Dan Kelly: The Road Warrior
Dan Kelly faces dinner show audiences and overly generous merch girls as he tours Australia with Holly Throsby.
Friday, January 19 – The Sound Lounge, Gold Coast
After a month of methodically ruining everything good in my life it was going to be a struggle to spend the next one convincing Australia what a fab guy I was. What better place to start than the wonderful Gold Coast – testing ground of my youth and cultural wasteland without par. Exiting the plane onto a salty and humid Coolangatta tarmac, I picked up my borrowed guitar from the carousel and wandered out to meet my travelling companion for the next week, a spectacularly garish golden Tiida hatchback. The Golden Egg of destiny proved to quite zippy however, so it’s off down the Gold Coast Highway to the Sound Lounge, or more precisely the Currumbin RSL. Add a couple of palm trees and candles to the second floor reception hall and voilà! A Sound Lounge apparently…
My pledge to myself for this whole solo tour is to speak out with impunity, to ramble and diverge until the songs, introductions and asides become indistinguishable. To pour so much smoke around myself and onto Joe and Jill Punter that they would loll about placidly like dazed worker bees, confused and unable to attack. The smoke would clear and there would appear Holly Throsby, all clear and shining with truths, etc. After eating the Throsbee’s walnut and grape platter (I asked nicely) I hit the stage. Sensing the crowd wanted to like me but was searching for reasons why, I assured them I used to deal hydro just down the road in Palm Beach to finance my move to Melbourne. This was actually a fair stretch of the truth and I could feel the crowd palpably relax, reassured that I was just a local lad trying his best. After that the show went swimmingly, the middle aged women particularly getting into the “cocksucker, motherfucker” singalong tonight. After watching a couple of Holly’s songs I high tail it down the Gold Coast Highway to my brother’s place, taunted all the way by the Friday night cruisers incensed that the Golden Egg is only doing the speed limit. I turn up my Preston School of Industry record and feel good for the first time in a month.
Saturday, January 20 – The Globe Theatre, Brisbane
Location: Brisneyland, the fetid armpit of the east coast that begat The Saints, The Go-Betweens and Pete Murray. I may have even got my start here too. An old converted theatre is the Globe, with sloping floors and lovely lush red carpet and no drink rider. Dad and Uncle Dave came tonight and amazingly the show went well. After drawing some lovely parallels between ‘artistic’ and ‘autistic’ in the introduction to ‘Summer Wino’ and then wheeling out a full ten-minute beat-style intro to ‘Safeway Holiday’, which encompassed pretty well everything I had ever thought of in my life, I retired content to my backstage rider of iced water thoughtfully provided by said venue. My uncle wanders backstage and wonders what my lyrics would be like if I had been brought up “weird”. After dutifully watching a Holly song I head up the Valley mall with my brother to catch Six Foot Hick at Ric’s. The mall is malevolent and stinks of Bracken Ridge boys on ice. Ric’s too is packed with no way in so I head to a rooftop party in Highgate Hill, where my drunken ex-uni friends bust out Roland Kirk and Fela Kuti on the decks and rap on environmental policy and such. I sit in the corner and beg for contact lens fluid off any slightly bookish looking girl.
Tuesday, January 23 & Wednesday, January 24 – River Stone Café, Bellingen
Lucky to make this one after a micro-sleep somewhere between Grafton and Coffs left me tingling with adrenaline and horror. Eventually the Golden Egg zips into Bellingen on empty with minutes to spare and I play a verandah show to a lot of middle-aged tree-change folks tucking into their swordfish wrapped in kombu and quaffing organic pinot while I desperately tried to get them to look up, clap, smile… anything. I sweat so much I could channel it and save the Murray. I watch the whole Holly set and with everyone finished dinner it goes down a treat. Afterwards we head to the accommodation which is incredible: a mountain rainforest retreat with massive rooms, and a kitchen loaded up with goodies from free range eggs to preserved lemons. I macro-sleep like a baby.
