Monday, February 08, 2010

Porcupine Tree and mini-breaks for over 45's

I've had a wee holiday. A "mini-break", if you will.

It all started yesterday. Sunday 7th February 2010 (and yes... the fact that it was the anniversary of "Black Saturday" does not escape me as I shall never forget the 2009 version of this date for the rest of my days). I left for Melbourne on the bus + train combo we endure just because we live so far from the "suburbs" etc etc (dramatic eye-rolling of course).

The trip was uneventful and restful. I was pretty sleepy for most of it but did manage to get a listen of the new album by Porcupine Tree on the ipod. The music made me smile as always. Dramatic, theatrical, eminently moody and exacting - listening to PT is a surreal experience akin to a joy-soaked bath in healing but ominous looking black mud! I couldn't wait to see them live even though I little knew what to expect other than that their sound seems to thrill me ways I can barely describe.

It was really quite hot when I arrived at Southern Cross Station on the edge of Melbourne CBD. I generally like to walk the CBD, eschewing the fantastic public transport system for "Shanks Pony" because well 1) I need the exercise any chance I get and 2) its faster than waiting around for anything and 3) everything in Melbourne CBD is tucked within a very compact 2.5kms walk from anything else really...give or take a few metres. It only ever takes me approximately 20 minutes to walk to Bourke St. Mall and not much after that to get to where I generally stay on solo trips such as this one, the trust old Victoria Hotel in Lt. Collins St.

Mind you... that last 5 minute crawl up the hill to the doors of The Vic is torturous and will guarantee burning hamstrings and the feeling of blades turned upwards into the soles of ones feet on really warm days - particularly for the grossly unfit and overweight such as myself *sigh*.

The Vic's rooms are are arranged in an Escher'esque way - aka. in labyrinthine but sort of logical confusion. It took me nearly 15 mins from alighting from the first floor lift to find my room. I got hopelessly lost up in there you know! Then again, I'm the "Least-likely-to-know-which-way-is-East-even-if-the-sun-were-rising" kind of girl so that was probably to be expected.

I finally found room 119 tucked into a tiny cul-de-sac through doors, down stairs, up a ramp, down a corridor, around a corner. It was spacious with a double bed made from the off-casts of some cement factory; however, given as I am, to preferring firmer mattresses than overly-soft, it suited me fine. The room was really hot though, so I was grateful for the small air-conditioner set into the wall. The one small window above the air-con was darkened with a small slatted blind, the slats closed, making the room very dark. I rather liked it this way. My bathroom was barely the size of a postage stamp with the barest essentials required for ablutions. Quite frankly, having a door on the bathroom was superfluous and my feeling is that swinging saloon doors or a sliding door would be a far more agreeable option. The swing door took up most of the space and as I was on my own, the need to close it seemed a bit over kill really except for the fact I kept banging my hip against it as I washed my face or brushed my teeth.

When I had finished surveying the room, I dumped my bag on the bed and grabbed key and wallet and promptly wended my way back down the labyrinth of corridors and ramps to the lift well. I was on a mission now - food! One of my biggest weaknesses as a single 48 year old female is the obsession with both food AND girth all in the same breath and mindset. It's the most fundamentally annoying conundrum.

I want to eat really great tasting food but on the condition that I add not one iota of a gram of fat to my already overburdened frame. In fact, I want to eat really good food such that my body says with grateful happiness "Oh Thank you so much! I am very well fed! I do not need to reserve all these extra calories you just devoured and store them in your thighs and arse, just in case I need them for later when I think I might, potentially, be starving; so I will release these calories into the ether and stay thin because I'm perfectly happy to do that for you!" etc etc.

Sadly, my metabolic rate is such that gaining weight is easier than breathing - no matter how "healthy" the food is or appears! These days, losing the kg's requires the disciplinary skills of a regimental instructor in an army boot camp and I actually rather despise following "rules" - even the ones I make for myself. So, there I sat in bakery eating great food and I am still purring at the memory of pastry crumbling over my lips in all its decadent, delicious, and malevolent beauty. Sluggish metabolic genetics and a predilection for sugar + butter is a cruel disease!

