Friday, August 27, 2010

We get all types here

Those that support our local music scene are a strange breed.
The authors of this blog happen to be among them.

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Being held hostage on a Thursday night.


How did I end up at Hostage X on a Thursday night? All the beautiful types are at the Illawarra, the less beautiful at 151 and the tracksuit, bum-bag and hat indoors folk usually claim ownership of Hostage. Hell, a few steps up the road and I could have even pretended I had money and spent time with the apparent, big-deal-in-Wollongong, mocha at midday, mojito at midnight people that hang out at Otis Bar. But, I just made all of that up. I had never even been to Otis before I wrote this. The place is nothing like that. They will even let you sit on their tiny lounges in 7-year-old Converse All-Stars.

Anyway, while the lines of other clubs snaked around corners - meeting each other in perfect storms of post-exam students and those who can’t wait for Friday - I, begrudgingly, paid $5 to walk through Hostage’s Batcave like front door. Working with about 1 hour of sleep, a massive headache and a sense of disappointment following Australia’s World Cup exit, Hostage just about tops the list of places I didn’t want to be.

There was no one else in the line and no one else at the other end of the door. Downstairs was a ghost town. If it wasn’t for the televisions on the walls and bright lights reflecting on the floor the place would have looked like a party Sahara. On reflection, for all the lights and solitude, it was more Batcave than I first thought.

It turns out that all of the action is upstairs. Makes sense really, it’s where the bands play. Like a nightclub, the ugly lights are off, replaced with a red tinge that makes everyone look angrier than they actually are. The ‘stage’ is at the far end of the upstairs area and I use the term generously. The DJ booth has been shifted into the background (and rightly so) and the bands set up on the floor in front of it. Above them is an army of disco balls. Kitsch at the best of times, their inappropriateness adds to the jovial feel for the evening.

This whole evening is a welcome change for W-town. If anyone walks around the city’s university campus they’ll be continually told by the students how talented they are. It turns out they are really starting to convince the rest of the place. Where the Ox was the only place to see live bands (or get punched, glassed, aids or all of the above) other venues have been slowly establishing regular live music nights. Tonight is Hostage’s turn. Nice one. Way to actually act like a student town, Wollongong.

Upon reaching the top of the stairs I’m greeted by the backs of heads from my friends. Donkey, my housemate is there. Byron, his equally metallic comrade sits next to him. Across from them is the newly moustached Karl. He looks like Zorro, if Zorro was 17. Together they’re all playing with sheets of white paper and staples. The sight of all three of them reliving pre-school’s art and craft time in Wollongong’s untrendiest of night clubs (oh wait, there’s always Blue Note) is equal parts perplexing as it is hilarious. Before I sit down I’m greeted by Andrew. He models his hair on a young Nick Cave but has a politeness that would make any finishing school teacher blush. We play catch up on recent events. We’ve both taken to twitter and often converse through that medium, but for tonight it’s a pleasure employing a discourse of more than 140 characters.

Part of tonight’s cover charge includes a free drink. It’s one way to beat a headache, so I oblige myself a cold, refreshing and what should have been an anonymous beer. Tonight’s bar girl is blonde and cute; the staples of every drinks attendant in town. I avoid the usual banter when I ask for a VB; blah blah blah, the very best etc. She feigns disappointment when revealing that they’re out of that heavenly brew. Instead I get a Carlton Draught, served in one of those glasses that’s not quite a schooner. They’re perfect for trendy bars that love to fool people with bigger arms than brains to pay more for less. This just became my first and last beer of the night.

It’s fortunate though, the band is ready to play. Karl is walking around in a suit of armour made of sheets of paper and the sweat of my colleagues. He adjusts his A4 paper tail and sits on his drum throne. After a few adjustments, air from the speakers is circulated around the room in a cacophonous melee of punk rock. The stage lights never go on. There’s no real stage, and no one seemed to organise the lights. For Run on Mum, the curiously titled band, hiding out in the darkness seems part of their act.

The songs are over as quickly as they begin. “Thanks, we’re Paramore,” says Nathan, the band’s guitar player, at the end of a song. For years we caught the same school bus, but never spoke. He looks exactly the same as he did back in school, it’s a wonder he is allowed into most establishments. I’ve never seen Karl play drums before this gig, instead I had listened to him talk about them for an innumerable amount of hours. For all of his talk of drums he has put just as many hours behind the kit. The band resumes playing their songs. The sound guy seems to be having a torrid time mixing the band. He is standing behind them and has no real indication of how they sound to the audience. Regardless of the mix, it’s obvious they’re part punk, part comedy act. It’s unfortunate that the lyrics are veiled behind layers of distortion; I can only assume they’re funny. I laugh anyway.