Day two finds the Throsbees and me doing an eco get-to–know-you at a pristine rainforest creek outside of Bellingen. I mince across the rocks to the water in my short shorts, sucking in my gut and hoping Holly and Bree [Van Reyk, drums] don’t notice my post-Christmas, Ron Sexsmith body stylee. Funnily enough they don’t seem to be in the least interested. Phew! A huge storm descends so we head back to venue to find the venue owner freaking out about the PA getting wet and taking out his repressed Sydney control freak urges on a horde of terrified young waiters. Eventually God stops the rain before the little folk are sacrificed and I get on with another Dan-versus-kombu-swordfish-dinner-and-show horror. It’s over in what feels about five hours and I drink a bottle of Organic Pinot to stave off the bad thoughts…
Thursday, January 25 – Big Day Out, Sydney and Northern Star, Newcastle
Up at 6am and feeling cloudy in the head, I wind the Golden Egg down through the Bellingen hills, listening to the Sleepy Jackson record and trying to count how many over dubs on it (to stay alert). The 8.15am Virgin flight from Coffs lands at Mascot the same time as the Alpha Males’ flight from Melbourne, we commiserate on the $500 freight charge for the gear and head off to Olympic Stadium. Big Day Out!
Expecting to be tucked away in the corner playing to our mixer we are surprised to find ourselves playing a big stage to a few thousand folk who seem to know us and the songs. Slightly dazed from the early flight I desperately try and remember the original keys, how the guitar solos go and what pedal to step on while trying to be a charismatic stadium rock front guy. The result is not unlike watching a cross-eyed Ron Sexsmith (again) on crack, yodelling and morris dancing. Meanwhile, completely unconcerned with my body issues, the Alpha Males are playing, as Miles Davis would say, like a motherfucker. Miles Brown lays down a particularly epic theremin solo on ‘Lonesome’, while Lewis, Dan and A.ron lie down at his feet. Our first really good festival show after some shocking attempts (anyone remember Meredith 2004? Hope not). Yay!
Once the set is finished I have two hours to relax a bit, take the merch to the merch store, pack up the gear, cadge cigarettes off Snowman, take the band to the airport, then leave for Newcastle and my show with Holly. We cleverly exit Olympic stadium into peak-hour Sydney traffic with everyone leaving town for the long weekend. After an hour’s drive (about seven kilometres) to the airport the Alpha Males make the check in only after Lewis jumps out the Tarago 200-metres short of the terminal and bolts past the taxi traffic jam with his Velocity card primed and ready, his big floppy arms waving above his head. It takes me another 35 minutes to get out of the terminal taxi jam then due to a combination of long weekend traffic, bushfires, floods and cigarette head spins, it takes another four hours (!) to make Newcastle. I don’t remember the show at all.
"Sensing the crowd wanted to like me but was searching for reasons why, I assured them I used to deal hydro just down the road in Palm Beach"
Now to get back to Sydney for the BDO after party! Unfortunately it is absolutely bucketing down and after about an hour of intense concentration my mind snaps and I pull over for a nap. Ten minutes turns into an hour before I wake up and complete the drive, arriving at the Annandale at 2am for my first drink of the day. Miles has stuck around and we chat about general music in various venues until 10am. I suddenly realise I am quite tired and crash out on the Drones’ hotel room floor until woken up by the maid at 11am check-out and ejected into the 33 degrees of a Sydney day. “Happy Australia Day” says a pinched face bogan with a flag on her cheek.
Saturday, January 27 – Brass Monkey, Cronulla
Cronulla tonight, so I plan to include as many Australian references as possible (“My land’s girt by your sea… ”) into the set to keep the Anglo-locals happy. Before the show I also grab a falafel to keep the Lebanese community onside. My approach seems to work as I sell a lot of CDs after the show and don’t get bashed. I am content, deftly negotiating John Howard’s new Australia like a hopped-up Jane Torville .
Sunday, January 28 – Big Day Out, Melbourne
Four hours sleep then a plane to Melbourne for BDO#2. A big crowd greets our 1:30pm big top show. Admittedly there was a lot of folk waiting to see Trivium playing after us. Trivium sounds like a genius joke name for an ironic metal band, but there is no irony as far as I can tell. They proceed to quite methodically and earnestly soundcheck through our entire set. At one point we all lose the start of ‘Release Myself’ when their kick drum gets just close enough to ours to seriously throw everybody. My voice is shot after late nights and the eighth show in a week, but I manage to rasp something along the lines of “Jihad! Jihad!” Our lovely fans scream at the Trivium fans, who don’t care and scream back a bit less lovely. Erk.
