Early next morning we board our flight to Sydney. I suddenly remember a story relayed to me about this year's Big Day Out.
Apparently Rage Against the Machine were highly demanding in many aspects of the festival. The least of which was their stage entrance. Apparently all corridors/hallways were to be darkened and no one from any of the other dozen or so bands was to be present as the band made their way to the stage.
So one night, one of the dudes from the Arcade Fire makes himself known in the no-go zone and screams "FUCK YOU I WON'T DO WHAT YOU TELL ME!"
As a Rage fan and a bullshit-caller on Arcade Fire, even I have to admit the genius of it all.
From Sydney Airport we went straight to the club and began cracking on soundcheck. I once again used Kit's (from Rocket Science) drum kit and I liked it.
After check I was picked up by record collector extraordinaire Mark Taylor and whisked away to his sound bunker to peruse his piles of awesomely rare American garage 7"s. If you've never been, do check out his G45 legends website http://www.finerecordingstudio.com/g45/ and understand that Mr. Taylor has an unnervingly high percentage of these monsters.
I particularly dug listening to shit like Cirkit, Randy Alvey and the Green Fuz, the Botumless Pit/Suedes, Chosen Few of St. Michaels, Gregg Barr and the Bar Association, the Classics on Amway (quite possibly the most inept guitar solo ever) not to mention just the ability to view all these killers in one sitting, one after another. It was wholly unreal.
Mark is incredibly easy-going and his willingness to open his collection to a youngster like me in spite of the subsequent drool was much-appreciated. Plus, the view of the Sydney skyline, the Opera House, the Harbor Bridge and even a fireworks display while listening to it all was the perfect visual accompaniment to my ideal audio evening.
As we were leaving the Taylor compound, I struck up conversation about one of Mark's old bands…the Psycho Surgeons. He immediately went back inside to grab me an original, pigs blood spattered copy of their lone single "Horizontal Action" b/w "Wild Weekend." I was left speechless.
I caught a little bit of Rocket Science and deemed it better than their performance earlier in the week in Geelong. Backstage at the Oxford Arts Center was tiny to begin with, so coupled with the fact that heaps of people were trying to get back there as their secret spot to smoke (as it was forbidden everywhere else in the club) and it soon just became annoying.
Cut to a knock on the backstage door. Mick opens it to reveal a fairly stunning young woman.
Mick: Can I help you?
Fairly Stunning Young Woman: Yeah, I know so-and-so and whats-his-nuts and was just gonna come back here and…
Mick: Well that is all nice and fine, But "WE", as a band, do not know "YOU" and there's no reason for you to be back here. I say good day to you.
I think we were all a little dumfounded at the grace with which Mickey dealt with the situation. And then someone started singing "No Head, No Backstage Pass."
Set was probably fine as I don't remember anything distinguishingly good or bad about it. Talked with Russell Hopkinson (You Am I, Radio Birdman) after the show. Rusty's a good guy…I think he was the main force behind bringing the Dbombs down to Australia to open for You Am I back in 2002.
It was a pretty hilarious situation back then…the promoter sent us the initial proposed budget that only had us losing a couple thousand dollars. We replied with "Thanks, but we don't have any money to lose" figuring that was that.
The guys from You Am I (who are multi-platinum artists in Australia and generally considered a cultural institution) wanted us on the tour so bad that they pulled all kinds of tricks to make it work. I think Russell pulled an old drum kit of his out of storage so we could avoid the fees of having to rent one, we had full access to their road crew/stage hands, I think/assume they paid us more per show than we'd originally been promised and they even swung it for us to play some extra headlining shows of our own. Good ole' Bruce Milne licensed Ultraglide in Black at that time for his Giant Claw label and contributed $2500 to the cause as well.
Basically, if it wasn't for the extreme good will set forth by those guys almost five years ago, I don't think we'd be in the respectable spot that we find ourselves in today as far as touring in Australia. So many thanks are due to them.
After chatting, I slipped out the backstage door and begun a two-hour quest to try and find Harry's Café de Wheels. I already wrote 2100+ words on this that there's no real reason for you to read here. Needless to say, I walked all over the town and showed up 20 minutes too late for a tiger pie, then spent another hour trying to find our hotel. If you seriously need the full account, email me and maybe I'll send it to you.
