Updated: Aug 8, 2019
Ladies and gentleman, I bring you another tale from our favourite Brisbane Gig rat. Quintin Low..
The Wasted Weekender
Sixteen years ago now, the Brisbane Festival Hall, a venue which graced the likes of acts such as ACDC, Fugazi and Nirvana, closed its doors for the last time. Like all good buildings in this country, it was promptly demolished and replaced by apartments which are currently almost exclusively occupied by rich Chinese people. My mates have also rented those apartments once in a while to do things in them that the owners would probably not approve of, but that’s beside the point.
With the explosion of new talent in the Brisbane music scene recently, it’s only appropriate that the Valley gets to grace a new venue that succeeds the spirit of the old. On the 26th of July 2019, the Fortitude Valley Musical Hall opened its doors for the first time to a sold-out crowd and I was very privileged to be able to attend both nights of its opening weekend. And while it wasn’t a perfect weekend, I can assure you all that it did encapsulate the essence of what makes this city great.
Night 1: The Grand Opening (Tia Gostelow, DZ Deathrays, Ball Park Music and Special Guests)
With a capacity of three thousand or so and a construction time of over a year, I was expecting something really special of the Music Hall and damn did it deliver. There are four bars, two floors, two stages and enough bathrooms to not result in a mile-long line even during a sold-out show. The entire place has a very swanky, 1930’s aesthetic to it and it's clear that a lot of thought was put into its design, which is hardly surprising considering John Collins (formerly of Powderfinger), who currently runs the Triffid, is part of the team behind it.
Like the nearby Tivoli, the upstairs is a balcony area while the bottom floor is just below stage level and where all the real action happens. Tonight, the upstairs is VIP only, so general admission peasants such as me are relegated to the ground floor. My mates in Pandamic happened to make the VIP list however and they were getting free drinks and food up there while I’m paying nine bucks for a basic beer all night. Oh, the injustice…
Starting off the night and what’ll hopefully be a history of amazing performances at the Hall is Tia Gostelow, a Mackay singer-songwriter whose music falls somewhere between indie and folk-rock. Her songs are fairly slow and have this ethereal quality to them which gives her plenty of opportunities to show off her voice, which is amazingly powerful and easily carries itself across the cavernous space that is the Music Hall. She invites Thelma Plum to the stage for a rendition of Thelma’s song ‘Around Here’ at one point and closes off her set with her breakout hit ‘Strangers’, with Sam McCormack from Ball Park Music taking over Lanks’s verse on the track.
But all of that wasn’t hugely surprising to me.
What was surprising to me was when she brought out blues and roots duo Busby Marou to deliver an acoustic rendition of ‘Fur Eyes’, originally by Violent Soho. Up there on the balcony, I spot both Luke’s from the band but as for their opinion on it I don’t get a chance to ask, even as Luke Henery rocks up to have a midnight snack at the same place I’m at later on. I joke to my mates that it’s the closest we’ll get to hearing Violent Soho live for a while longer ha-ha. It’s definitely not the first live Soho cover in recent months to elicit that sort of response either.
Next up are the act that I came to see tonight; Brisbane’s notoriously hard-touring and hard-partying dance-punk trio DZ Deathrays. They celebrated their decade-long grind to Australian rock royalty last year and since then it’s only been up and up for them. This is probably a good time to disclaim that I’m very biased about DZ because I have my own ties to them, which is going to colour a lot of what I’m about to say.
The boys play a flurry of ferocious hits including ‘Gina Works At Hearts’, ‘Like People’ and ‘Shred for Summer’. Mid-way through the set, Jeremy Neale joins them on stage for ‘Year Of The Dog’, delivering some impressively hoarse vocals in place of Matt Caughthran’s. Shane mentions that the song goes out everyone who’s ever been dogged before and it’s ironic he says that because DZ are being dogged right fucking now. The crowd tonight is atrociously bad for people seeing a band of their calibre.
Those in the VIP section, excluding my mates up there, of course, are mostly industry bigwigs and have the fucking gall to sit down during DZ. Most of the crowd on the ground floor too, are definitely not the type of people who are used to the wild, sweaty moshes like the one that all the hardcore DZ fans are starting right in front of them. Aside from us in the pit, everyone else is comically still and shying away from us in what seems like fear during the set. DZ are absolutely on fire tonight and the fans are out in force trying to match their energy with the space they’ve cleared but there’s only so far someone can crowd surf when most of the crowd are actively trying to avoid supporting them.
