t you go to the bathroom?”

My chest was still heaving from running one and a half miles alongside the late afternoon Sydney traffic-jam. The last stretch from Circular Quay to the Opera House had been the toughest because of the lack of shade.

Walking through the bathroom, I caught a glimpse of myself in the mirror. My cheeks unfortunately matched my scarlet lipstick and my hair was plastered against my scalp. This was not how I had imagined the night would go. I left my house feeling like a sophisticated patron of the arts and arrived looking like I had swum the Sydney Harbour.

Within the privacy of the stall I rolled up a wad of toilet paper and pressed it against my drenched face. The seat was damp and clammy, which irritated me. Then I realized that I was the reason the seat was damp and clammy.

I took a few deep breaths to relax and tried to focus on something else other than sweat.

The stall doors had an unusual wavy shape. That’s kind of cool, I guess.

My eyes drifted down to the tiled floor; nothing exceptional there. C’mon- you are at the Opera House I told myself and ruffled my limp wet bangs.

Feeling more collected, I went to wash my hands. The cool water made me feel less sticky until I glanced one last time in the mirror. Like a boy learning how to shave, there were little white styptic dots clinging to my face.

No matter how I felt at the moment, I was determined to enjoy the evening. I had put a lot of energy into getting these tickets.

My day had begun that morning at 3:40am. By five I was in line at the Tix for Next to Nix booth. I was not the first; there was already a small crowd with dogs, sleeping bags, comfortable shoes and hiking pants. I had picked a seat on a bench underneath a street light and waited for three hours for the booth to open.

By the time 8:00am rolled around I was completely awake. My heart was racing because of coffee and because the booth was about to open. It was the last weekend for the Sydney Festival and my only chance to get tickets to the sold out showing of 2001 A Space Odyssey. Not only were these tickets the last available, they were also a fraction of the price- $25 compared to $120.

Five minutes after the booth opened I had two tickets and I was on my way to work. After managing to keep my head in an upright position for six hours, I took a nap at home before jumping on a bus headed downtown. What had been a 20 minute ride in the morning had stretched to almost an hour. When I realized the pedestrians were walking faster than the bus, I jumped ship and ran the rest of the way.Polaroid of the Sydney Opera House

Two minutes before show time I wiped the toilet paper off my face, reclaimed my purse and put my blazer back on- as if completing my outfit it would help restore equilibrium.

Inside the angular hall the lights began to dim while the orchestra remained illuminated. From the hushed shuffle of feet and the distant clearing of throats emerged a double low C note. It was singular, powerful and pure. The note rose till it could not go any further and just before collapsing, a brass fanfare exploded to encourage the note on again.

BOM BOM BOM BOM BOM    BOM    BOM

The commanding reverberations of the bass drum gave me chills. I squeezed Barret’s hand.

Double basses and contrabassoons took heart once again and responded with the same evocative and sustained note. Barret squeezed my hand back; he was just as excited as I.

Sunrise was the name of the first part of Richard Strauss’ composition Thus Spake Zarathusta.  It filled the acoustically perfect auditorium with the feeling of promise and rebirth and hope. Stanley Kubrick had chosen well. I felt like a new person.

How to get to the Sydney Opera House: Macquarie St, Sydney NSW 2000.

The best way to arrive on time for your show, regardless of traffic, is to catch the CityRail train to Circular Quay. Trust me.

Rebuilding the Rights of Statues: Week 15

Outside rain fell in torrential sheets as the carcasses of dead umbrellas twitched in the wind. Down a slippery marble staircase was an empty music venue called Rollinghall. The Chinese band Rebuilding the Rights of Statues had attracted a mostly foreign crowd that was still huddling outside under a corner store canopy drinking cheap beer. Anyone close to me knows I don’t care for concerts. Of course I like music, but unless it’s free, I think it sounds better on CD. Especially CDs my friends burn for me.

Although that night I really wanted to put my finger on the pulse of the band. Write a review so acute readers would feel they were standing next to me. So I moved closer to the stage shrouded with polychromatic fog but the body odor of a large man persuaded me to take a few steps back. As I tapped my foot I tried to think of words to describe what I was hearing- hmm… musical and rhythmic? The metrical guitar notes were bisected by periodic drum beats which were all illuminated by the cadenced and recurring political lyrics. There, now that you are standing between the balding spastic dancer and me, clap you hands because the curtain is falling.

For other indie music events:

SuperColorSuper

The band that words can’t describe:

Rebuilding the Rights of Statues (aka Re-TROS)

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