Concert Review: The Killers

Hisense Arena, Melbourne, May 6, 2018

You need to be a big band to fill an arena for a concert. To fill it two nights in a row you need to be huge. Three sell out nights… well, you have to be absolutely massive, especially if you’re a rock band in 2018. But that’s exactly what the Killers did over the weekend, filling out Melbourne’s 10,000 capacity Hisense Arena three nights in a row as part of their Wonderful, Wonderful world tour. 

As the crowd of mostly thirty-somethings file into the venue (having endured the tight security that’s seemingly now part of seeing a major concert in Melbourne), Jack Ladder & the Dreamlanders kick off proceedings with a  short set of Nick Cave or The National sounding songs that don’t cut through the crowd chatter at all. It just isn’t the right sound for a night like this.

Next up is Alex Cameron (who incidentally co-write five songs on Wonderful, Wonderful), with a sunnier indie-sound and cheeky faux-ego that is a much better fit. The crowd in particular like Cameron’s “saxophonist and business partner” Roy Molloy (more about him later). They only play five or so songs, but it’s enough that I make a mental note to listen to them later on.

Some party tunes to prime the crowd between Cameron and the main event would have been nice but instead we wait for half an hour before the Killers emerge, with Pink Floyd-ish instrumentals segueing into the brooding ‘Wonderful, Wonderful’. It isn’t the most obvious song for a band like the Killers to open with, but it works, building anticipation and hinting something big is about to happen.

The party starts for real with the next song, ‘The Man’. The Vegas Strip comes to Melbourne as confetti rains down and front-man Brandon Flowers struts around in front of enormous triangular video screens emblazoned with neon cowboys.

It’s all very impressive. This is a no expense spared production, with lasers, pyrotechnics and wall-to-wall video screens filled with images of everything from the Nevada desert to  geometric hearts and even boxer Mike Tyson.

As for the band, Flowers is a magnetic front-man with an incandescent smile and endless stamina marking him out as the rockstar love child of the Energizer bunny and a Vegas showman.

He fist pumps and prances around the stage all night, but it isn’t enough for some around me in GA who seem motionless and disinterested, even during  songs like ‘Somebody Told Me’. It’s no fault of the band. If the Killers playing a Hot Fuss classic isn’t enough to make you at least tap your foot, well sorry but I don’t know what to tell you..

The set has a real ‘Greatest Hits’ feel to it, with 14 singles from across all five studio albums featured. Obviously the new album is well represented, with five songs, but I’m particularly happy to hear a few older favourites of mine: ‘The Way it Was’ from Battle Born and ‘Read My Mind’ and ‘For Reasons Unknown’ from Sam’s Town (still their best album if you ask me).

During the latter a teenage fan from the crowd is invited up on stage to drum. It’s good fun and the crowd love it although I’m going to be selfish here and say I wish they’d got him up for another song instead of one of my favourites.

The main set comes to end with ‘All These Things That I’ve Done’ and a giant “I’ve got soul but I’m not a soldier” singalong as red, white and blue streamers fall down onto the crowd.

A few minutes later Flowers returns to the stage in a gold metallic suit and aviators (it’s like a mashup of George Michael and the Tin Man) for an encore that begins with ‘The Calling’ from Wonderful, Wonderful, a song that recalls the better parts of Queen’s Hot Space.

A cover of Men at Work’s ‘Who Can it be Now?’ is next, with Alex Cameron again returning to stage along with a now shirtless Molloy on saxophone, who for some reason increasingly reminds me of this video. It’s kind of fun, but for a band with much better covers (such as this or this), it does feel out of place in the encore.

Any doubts about the song choice are immediately obliterated the moment ‘When We Were Young’ begins. A pyrotechnic waterfall provides the backdrop as the crowd scream out the words before the arena lights up with lasers for—what else—‘Mr Brightside’. That one even manages to jolt the most comatose punters around me into life.

Flowers disappears into the night (it’s all a bit ‘Elvis has left the building’), leaving the last word to drummer Ronnie Vannucci Jr (the only other original band member touring these days), who delivers a volley of drumsticks into the crowd—or as he calls them, “flowers”, this being the “third date” with Melbourne. All that’s left then is the now-traditional closing message: “oh… and remember to tell all your friends”.

With that, the house lights come up, a floor ankle-deep in confetti and streamers the only thing left behind from one of the greatest arena rock acts in the 21st century.