My mate controversially proclaims that without those of us there in the pit, DZ would have walked. While I can’t say that he’s right, I’m not gonna say he’s wrong either ha-ha. Despite the less than great overall crowd reaction, us fans soldier on and so do DZ, who launch into a cover of ‘Twist and Shout’ by the Beatles with Jeremy afterwards as well. They close off their set by inviting Bernard Fanning and Ian Haug as well as Sahara Beck to play one of Powderfinger's classics ‘(Baby I've Got You) On My Mind’ which at the very least gets the crowd moving a little more, although still not nearly as much as one would expect when a Powderfinger song is performed live with not one but two of its former members.
Closing out the night are Brisbane indie-rock titans, Ball Park Music, who’ve also been doing this for over ten years now, as their frontman, Sam McCormack proudly proclaims to the crowd when he mentions that they used to play at Ric’s Bar (a local dive) right across the pedestrian Brunswick Street. They play a veritable motley of songs across their eleven-year career, such as the creatively named tracks ‘Nihilist Party Anthem’ and ‘Everything Is Shit Except My Friendship With You’. Their music is fairly heavy on synths and defined primarily by the melodic harmonies of Sam and their bassist Jen Boyce who have great vocal chemistry together. They slot in a Custard cover with David McCormack joining them on stage, as well as a Grates cover with Patience Hodgson at separate points. Ball Park close off their set with ‘Hands Off My Body’ before leaving the stage, all the while proclaiming that we were all part of music history tonight.
Alright, I’d like to preface this by stating that I’m in no way dissing Ball Park when I say what I’m about to say. But it was only during this set that the people on the balcony all stand up and most of the crowd on the ground floor start dancing like a bunch of dorky teenagers. It’s peculiarly hilarious to me to see all these greying, middle-aged corporate types get their groove on with each other while trying not to spill their drinks which they consume with much grimacing and a level of slowness that’s excruciating to witness. Even many of the older people here who are involved in the arts look like a bunch of fucking beatniks and I can’t say I approve of seeing them generally.
It’s at this point that the gig ends and my mates who were upstairs tried and fail to sneak me into the VIP area but I stick around that I ended up getting to rub shoulders with those who I wanted to meet upstairs afterwards, but that’s an entirely different story. I still get home feeling fairly drunk and beat to hell like usual but a part of me remains disappointed that things didn’t go off even nearly as much as they could have, but I don’t let that phase me. Hell, even my mates point out that I kept referring to tonight as ‘Night One’.
That’s because I knew in my heart that it was merely a prelude to the insanity of Night Two…
Night Two: Skegss, Totty, and Mini Skirt
There were too many soft cunts around at the Grand Opening for my taste so it was with Skegss that I reckon the party really started. Both floors were fully open to all three thousand or so of us this time around, including the likes of many young groms because the show was all ages as well. Already when I entered the hall, I could feel this powerfully refreshing energy about the place which far exceeded even the feeling of surprise I felt last night as I explored the new venue.
Skegss are a band I’ve been following for a while now and once again I do have ties to them, so yeah another disclaimer there. I had to sit out their last few shows due to real-life getting in the way, but it’s with this show that I get to make my return to the sweaty, thrashing moshes that their shows are notorious for. For a band that plays jangly, mid-tempo, surf punk that has a strong emphasis on poppy hooks and melody rather than anything that’s conducive to moshing, the fans go absolutely fucking hog wild for it live.
After a quick intro by Aaron Gocs, Mini Skirt are the ones to kick off the night. They’re Byron Bay four-piece punk outfit who take a choppy, raw, old-school Australiana approach to the genre. I’m up on the balcony to shoot a few vids and already I can see the surge of young punters towards the front as the band launch into one after another of powerfully politically yet also amazingly vulgar songs which rail against the prejudices of modern Australia. They do it in a way that just sort of punches you in the face with it rather than relying on any sort of metaphor, which I find refreshing, to say the least. They definitely didn’t come just to fuck around despite their devil may care attitudes on stage.
Afterwards, our MC for the night Gocsy returns to do his stand-up routine. I’ve seen him make the same jokes before when he opened for Violent Soho years ago, so to me the punchlines are fairly predictable but some of the parents in the crowd I reckon probably had a laugh when he talked about fatherhood. Previous crowds on this tour were apparently shitheads to him but there’s nothing of that sort tonight. Everyone is respectful to him even if his purposefully soft-spoken delivery makes his jokes lose their punch when you can’t hear him half the time over the crowd chatter.
