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Out on The Weekend – Melbourne

I booked my flights and accommodation to go to this new festival back in July when it was first announced.  A bit of an impulse buy ’tis true but I loved the line up and consider it my contribution to supporting a new Americana fest. I did make the promise, since I spent all this cash going south,  not to see any of the individual artists when they did Sydney shows, which somehow I stuck to –  even missing Justin Townes Earle for the first time of all his shows in my city since his incendiary, legendary first show at the Annandale in 2008 (I can’t believe that was SIX YEARS AGO. ugh @ my archives being offline otherwise I’d link to my report of that night.) Well, I stuck to it until AFTER Out on the Weekend – the week following I went to the Delines and Nikki Lane at Newtown Social Club but I still think I can declare my vow kept.

So anyway. OUT ON THE WEEKEND.

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It was held in Williamstown in a complex of former ship repair sheds sitting right on the water.  Walking from the train station to the main drag and my hotel and back to the venue I passed a lot of lovely little workers’ cottages and bungalows that I imagine now each cost about the same amount that Australia’s committed to fighting ebola.  The venue itself Seaworks is, as I said right on the water, with steel tracks leadings straight into the water from the courtyard with all the food trucks. Once vessels were drawn up here from the bay for repairs.  As some will know I have a professional interest in these matters so it was fascinating for an acquaintance to point to me out the maritime history of the area. Over there is the naval shipyards, over here is where they tried to get the scabs onto East Swanson Dock in ’98.    The Sea Shepherd anti-whaling vessel Steve Irwin, bristling with satellitessat berthed right in front of the central courtyard and entry.

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Stage 1 was in the main warehouse and at a right angle was Stage 2, a smaller half shed. With the alternating programme there was very little bleed of music from the bigger to the smaller, only a bit of sound checking occasionally.  My only complaint about the whole event was that Stage 2 was a bit small. Especially later in the afternoon when numbers hit a peak it was hard to get close and you had to stand out in the courtyard where it was easy to get distracted by the conversations and food trucks.

The first group of the day at 11.30 was Sydney’s The Morrisons who’ve I’ve seen many times and I think they well and truly converted the Melbourne uninitiated. They got a great reception except when lead singer James said “we are from the inner west of Sydney” and I was the only one to woo-hoo! Inner west of Sydney REPRESENT! They do a great ‘Rock, Salt and Nails’ -I  think more Steve Young songs is really something the Australia alt.country scene could really use (I will pay good money for someone to do “All Her Lovers Want to be The Hero”).

Next up was Raised by Eagles, a Melbourne band rocking a nice 70s country rock sound- unfamiliar to me but who have a VERY dedicated following down on the Athens on the Yarra it seems. There was a song that mentioned something about ‘waving a white flag’ in the chorus and at the first mention of cue a bunch in front of me all started waving handkerchiefs over their head. Audience interaction FTW.

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I left them a little early to hustle back over the Stage 2 for Emma Swift, who is going from strength to strength and despite being Sydney-based I’m sure has a certain profile in Melbourne from a recent ARIA nomination and hosting Double J’s Revelator.  She also won over everyone there with the great set combining basically all the strands of music championed by Out on the Weekend.   I think I’ve seen most of Emma’s configurations, from the 49 Goodbyes days to solo and various guests sitting ins and sidefolk but this was her first full band show.  The line up is a big success going from unobtrusively supporting the quieter numbers to really building up for other tracks, particularly on the country-rockier songs like ‘Willin” and “A Shot in the Arm” which require a bigger sound from the band – which they did so without overwhelming the vocals.

When people asked me – as people did – who I came all the way to Melbourne to see this festival I’d tell the truth: all of the acts. But obviously I love JTE above most, BUT ALSO Lindi Ortega. Unlike JTE who I read in an interview recently say until the last year Australia was his best market, Lindi is not so well known – but surely that changes after this tour.  I bought her first album Little Red Boots years ago and put in on my Flop Eared Mule end of year favourites (proof of this is offline alas, if you know any folks who can get Movable Type archives online painlessly for me please let me know. Paid of course) and saw her on her first tour in April, at the Brighton Up Bar on Oxford St.

Autographed Lindi CD from April gig

Autographed Lindi CD from April gig

I am all about Lindi Ortega right now and I tell everyone I can about her. Her subsequent records are better than her first (which is very good) and her songwriting and co-songwriting is second to none amongst every one I know coming up.   I can listen to “Hard as This”  and “Lived and Died Alone” over and over for hours on end.   She has a very distinctive look, such that you might suspect she has A LOOK and is skating by on that. But she also has the songwriting, the singing and the sheer presence onstage to dispel that quick smart. So anyway who asked I told them about Lindi and made sure I got up the front for her.  She had a sideman (her previous tour here was solo) which added a depth to the music (although she is a fine solo guitarist) and allowed her to get away from the centre mic for some songs.  I think she converted the whole barn.

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I did not get to see – to my satisfaction- Nikki Lane and the Delines because I was socialising with people in the beautiful weather.  Damn you beautiful weather!!  That’s why I went to see them at the Newtown S0cial Club back in Sydney the week after.   I started this blog in 2004 (so sometimes I feel old with all this talk about  “a new americana scene” but anyway before 2007 or so are here, minus the comments which I inadvertently nuked in  an “upgrade”. 2007-2013 is offline, NB: if you know anyone who can wrangle Movable Type archives please get in touch as I’d like to get them back online. A paid gig naturally.)  even thought a large part of the archives are offline for now

and so for 10 years I’ve had the same philosophy: I don’t care about music I don’t like,  I only have an impulse to talk about music I like.