Setlist

Wonderful Wonderful
The Man
Somebody Told Me
Spaceman
The Way It Was
Shot at the Night
Run for Cover
I Can’t Stay
Smile Like You Mean It
For Reasons Unknown
Human
Tyson vs. Douglas
A Dustland Fairytale
Be Still
Runaways
Read My Mind
All These Things That I’ve Done
The Calling
Who Can It Be Now (Men at Work cover)
When You Were Young
Mr. Brightside

The best and worst of living in Melbourne

When Tess and I moved from Brisbane down to to Melbourne at the end of 2014, there were a couple of potential outcomes.

We could have gone full-Melburnian (NEVER go full Melburnian) and ended up with sleeve tattoos and ‘ironic’ shit clothes, riding fixies everywhere and surviving solely off organic gluten-free paleo vegan acai bowls.

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Sunset over St Kilda. Decent.

Or we could have hated Melbourne, and fled for the sanctuary of Queensland where we could live out our days hooked up to an intravenous supply of Bundaberg Rum and ending all of our sentences with “ayyy”.

Luckily neither of those things happened. Nearly 18 months after moving, we are still here, enjoying Melbourne life – but not without a healthy dose of cynicism.

So here it is, the 5 best and worst things about living in Melbourne…

Best

Food and Drink

Look, I’m not exactly a foodie. I know, I know, that must come as a huuuuge surprise to any of you who have seen me destroy a plate of potato skins at Sizzler.

But even a food philistine like me can’t help but be impressed by Melbourne’s food and drink scene – especially the breakfasts.

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The Kettle Black, South Melbourne

Ohhh the breakfasts (well, brunch really; no one bothers with breakfast before 11). There are just so many amazing places that we hardly go to the same place twice. But if I had to pick a favourite, it’d choose The Kettle Black in South Melbourne.

Word of warning: if you’re a simpleton from Queensland like me, bring a dictionary if you go for breakfast anywhere. Otherwise, good luck trying to work out what the hell things like freekah, chevre or medjool are.

Other than breakfast, I recommend the coffee at Brother Baba Budan, the donuts at Short Stop, the drinks at Murmur, and dinner at Chin Chin (all in the city). If you’re after an ice-cream, check out Will’s Batch in Elsternwick, while for an Indian takeaway, you can’t beat Babu Ji in St Kilda.

The Sporting Capital of Australia

Other than Melbourne, where else in the world can you go to a Grand Prix and tennis grand slam in the same city?

Nowhere else, that’s where.

Nothing beats sitting in the stands at the ‘G or soaking up the fiery atmosphere of a Melbourne derby.

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The Melbourne A-League Derby

People here keep asking me have I gotten into AFL yet? No, not really, I’m still an NRL (and A-League) man. I have got into AFL a bit more, I suppose. It’s hard not to when it makes up the first 18 pages of the weekend sport section… it’s inescapable!

Daylight Savings

Dear anti-Daylight Savings people of Queensland, let me confirm to you that daylight savings does NOT:

  • Fade the curtains
  • Confuse animals
  • Make the day hotter

It does however, let you finish work, come home, and still go for a walk or have a BBQ while it’s still light outside.

Always something to do

There is always something on. Always. You will never, ever run out of things to do in Melbourne.

Probably the best things we’ve seen would be the Andy Warhol | Ai Weiwei exhibition at the National Gallery of Victoria (it’s still on if you want to go), and the David Bowie is exhibition at ACMI last year.

Oh yeah, and this:

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Yes it’s a Dachshund race – hover dog on the left went on to win

Take U To Da Movies

If the impossible does happen and you do run out of things to do here, here’s my tip: go and see a movie at one of Melbourne’s amazing arthouse and independent cinemas.

I recommend the Lido in Hawthorn or the Art Deco Sun Theater in Yarraville (where Quentin Tarantino and Samuel L. Jackson turned up out of the blue to promote The Hateful Eight).

The Great Ocean Road

There are some beautiful day trips you can do from Melbourne, but nothing beats the Great Ocean Road and the 12 apostles. There is nothing I can say that will do it just, so I’ll just leave this here:

Standing at the limit of an endless ocean Stranded like a runaway, lost at sea
Standing at the limit of an endless ocean
Stranded like a runaway, lost at sea

The Worst

The Drivers

Driving in Melbourne, holy shit. Horrendous. Even the shortest trip ends up like the last lap of the Bathurst 1000.