Afterwards, it’s Totty time and they start things off by launching into their first two singles ‘SIGH’ and ‘RIFF’ to the absolute delight of the crowd. It gives me mad flashbacks to two years ago when I originally heard these songs live as they opened for Ruby Fields’s first Brisbane headline show. Speaking of Ruby, I later bumped into her in the crowd but she’s not playing tonight so let’s get back to talking about the music. Totty are a three-piece, 90’s influenced shed rock band from Wollongong. They’re fronted by Kelly Jansch, who’s probably Australia’s biggest dog lover, hence the name of the band. She’s quite self-deprecating about it, but her vocals are definitely the highlight of their music and can be heard clearly even from outside the Hall that night. Totty have a bit of a shorter set, managing to fit in most of their songs while they’re at it, closing things off with ‘Lucky’ which has been making the rounds on the J’s lately.
It’s only a short while later when Skegss walk onto the stage before very quickly launching into ‘Spring Has Sprung’ and causing the crowd to rush ahead once again in a great raging torrent of bodies and (mostly) teenage angst. This time, I’m there at ground zero as circle pits start forming around me and the rest of us are pressed against each other like sweaty sardines. There are so many young kids here right now, and no I don’t mean mere sixteen-year-olds, plenty are much younger than that and almost all look like they haven’t been in a pit before. The underage Skegss fanbase has gotten a bit of a bad rep recently and for good reason judging from some of the stories I’ve heard, but tonight they’re all quick to tire themselves out and leave the pit, which gives the rest of us some more space to move about very quickly, although it’s still terribly sweaty.
Yeah, some of them need to put their shirts back on. Yeah, almost all of them need to put on some deodorant before they go out. Yes, a lot of them are smoking shitty weed in the middle of the pit. And yeah, there are probably a few of them out there who need to be taught a swift lesson to keep their hands to themselves. But none of that wouldn’t happen in a pit full of adults either and that’s enough that I don’t mind any of their misbehaviour any more than I usually would a punter my age doing the same. But enough about the crowd.
Skegss play a great show and never seem to lose any of their energy and grunt throughout the set. They pace themselves well, mixing high energy tunes with slower, spacier songs and this works out in their favour. Yes, it’s true, their songwriting is as basic as it gets. But keeping it simple also works out in their favour too. Their songs don’t lose any of their depth when played live and you can hear everything perfectly and learn many of the lyrics as you go along if you’re not familiar with their older stuff. They play all the hits tonight as well, including the My Own Mess singles ‘Up In The Clouds’ and ‘Smogged Out’, their cover of ‘Here Comes Your Man, as well as ‘LSD’ and ‘New York California’, two songs which basically made them due to their potent singalong potential.
Both Aaron Gocs and Benny crowd surf during ‘New York California’ and we keep them up while BC from Dune Rats takes Benny’s guitar and busts out a predictably substandard guitar solo which he’s been doing more and more often these days to hype up the crowd. Toby keeps trying to get us all to sit down so we can launch back up when they kick into the final chorus but there’s honestly no space for it. By the end of the set, both I and my mates are absolutely drenched in sweat and I pack it in pretty quickly afterwards. When I get home, my entire outfit needs to go in the wash almost immediately but mercifully it’s all black so none of the stains will show anyways ha-ha.
Aftermath and some final thoughts
It’s been a while since I’ve been in a shitfest mosh like Skegss and the next morning I’m definitely paying for it. I took so many blows to places I would’ve preferred not to and my hangover is ever-present. Hell, the only thing which kept me at the front of the mosh last night was the need to not be outdone by all these little cunts who were younger than me. As much as people complain about them though, I’m so glad that the kids still are out here listening to loud rock music and cutting their teeth on the same things that have made my own life so great so far. You need to live it up when you’re young and have some fun because it’s only downhill from here and at the very least, everyone got some exercise in that pit last night ha-ha.
As for the Grand Opening, while it was still fun, I’m still terribly fucking annoyed over how poor the crowd was and putting them on blast in this article has only alleviated some of that. I realise now that only a full reunion of Powderfinger would’ve gotten any of them moving at all, considering they were still pitifully still when two of the members were on stage performing one of their biggest hits. The worst part about it is that the most hardcore crowd I’ve ever seen was composed of people who were even older. When the Cosmic Psycho’s play, it’s suddenly the seventies again for every old school punk there, regardless of whether they stayed hard or settled down. For one glorious hour, everyone’s a young dumb kid again and none of them seem to care that they’ll be feeling it for days afterwards. No such luck here however and that’s a fucking shame I’ll tell ya that.
But that’s not the venue’s fault nor is it that of the bands either. Everyone on stage both nights delivered some amazing performances and the Hall itself will hopefully be the site of many more in the coming years. So yeah, that was my wasted weekender in Fortitude Valley and even though I’m still recovering from it, it’s my goal right now to do it all again. It’s just a matter of time for me.
Photography by Will Johnstone
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