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

South Australia: Week 170

Heli pad outside the Chateau Yaldara: Barossa Valley, South Australia

Barret and I made a very important decision while watching National Lampoon’s European Vacation. We decided that we couldn’t miss the Barossa Valley during our first trip to Adelaide. The valley has a lot going for it (like producing 21% of Australia’s wine), but it wasn’t until Chevy Chase slipped into some lederhosen that we pined for the region’s Germanic heritage. We’re tasteful like that.

Just outside the town of Tanunda, is Chateau Yaldara. It’s one of the most famous vineyards in the Barossa Valley because of its beautiful sandstone buildings. It was founded in 1947 by Hermann Thumm, a Georgian immigrant. Because of his German ancestry, Thumm spent several years interned in a POW camp after he first arrived in Australia. Never one to idle, he used the camp’s library to study viticulture and upon release he headed straight for the Barossa Valley.

The misty rain had cleared by the time we reached the cellar door. Along with four other American friends we sampled almost everything on offer before heading into Tanunda for lunch. The air was crisp and carried the scent of a wood-burning fire. It made me wish we had an extra night to stay in one of the old stone cottages.

Vineyards in the Barossa Valley: South Australia

We left the valley in the late afternoon and headed for the A1. The rural route passed Bumbunga Lake, a pink-streaked body of water inhabited by a Loch Ness monster made out of car tires. The only station we received was Radio National, the Australian equivalent to NPR. A retro-disco-Bollywood band from Melbourne was performing live in the studio and each member had an identity like The Skipper or The Bandit Priest.

The saltbush landscape slowly crept up as the Bombay Royale led us on a psychedelic journey. “We’re in a very small space for those listeners who can’t see us right now, and this is the Mysterious Lady talking. But you can imagine in this scene, this set: the humidity and the passion and we go to the Island of Doctor Electrico.”

The sun set before we entered Port Augusta, an industrial town at the ‘Crossroads of Australia.’ The Leigh Creek coal field is 250km north of town and supplies Port Augusta’s two power stations. Usually only one is operational during winter, but the air still had a metallic tang.

We drove straight through town and onto the Stuart Highway- the legendary road which runs north through the center of Australia. It was named after the Scottish explorer who traversed a similar route in 1861. The most dangerous time to travel the highway is between sunset and sunrise. This is when kangaroos are either most active or (obviously) harder to see. At 30mph mid-leap, hitting a ‘roo could be devastating.

An Outback roadhouse: Pimba, South Australia

We were tired and eager to pull over for the night at Pimba. Although, it would have been more accurate to just label the speck on the map ‘Spud’s Roadhouse’. The gas station/café/motel/grocery store pretty much was the entire town.

Inside the shop construction workers in neon vests crowded around a rugby game on TV and the smell of greasy food wafted out of the kitchen. Barret and I didn’t feel like setting up the tent in the parking lot, so we asked the guy behind the counter for a room.

“It’ll be nointy dollas. Cheers mate.”

We drove our car round the side of the building and parked outside a long row of connected portables. The only other occupants next to us were already drunk and leaning against a large industrial truck. The front door behind them was wide open and the lights and TV were blaring. They eyed us as we unlocked our bent aluminum door and a salty lady called out with a grin, “we’re only here for the night!”

Inside a room at Spud's Roadhouse: Pimba, South Australia

The portable was a wood-paneled shoebox with three beds, a projectile vomit stain on the carpet outside the bathroom, and very thin walls.

“Hey, ya got any drugs?”

I spun around to see if I’d left the door open, but I hadn’t.

“Naw,” a guy replied. It didn’t stop him from searching his stuff though. He sounded like a hamster scratching through the walls. Barret and I pulled out some canned food for dinner and glumly listened in our on neighbor’s conversation. A loud voice sounded from behind our unit and then another woman cackled out in the parking lot.

I felt like we were being circled by a pack of hungry dingoes. Was it only last night that we were enjoying a fireside drink at the Grace Emily in Adelaide? The mantle had been covered in candle wax drippings about a foot thick and a giant papier-mâché dragon head hung in the cornice by the stage. I suddenly wished we were back there.

