In his 1863 essay ‘The Painter of Modern Life,’ Charles Baudelaire bangs on about the joy of convalescence. The thrill of growing healthy when one has been unwell: it is a state of renewed childhood, says Baudelaire, a state whereby one experiences more vividly than usual the wonder of things, however trivial. I’ve spent the last week struggling against the dreaded “Influenza Masculina” virus, and only now is it beginning to recede into the shadows. So I become the convalescent: not quite Baudelaire’s convalescent (“a genius for whom no edge of life is blunted”), but a convalescent nonetheless, eager to reclaim stolen time, to drink in the fizzy qualia the world’s had clutched to its chest, to have my eyes and ears zapped and soothed. First I celebrate with three coffees of different kinds. There is the Mexican Café de Olla, before a simple espresso, and a hot Vietnamese (arriving, as it does, in tiers, before condensed milk and black brew blur together like thick, sweet day into medium roasted night). On a nearby screen, eight Croatian girls appear in blue leotards and spin and lunge and fling balls in perfect unison. I’m not sure what this sport is called. A disembodied voice assesses their performance. I pay and stroll into the street where breath forms visible clouds.
Somewhere along the way I meet a Japanese hostess who leads me into a dark room where smoke billows and my wrist glows. At one end is a waterfall of beer and rice wine. At the other are paintings and curtains and guitars. A young man with flowing hair and a fiery eye slings a guitar over his shoulder and widens his mouth around a vintage microphone. Here we have CAMERON AVERY. The man is a Growler, and Pond-dweller and a hundred other things. Tonight he’s a howling crackling voice in the air; guitar strums, plucks and bends in the indigo half-light. There are late-hour loungeroom croonings full of 13th chord twinkliness, dynamic roadside dirges and corroded doo-wop gems. A-capella-plus-harmonica classic “John the Revelator” is a really rousing howler. Less distinctive tunes gets lost amongst their superior counterparts, but overall the effect is haunting and broody with lots of what you might call “swagger.” Avery caps it off by calling upon Felicity Groom for a duet rendition of Leonard Cohen’s “Chelsea Hotel #2,” which they deliver with spine-tingling poise. Smooth.
The spontaneous duo is soon replaced by a quartet of LONG LOST BROTHERS. As (Apricot Rail drummer) Matt Saville mentions to my right, these guys are total veterans, destined to be effortlessly awesome – and destined to end up in a band together eventually, as their name suggests. Drum man Mitch McDonald is the possible exception, being significantly younger and newer to the scene, and yet he seems no less a naturalized brother than Andrew Ryan, Simon Struthers (both of Adamsaidgalore) or Matt Rudas (Tucker B’s). For a band that appears to be a sort of jocular mate-rock endeavour, the songs are remarkably nuanced and reflective. Nuanced and reflective in a jocular matey way. There are hints of Husker Dü, Pinback, Gomez, plus that unmistakable Andrew Ryan-ness guiding the melodies and riffs. “China” exemplifies much of what is good about wholesome indie-rock songwriting; “Black Navaho” is sensitive songcraft wrapped in guitar barbed wire. “Snakes and Ladders” is that same sensitivity, but laid bare and bruised.
We soon see the videos being premiered tonight, blazing across four screens above the DJ booths. The Long Lost Brother’s “China” video is as silly, eccentric and endearing as their onstage banter – a spinning world globe proves to be a portal to bizarre situations involving laundry, lawn bowls, shopping trolleys and phoney seniors. Felicity Groom’s “Trophy Talk” clip is significantly more minimal and austere – a solemn dance against a black backdrop – the sort of simplicity that could dissolve into boredom or awkwardness if not for Groom’s captivating presence and skilled accomplices (both the co-stars, and directors Coel Healy and Amber Fresh).
Groom’s set ensues and her band is looking markedly different from when last I laid eyes on it. Mike Jelinek (Growl, Gunns) is now holding the sticks and Mink Mussel Creek/Whalehammer bassist Steve Summerlin is in charge of low-end frequencies. Just as illness reveals the gloriousness of returning health, absence from songs makes the ears grow fonder, and it’s been far too long since I experienced a Felicity Groom performance. It can be easy to forget, at some superficial level, just how special a musician is when they have no shtick per se: Flick is all the better for her lack of Flick-Shtick, mind you, and the impeccable songs speak for themselves. The set is an all-killer rundown of some of her best songwriting achievements to date, from the ebbing, aforementioned “Trophy Talk” to the superb melody of “John Edmund Shea” and the singalong triumph of “Finders and Keepers” (featuring a host of good buddies on stage helping out). The arrangements mustn’t be underestimated here, either: be they the snaking guitar lines, the celestial trilling of autoharp or the muscular delicacy of the rhythm section. Groom’s material and performance are local treasures, and tonight is a heartwarming reminder.
After almost forgetting my umbrella I descend, away from the smoke and the purple glow and the trailing shindiggery, into the wash of damp streelights. Despite lingering sniffles I feel healthier than ever, having absorbed vital energies from the superlative audio/visuals on offer in an upstairs alcove on a Sunday evening. Baudelaire would be pleased with the results, I feel. Cameron Avery, Long Lost Brothers, Felicity Groom and a room full of faultless vibes: for your health.