Live Review: Adalita, Laura Imbruglia, and Through The Forest Door – Annandale Hotel (06.08.2011)

The music that started without announcement or warning was a lovely way to ease into a night at the Annandale. Through The Forest Door started to play to a half-empty bar and didn’t stop until the end of his set. He didn’t say his name or the names of his songs once, so I had to look at the playing times on the bar to figure out who this random guy on stage was. His music fit perfectly in the background to the sound of people chatting and it was a treat to relax early in the night.

I wish I could say the same of Laura Imbruglia. She experienced some sound and feedback problems in the first couple of songs and it was incredibly hard to understand her lyrics clearly at the back of the bar. Even though her voice was loud compared to her guitar she sounded shrill in some songs, a shame, since we know from her album The Lighter Side Of… she has a strong and beautiful voice. When she covered Roger Miller’s song ‘My Uncle Used to Love Me But She Died’, I felt like I’d stumbled into a hoedown and at any minute, people would be boot-scooting across the Annandale floor.

Adalita ambled on stage after guitarist J.P. Shilo had been teasing us with the intro to ‘Jewel Thief’ for a few minutes. She won everyone’s attention early by pounding on a drum with one hand and pointing at us with the other. I don’t think there was one person in the bar who looked away before the song finished.

Adalita’s voice was in fine form and it was such a relief after the problems Imbruglia had faced on stage. No note was lost in any part of the set and her voice was able to resonate over the vibration of the bass on the walls.

‘Full of Rope’ from Magic Dirt album Girl was the second song of the night and I think we were all a bit surprised to hear it. Adalita didn’t look as comfortable behind her guitar as usual and acted like she wasn’t sure how to move with it, a far cry from the Adalita I’ve seen live before. Whatever the issue, it didn’t take long to disappear and she went on to deliver a grinding version of ‘Invite Me’ to a nearly silent crowd.

A few of the songs on album Adalita are reminiscent of Magic Dirt, so much so, at the start of ‘Hot Air’ – the opening track on her album – my friend turned to me and said: “This is a Magic Dirt song, isn’t it?” It’s a comparison that is inevitable but harmless, since the songs on her album are of such high quality both recorded and live. ‘Going Down’ immediately reminds me of ‘Vulcanella’, with its heavy guitar riff and half sung, half spoken lyrics. But unlike ‘Vulcanella’ that sometimes lost its momentum live, ‘Going Down’ is rocking from start to finish and is the stand out song of the night.

“Thanks to everyone for coming out and supporting live music. Good on ya!” is her farewell and ‘The Repairer’ is the last song before the encore.
Adalita thanks us all again for coming out and the final song of the night is ‘Taxi Club’, a song co-written with Magic Dirt band mate Raul Sanchez.

Live Review: An Horse – Annandale Hotel (03.06.2011)

The Gold Coats tell us early they were devastated about leaving their actual gold coats at the Jetstar terminal in Brisbane, but manage to play a lively set to a gradually filling bar.

We’re told the drummer Nadia, who hasn’t played drums all that much, has bruises all over her legs from playing her tambourine too hard. Nadia manages to multi-task, playing drums with a drumstick in one hand and shaking a tambourine in the other. The catchiest song of the night is about mature age students, with lyrics: “I thought long, I thought hard. I went online, I re-enrolled,” and had everyone around me toe-tapping and singing along. Their cover of Paul Kelly’s ‘From St Kilda to Kings Cross’ brings a fresh sweetness to the song and its well-known lyrics. 

An Horse members Kate Cooper and Damon Cox arrive on stage to a nearly full bar, but feedback from one of the amps during set opener Trains and ‘Tracks’ from Walls puts them on the back foot early. The feedback was only noticeable in the first track, but for the rest of the set Cooper made a point of mentioning her disappointment with the sound.

“If you know the words to any of these songs, then sing to drown out the terrible sound of this amp,” she urged the crowd. And sing along they did, to ‘Little Lungs’ and ‘Company’ from 2009’s Rearrange Beds. Though the bad amp was spoken about after every few songs, its problems didn’t stop the crowd from enjoying the set. Cooper and Cox had fun on stage later in the set, joking about Cooper’s mum in the front row telling everyone she was her sister. Cox had to tell a fan: “I can’t afford to give you a drum stick, I’ve only got three left!”