The hiss of a static-y TV channel reverberated through our walls. “Wow,” I mouthed to Barret, “this place is a shit hole.”

About: The Barossa Valley

How to get to Chateau Yaldara: 159 Hermann Thumm Drive, Lyndoch SA 5351 Barossa Valley

About: The Bombay Royale

About: The Bombay Royale performance on Radio National

How to avoid Spud’s Roadhouse: Don’t stop in Pimba

How to get to the Grace Emily: 232 Waymouth Street, Adelaide SA 5000

Vanuatu: Week 119

Polaroid of a Twin Otter: Tanna, Vanuatu

Sapos yu no respecktim law ia, bae mifala i putum long hand blong ol polis.

Offenders will be prosecuted by the police.

Barret and I were on a Twin Otter aircraft flying between the islands of Efate and Tanna. The small plane seated 18 people, each passenger weighed at the check-in gate like grocery store produce. I should have felt reassured that the plane wasn’t overburdened, but I couldn’t stop reading the flight safety card in front of me and thinking about all the celebrities that have died in small airplanes.

No smok.

The fact that there was no door separating my foot from the faded and worn cockpit was also a cause of anxiety. You see, some things are best left unknown. I like to imagine my pilots are vigilantly scanning the horizon and pushing knobs, but the reality is they aren’t. They actually take their eyes off the clouds for long periods of time to write stuff in old blue binders.

Treetop Lodge on Tanna Island, Vanuatu

The descent towards the small airfield ran along the rugged coast. From up above we could see aquamarine blue holes and rolling jungle-clad hills. While it was a beautiful view, Barret and I quickly realized that Tanna was best experienced by foot.

From our lodge, Barret and I walked two hours to Port Resolution for a beer. The long, dusty road was the only straight shot connecting the east and west side of the island. It was also the local meeting place. Sometimes we crossed paths with an entire village and other times we said hello to kids rolling oranges together; the bruised rinds filled the air with citrus.

Lable on Tusker Beer, Vanuatu

Only one car passed us, going in the opposite direction. It stirred up the volcanic dust that had settled on the ground and squashed lizards. The electric blue tails still shimmered in the sunlight as we walked past. The luckier lizards rustled along the banks of the road and made the dry leaves sound like they had small legs.

On a map Port Resolution looks like a small town, but in reality it is a village of beautifully woven huts. It was the kind of place you’d see in a National Geographic article but you could never imagine living there because heaven shouldn’t require so much dusting.

Polaroid of a hut in Port Resolution: Tanna, Vanuatu

Around late afternoon Barret and I began the walk back. We had about an hour and a half to get to the rim of Mt Yasur in time for a volcanic sunset.

Half an hour into our walk we heard footsteps and a howling puppy behind us. We kept walking but after a few minutes curiosity finally got the better of me and I looked back. Twenty feet away were two young girls and two older women, all with sticks in their hands. The group chuckled when they saw me and the young girl making the barking noises began to whistle. It was the kind of sound you’d make when you wanted your friend’s attention.

“Barret, I think we are supposed to whistle back.”

Barret looked over his shoulder and met the same laughter and giggles as I did.

“You think?”

“Yeah, do it!”

“Why don’t you try?”

“C’mon, you know I can’t whistle! Don’t you have some special method?”

Barret pinched his lower lip, but before he could make a noise the girls beat him to it. Against a chorus of piercing whistles Barret changed tactics and cupped his hands to his mouth. He sounded like a teapot that just couldn’t boil.

Entrance ticket for Mt Yasur: Tanna, Vanuatu

Our audience was still tittering when Barret plucked a blade of grass from the side of the road. He wiped the ash off with his shirt and pinned it between his thumbs. Since we were facing forward we couldn’t see the group’s expression, but when Barret finally made the soggy blade of grass sing, the women erupted in cheers and the two young girls enthusiastically returned our throaty calls.