Wednesday, January 31 – Republic Bar, Hobart
Holly and co. are getting used to me, so like an Enid Blyton-sponsored scout troop we head up to Mt Wellington for a spot of sightseeing. A magnificent view, though I can’t get Augie March’s ‘Mt Wellington Reverie’ out of my head for the next five hours; a fabulous tune but a tad repetitive by the third hour. I eventually blot it out by concentrating on the Noll & Bassingthwaighte version of ‘Don’t Give Up’, something really worth fixating on.
Back at The Republic Bar I prostitute myself unashamedly to the noisy crowd, pulling out every ‘look at me!’ move I have to get them into it. Eventually they come around a bit and I exit as quickly as possible after a cavalier guitar solo and group singalong version of ‘Bunk Lovin’ Man’, not wanting to stretch my luck. By the time Holly plays everyone is sozzled and even sitting on the stage, loving it but talking their heads off. She looks well over it but Bree again saves the day with a well-timed, “Hey, shut the fuck up!” which actually works. I tried this in Bulli the following week but accidentally say, “Fuck youse all”, which doesn’t work at all.
Thursday, February 1 – Karova Lounge, Ballarat
Thursday is uni night in Ballarat, a bad night for intimate indie solo stuff. I sweat and curse. Holly suffers too. Some nice folk who were listening buy CDs so it ends well. If only I didn’t have to actually play. I get drunk in the Tarago on the ride back to Melbourne and impress (sic) the Thros-Bees with tales of various failures and embarrassments past and present. They all fall asleep except Jens who wants to but can’t, as he’s the driver tonight.
Friday, February 2 – Northcote Social Club, Melbourne
A wonderful night tonight where musically everything works – even a crass thalidomide joke in ‘Summer Wino’ evokes a warm and tolerant response. How I love the inner city. I even sell loads of CDs, although it’s only later I realise the merch girl has mistakenly sold them for $10 each. Considering they cost $16 a pop from the record company I take that as a loss. At the point of deciding whether I should actually get pissed off or not, a guy comes up to me and gives me $25 coz he downloaded my CD and wants to make good! Absolutely unheard of. I faux-reluctantly accept the money and decide to be nice to the merch girl.
Saturday, February 3 – Northcote Social Club, Melbourne
Another sold out night in Melbourne. Holly and I are feeling good about our decision to combine forces and decide to put Ballarat out of our minds. The crowd tonight seems drunker earlier and some crazed bogan guys sing along appallingly through my whole set and chant “Trivium” at every opportunity. They’re actually pretty funny. I think Holly has them thrown out later, but by that stage I am in the front bar guzzling gin, lime and dry with tequila shots on the side. The mohawked bartender seems like a benevolent angel, only it turns out she is the avenging force of destruction! Oh dear. Sunday sees me drain the last of the east Gippsland catchment in a vain attempt to shower myself out of the worst hangover ever. I consider calling mum and crying a bit, but spare her the worry in the end and watch six episodes of Arrested Development in a row.
Friday, February 9 – Heritage Hotel, Bulli
I have confronted some terrible scenarios in my time but nothing seems more torturous than playing dinner and a show at the Heritage Hotel, Bulli. A beautiful spot and the staff are lovely, but time and time again I end up wailing away with the lights still on while the south coast community deconstructs their day over a plate of beef Wellington and a cold Cascade, oblivious to the tortured yelps and entreaties from the sweaty guy in the corner. Halfway through the set I bust out the aforementioned “fuck youse all” just to see who is paying attention. Turns out the reviewer from Drum Media is. Damn… The crowd love Holly as does the Drum reviewer. I lose on both counts.