You will find in 10 years of archives very precious little which is critical. I like to promote music. If I don’t like it, I simply say nothing and let other people promote it.  But I guess I have to say about the Delines: I tried.  James Bradley, great Australian novelist (BUY HIS NEW BOOK) loves this album and kept mentioning it so I kept listening to it but … nothing about it attached itself to me. I wanted to give them a listen live at Out on the Weekend but they were in the smaller stage area and I couldn’t get close enough to appreciate their intimate kind of music.  I gave them a close intense listen at the Newtown Social Club and while every individual was charming AND THEY HAD A TRUMPET and you know I am an absolute advocate of trumpets and all brass instruments in popular music — I also just didn’t get it live.

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I just thought, this is fine but where are the melodies?   HOWEVER lots of people love their record so you should definitely buy it.  I mean intellectually I think they are great and have no difficultly understanding people love them. I just don’t. So I hate to say that but since I tweeted so much I was at the gig I thought I had to mention it.

Anyhoo.  Opening for the night was Ruby Boots. I’d never heard of Ruby Boots until recently when Ruby Boots was suddenly everywhere in my mentions on Sydney/Australia Americana Twitter.  She was terrific and lived up to the hype.  I really enjoyed her set of originals and when she said she was going to do for a last song her favourite Leonard Cohen song, my heart sank because you know me if you read this blog, I adore and worship LC and simply do not care for any covers … well, she did Chelsea Hotel #2 and … I thought it was quite good.  I thought she brought a really human emotion to it which was different from the original but also actually worked.   I really look forward to seeing more from Ruby Boots.

Nikki Lane is great.  I mean, she comes out and her first song is “Waymore’s Blues”.   And does it well.  That earns some respect straight off.

Here is a video of Nikki Lane doing that song

So she is great, straddling a Nashville and a Non-Nashville tradition and she really brought that little room in Newtown alive.  I had a French lesson at 6am so I left a bit early and missed a duet with Emma Swift, which I guess I will regret that to my dying day.

So back to Out on the Weekend in Melbourne.

Robert Ellis is someone else I’ve been following from his first album and I was glad to be up front except the sound wasn’t great there.  He has the voice of George Jones with the cultural awareness of Buzzfeed and I was kind of shaking to be that close.  When I first got his album he had very long hair and now he’s cut it and I know I walked by him in his Miller Draught jumper and didn’t recognise him.  That haunted me the rest of the day.

The limits of Stage 2 (my only criticism, as I said above) are displayed when Ryan Bingham is on.   There is just not enough room, and people who are forced to spill out into the quadrangle are going to get distracted no matter how good the act is.  Having said that, Ryan and his band was incredible and could have easily filled and satisfied the main shed.  Lower profile (at least in my world) it seems to me Ryan is on the same journey as Justin Townes Earle in trying out different personas.   His heavy country rock band is HOT – not really playing to the Crazy Heart aficionados (guilty, moi)  but sending the crowd wild repeatedly and I’m sure a lot a lot of them had never heard of him so count that as a big net positive.

Justin Townes Earle, the headliner. I saw Justin’s first ever show in Sydney in the tiny room at the Annandale and encouraged numerous people to come along for some ridiculously small sum ($20?), all of whom subsequently became devoted fans. It’s probably my proudest moment as a human being, I love being the reason other people find music to love.

The first times we saw him he was solo, and he prowled the stage. He owned the stage, a combination of Johnny Cash and Martin Landau, with a bit of Mance Lipscombe and Lefty Frizzell thrown in.

He’s grown since them, gotten older, matured, been through a lot.   And while his first album is actually still my favourite – not the least because of the truly electric current of excitement I felt when first hearing it, this guy is the real deal – I’m prepared to follow him anywhere because as artist I sense/trust he’s going interesting places.

I lost the review (archives, can anyone help?) but I still have the video from November 2008 with him stalking around the stage :

It true as in Bernard Zuel’s review in the Herald – JTE is more subdued and I don’t blame anyone who seeing both of them in 2014 totally cold went for Lindi over JTE.   Earlier, his presence owned the stage.  You know he has hammers tattooed on his thumb because Guy Clarke on seeing him play as a kid said he had hammers for thumbs.  Partially its the fact he’s older, been through his addiction thing, he’s married and the songs are more introspective but there’s also the fact he has a band now.  In the past here, as a solo act he had to control the stage by himself – which he can do with ease.     In the past he was able to stalk around, hammering his solo guitar for everything it was worth as the only person on stage. Now, he has other band members to do that ………

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….. which means he’s more attached to the centre mic ‘cos some one else is doing all the lead guitar work. It’s not all up to him. At Out on the Weekend it was a great JTE show, including a solo “To Lie’s To Fly” which was heartbreaking.    So yes with a band he’s more static on stage and yes it doesn’t feel the same as being in that little room at the old Annandale. But JTE is a real artist in my book, and wherever he goes you are going to want to follow – for decades.  He’s already in my book which include Dylan, Cohen, Mary Gauthier, Lucinda, Zachary Richard, Tom Russell, Chris Smither (and more) : people whose records I buy sound unheard because I trust the personal artistry and I have a personal story with each.

Probably this sounds like I don’t like this new stuff but it’s not true.  There’s an awful lot there to like.  But my main interest in JTE, as it is with all my favourite musicians, is a journey with each album as something we share along the way.

Out on the Weekend was a highly successful festival.  It seemed packed – with a lot of children; gen x with kids is an emerging market I’m sure!! – and had a very friendly atmosphere.  They did one in Brisbane … I sincerely hope they do it in Sydney next year!

 

 

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