DIED PRETTY
SPENCER P. JONES
@ the Corner Hotel,
Saturday 14th September 2002

WORDS, PICTURES: John McPharlin

Another day, another Died Pretty show. Well, not really. Tonight's show will be the band's penultimate performance and their last ever show in Melbourne. Meanwhile, I've got something more important on my mind: breakfast. Yesterday it seemed that every cafe and food bar within a day's hike of the hotel had a breakfast offering, today it's sadly apparent that they all stop serving breakfast at midday, which leaves me high and dry.

After a lengthy search I manage to find a place that does a traditional full breakfast all day and I happily hoe in to [vegetarians might like to avert their eyes at this point] sausages, bacon, eggs and some kind of potato thing that is terrific for soaking up the runny yolks. Feeling well satisfied, my journey back to more traveled locales takes me through a large mall where I spy a record bar. It's one of those characterless, interchangeable chains (Sanity or Bleeding Edge or what the fuck difference does it make), but I'm a sucker for any sort commercial enterprise involving records, so I stop for a quick browse of the singles racks out the front.

Out of morbid curiosity I even check the "D" section, but there's not a single copy of the new/final Died Pretty single. Probably they don't consider it commercial enough to sell in the quantities their accountants would like. There are however copious quantities of Kelly Osbourne's mediocre cover of "Papa Don't Stick That Bat In Yer Mouth". There is also a full set of footy club singles, including multiple copies of the anthems from the Adelaide Crows and the Sydney Swans. You wanna talk about uncommercial? I know Melbourne's always characterised as "footy mad", but no Melbournite is ever going to be caught dead buying either of those. I wonder how long it will take the accountants to realise that?

The rest of the afternoon is squandered in non rock-pursuits, but "acting on information received" come 5pm I'm lurking outside the Corner Hotel, as I've been led to believe that the band will be doing a sound check at around that time. The main bar's pretty dead and the doors to the performance area are firmly bolted, but sleazing down the narrow side street I find that the back door is open and the roadies are loading the band's equipment into the venue from a van. I casually follow an amplifier laden roadie in through the door.

The first familiar face I see is the band's manager and Citadel Records owner John Neednam, who barely glances in my direction as he heads into the band room. Figuring I better okay my presence with him, just in case there's a problem, I stick my head around the door and find him making himself comfortable on the couch. Before I can ask for his permission, he tells me that he has a headache, that he has to lie down quietly and that he just wants to be left alone, so I take that as a "Yes".

Once the equipment is set up, the band take it in turns to perform one at a time so the sound man (the irrepressible Trev from the Birdman tour back in May) can get the individual levels right. When not taking his turn on stage, Robbie Warren spends most of his time running around with a digital camera, capturing the rest of the band in action - as a longtime fan of the band he doesn't normally get much of an opportunity to do this (since for the past decade whenever they've been playing, he's been up there playing right along with them), but time is running out; it's now or never.

Later, while Robbie's taking a break from photography, I sidle up to him and ask how come they didn't play the new single ("My Generation Landslide") last night. He tells me that they did try it out for Brisbane, but they're not happy with the way it sounds live - they tried to use the keyboards to fill in the gaps left by Brett only being able to play one guitar at time, but they weren't satisfied with the result. If it was a long tour, they'd spend more time working on a new arrangement but, since there are so few dates left (geez Robbie, don't remind me!), they're going to put it aside and give "Angels Before" a run instead, since they think they've got a way of playing it which will capture the sound of the record much more closely than they could with "My Generation Landslide".

True to his word, the band does run through "Angels Before" during the sound check. This is good news for me, as there's a line that's been bugging me because I can't quite make out what Ron is singing (true, that's not exactly a new experience with Ron's vocals on record). During the sound check the lyric comes out clear as a bell. It's lucky for me that I get to hear this, because in the show that evening this is the bit that he stuffs up.

There's also a guest vocalist for part of "Angels Before" during the sound check - Ron's son, Zebidiah. He's nervous enough to start with, but when the band kicks in behind him he's thrown completely off balance, covering his ears and crying out that it's too loud (hmmm, less than five minutes in front of the band and he's already telling them how to play - the boy could well have a great career ahead of him as a singer...).

Other new songs, as in not played last night, canvassed during the sound check are "World Without", "State Of Graceful Mourning" and a ragged but enthusiastic "Mirror Blues". However, only "State Of Graceful Mourning" makes it into the set that evening. The rhythm section is keen to have a stab at "Mirror Blues" as well ("it'll be alright when we're in front of an audience..."), but clearly Brett is far from convinced.

After the sound check, we head off our separate ways, but I'm back as soon as the doors open. I know I've described the layout of the Corner Hotel before but, for those who haven't been taking notes, here are the salient details again: there are two separate stages - a small side stage for the support band and a larger one for the main act. The main stage has curtains, but I've only ever seen them used once (for Radio Birdman). The normal procedure is that, as soon as the support band's set ends, the keener punters make their way straight over to the front on the main stage, then defend their positions against all usurpers until the band comes on.