I learned to drive in Queensland but I think a Victorian driving tests must look like this:

Demonstrated ability to occupy two lanes at once – check
Competency in tailgating – check
Blocks all other motorists from merging – check
Beeps at car in front 0.001 seconds after light turns green – check

Driving to the shops be like
Driving to the shops be like

It’s just insane on the roads here. I’ve been in more car crashes (two, neither of them my fault) and seen more road rage in 18 months than in the entire previous decade of driving in Brisbane.

Terrible weather

The winters are rubbish, but it’s summer that’s kills me. Or more specifically, the lack of (summer = more than 2 hot days in a row).

It was 18 degrees the other day. In January. I was in London a few weeks ago and it was 11 degrees there. Literally only 7 bloody degrees difference between Melbourne summer and London winter. WHAT!?

Locals always say “oh it’s not that bad!” or “yeah but it makes you appreciate the good weather more!”. Yeah righto mate Melbourne’s weather is better than the weather in South Sudan or outer Mongolia. As for the second point, yes I do appreciate good weather more now, but it’s a moot point when I’m wearing a jumper 340 days of the year.

It’s too busy

Me, getting on the train every single morning:

 Elitism

Something weird I’ve noticed here is this bizarre air of Melbourne superiority that some people have, the main theme being MELBOURNE IS THE BEST CITY IN THE WORLD ALL THE OTHER CITIES ARE COMPLETELY TERRIBLE PS. SYDNEY IS WORSE THAN BAGHDAD.

I once unwisely told a colleague that I reckon Brisbane is just as good as Melbourne and he looked at me like I’d just proposed constructing a space-ship out of ants before shouting “YEAH BUT MELBOURNE IS THE WORLD’S MOST LIVABLE CITY” over and over again.

Jimmy

Living next door to an ice fiend in some kind of real life version of the Australian film The King is Dead was AWFUL. Not really Melbourne’s fault (although I’ve become adept at identifying junkies since moving here), but awful all the same.

We knew something was up as soon as “Jimmy” moved in next door. When we first met him we also met his “cleaner”, a rough as guts looking woman aged between 25 and 90. The very first thing she said to us was “Jimmy’s alright you know, I’ll vouch for him”. Err OK.

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Inexplicable. It sat there for 3 hours.

She was right. He was “alright”. But more alright as in “he won’t murder you”, and not the more comforting “he isn’t a drug dealer who will invite junkies around at 3am on a Tuesday who will bash on your windows”.

The 24/7 parade of drug clientele was bad enough, but nothing compared to the bags of used condoms and dead fish he’d leave sitting on the landing. Sometimes there would also be a raw chicken sitting on his doorstep.

Luckily, after 831 emails and phone calls to the police, body corporate and real estate agency, Jimmy eventually got evicted, leaving behind an enormous pile of MDF furniture and used syringes on the footpath.

Melbourne Airport

Seriously Melbourne, get a new airport. Yours is terrible. No wonder it got named the worst major airport in Australia.

Concert Review: Blur

Rod Laver Arena, Melbourne, July 28, 2015

Being a mega, mega Oasis fan I have had about eight thousand ‘Oasis v Blur’ debates over the years. Every time I have staunchly put forward the case for the Gallagher brothers. Better anthems. Better tunes. Louder guitars. Way better jokes. Like that video of Liam accepting a Brit Award in 1996 and singing “Shiiiiiitelife” to the tune of Blur’s Parklife. Funny lads, those Gallaghers.

But after last night’s Blur concert at Rod Laver Arena in Melbourne, I think I might have to go and take a long hard look at myself. At a time when Liam Gallagher is performing on television in tracksuit pants and looking increasingly like a football hooligan at the 1998 World Cup, Damon Albarn and Blur are on a massive world tour in support of their brand new album, The Magic Whip.

Conventional wisdom always said to me that Oasis won the ‘Britpop war’. They outlived Blur, outsold them, had number one hits well after Blur broke up, were still filling football stadiums right up until the moment an enraged Liam smashed up one of Noel’s guitars in Paris, triggering the breakup of the band after sibling fight number 94832.

Woo-hoo!
Woo-hoo!