Things are going well for the band and people are trickling through the door. I’m not the only one laughing, though I am the only one standing at the back. Most of the crowd remain seated for the set and it begins to make sense why. Mid song, Joe, the singer, stops and mentions a letter he received about how to re pot a plant. What? Re pot a plant? The silence continues, Joe removes his guitar and shuffles to the front of the audience. Two pots (one with a plant) and a bag of potting mix are revealed to the audience with the requisite safety information about terrorists and illness. The only people behind me are the club’s staff and owners. They look perplexed. For all their faults, the rat tails & tracksuit types certainly don’t do this. In his own words, Joe gently “massages the pot”, loosening the plants roots and gently removes the shrub from its plastic home. He reseats it in the new pot, leaving behind a receptacle full of dead roots and soil bereft of nutrients. Half of the room chuckles, the rest scratch their proverbial heads. Before the moment sinks in, the room is full of power chords and rapid drum fills. Brenna joined me in the middle of the demonstration. She’s meant to be working on the door, but having organised the night she retires to watch the bands play. She gets the humour, but more importantly for her, she has gotten people in the door. She orders a celebratory girly cocktail. It smells amazing, but it tastes like any other innominate form of sugar, water and alcohol.

An attempt at diversity is made when Nathan and Joe play an acoustic song. Joe ditches his paper suit; it looks like his shirt has a picture of Woody Allen on it. The lyrics seem to be about that said filmmaker and his peculiar love-life. It might have been all of the previous distortion, but I think they’ve already played this song, though much faster and louder. Nevermind, I have completely forgotten I’m in Hostage X and immediately start to feel better. Byron, being Byron has enjoyed a few drinks. He has spoken up and the band dedicates a song to him, simultaneously inviting people to dance. There’s a guitar lick that sounds familiar, but Nathan announced that they wrote this song 10 years earlier. I believe him, I was there on the school bus, and they’ve been friends for a while. When the whole band joins in on the song it becomes abundantly clear they’re covering ‘Freestyler’ by the Bomfunk MCs. The laughter is met with enthusiasm. Byron dances, people join in. Some creative arts students doing performance also get up and dance. It’s hard to tell if they’re enjoying themselves or just being ironic. Regardless, it’s a sight to behold. The hostage dance floor is once again, a sausage fest.

More songs are played. Nathan lies again and a lot, “thanks, we’re Third Eye Blind”, “Thanks we’re Order 66”. I’m pretty sure I’m hearing the same song again. Either that or they are really taking the punk rock approach of making everything sound the same very seriously.

The lighting improves in time for the band to finish. I swear I’ve heard this same song again, about 30 seconds ago this time. The room has gotten much busier, but my friends begin a slow exodus out the door. Shame really, I had seen half of Order 66 play the night before and was looking forward to them. After a quick turnover, their set began. Pembo pulled a double shift, playing with both bands. Brenna said he’s cute. That cocktail must have been strong.

The band is tighter than half of the jeans worn by Wollongong’s hipsters tonight. Brenna and I sit down to watch them, chuckling at the dancing of one girl in particular. She’s not out of time, but she moves around the floor like a fish out of water, flopping and fitting all over the place. I get a tap on the shoulder from Karl; he needs help packing up his drum kit. For the next 15 minutes we make trips up and down the stairs, lugging around cymbals, toms and other drum paraphernalia. We’re both little guys so it takes a few more trips than any other band in town. Throughout the packing up experience we move between the dancers, trying not to get wiped-out by flailing limbs. It’s a success, and Karl even makes acquaintances with the nightclub’s owner. He seems generally interested in hearing what we think, politeness ensues and once I’ve seen Karl off I head back upstairs.

Order 66 are running out of songs to play, but the dancing hilarity doesn’t look like stopping. The lead singer even takes part, maximising the dance floor’s potential. He is like a kid with a toy guitar, climbing objects around the club before getting down on his knees as the unco dancers parade around him. It’s all good fun and not seen at many other venues. Brenna and I sit down and do our best to talk, forgetting that there’s a concert going on. She tells me about the stamp she made and her ideas for other bands. We’re immediately distracted when the band switch drummers and start playing some cover songs. I often feel like I’m one of the 5 people in the world who still like Weezer, so I’m more than happy to hear El Scorcho. Likewise, I am chuffed to hear the old Ghostbusters theme song played. It’s a an odd, yet somewhat appropriate way to end the night, summarising that by not taking itself seriously, live music at Hostage seems to work.

As I’m about to leave I head downstairs, where it now looks like a completely different place. There are people about, music playing and drinks being poured. However, Hostage has regenerated itself back to its usual self – half full, average tunes and annoying lights. It’s not even midnight, but that’s enough for me. If the place had more patrons it would be like every other club on a Thursday night. Once the band’s finished there seems little reason to stick around. Besides, there is an overdue paracetamol and more world cup games to watch waiting for me at home. The drive home takes me through Keira St, where the lines for The Illawarra and 151 are still extraordinarily long and comparable to this prolix. There could be more people waiting to get in than there actually is inside the clubs. For all of its merits, live music still can’t attract a crowd that compares to someone in headphones spinning tunes that aren’t their own, though I think most patrons take their leads from where the pretty girls go to drink. It’s a shame really; people would rather spend an hour in freezing climes, waiting in line than see some bands. Maybe this place isn’t getting any better.