I digress:

I wondered if I should go "do something" while there in Melbourne on my own. No children to groan at me as I perused the Masters in the National Gallery: no friends to get tetchy with me as I wandered around the alley ways looking at cafe menu's "deciding" where I was going to eat later - having just had lunch: no schedules other than an 8pm appointment to see a band. Bliss.

I opted instead, for a "Nanna nap" in my cosy little hide-away hotel room. And just as well I might add. My day had started at 5am that morning and the thought of having to fire on through until well after midnight just made me cave. The nap was divine except for a surreal and rather realistic dream where I kept hearing noises from my minuscule bathroom and on rising from my bed (plank), noted that there was a coterie of American High School girls and an older female "Chaperone" who looked like she might have come straight from the set of "One flew over the cuckoo's nest"! Their room was apparently adjunct mine and we were forced to "share" the bathroom. This did NOT please me one bit. They literally invaded my space and as the room shifted and morphed into other rooms with doors that wouldn't close I was "forced" to stand my ground and demand that everyone fuck off immediately in the nicest possible assertive way I could. This was a blimmin' dream I might add and I was rather bristled by it but also sort of assured that my confidence is perhaps coming back. Despite that dream though, the nap was restful and I got up about 5pm to prep for the concert.

Now, given that I AM 48 years old, I decided not to get just too carried away with all things "primping". The chances of me needing to impress anyone were far too preposterous to give any credibility to. I just wanted to look presentable and as "normal" as I possibly could. I had had an inkling for days that women in my demographic are not normally associated with 'Difficult-to-categorise-progressive-hard-rock-bands', so I just preened enough to feel comfortable that I was not going to frighten children and left it at that.

I decided that I actually wasn't "that" hungry and eschewed a large meal for dinner. I walked up Bourke St to The Palace so that I could get a sense of the lay-of-the-land so to speak. I wasn't sure if I was going to actually hang outside the front doors or not at this point as it was a good two hours before they would open: I did however, want to be sure that I had the right place and that all was in order. I opted for a small take away meal that I actually didn't finish and knew it would be enough to tide me through. I had packed "light" opting only for the two pockets in my pants to carry bare essentials.

There was a queue already forming outside the doors of The Palace. In the end, I bought a bottle of water from the 7 Eleven just a bit further down and chose to go stand in that queue. There were perhaps 20 or so people already there. Most were youngish, slightly geeky looking and they appeared to be the sort of expected "type" who would probably choose to listen to the music of Porcupine Tree. A young woman was standing in front of me with her boyfriend chatting to some blokes in front of them. She looked at me and without batting an eyelid said aloud but quietly and quite politely
You do not look like someone who would normally be seen at a concert like this!
We ended up laughing and chatting, both of us amused and amazed at how the power of music has a way of drawing unlikely people together. Personally, I was awe at the lengths people actually went to, to get to this concert. The girl and her partner were from Perth, opting to visit Melbourne for the first time ever just to experience Porcupine Tree up close and live! Another guy just in front of them in the queue was effectively a bona fide groupie having been to heaps of PT concerts in Europe and who had apparently, travelled from "Goodness-knows-where" to see them in Australia too. I met another guy later on from New Zealand who had travelled over, specifically to catch these guys in concert! A band with that kind of geographical pulling power must be worthy of attention surely?

The two hours waiting in the queue for the doors to The Palace seemed to go by really fast! I didn't even get that nervous "need" to go find a tree so to speak! That in itself was amazing (or I was very dehydrated! One of those options!).

Once inside I was surprised to see that this was in fact not so much a theatre as a club. The floor space dropped in graduated stages via short steps. The huge boarded space directly in front of the stage looked inviting and I "might" have stayed down there for the duration except my feet and legs were killing me and I needed to find that "tree" by then anyway! I went upstairs to the first level mezzanine and found what I was looking for. I also found a rather comfy armchair perched on steps. The whole place is effectively one giant bar with alcoves where one can be plied with alcohol or water in exchange for vast sums of money! I decided that since I had what I thought was a pretty prime piece of real estate - aka that big squishy and comfortable armchair - I wasn't going to go frolicking about looking ridiculous by ordering Lemon, Lime & Bitters and a bottle - small - of water. I parked my weary butt and waited.