We were halfway into our rendition of Twinkle Twinkle Little Star when I heard someone call out. I looked over my shoulder and saw the group standing in the road. “Barret, I think I heard them say goodbye.”

“Huh? No, there’s no place to go.” We hadn’t passed any roads or walking paths, just jungle. Barret glanced back again. “Hey- I think you’re right.”

When I realized they were indeed leaving, I was suddenly felt sad. Since arriving in Vanuatu I had become fixated on the idea of needing a talent like juggling, ukelele skills, or really impressive dance moves. In my mind it was an act of reciprocity- a ‘thanks for sharing your time, I would like to share mine too.’ There was so much I wanted to share, but unfortunately the US was represented with a wet turkey whistle.

Polaroid of Mt Yasur: Tanna, Vanuatu

I was at a loss until I suddenly remembered something- “come on Barret!” My boyfriend looked confused but he sensed my determination. “Come on!” I roused him again, “You need to show them your mouth thing!”

As we approached the girls their cheerful expressions turned into bewilderment.

“We want to show you something,” I said before pressing my finger against my lips. “Listen- it’s quiet.”

Under close scrutiny Barret lifted his hand and flicked his middle finger against his cheek. The first few times he did this, the girls still looked confused. After a few more flicks on his cheek they finally heard it- the sound of a falling water drop. Their faces lit up and a big smile spread across their lips.

Mission accomplished. Barret and I waved goodbye and continued on to Mt Yasur.

Mt Yasur erupting: Tanna, Vanuatu

About: Vanuatu

About: Tanna

About: Mt Yasur

How to get around: Air Vanuatu

ARQ Sydney: Week 99

ARQ Sydney: photo by barsandnightclubs.com.au

Oh my God!”

A tall slender boy approached. His hair was bleach blond and swept straight off his scalp into a quiff; a throwback to the pompadour.

The lights were dim. Laser beam trajectories pivoted down from the ceiling and ran over us as if we were supermarket goods. I didn’t know this guy so I closed my eyes and kept dancing in the hope that would clear up the confusion.

Oh my God!” He cried again.

He halted right before me with a bewilderingly familiar smile spread across his carefully made-up face. His eyebrows hovered high upon his brow indicating amazement and incredulity.

“J Law!”

What?

“J Law. Jennifer Lawrence. Hunger Games? You look just like J Law!”

I don’t look anything like Jennifer Lawrence.

AH….” he gasped, “HUGS!”

It was a delicate hug, the kind you would give a celebrity after a surgical procedure.

“You know what,” I paused to sip on my rum and coke, “most people tell me I look like Daryl Hannah.”

Who?”

This boy was clearly younger than me. Barret and I listed a few films from the 80s, the same decade his shirt referenced, but it drew blanks. Finally we mentioned Kill Bill.

“You remember the lady with the one eye patch?”

Oh my God!”  That struck a chord. “HUGS!”

Then I mentioned our group of three was from the US- he received it like a dramatic reveal on Extreme Home Makeover.

“Oh my God. Oh my God!

I really was beginning to feel famous. Too bad the bouncers hadn’t had the same reaction, I would have saved twenty-five dollars. Living in Las Vegas had definitely spoiled me- getting into world-class clubs for free made me very reluctant to pay any entrance fee.

ARQ Sydney bills itself as the only purpose-built entertainment venue in Sydney. Its website also states that it took five years to research and build, which left me feeling a bit cynical. After working in liquor licensing I wondered how much “research” had been simply dedicated to paperwork and impact statements instead of design and upgrading air conditioning systems.

I still hadn’t figured out the purpose for the carpeted foyer which was separated from the dance floor by an annoyingly slow revolving glass door.

Can my friend and I dance with you guys?”

“Of course!”

I will never be a famous actress and ARQ will never be a premier destination, but at that moment it was fun to pretend.

At the very least, I could just dance like I really was talented and famous.

How to get to ARQ Sydney: 16 Flinders Street Darlinghurst NSW

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