Booze free for the weekend

This bar is unlicensed
This bar is unlicensed
This bar is unlicensed

Review: Vampire Weekend, Festival Hall, Monday 6 January 2014

We should have known something was wrong from the door bitch. She looked at our tickets, looked at the three grown men waiting impatiently in front of her, then looked back at the tickets with a frown. Just checking that you’re in the right place. Eventually, she shrugged and waved us in. Once inside, Curly looked at us and asked that classic rhetorical question, Beer? Ads and I nodded. Even though he stood less than ten metres from the “bar” Curly asked a security guard for directions. Sorry pal, this is the dry section. He pointed to the ceiling and the three of us looked at the NO PASS OUTS sign and panicked. This is what can happen when pregnant ladies book tickets for a gig.

We made our way to our allocated seats in a daze. I was too bewildered to notice at the time but, in hindsight, it’s amazing how easily you can navigate cramped and crowded aisles when you aren’t balancing three plastic cups overflowing with beer. We sat down and I looked across at the sticky carpets and beer soaked heaving mass just twenty metres away, on the other side of a row of thin medal bars. I’d never been stuck in the unlicensed area of an All Ages gig. How had it come to this?

Curly had called around lunchtime. You heard of Vampire Weekend? he asked. Yep, they’re good, I responded. Just so happens, I’ve picked up a couple of tickets to see them tonight. Want to come? I hesitated. It was a school night, the first Monday of January and I’d decided to try for fewer boozy nights in 2014. Sure, I’m keen. Seeing more live music was my other New Year’s resolution. It turned out that Curly’s pregnant cousin, Ella, had bought three tickets but she’d gone into labour early. Earlier that morning, Ella had given birth to a healthy little boy but obviously she wasn’t going to make the show.

It was a Festival Hall gig with an 8pm start. I naturally assumed that meant: doors open at 8pm, support act at 9pm and Vampire Weekend would hit the stage around 10ish. Curly had managed to rustle up another mate, Ads. The three of us met at a pub, the Hotel Spencer, near the gig at about 8pm. We had a couple of pots before walking down the hill. We got to Festival Hall at 8:40pm making it far and away the earliest I had ever arrived to a gig. Unfortunately, that event had coincided with being stuck smack bang in the middle of the dry section of licensed venue with the band at least an hour off hitting the stage.

Surveying the crowd, I realised that we were surrounded on all sides by kids. Everywhere I looked the oily sheen of prepubescent skin was lit up by the reflected glow mobile phone screens held closely to naïvely optimistic faces. The bitter irony of my situation dawned upon me, I’d been worried about going out on a school night but given the number of fifteen year olds around, I could have been back at high school. I spotted a few other adults scattered amongst a sea of adolescent exuberance, parents chaperoning their children on first dates, pregnant couples and maybe a reformed alcoholic or two.

Determined to make the best of the situation, I tried to identify a weak spot in the barrier that separated the unlicensed and licensed sections in the hope that we could sneak across. Try as I might, I couldn’t see a weakness. It looked fun on the other side of the barrier. Punters laughed, drank and chatted beneath an abundance of signage directing people to a dozen different bars where money could be exchanged for alcohol. It was as if the signs had been strategically placed just to taunt us. My frustration increased when I saw a guy buy soft drink from a licensed bar. Had he no regard for our plight? As far as I could see the only advantage of the unlicensed area was the lack of people waiting to be served at the so-called “bars”. I’m not an alcoholic but I do enjoy a drink. I had a couple of beers under the belt and was keen to enjoy a few more (responsibly of course) while listening to some quality live music.

Thankfully, we had completely misjudged the schedule, the support act (Gang of Youths) had actually played before we arrived so we only had to wait about fifteen minutes before Ezra, Rostam and the two Chris’s hit the stage. The relative lack of alcoholic accompaniment became a distant memory once the music started.

Sitting there and watching, I mean really watching and listening, I noticed details that would have been missed from the middle of a sweaty, booze-fuelled crowd. I laughed during Oxford Comma when a clapstick thrown from the crowd nearly hit Ezra while he sang the line, “Take the chapstick, put it on your lips”. I noticed that there was something painted on a sheet that was thrown on the stage and Erza made a bandana out of. It was the reaction of the kids around us that was the most enlightening. For many, it would have been their first live music experience and they were pumped. I dawned upon me that All Age venues provide the gig going punters of tomorrow access to live music.

The boys from New York City produced a pretty solid set. Laid back melodic ballads such as Step and Obvious Bicycle suited a band whose frontman wears three-quarter length pants, boat shoes and likes singing with one hand planted in his pocket. Cousins, One and A-Punk where highlights. Their high energy percussion heavy tone was complimented by the happy hoping and double denim of bassist Chris Baio.

It wasn’t just gentle swaying and adolescent innocence in the unlicensed section either. Shit was getting loose by the time the encore rolled around. Kids stood on chairs willy-nilly for When Walcott. It looked like security was going to have to start grounding people. The set came to an end at 10:37pm and we made our way onto the street in an orderly fashion while discussing the relative merits of the gig and our seating arrangements. We were sober but had been treated to something different.

The unlicensed section had provided a novel vantage point that had given me a new perspective on the live music experience. I looked at the L-platers that surrounded us in the hope that someone might give us a lift to the pub on their way home.

Furious flight of fancy

Furious Dragon Love harbour ambitions of becoming the greatest rock band the universe has ever known but will anybody ever know who they are?

Columbian Dave and Furious Dragon Love look to get the crowd involved.
Columbian Dave and Furious Dragon Love look to get the crowd involved.