Wake up at the crack of nutsack to fly to Avalon Airport, somewhere between Geelong and Melbourne. I bought a copy of the Kills' Midnight Boom at the Virgin Music Store in the airport. That kinda made me happy. Just remembered while waiting for one of our numerous flights out of the Melbourne Airport that tour manager Johanna walked up with a flat of Krispy Kremes and was offering them to band members. All you aspiring TM's take note…it is ALWAYS in your best interest to buy the sweets when it's early in the morning and the band is groggy and too stupid to go and get their own food. This will endear you to them for life. You can do no wrong afterwards.
At Avalon Airport Ko's pedal bag doesn't show up. Just great. The one truly important day of the tour, that of the Golden Plains Festival, and NOW is the time after eight internal Australian flights that we lose our first piece of luggage.
This little baggage blunder put a quick damper on things. The good thing was we had time on our side…it was still before noon when we arrived in town and we didn't need to be at the festival until 9ish. On the phone the airline said they'd located the bag and that it would be sent on the next flight and then couriered over and should be back in Ko's hands no later than 2pm. That provided some initial relief and when it actually DID show up at the aforementioned time we all rejoiced in the aversion of potential crisis.
We stayed in Geelong at the Hotel Carlton. It's Art Deco styling was truly hip in the "Skip Tracer" kind of way, but there was also something a tad bit forgotten about it all. Like it hadn't been updated or renovated in quite some time. Like twenty years. The boys shared a two-bedroom suite and the other fellas konked out while I abused the free internet to follow the general asshattery of Detroit mayor Kwame Kilpatrick.
We met later in the restaurant downstairs for a relaxing meal. We sat tucked away in a comfortable booth that felt Persian and/or Arabian in its luxury and overflowing amount of pillows. We ordered appetizers, Johanna sung one of the best song parodies in recent memory (to the tune of "Hotel California"), everyone shared from everyone else's plate, I had duck in a red wine ragu sauce, dessert was a rich fruity cheesecake and afterwards I literally laid down in the lavish booth and fell asleep.
I continued my slumber upstairs until it was time to make the trek to the bush for the Golden Plains Festival. We left the Carlton just before dusk, which gave us a beautiful setting for the drive out to Meredith and the supernatural amphitheater. The road there was rural in the purest sense, two lanes of black top in the middle of absolute nothingness. There seemed to be a palpable anxiety among the band, but only in the most positive of ways. The feeling on that drive out to Golden Plains will probably be my most enduring memory of the entire day.
The Vines were onstage when we arrived in the band area…doing their version of Outkast's "Miss Jackson" which was a radio staple when we first visited these shores back in 2002. The festival itself is a definite hit…we were told many people buy tickets before the band line-up is even announced, that it just has that sort of reputation and the ever-present "vibe" which accounts for so much of that intangible.
Plus, with only one stage, you're guaranteed to have all eyes fixed on you while performing and so worries about playing opposite the one-time only reunion of Jesus Christ and His Twelve Man Band are quickly put to rest. At a sizable 9000 paid attendees, it would be the largest crowd us Dirtbombs would ever play in front of at this point in our career.
I went side-stage to check out some Vines action. I still say their jam "Hot Leather" is the best thing they've ever done. But overall, the guys in that band just look like clueless idiots. I recognized "Get Free" and "Fuck the World" and thought they were stiff at best. And yet the crowd ate it up.
After them was the Bamboos, a sub-sub Sharon Jones and the Dap-Kings unintended parody with a male bass player who had a ponytail. Subsequent criticisms become impossible when the heart of your band commits such a cardinal follicular sin.
Backstage we had an old-fashioned sleeper trailer for our personal space. There was a communal area styled with couches and recliners before a TV airing a stationary one-camera shot of the stage.
Some dazed girl got backstage, apparently looking for some celebrity encounter. Instead, she walks up to Pantano (who may or may not have hugged her thinking she was someone we knew) and says "Are you from something?" The band now has it's go-to catchphrase for the next year, thank you very much.
Festival stage prep always feels like a big accomplishment…something like 20 guys working together to try and set up all this equipment within an overly reasonable allotment of time. It reminds me of those awesome "prep" scenes from the movies of my youth…
You know, there's a memorable or possibly even "hit" song playing over a montage of "getting some work done" scenes, almost never including any dialogue, and almost always including a shot of someone accidentally getting a paint roller dragged across their face for comedic effect.
The big examples coming to mind are from Summer School where those brain-dead losers prep for their English competency exam under Erasure's "Chains of Love"; or in Ernest Goes to Camp where his cabin full of juvenile delinquents/future rapists assemble an arsenal to rival a medium-sized Middle Eastern nation in order to battle those evil land-stealing Kramer Construction corporate slobs to keep that one Indian dude from shedding any more tears. Or my favorite, in Lost Boys where The Corey's sharpen wooden stakes, make overindulgent necklaces of garlic cloves and prepare for Armageddon with Kiefer Sutherland and his band of homosexual vampires. I'm sure there was one of these in each and every Home Alone abomination committed to screen, but Chris Columbus can go fuck himself after ruining the peace and tranquility the Native Americans had here in the New World.