Saturday, February 10 – The Factory, Sydney
A quite sizable venue tonight about half full of respectful and immaculately-dressed indie folk. They all have a lovely time clicking along to ‘Release Myself’, which I then spoil by turning into ‘Redemption Song’ to cement my roots lifestyle cred. Nobody laughs but I have a little chuckle and get the sound guy to put heaps of delay on it. In the end it’s a pretty good gig though Drum Media is conspicuously absent. Everyone is so incredibly quiet during Holly’s set that I get dirty looks for whispering and giggling with old friends in the back of the room. For God’s sake people it’s Saturday night! I scream silently to myself, feeling slightly hypocritical.
Sunday, February 11 – Clarendon Guest House, Katoomba
The Blue Mountains are covered in a thick mist by 5pm and Katoomba looks magnificent. I wander about town pretending I’m Gandalf and mentally prepare my set list. I eventually decide on: ‘Battle of Evermore’, Tales of Topographic Oceans, Thick as a Brick (side one only) and Ommadawn (both sides, why not?).
The room only seats one hundred but they are attentive and into it, putting their Bulli/Wollongong cousins to shame. At the last moment I drop the prog set and do my own stuff. There is a 70-year-old lady in the front row who initially makes me nervous and shy considering all the profanity in the lyrics to come. Thankfully she is a good sport and ends up leading the ‘cocksucker, motherfucker’ singalong. I imagine WWII had lots of swearing in it too. I drink with the bar staff and then stagger upstairs to fall asleep to the sound of heavy rain on the roof for the first time in what seems like forever, safe in the knowledge that my music has defeated El Nino.
Friday, February 16 – Three Bears, Dunsborough
Beautiful Dunsborough, perched just above the wineries and waves of the Margaret River region – I picture a cosy cafe, filled with red-nosed wine growers, daughters all aglow, through the window the breaking of a distant wave. Marsupials and introduced species all gather in harmony at the feet of Holly and I as we play deep into the night, snug and a little smug in our cream cable-knit jumpers. I try hard to cling to my utopian image later that night while singing to 10 interested kids and 70 completely oblivious locals in what is essentially a biker bar made of gaffa tape and chips. Later on, some of the local surfers do a slow-mo drunken liturgical dance to Holly’s ‘Making a Fire’. It is strangely beautiful. I gently evade the advances of a cross-eyed Canadian backpacker clinging onto a stubby in each fist, and wander off into the night to bed down in my cement-floored backpacker room, specially decked out in suicide-watch yellows and greys.
Saturday, February 17 – Mojo’s, Fremantle
Walking through Freo before the show I see Luke Steele and his girl streaking along in a groovy black Saab, which I take as a good luck omen and lo and behold I am granted the best show of the tour so far by whoever grants these things. My stage banter has mutated to the point where I believe it again, my hotcake pedal feels mean and loaded under my big toe and the Kiwi barman – perhaps feeling benevolent after his boys annihilated the Aussie one-day team earlier on – pipes an endless flow of Little Creatures beer into the band room. On the way home I blow any cool points I had with Holly and band by forcing the Tarago to stop at the local Gull convenience store and artfully inhaling two tuna mornay pies in a minute. Stylin’… Tonight I’m staying with Holly’s friends, who put me up in their absent son’s room. I drift off to sleep under a huge Darth Vader doona, with flashing light-sabers on the pillows.
Friday, February 23 – Jive Bar, Adelaide
Lewis from the Alpha Males always says “I hate Adelaide again!” whenever we go there. If it wasn’t the sacred place of my birth I would be inclined to agree, based on our last few Alpha Males shows/disasters. Tonight though is a wee bit better with a big crowd who were kind of curious and into it, but also up for a good old Friday night chin wag. A balcony of punters hangs right in my face but their faces are hidden by blazing stage lights. I sweat profusely, the feeling akin to a mediaeval trial or SS interrogation where you have to sing the answers. I beat a hasty retreat to the back of the room when I’m done while Holly and co. deal with it. They have a shocking time and finish with a prog number, ‘We Kind of Hate Adelaide Again Too!’ which goes down a treat. Every one mopes back to the accom after this slightly anti-climactic end of tour show to watch Rage. Tomorrow the Laneway festivals start. I’m on before Holly.