Energetic and upbeat songs ‘Brain on Table’, ‘Walls’ and ‘Postcards’ were the standouts of an otherwise slower set, with Cooper and Cox getting the crowd to bounce along together. ‘Dressed So Sharply’ had the crowd singing “Dressed so sharply, you know I will read, every word you send me,” solo in the last chorus, spurring Cooper to ask everyone: “Could you feel it?” Cooper got a laugh and cheers from the crowd when she replied: “That’s what he said!”

Sweet ballad ‘Swallow the Sea’ ended the set and had the front row swaying along. Cooper had commented earlier in the night they really felt like a two-piece at this gig – something they’re not used to. They seemed relieved to finish up and leave The Annandale and the inferior amps behind. 

The new album Walls is filled with heartfelt lyrics and bouncy riffs. An Horse delivered new and old songs to a happy crowd with a lot of love. It’s just a shame they didn’t seem to have as much fun playing them as we did hearing them. 

Live Review: The Waifs – Enmore Theatre (02.26.2011)

The Waifs arrive on stage excited, and clearly happy to be back in Sydney, as they remind us throughout the show. Their new album Temptation will be released on 4th March, and tonight the set-list is heavy with new songs.
The funky guitar and harmonica solos are still there, as has become their trademark over the years, and each song they sing has a long history behind it. It’s a shame these songs are not well known yet, and often leave the crowd distracted, talking amongst themselves.

It’s not until ‘Lighthouse’ from 2003 album Up All Night that the crowd show any sign of life, and start to sing along, louder than singer Vikki Thorn in some parts. There are cheers during the harmonica solo, and her sister Donna Simpson jokes: “Everyone loves a pregnant woman on the harmonica!”

The Waifs have always been storytellers. Their songs are an insight into their relationships, their fears, travels and their history. Donna stops during London Still to reminisce of her time living in Bondi Beach, and excitedly points out her friends in the crowd. She says: “Even my old boss from the Mexican Restaurant is here!”

New song ‘Falling’ is introduced as the first happy love song Donna has written, and wins the crowd over with the light melody and pretty lyrics.
Other new songs ‘Beautiful Night’ and ‘Goodbye Darlin’ get a good reception, but it’s clear the crowd are hanging out for the older, better known songs.
‘Highway One’ is met with cheers and claps during another long harmonica solo and the two girls behind me start to hug and sway. ‘Gillian’ has everyone singing “Gillian if you weren’t my mother I would make you my wife,” a line that still makes me stop to think when I hear it.

Vikki introduces the song ‘Bridal Train’, and while most are familiar of the story behind it, there is another important lesson to be learnt. It seems the lyrics published in the EP were wrong and Vikki needs to set it straight. The words are not “leapt aboard the bridal train,” as published, but “wept aboard the bridal train.”

Donna starts to tell a story about her son, but is interrupted by shouts for “Crazy Train!” The song that has been their signature for many years was missed tonight. Amidst a set-list heavy with new songs, it would have been a welcome classic to sing and clap along to. The Waifs have fallen off the ‘Crazy Train’, and it is a notable absence.

Donna and Josh Cunningham finish together with a quietly beautiful version of ‘Rescue’, leaving behind a subdued crowd.

Temptationwill not be released until Friday, meaning many of the songs played tonight had not been heard before. With the experience and strength The Waifs have, I’m sure the songs from this album will eventually draw as much enthusiasm as favourites ‘Gillian’ and ‘London Still’.

Nobu is No Good

I can pinpoint the exact moment I knew I was in the wrong career. I was at some kind of networking meeting at Nobu in Tribeca.

Couple of things:

  1. Nobu is a very expensive sushi restaurant owned by Robert DeNiro. Rich celebrities and other people who want to pretend to be rich for a day go there to spend ridiculous amounts of money on small plates of sushi and pretend it’s worth it for the ‘flavor’ when really, it’s a huge fucking ripoff but no one says so because they don’t want to seem poor. DeNiro sadly wasn’t there when I went, but I don’t even think seeing him could have made that lunch enjoyable.
  2. Tribeca is the most expensive neighborhood in Manhattan. And that’s saying something, given how much it costs to find a place anywhere on that fucking island. Tribeca is where Beyonce and JayZ, Jennifer Lawrence, and Justin Timberlake and Jessica Biel live.