The tables have turned though, and after reforming in earnest following a series of one off concerts, suddenly Blur are the last one’s standing. And seeing them last night showed that they aren’t just going through the motions either – they’ve absolutely still got it. Damon is full of energy, jumping around like it is 1995, decked out in his Fred Perry polo and splashing around litres of Mt Franklin.

Speaking of crowds, a brief Public Service Announcement. To the girl who pushed her way to the front 2 minutes before the concert started, only to (seemingly proudly) proclaim “I only know that woo-hoo song”: YOU ARE A TOTAL IDIOT.

But I digress. Not even her, nor the stench of chemical weapons grade BO emanating from the woman in front of me could take away from the best concert I have seen all year. There will be some who say they played too many songs from The Magic Whip (7 all up), but they are wrong. It is an album that stands up on its own two feet alongside anything else in their discography, and Blur should be applauded for making music that good nearly 25 years (!) since their debut.

Of course though, as good as the likes of ‘Go Out’ and ‘Lonesome Street’ undoubtedly are, it was ‘Song 2’, ‘Parklife’ and ‘Girls and Boys’ that had the crowd absolutely pumping, and ‘Tender’ that brought out the inner choir in the 15,000 strong audience. There were plenty of other old favourites too: ‘Coffee and TV’, ‘Beetlebum’ and ‘There’s No Other Way’ amongst them, with ‘For Tomorrow’ and ‘The Universal’ finishinf off the evening.

Right. This is hard for me. But I admit it. I like Oasis more, but Blur are (objectively) a better band than Oasis. Sorry Liam, Sorry Noel, I still love you.

Setlist

Go Out
There’s No Other Way
Lonesome Street
Badhead
Ghost Ship
Coffee & TV
Out of Time
Beetlebum
Thought I Was a Spaceman
Trimm Trabb
My Terracotta Heart
Tender
Trouble in the Message Centre
Parklife
Ong Ong
Song 2
Pyongyang
To the End
This Is a Low
Stereotypes
Girls & Boys
For Tomorrow
The Universal

Concert Review: Johnny Marr

The Forum Theater, Melbourne, July 22, 2015

When bands break up in acrimonious circumstances, it leaves the members in a bit of a bind when they play solo shows. Are they meant to shun their old band’s discography or are they meant to please Joe Public and play nothing but the hits? Bore the crowds and please the critics, or please the crowds and lose critical respect?

Fortunately though, at Melbourne’s Forum Theater last Wednesday night, ex-Smiths guitarist Johnny Marr (also known as “Johnny Fuckin’ Marr” if you read the huge writing on the front of his shirts at the merchandise desk) showed an adoring crowd that he is neither stuck in the past nor afraid of embracing it.

I saw Marr playing guitar for Modest Mouse at a festival years ago (as well as being in the Smiths, he’s also been a member of Modest Mouse, the Cribs and the Pretenders – what a CV!), but I’ve been waiting ever since then to see him at his own show. I had to wait a little big longer still after this concert as part of the Playland tour had to be rescheduled after it was postponed in January due to illness in Marr’s family.

Johnny Marr
Guitar God

The support slot was filled by Melbourne shoe-gazers, Flyying Colours. In all honesty I hadn’t heard of them before Wednesday and I’ve missed too many support acts lately, but I’m so glad I made the effort to see these guys. They produced an absolutely huge wall of sound that recalled the Verve’s early songs or Leeds band, the Music. I’ve made a mental note to pencil them in alongside the DMA’s as young Aussie bands channeling the sounds of early nineties England.

Good as they may have been, there was only one man the crowd was there to see, and shortly afterwards a mop-haired, red-shirted Manc with a Fender Jaguar slung around his neck took to the stage. What followed next was a blistering hour and a half of Marr showing off his guitar god credentials across a set comprising songs from his latest album, Playland, half-a-dozen  Smiths songs, Electronic’s ‘Getting Away With it’ (from Marr’s band with New Order’s Bernand Sumner) and a cover of the Clash version of ‘I Fought the Law’.

Marr’s Playland album is a winner (seriously – if you like the Smiths, give it a spin), and the songs from it are the perfect showcase for Marr’s infamous jangly guitar sound. But unsurprisingly it is the Smiths songs that get the biggest response, with the venue erupting from ‘Panic’ through to ‘How Soon is Now?’ with a detour along the way for ‘There is a Light that Never Goes Out’.