The support act finally came out not much more than an hour later. Sleep Parade were cute, young and yet just seemed a bit desperate to me in some ways. It might be a common problem for supporting acts starting on their journey to fame and infamy. To me SP just seemed to be trying so very hard to be counted as serious prog musicians - which I suppose they are. To my naive and untrained ears they sounded tight but not really relaxed enough as a unit to lift their originals into the Memorable category. They definitely show promise though in the progressive rock market. So? That being said, they'll no doubt be on the lips of generations much younger than me in the years to come. Indeed they are probably to quote the lead singer:
...luckiest bands in Australia to be chosen to support Porcupine Tree. [unquote]

Watch this space. :)

At approximately 9:45pm, Porcupine Tree opened. I stood immediately, mainly because the two TALL guys just in front of me also stood. *sigh* Why is it that tall people don't naturally select the very back row as a matter of course? I will probably regret in the ensuing years not being pushy enough to scramble a spot on the railing right down at the front of the mezzanine overlooking the ground floor and with a perfect view of the stage! I could see okay though from where I was if I ducked and dived and generally stretched in and around the tall men in front of me. I could see the bare footed Steven Wilson ( and the amazing Gavin Harrison on the drums, Richard Barbieri on the keyboards and other eclectic sound morphing devices and Colin Edwin on the bass. They had a fifth member as a guest performer - an Aussie - but I missed his name and did not recognise him unfortunately. My apologies if he ever happens to read this (*smirk* - astonishing ego have I yes? *smirk*). Let's just say he fitted in perfectly well! :)

The band played most of the first seamless track from their new album "The Incident" which was released last year. I'd been listening to it for a few days prior so by the time they started playing it I was beside myself with joy and excitement. I just could not stop grinning like a fool! I had no children with me to embarrass and it highly unlikely I will ever meet anyone of the people at that event again, so I let my body "talk" with the music as it is always inclined to do so. I moved, jiggled, swayed and generally bounced along with sheer unadulterated pleasure! I had fun!!!! Amazing, awesome, wonderful, In-this-moment-I-am-happy fun!

The visual effects on the screen behind the band lent a surrealist landscape to the sound. And what sound! Effortless and inspired sound coming from depths of human suffering and yet morphing that suffering and pain into irrepressible cause for joy within my own soul. HOW can music be this Good? Guitar riffs morphing into psychedelic arpeggio's made of synth and keyboard then crashing over you suddenly, wave upon wave of heavy metal beat, interwoven with poetic, melancholic and ethereally beautiful melodies. I am awed at the musicianship quite frankly. Not one member of the band grand-standed; nor did they make a big show of anything - it was all about immersion in the sound; the music.

I of course - being very old and very practical - had brought along earplugs! I AM very grateful I did this because I snuck my right one out periodically to get a sense of how loud it was. Oh my giddy aunt! If I had have been down on the floor in the crowd - I am sure I'd be in the emergency dept by now screaming for my hearing to return and holding bloodied towels to the sides of my head. It was deafeningly loud. The earplugs actually made the experience MUCH better for me. I could clearly hear every note, every beat, every melody and every word! I went to bed later that night with no ringing in my ears and I can still use a phone without having to shout at people to "speak up"! :) A worthy addition to any concert attendance.

After a short break, the band returned to sing some old favs from earlier albums such as "Fear of a Blank Planet" and "In Abstentia", both of which get a regular airing in my iTunes playlist and on the ipod too :) Bliss....pure bliss to know this music even though I hardly know what the titles of the songs are really. I realised this because a bloke kept turning in the quieter moments (rare and profound), to ask what song they'd just played. I never knew what to say other than I "knew" the song but couldn't remember what it was called! *blush* I know - I am hardly an expert on these things. He kept saying "Amazing band!" over and over with each new song having never heard of PT before in his life until that night when a mate had dragged him along. A new fan born I reckon :)

When I finally made it out not long after midnight, I was so pumped and excited, I felt as if I was 16 years old again and as light as air. I sent a few text messages to let the kids know I was okay and proceeded to walk the few blocks back to The Vic. I had been more than a little worried about being on my own at this hour walking back but it was fine really - lots of people about and very well lit, much safer than it all seems in theory I guess. I settled into my room after a lovely hot shower. I hadn't realised how sweaty and icky I'd become standing for hours in a darkened club but there you go - live and learn! :)

I lay in this morning and leisurely pottered about my room on waking, packing up and moving through some exercises to relieve the stiffness in my legs and ankles. I guess this stiffness came from having to teeter on the edges of steps in order to see over tall people the previous night. :) I had a divine breakfast/brunch at Gordon's in The Causeway of light rye toast with sausage, tomato and cheese and a long Earl Grey tea *mmmmmm*. Then I wandered, rather aimlessly, and very leisurely, back towards the station for my train/bus home.

Again, the journey was uneventful and as I read my book and listened yet again to PT on my ipod, I could not stop smiling and feeling utterly relaxed and content with the state of things in this moment.

A blissful couple of days and I'm still purring.


Lethal86 said...

Hey I was there too. my girlfriend and I came from Adeliaide to see them! we must have just missed you in the line, we were one of the first people there.they are my favourite band by far!!!! iv got my girlfrind into them aswell. the best show iv ever been too! I hope they come back soon!!

Michelle said...

Hi Lethal86! Hahaha! I probably did see you as I was within the first 20 + people who queued at the door for the two hours prior to opening! I would have been far too shy to say hi though *blush* - sorry! Wasn't it just the most amazing show? I have not stopped grinning about it since I got home! Glad to hear you and your g/f had a great time too :) Nice to meet a fellow PT aficionado :)

JMHO said...

Beautifully written. And I understand every word, fully. PT is magical. Magical, magical, magical live. Your description of the music is spot on. And oh boy does this 52 year old woman *ever* understand your beating heart at the sight of that man! Woah! Charisma oozes from him. His creativity envelopes the audience. He *owns* the stage. Positively owns it. I was fortunate in that I saw them 3 times last September--my first PT show was in Chicago, and I was standing front row at Wilson's microphone, inches from him. I will never, ever forget that night. Powerful. And then 2nd row (all shows were GA) in both Baltimore and Boston, where some friends and I were lucky enough to meet the band in Newbury Comics. Gentlemen, all of them. Just *great* people. I'm looking forward to at least 4 shows in the spring--and then "the big one" at Radio City Music Hall in September. Nothing short of a catastrophe could keep me away. What a band. I'm a Rush fan, but PT/SW has taken over my brain. I've listened to little else in the past 2-3 years. I just can't stop myself! I begin to listen to something else, and always wind up back to something Wilson has written/performed/produced. He's addictive! If you haven't heard Wilson's solo CD, 'Insurgentes,' grab it. And his collection of 'Cover Versions' too. I won't tell you what he covers (he wants it to be a secret to the listener until it's heard) but you also get an original Wilson song with each. And they are all extraordinary--as is everything this incredibly prolific and gifted artist touches (Bass Communion, Blackfield, etc.). You can get them here:

Anyway, what a pleasure to read your review. I envy you being there!!! :D

Kym said...

Hey Michelle, came across your blogpost via I myself travelled across from Perth to this gig. I did however manage to hook up with some friends-of-a-friend and hung around with them immediately before and after the show.

I really find gig demographics interesting. Despite the predominance of black-clad long haired & bearded males at PT, I thought the crowd was reasonably eclectic and across a fair range of ages. The more the diversity in a crowd the better I think.

I started lining up about 7:30, several dog-legs back down the alley where the line led, but then when my friends arrived we realised there was little point and rushed off for a quick pint about 100m up the road. When we came back the line was progressing steadily inside and we had passed the guy I had initially stood next to and it then quickly looped back on itself, so I don't think we lost any advantage.

And I must agree with you about the song names - I'm terrible myself. I'm the sort of person who tends to associate what ever is an obvious chorus line with a song. When you then combine this with prog's less traditional song structure and how the tracks segue together - I am useless! I think before this show I could only really name Lazarus & Trains!