Tuesday, October 2, 2007

Pikelet, Small Knives and The City on Film at the Northcote Social Club, 26-08-07

Bob and Megan and I are driving over to the Social in my parents' car. We're listening to Jawbreaker, and when the conversation drops Bob sings along. I tell him the rumour Sarah K told me about Dear You: that it was written entirely after Blake Schwartzenbach was left at the alter, and that afterwards he was so shattered that he a) gave up on his punk rock values and signed to Geffen, and b) wrote an album which is perhaps to spite what Sartre's Nausea is to, well, feeling a bit crook. Bob tells me that in everything he has ever heard about Jawbreaker he's never heard the story. Given he's been around the scene a lot longer than I have – and played a slightly more central part – I'm prepared to believe him over a rumour I heard in a Montreal kitchen. We find a park around the back and head inside.

No one is there yet so we rock up to the bar. It's Hirdy and Sheeds' last game in Melbourne tonight, and I'm kinda hoping that the Social have it on their big screen. Instead they're showing the latest gardening show with Jamie Durie. I start to make my excuses – the Peacock Hotel up the road will be screening it, for sure. Bob is interested in coming, but has to stick around and have serious talks with Tara and Tom. He seems slightly disappointed – turns out he's a big fan of American football (the sport, not the band. Well, perhaps the band too. I didn't ask), to the point of having his own fantasy football team (I forget to ask if they're called 'the Braids'). Given, though, that he doesn't have the 27 years of emotional connection with Sheeds that I have, I understand his choice, and head up there alone. Where I see them get flogged.

When I get back Evelyn / Pikelet is setting up. I notice that no one is sitting at the merch desk, and take the opportunity to snaffle the only seat in the entire room. I'll have to sell shirts all night as a result, but that's barely work, and besides, it's nice to have a job. Eventually Harriet rocks up. She's been at the game with her parents. She tells me that her mum cried. We console each other with the Minton vegan mint slices she has in her bag. Apparently I need a lot more consoling than she does.

I have a problem with two of the bands on the list tonight: they're not really bands. Both City on Film and Pikelet are solo acts. And I know both of their real names. So what do I call them? At what point does the performer become the person? Is the stage name the name of the performance, rather than any particular entity? When I say, "Pikelet was really good tonight," and follow it up with, "she's really developed her sound over the past year," (both true) does the pronoun refer to Pikelet or Evelyn? Is it possible for a performance itself to develop a sound? I'm so confused. If anyone can straighten this out for me, the way Rina straightened out the whole surnames issue, just leave a comment below. Especially if you are Evelyn or Bob.

Nomenclative issues aside, Pikelet is really good tonight. She's really developed her sound. When I first saw her about a year ago there was a lot of space in the music – it was almost sparse in parts. But now, with a bit of help from the samples and loops she creates on the spot, the sound has really filled out. It's important – the Social band room is big, and she's only one person. A solo act has a lot of work to do in order to fill the space, and she does the job well. She also plays her guitar a lot more these days, which is a good thing. I mean, she plays drums in True Radical Miracle, and bass in Baseball, so really, it's nice for her to get a chance to be a guitarist as well.

Sometime during her set pretty much the entire Melbourne Emo Mafia circa 1999 roll up. I was overseas at the time, and it's Natalie Ann who alerts me to their presence, but I recognise a bunch of the faces: Bloom, Kieran, that Amanda girl who actually came to a party in at my parents' house in Stawell once with Corey Delley (who is conspicuous in his absence), but who I'm too awkward and shy and perhaps self-conscious about the image I used to project to approach. Kieran asks me after Pikelet's set if it's okay to request Braid songs when City on Film are playing. I tell him that Bob's been playing a few of the old songs throughout the tour, but really, I'm more excited about the Tom Waits cover he'd played at Deago studios the night before.

Between sets a couple of randoms come up to buy shirts. I've sold three by the time CoF starts, and sell another during the first song. It's a weird phenomenon. I mean, he might suck! He might say horrible racist things during his set (I'm talking about you, Sensefield)! I'd feel strange about handing over my fifteen bucks before I know for sure.

Small Knives play next, and they're really, really pleasant. Despite giving the appearance of being totally fucking hardcore, I'm a bit of a sucker for the quiet acoustic types - my favourite Springsteen album is Nebraska, and my favourite Against Me album is the acoustic EP. Small Knives hit this nail square on the head. Two blokes up on stage, sometimes two guitars, sometimes guitar and organ, sometimes one singing, sometimes both. They don't sell any CDs, but I like them a lot.

City on Film is up next. He sets his own sampler off and launches into the first song. He doesn't say any horrible racist things, and he doesn't suck. He is, however, a lot looser tonight, and apparently looser still than at the Canberra show, where he was forced to take a Breathalyser before playing. It's a good thing. Though he doesn't talk to the crowd until after the first couple of songs, he's moving around, stamping his foot and shaking his head. The music is indie-rock gone acoustic, occasionally sounding a bit like Joan of Arc, but not much. He has a problem with the sampler and decides it's better to talk to us instead. We're all grateful. I mean, the guy is funny. He's rolling his Coopers around the stage, talking about Drop Bears, making fun of how we say his name. It's awesome.

I suggest to Tara and Harriet the next day that there's pressure on solo acts to be funny and witty and charming, as if the songs themselves aren't enough. They don't agree, but really, it's rare that I'll go away from a solo show thinking just about the songs themselves. When it's only one person on stage the banter matters, the stories matter. You have to create an atmosphere of familiarity, of intimacy, and not much does this as well as cracking someone up.

And yeah, Bob does this well. After he plays a Magnetic Fields cover he challenges the audience to name the band. A guy up the back does and Bob offers him a free CD. The guy declines and asks for a Braid song instead. Bob looks genuinely apologetic. "Do I want to do it? OK." He admits, "But would I be able to do it? Probably not." He plays "Come On Eileen" instead. Everyone seems satisfied. He plays one encore, then another, then two more when he said he'd only play one. It's the last show of the tour, and you get the impression he doesn't want it to end.

But it does. We pack up, and once everyone has cleared out we head up to the green room. The Social has provided an entire slab of Coopers and a bottle of wine for City on Film, perhaps accustomed to dealing with entire bands rather than solo acts. Bob doesn't seem to mind. He and Megan sit on the couch and quiz us on our understanding of Australian colloquialisms, using the back of their Lonely Planet as their guide. I'm quite offended when Tara, Tom and Harriet all use me as their example when defining 'bogan'. "For Christ's sake!" I cry, "I write fucking poetry!" But I guess love of the Essendon Football Club and a soft spot for Midnight Oil puts me over the edge. Eventually the Social kicks us out. We smuggle the leftover beers in our backpacks and head for the car. Tara and I must have forgotten we don't drink. Those beers are still in our fridge now. Anyone out there like Coopers Green?

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