idGAFF Bar, Collingwood
December 10, 2006


It’s a downright apocalyptic day as I make my through the heat haze and smoke to get to Collingwood- 38 degrees Celsius in the shade - if you can find any. When I arrive in Richmond I can’t see the Nylex clock above the river- I’ve never seen fog as bad as the smoke in the city today.

The idGAFF Lounge is a relatively new place, in the space formerly known as the Yak Bar. Just up Hoddle St is the Star Hotel, a former drag king bar, now renamed the Opium Den- which seems ironic when it’s across the road from blocks of council flats where you can buy valium & rohypnol in three packs for $5.00 a pop.

I haven’t seen Louis in a long time; he’s a rare visitor to Melbourne these days, and this low key outing is only his second show here this year. He looks good, and is friendly and expansive as ever when I go up to the rooftop for a chat.

There are some minor technical problems to be sorted out before he can go on. I sit at the bar with a cold VB and a pint of ice water, and literally chill while sitting under the ceiling fans, listening to the excellent jukebox, until the monitors are knocked into shape, and Louis does a 20-second sound check, running his hands briskly up and down the keys. I’d heard that Charlie Owen was going to be playing this afternoon, but there is no sign of him or indeed Tillett’s other old cohort, Penny Ikinger. There is a small crowd but everyone is here to hear music, not just to hang out.

Louis of course has the luxury of working without a set list, as he runs through a wide sweep of his back catalogue. Tracks range from “Trip To Kali-ki-Bar” and “Sailor’s Dream” all the way through to “Around You” via “Persephone’s Dance” He is still clearly and immediately recognizable as the voice of the Wet Taxis, whether he is whispering or letting loose with a baritone roar. The keyboard takes a right pounding at times, too.

When he takes a breather I realize it’s already 6.00pm, and that we will be lucky to get another 45 minutes of this.

When I come in from having a cigarette during the break, I can feel waves of heat radiating off my jeans and boots. Spencer P Jones has been out too, and fetched the trusty Fender out his car, wondering aloud why he let it out of his sight in this neighbourhood. He’s due to close the Meredith Festival late the next day, but is happy to get up and play a few with Louis tonight. Just after 7.00pm they go on together, with Sydney chanteuse Rachael Slattery adding her voice to the mix as well.

The place has gotten noisy in the break, but quietens again as people realize what’s on offer. The additions give the sound some more depth, and there is a different feel in the air as the three of them work together. In particular, they pull out an extended, roaring version of “Alligator Wine” that is absolutely sublime.

At the end, there are loud calls for “Clock On The Wall”- Louis obliges, with a rocking barrelhouse version, which manages to wring every remaining drop of sweat out of the joint. It is quite simply an amazing thing to see and hear at such close quarters.

He does this every Sunday afternoon at the Sandringham in Sydney? Sign me up for a subscription, pronto.