Only this time, normal procedures were not being followed. Spencer Jones opened with "Your Pretty Face is Going to Waukeegan" and then was working his way through some of his dark and idiosyncratic originals off the "Last Gasp" and "Lost Anxiety Tapes" albums when I noticed that some of the punters were starting to congregate at the front of the main stage already. From then on, I kept tabs on them out of the corner of my eye and when it became clear that the front of the main stage would be shoulder to shoulder with punters long before Spencer finished his set, I had no choice but to make a move as well.

Spencer Jones played a solid set, winding up with a suitably alcohol drenched cover of Neil Young's "Barstool Blues", but I was too busy fending off interlopers in front of the main stage to get the full enjoyment out of it (though not too busy to notice that he had a new bass player in the form of Moler's Helen Cattanach). The crowd soon packed in around me, but I wasn't going anywhere (once again, I thank the Lord for giving me a strong bladder, though more modest drinking habits in recent years are also making a valuable contribution).

"Good evening and welcome, we're Died Pretty", Ron announces as the band takes up its instruments. "Like there's anyone in this room who doesn't know that", I think to myself. Only it turns out that there is. It's some knobhead with the huge telephoto lens on his camera ("Gosh, yours is ever so much bigger than mine!") standing right next to me. Not long after the band starts, he takes time off from getting in my way and blocking my shots to ask, "Who's that tall guy with the guitar?". "Brett Myers", I answer in astonishment. "And who's the other guy there with the guitar?". "That would be the bass player, Robert Warren", I answer curtly, it now dawning on me that not only am I not in the presence of a fellow fan, this prick couldn't be bothered to do even the most basic research before he came out tonight. Fortunately he pisses off after taking a few more shots. Evidently somewhere in Melbourne there's a newspaper or magazine that's supplying the good citizens with something considerably less than the highest quality journalism...

What do I care though? Starting with "Doused", Ron leads the band through all yer favourites (well most of them anyway, there's no "Springenfall" tonight). They're much tighter than last night, with only a couple of small gaffs, though somehow each such fluff feels worse than it is because it's not "shared" with the audience, the band just continues on as if nothing has happened, unlike the previous evening when there was a real sense of "community" as we all came to grips with the occasional flub and clanger together. Tonight there's definitely two separate groups in the room: the band and the audience. We're both here for the same thing, but we seem to be looking at it from opposite sides of the fence.

Or let me put it another way: last night was almost "just" another great night in Melbourne; tonight is the last ever night in Melbourne, no matter how it turns out. I mentioned that earlier. Clearly everyone in the audience knows it too. The band members are visibly aware of this fact as well and exceedingly conscious of the enormity of the moment, perhaps even more so than the audience. They're trying extra hard this time, giving it their all, which is considerable. An imposing "Disaster" gives way to a completely bone crunching "Crawls Away", which leads in turn to an even meatier "Stops 'n' Starts", which gives way to the dreamiest "Ambergris" in living memory. And so on.

The new "Angels Before" fits neatly and easily into the set at around the halfway mark and few seem to notice the fluffed line, presumably because they haven't listened enough to the single (or even heard the song before?) and in my own slender brush with rock'n'roll immortality, I can't help noting that on the tape that's going around, the voice commenting after that song that "Ron really fucked up in the second verse there" sounds awfully like mine, so perhaps it was recorded by someone standing quite close...

Actually, yeah, while I'm on the subject, let me step outside the parentheses and note that I have even seen a CDR of the final show at the Metro, which features one of my photographs from the Prince of Wales show, clearly appropriated from this very web site. Presumably those responsible would have preferred to be helping themselves to a photo from the actual Metro show, if I wasn't such a slack bastard at actually getting something finished so the Barman could put it up on the site. Sorry about that; nice to know the photos are appreciated anyway (now if that doesn't prompt that nice Mr Needham to put out a "beat the boots" live album of these shows, which I understand were all recorded, then I don't know what will...). I'll get off my soapbox now.

Meanwhile, the classics just kept coming. "Whitlam Square" to "Stoneage Cinderella" to a majestic "Satisfied". The audience sings along like it's some kind of holy communion. Ashes to ashes, dust to dust; dearly departed, we are gathered here to... "Live and be strong!".

After "D.C.", with its melancholy coda of "This is just to say goodbye...", there was plenty of anxiety apparent in the audience. "No, that's not the last song. We wouldn't be that corny", says Ron. Then, after theatrically checking his set list, "Hmm, maybe that was the last song...". Only it wasn't the last song of course, as the band soon proved with a very hot, near tropical in fact, version of "Winterland".

"Godbless" rips and shreds like a virgin's nightie on her wedding night, but that's to be expected - it's always been a killer live. Tonight Ron nails "Harness Up" so hard and sure that it's going to take the roadies most of the night to prise it up off the stage afterward.

We're down to the wire now and both "Everybody Moves" and "Final Twist" have an appropriate air of departure and finality about them. It's a melancholy moment for all concerned, even if some of us do still have Sydney to look forward to next week, for that final "Final Twist".

The last image of the evening is anything but melancholy however - it's Robbie Warren and drummer Simon Cox dashing out of the band room and clambering into the band van, their arms laden with every bottle they can carry out of the backstage bar. Obviously we each have our own ways of dealing with grief.

3/4

 

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