I set out from my stoop to the Brunswick art space, where some friends and some strangers are putting on a show called ‘Open Air.’ I hang around, admire the handiwork – photographs, ink drawings, digital illustrations, furniture, animation, sound. I drink a Coopers green and weave through the well-dressed room. Back along the dark laneway I remount my bike and sail down Sydney Road, cut across to Lygon Street, pedal my way to Carlton and make one more turn for the lights of Fiztroy and Collingwood. I wanted to be early, but I’m here almost an hour before doors. A little too eager. I u-lock the two-wheeler to a public rack next to the Keith Haring mural, and stroll up to Lamb’s Pizza & Kebab for two cheapo slices of their finest.
When I return, belly sated and nostrils refreshingly chilled by the breeze, fellow earlybirds are milling like nervous magpies by the band room door – anxious to nab the worm. Almost instantaneously, at five to nine, a conga line of twitching maggies has formed from the doorframe, through the bar, to the street. Survival instincts on high, I ensure I’m near the front; I present my tenner, and the damp stamp smears my inner wrist with the moist black ink of success.
You might think that’s an excessively dramatic lead-up to a local pub gig, and you’re right, but I was dead set on not missing Dick Diver before they head off on their USA tour, and the other brains bubbling in this new-sprung throng feel just as strong. It’s a testament to the band’s wholesome rapport with their fans that such a crowd makes it down so early, to a relatively low-key event preceded by barely any fanfare.
Once inside, GUY & MARCUS BLACKMAN EXPERIMENTATION PROJECT begin to scrub us down with their audio fare. All I knew about this ahead of time was that Guy Blackman runs Chapter Records [home of DD’s “Calendar Days” album] and that he used to play in weird rock bands back in Perth in the ‘90s, and Marcus sings for the UV Race, and the name of this act led me to think it could be a meandering sound art affair. If I’d done any homework whatsoever, I’d have realized that the project is in fact a majestic pisstake – though not without genuine charm.
Guy plays the keyboard. Basic sounds – organ, electric piano, no reverb – and he plays it like someone who doesn’t play keyboard often (though he has some evident skill). Together, both Macus and Guy talk-sing and falteringly intone ridiculous lyrics that could almost be improvised – dumb, messy, hilarious verses about suburban laziness, childhood farmyard footy, Sydney trysts, empty pantries, failed New Years’ Resolutions and procrasturbation (I’ll let let you can unravel that portmanteau, lil Chomsky). G&MBEP are to Elton John what [Perth no-fi reducto-punk dorks] Taco Leg are to U2. You couldn’t loosen the screws on a song much more than these two do without it falling apart and rolling down the hill. But as it stands, they beautifully walk the weird line between utter shambles and comedic genius… their “Country Pantry” release is absolutely worth a listen, you will laugh, cry and accidentally spit coffee on your pants.
One can of beer later it’s MOON RITUALS, which is a duo that I can’t find much information about other than it being a new project for Sarah Hardiman from Deaf Wish. But anyway, all the information you need comes in through yer earholes. They are really bloody good. Lo-fi drum machine chugs along with a robust/restrained intensity, and over the top come crashing waves of husky VHS synth and superb pop vocal melodies. Good, unobvious lyrics too. I guess it’s a bit like if Beach House were drinking black coffee and rum instead of warm milk and xanax (I love Beach House, but their tunes are reliably soporific). Every tune here is brimming with that sparkly something-something that flows through the capillaries of Great Pop Hits. Each of these could have been classics. The only moment it loses me a little is when Hardiman breaks out the amp-worship feedback session, thereby trading understated, high-quality fun for unduly serious (and pretty incongruous) noise indulgence. But you forgive her, because she seems like a darn nice character and the whole set was so damn solid.
And finally it’s Dick Diver – a band who in the last year or two have become one of my favourite Australian acts. From their laid-back/lively arrangements, to their witty, quotidian lyrical vignettes and their lumbering, twangy, life-affirming delivery. I’ve only seem them once before in the live setting, so this feels momentous. Of course, the band members aren’t making a big deal about anything – and if they did, it’d be totally uncharacteristic. Instead they trickle onstage, laughing to each other, tuning guitars and at last launching into a neat rendition of Coloured Stone’s “Lonely Life,” a track which forms the B-Side of their latest 7”.
The joy of Dick Diver is in their incredible songs -like the poignant, oblique, colloquial “Water Damage” – which play out here faithfully to the record, without much in the way of elaboration. So you could be forgiven for thinking the live experience wouldn’t add much. But there’s a new life in these tracks as they’re strummed out before you; the in-the-moment delivery of an earnest line or cheeky quip. The steadfast focused vibes of [guitarists/singers] Alistair McKay and Rupert Edwards, and the larrikin repartee of [bassist] Al Montfort and [drummer] Stephanie Hughes. We’re in a sizeable room surrounding by the usual trappings of a pub, but these guys just feel like a bunch of mates, and we could as well be in their loungeroom.
The setlist is unwaveringly great – if not always familiar. There are a bunch of new songs, including the politically-charged but still breezy-sounding “New Name Blues,” (the A-side to the aforementioned 7”) and another top-shelf newie where Hughes plays guitar and takes up more vocal duties than at any other stage during the night. They’re joined by guest saxophone, which -along with chorus-laden slide guitar – rounds out the neo-80s antipodean pop sound for which they’re so renowned. It’s a sound which could sound forced and nostalgic in the wrong hands, but Dick Diver are the real deal: natural heirs to the lineage, rather than plunderers of its surface aesthetic. Every familiar “trope” is alive with soul, honesty and a timeless sensibility.
They wrap it up with perhaps their most joyous tune – “Alice,” the rollicking tale of a trip to Alice Springs to escape the tedium of city life, and naïvely get lost in the romance of the desert. The crowd’s equally wrapped up in the ecstatic world of the Dicky Dee’s, and we plead for an encore – but now that they’ve put their guitars down, there’ll be no nonsense. The house tunes are back on, and before too long, last drinks are called. I grab one of Steph Hughes’ new t-shirts (she’s a formidable visual artist, too, and designed them as a Tote fundraising item) and head back into the night. Northbound, on a cold blue bicycle, with a pocket full of the best vibes a boy could ask for.