Who would have imagined that it could be so joyous being part of a crowd singing about getting run over and killed by a double decker bus?

Setlist

Playland
Panic (The Smiths cover)
The Right Thing Right
Easy Money
25 Hours
New Town Velocity
The Headmaster Ritual (The Smiths cover)
Back in the Box
Spiral Cities
Generate! Generate!
Bigmouth Strikes Again (The Smiths cover)
Candidate
Getting Away with It (Electronic cover)
There Is a Light That Never Goes Out (The Smiths cover)
Please, Please, Please Let Me Get What I Want (The Smiths cover)
Dynamo
I Feel You (Depeche Mode cover)
How Soon Is Now? (The Smiths cover)

Concert Review: Rolling Stones

Rod Laver Arena, Melbourne, November 5, 2014

It a minor miracle that I even got to see the Rolling Stones live, let alone marvel at one of the best concerts I have seen in a long time. Mick, Keith, Ronnie and Charlie have together spent a collective three hundred years on this planet, and after the postponement of the Australian leg of their 14 on Fire tour back in March (following the death of Jagger’s girlfriend L’Wren Scott), I was a bit nervous in wondering if they’d even make it back to our shores alive.

Rolling Stones
… moves like Jagger

But they did make it back to Australia (although those attending the next concert on the tour at Hanging Rock concert were not so lucky – the show was cancelled after Mick got a sore throat), and the result was that two Tuesdays ago I found myself at Rod Laver Arena surrounded by thousands of cashed-up septuagenarians as old as the band they had come to see.

Looking at the merchandise queues and extortionate ticket prices (the band sold $4.8 million worth of tickets for the Melbourne show alone), a cynic might conclude they’re past it and merely phoning it in for the money. But any accusations on that front were evaporated the moment the band took to the stage and launched into ‘Jumpin’ Jack Flash’ with the energy of men half their age.

They’ve still got it. Absolutely got it. They might all have a few more wrinkles, and Mick may miss the odd high note, but otherwise it might as well still be 1974. Mick still gyrates and dances around like some kind of weird lizard being electro-shocked. Keith and Ronnie for their part still look rad (smoking isn’t cool but I’ll make an exception for those two), while Charlie still looks as effortless as ever as he hits the skins up the back.

The best thing about it all is it’s surprisingly raw. There’s no ludicrously extravagant set, no pyrotechnics, no lasers – nothing to hide behind. It’s authentic. Just one of the greatest bands in rock and roll history live in front of my eyes.

Rolling Stones
Combined age approaching 300 years …

After the opener came a volley of hits, with classics like ‘Tumbling Dice’, ‘Wild Horses’ and ‘Honky Tonk Woman’ punctuated by token new song ‘Doom and Gloom’ (no doom or gloom about it – it’s a great track), before a couple of highlights of the night for me – a duo of songs with Keith on vocals (including one of my favourite Stones songs – ‘Happy’) and a version of ‘Midnight Rambler’ featuring an appearance and impressive fretwork from Stones alumni Mick Taylor.

From there came the faux-disco of ‘Miss You’ (a song I can never listen to without getting “oooh oooh oooh oooh oooh oooh oooh” stuck in my head) and the a roof-raising ‘Gimme Shelter’ with backing singer Lisa Fischer dueting with Jagger on ‘Gimme Shelter’.

‘Start Me Up’, ‘Sympathy for the Devil’ and ‘Brown Sugar’ finished the main set, before the band re-joined the stage with the Melbourne Concert Choir for ‘You Can’t Always Get What You Want’, before finishing the set with ‘(Can’t Get No) Satisfaction’ – surely one of the finest rock songs of all time.

It might have been seven months in the making, and it might have set many in the crowd back a small fortune, but it was oh so worth it. At their time of life it is difficult to see them coming back, which may have made this concert their last ever in Melbourne.

It’s only rock and roll, but I liked it.

Setlist

Jumpin’ Jack Flash
You Got Me Rocking
It’s Only Rock ‘n’ Roll (But I Like It)
Tumbling Dice
Wild Horses
Doom and Gloom
Street Fighting Man
Out of Control
Honky Tonk Women
Before They Make Me Run
Happy
Midnight Rambler
Miss You
Gimme Shelter
Start Me Up
Sympathy for the Devil
Brown Sugar
You Can’t Always Get What You Want
(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction