Eulogising Pony: 'A Petri Dish Of Ill Repute'
Pony booker Andy Moore, SPOD and members of Witch Hats, YIS, The Nation Blue and Teeth + Tongue reflect on the Melbourne CBD's 'most notorious rock den' with DARREN LEVIN.
The lights go on/The dead of dawn/It's Pony in the morning/The meat market is open.
Ben Montero wrote those words back in 2005 for a song called ‘Pony in the Morning’ off Treetops’ Gospel EP. It’s about those desperate last couple of hours and not wanting to be alone when you get home, he says. That Montero claims he never stepped foot in the place speaks volumes. Pony’s reputation as the CBD’s most notorious rock den – a place made infamous for its 2am show – preceded it.
About a month ago, rising rent costs resulted in the venue changing hands, and while the new owners say it’s likely live music will continue after renovations – just that word alone strikes fear into the heart of all who frequented it – booker Andy Moore said he doesn’t expect Pony to return as the same grotty, anything-goes venue it once was.
“[It’s] a classic room that is too small to have big shows and has a PA that should be in a venue three times its size, where the musicians and the audience have no separation and can smell each other’s breath. Shit always got loose at Pony and I don’t think we’ll really see that happening again in Melbourne.”
With the venue planning a 24-hour send-off in December, we asked some Melbourne musicians to share their recollections of the place – from Witch Hats’ Kris Buscombe, who met Rowland S Howard there (pictured together), to Moore himself, whose relationship with Pony stretches back to the early 2000s, when his band Digger & The Pussycats were headlining over Jet.
Booker/Digger & The Pussycats
Basically, Pony and I have had a pretty strong relationship since the early 2000s as a young buck playing gigs, dumping the gear at home and then going out for some late-night drinks and a debrief of how awesome we had played that night. We had a lot of friends in bands and we'd often finding ourselves playing on various bills scattered across Melbourne, so we'd all meet up at Pony to catch the 2am late show and drink away the $26 we'd made from playing that night.
[Bandmate] Sam [Agostino] and I used to play in a band called Fort Mary and we played quite a few shows at Pony, including that legendary night when all the A&R dudes flew out from the UK and USA to try and sign Jet. We were actually the headliners that night, and I remember the room emptying once Jet finished as the suits and their fans rushed outside to get on their mobiles and hype shit up, which was great because our mates were then able to get in and see us.
Then, when Digger started up, we used to play there a lot. And we'd be hanging out there most weekend nights after shows we'd played at or been to. One night both Sam and I ran out of money and, after trying to negotiate credit with the bar (they politely refused), we suggested playing an impromptu set at 5am. The staff thought it would be funny and there was a full band's equipment there (they'd left it and gone home) so we just cheekily set it up and played a set, then enjoyed our "rider" until 7am. We ended up doing this a few times. What a bunch of scabs we were. But where else in town could you run out money and play for drinks? As they say, at Pony anything goes.
I started DJing there about nine or 10 years ago, which was a really interesting experience. The DJ booth is perched high above the dancefloor and you can see absolutely everything as it unfolds. On the second Digger record I wrote a song called ‘Pickup at Pony’, which was inspired by a DJ shift I did there and stayed relatively sober [for]. There was this girl who just danced all night; she was drinking heavily and she danced "enthusiastically". She was a looker and got plenty of male attention but she just knocked everyone back. She would turn her back and wouldn't even dance with them. Then there was this other guy who was just standing on the edge of the dancefloor for pretty much the whole night, drinking by himself, minding his own business.
As the venue started to thin out with patrons about 6.30am I started to change-up the tempo a bit and throw in a few slower numbers to help prime people for an orderly exit into the daylight. When I chucked on Modern Lovers’ ‘I'm Straight’, the guy threw back his drink and just went straight to this girl and they danced. It was the first time he danced all night and it was the first person she danced with. They started making out towards the end of the song and, as soon as it finished, they left together. I still don't know if they knew each other or if it was a pickup at Pony, but I'd like to think they met for the first time that night and now have a mortgage and three kids in Melton South.
Teeth + Tongue
At one memorable 2am show with [former band Moscow Schoolboy], a girl suddenly crashed the stage with a tambourine, played it violently for some time and then disappeared through a hole in the ceiling, only to reappear during the next song. Meanwhile Jay [Richmond, drummer] witnessed some blatant teen sexual exploration taking place outside the toilets. I think that was common, but not based on experience of course. And then the stairs were always a hazard; steep and usually crowded. Apparently rolling a kick drum down them first aided in the load-out. I was sad to hear it was closing, although I hadn't been in years. Where else are those die-hard band-and-booze hounds gonna go to pick up?
I spent years there and used to get kicked out every night for climbing something. What a shithole! But lots of cool stuff happened among the mischief. I met Rowland Howard when I was wearing a green lab coat. I used to think it looked really cool, but I actually looked liked a fuckhead. Rowland had played a really powerful full-band show up there sometime around 2005. I kissed my darling girlfriend of seven years there for the first time in the side alley. Witch Hats all took ecstasy and played one of our many 2am shows, until guitarist Tomas Barry smashed his red Hondo guitar to pieces. I remember [drummer] Duncan [Blachford] somehow smashing his head into a foldback wedge. He stood up with blooded fingers and calmly exclaimed, "There's blood in my head!" I know someone who woke up in the toilets without their trousers on. He managed to do a two-lap search of the place before they kicked him out. I signed a Wolfmother EP for a confused patron upstairs and accepted praise for songs I hadn't heard of or written. This happened to me a lot around that time until he [Andrew Stockdale] grew an afro.
The Nation Blue/Harmony
One of my favourite Pony memories was watching Spod play on one of his first trips south. There was lobster and glitter everywhere and that tight pressure cooker of a room exploded the oestrogen levels normally associated with a Spod show. For weeks I kept finding glitter on my wife in increasingly dubious locations. It's a petrie dish of ill repute. Hell, the only time Harmony played there, one of us met someone who they soon married. I think it's the air or lack thereof.
The first headline I played in Melbourne was at Pony. Matt Weston and Matt Tanner hooked it up I think, and that was in the early mono.net days where everyone was coming up to me at Melbourne gigs and outing themselves in secret with their “mono names” back when the internet was a shameful place. I had all of these lollies made that said SPOD LUVS U on them, and packed enough glitter and toys to kill a unicorn. I think Tom is referring to scorpions [with the lobster thing]. I used a lot of scorpion blow-up toys at the time, but they looked exactly like lobsters. It was totally rammed, way too loud for the shitty PA that was there and it was probably one of the most fun gigs I can remember playing. It really lit the fire of making me want to perform. Be it because of girls getting really suss in there, the big tequila and squashes they would pour, or weird dudes taking the microphone and giving “thank you” speeches mid-gig, Pony is the kind of place that gets as close to the reality of your imaginings of what going out and “partying hard” is like.
Like a lot of bands, we played our first show at Pony. My gig bag still smells like slop. It remains the only place in Melbourne where my mum won't come to see us play. Pat Carney (drummer for
the popular American two-piece act “Blueshammer” The Black Keys) once remarked that it was “the only place in the world where if I dropped a cigarette I wouldn't pick it up”. I guess he pays people to do that for him now. Folks will always try to one-up each other with debauched late-night tales of what went on there but I still maintain that the most disgusting thing I ever witnessed was a band who played there with no shoes on.
All that aside, the 2am slot is about the only gig in town where you're guaranteed to play to a good crowd every time you do it (at least for shit-kicker bands like us) and they were always eager to give new bands a shot at their first weekend headliner regardless of how “cool” they were. You think we'd have more places where you can go see a band at 2am in “the music capital of Australia”. Now we've got zero. So, RIP Pony. Come back soon.