Saturday afternoon and I sit in the Tote public bar with a pot of post-mix raspberry lemonade. Nursing a vicious hangover I wait to interview Ben ‘Cuz’ Cowsens and Jims Ingrams of Melbourne band Furious Dragon Love who just twelve hours before made an innocuous debut in the adStream Battle of the Bands competition held on the Greswin Room stage of St Kilda’s Esplanade Hotel. As the interview had been arranged at the gig a level of trepidation accompanies the wait: there was every chance that any memory of it had been erased from the memory of both boys by some substance or another.

Losing hope I am about to leave when the two wander in like two lost souls in search of a hug. I wave and they stumble over.  “Busy day”, sighs Cowsens.  Asked if they would like a drink Cowsens requests a glass of iced water with a pink umbrella and a squeeze of fresh lime juice and Ingrams demands a shot of tequila with lemon and salt. I note the disappointment on Cowsen’s face upon my return. There is neither lime nor an umbrella in his drink, “Sorry mate, you know the Tote,” I mutter sheepishly. At this point Ingrams looks me in the eye and says, “Jims Ingrams will now demonstrate his skill”. Pouring a large portion of salt onto the back of his hand he takes the tequila in the other. Tequila lick-sip-suck I assume, it’s early in the day but by hey.  Much to my surprise, he proceeds to snort the salt, gulp the shot down, squirt the lemon in his eye and at the top of his lungs shouts, “STUNTMAN!”  I must say I am impressed, now that’s rock and roll. However, it isn’t long before Ingrams begins to look a little queasy.  Making a desperate grab for Cowsens glass of water he merely manages to knock it over onto the table.  “Jims Ingrams will be back in a minute,” he stutters as he stumbles towards the toilet. “Always, trying to show-off” Cowsens says with a shake of his head, “Shall we begin?”

Tit splitn' rock'n'roll : one of Furious Dragon Love’s promotional posters.
Tit splitn’ rock’n’roll : one of Furious Dragon Love’s promotional posters.

The band (or at least some members) seems intent on emulating the stereotypical rock’n’roll lifestyle propagated throughout the 1980’s and 90’s by bands such as Kiss and Motley Crue.  Upon his sheepish return from the a substantial stay in the toilet Ingrams declares, “Basically all Jims Ingrams and Furious Dragon Love want to do is rock out every night and fuck as many chicks as we can.”  This womanising hard living approach is definitely a strong feature of the band’s promotional material. One poster advertising their debut gig contained the tag line, ‘Fire Spittin. Ear splittin. Head kickin. Fight pickin. Whore stickin. Furious Dragon Love.’ Another featured a cropped image of a woman’s bare torso, breasts covered in mud accompanied by the tag line ‘Furious Dragon Love. Tit splittin rock n roll.’

Amidst today’s politically correct landscape many within the industry believe this approach is more likely to prompt disgust and resentment than attract the adulation of the gig-going music buying public. Prominent Australian music producer and staunch feminist Jenna Jameson stated as much, “The rock industry is full of infantile misogynists harbouring unrealistic aspirations for celebrity but I think the tastes of today’s record buying public have matured. Those types of bands (read Furious Dragon Love) don’t have a hope.” Cowsens seems unperturbed by such sentiments, “A comment like could only have come from a tight arsed bitch who hasn’t got on the good foot for a while, if you know what I mean. Give her half an hour of Furious Dragon Love and we’ll sure as hell change her tune. We’ll be the greatest band this universe has seen.” Pressed on whether that is a realistic goal for a band that only plays covers his reply is frank, “Only time will tell. You see, there are all these geezers out there, Franz Ferdinand, the White Stripes and Kings of Leon, and sure they put on a good show and their records have had multinational success but at the end of the day they’re all fuckwits. They aren’t trying to be the biggest act in the universe and that’s where we’re different.”

Ben ‘Cuz’ Cowsens gets the love from long time Furious hanger-on Scott ‘Scooter’ Holland.

This lack of modesty is echoed by Ingrams. Invited to assess the previous nights gig he says, “Jims Ingrams reckons Furious Dragon Love headlined and rocked out. Other than that the whole night was a complete fucking balls up.” I ask him to clarify the last comment but it is Cowsens who chimes in, “The boys have pretty regimented pre-gig routines. Jims and our long-time roadie Scott ‘Scooter’ Holland usually drink a couple of Red Bulls each, do some Charlie and then get stuck into the nude bocce. Columbian Dave and Capital Jay are right into their Connect Four and the Doctor is adamant that he is on the cusp of developing a viable perpetual motion machine. Me, I read, Proust or Tolstoy. Needless to say, we need a fair whack of gear to cater for all of that. We put in a rider request with the adStream organisers but the stupid twats fucked it up. Sent us a carpet bowls set rather than bocce. Jims had a massive freak out, locked himself in the toilet and started eating those yellow urinal cakes from the bottom of the pisser. Luckily Scotty managed to lure him out with a bag of chocolate covered teddy-bear biscuits.”

Ben ‘Cuz’ Cowsens embarks on a trademark solo
Ben ‘Cuz’ Cowsens embarks on a trademark solo

Despite the hiccup there is no denying that the boys from Furious did treat a sweat-soaked, boozed up Espy crowd to a lesson in rock. They teed off with Led Zeppelin’s Rock’n’Roll, followed by Black Sabbath’s Paranoid and an explosive performance of AC/DC’s TNT. A journey into the first file of the punk/pop catalogue the Ramones’ Blitzkrieg Bop delivered a welcome change of vibe. The pace was again quickened by the angry rock optimism of Rose Tattoo’s We can’t be beaten. A fitting end to the show was a classic belting of the Angels’ Am I ever gonna see your face again? The rock world waits with baited breath.

Furious Dragon Love have no concrete plans for forthcoming gigs.

Furious Dragon Love played in the Adstream Bonza Bash at The Espy, Melbourne on 24 November 2006. This is a piece I wrote afterwards.