Anygay, we set up our shit alright and quick. The drums I had were tight, proper high-quality rentals from Billy Hyde (Aussie gear hire service) probably black Yamaha's or something equally as snooty. We opened with "Leopardman" and it felt like the first time we'd actually nailed that beginning…where after looping the toms endless while the stringed instruments get in line and Mick counts to three and we all simultaneously unleash a momentous aural discharge of sonic roar. This feels "SOOO" good every night…like our announcement saying "We are Here" where "Here" is up in your shit.
We flowed well but by "They Have Us Surrounded" the crack in my 20" Paiste 502 ride cymbal had finally caught up to me. The crack had compromised the properties one expects from a cymbal. Where it should rest on the stand and resemble the appearance of a bottom-side up plate, what I had to deal with resembled a proper concave bowl with all the resonant qualities of a turd hitting the porcelain.
I undid the nut on the cymbal stand, removed my newfound fruit bowl with both hands and proceeded to throw it down WITHALLTHEFUCKINGENERGYICOULDMUSTER. It felt good, but insufficient. So I did the same, again and again and again. I could hear the crowd perk up a bit. This is where having two drummers particularly comes in handy as Pants kept the beat while I monkeyed around. I ended the debacle by throwing the thing against the back of the stage and then summoned Johanna at stage right to stir up a rental cymbal and get a stagehand to plop it on my stand. Problem solved, good times.
I really, really, really wanted to end the set with "Need You Tonight" as we'd been doing pretty much every night. But Mick wouldn't do it…didn't think the crowd would dig it. So he called "I Heard Her Call My Name" instead and it felt like a lead balloon. The crowd was motionless. I'd bet my third testicle they'd have freaked over our sloppy disco-fied INXS cover…especially for the fact that most of the fans probably had no idea who we were, but clearly would've known (and loved) Hutchence and Co.
I ended with a headstand on the bass drum and some benign swinging of hardware, also (in my ears) to the delight of the audience. Walk offstage and have and uptight and surly stage hand bitch at me about throwing my cymbal. Apparently the back of the stage was by no means solid as I had thought. Rather, it was merely a curtain. He then went on to lecture me about how I could've hurt someone had they been walking on the ramp behind the stage. I earnestly apologized as if I'd known that I would have never sailed a metal Frisbee towards anyone's head, but he kept on acting like a little bitch, doing shit like purposefully bumping into me as I tried to walk past him. Johanna later said he yelled at her that I'd almost hit HIM with my cymbal.
Later in the week he'd complain to the rental company about the whole situation and somehow a bunch of previously undiscovered damage appeared on the drums I'd played that night. They tried to pull some shit on our promoters Daniel and Johanna like withholding a deposit or some shit, thinking that the drums were somehow connected to amplifiers we'd hired earlier in the tour that had just up and crapped out on us.
From what I was told, the owner of the Golden Plains Festival, who Johanna had repeatedly told us considers the Dirtbombs his favorite band, personally paid the company for any damages I may have incurred on the rental drum kit. I was flattered.
Chatted backstage with Davy Lane, the prettiest man in rock as dubbed by our publicists Lou and Adele. Can't remember if it was before or after we played…but he was playing with You Am I when we toured with them and his band the Pictures opened for us on our second Aussie sojourn. Recently he's done time backing Jimmy Barnes (Downunder legend for some inexplicable reason) and Crowded House. He's Australia's answer to Josh Klinghoffer and is one of only a few musicians to guest with the Dirtbombs onstage. He's a great guy and the Pictures are a must-hear if you've even the most passing interest in the Who.
From there it was solid chill time. Splayed out on the couch, "watching" Kid Koala's set, nursing a bottle of water and just letting the set dry. I was still kinda bummed about ending with "I Heard Her Call My Name" but Lou and Adele quelled those feelings by saying it was great. Did a photo shoot holding a sign that read "Lost Children" and had the owner of Golden Plains hop in for some portraits with us without properly being told who he was.
I eventually fell asleep on the couch and soon thereafter we sojourned back toward the Carlton to cap off a day well done. We stopped apropos of nothing or anywhere, climbed out of the minivan and stared up at the star-clustered heavens, the likes of which are unheard of in our neighborhood. It was all perfect.