So there I was, meeting representatives from a company that takes all your data that you thought was private from online shopping sites, and sells it to people like me. We then use it to sell you some more stuff. That you likely don’t need. Yeah, this is a thing, and I’m part of the problem.

It came time to introduce ourselves formally, something American people take very, very seriously. It’s never just, “Hi, my name is Justine, I’m a Supervisor at my company and I’ve been in New York for three months,” which is what I said.

It’s things like: “Hi, I’m such and such from some company, and I’ve been there for three months. I recently made the move to New York, and it’s been super exciting but challenging. I think the highlight for me is selling stuff to people who don’t even need more stuff, super grateful things are going well for me, and I’m super happy to be meeting you and having lunch with you today! I’m super excited to start the conversation about working together and hope we can circle back about it and align on a game plan after today.”

OK so I slightly exaggerated the number of “super”s but the more I listen to Americans speak in business meetings, the more it sounds fake, and like a heap of corporate cliches and over-enthusiasm. I’ve never understood this need everyone has to fucking be excited all the time, and it’s a million times worse when at a meeting like this.

The people hosting us ordered for us – they’d been there before so they knew what to get, or so they said – and as it arrived everyone pretended to not be interested in the food, and just kept talking.

“Oh so you’re from London? That’s great, I love London.”
“Yes, it’s a great city, but not as big as New York! Hahaha.”

“And, you’re Australian? I haven’t been there! But I want to visit.”
“Oh yes, it’s beautiful, but not as exciting as New York! Hahaha.”

I stared at the plate of somewhat disappointing-looking fish and waited for someone to take some, but they kept on pretending to be really interested in small talk.

“Oh, so such and such isn’t at your company any more?”
“No, they left a little while ago. Super sad to see them go though! Hahaha.”

Finally, I reached toward the food and everyone stared at me.
“I’m super hungry! Hahaha,” I said as I took some fish. Everyone waited a full five minutes before taking any, at which point I’d helped myself two more times.

More food came out, and everyone continued to pretend to ignore it, while I reached for it first each time. Any questions that came my way were so pointless that I can’t even remember them. Eventually, when we were up to the fifth tiny serving of a $30 plate of sushi, the business talk started.

“Yeah we’d be super interested in working with you, maybe we can organize a meeting for next week so we can talk more about the possibilities?”

“That sounds great, we’re super slammed at the moment but we can definitely circle back when we get to the office and align our availability.”

“Yeah, that would be super!”

As more plates came and went, I stared at the superfluous decor above our table and considered what else I could do with my life.

“An Uber driver! You love driving. That would be really fun, and a great way to see more of New York. Oh but you need a car for that. Never mind.”

“A massage therapist! You could be like Phoebe from Friends, and have your own business in your apartment, and go to see people in their apartments… and then sell out to a big massage chain for the perks like she did. Oh, but you’d need to do a course for that. Could I do a course in New York? Hmmm… look into that later Justine, that’s a good idea!”

“A yoga teacher! You could just go and teach a beginners class and make sure people know the basics before they do the more challenging classes. Or do a combined meditation class! Ah but you need to do a course for that too… OK look into that along with the massage course though.”

And then, as a tiny plate of dessert landed on the table and everyone pretended they were too full for it, I realized: “Fuck. You need money to stay in New York. Doing a course here would mean not working for a while. And, if you don’t work, you can’t stay. Looks like you’re stuck for now.”

And so we left Nobu, promising to align with the others again soon and thanked them for the super lunch they’d treated us to. As we walked towards the subway, my colleagues trailed behind me, chatting about the lunch we’d just had, and caught up with me on the platform. Their conversation continued on the train and any time I tried to join in, they gave each other a look and pretended I wasn’t there.

When we got to our stop, I walked ahead, partly because I walk fast (it’s New York, pick up the pace or get off the sidewalk) and partly because I wanted to get back to my friends. Back to people who didn’t roll their eyes when I spoke, who didn’t expect me to be super excited at the idea of using people’s personal data to sell them more stuff, and who didn’t pretend that a tiny shared plate of fish is enough for them to feel full.

This lunch started months of questioning and self-doubt. Months of agonizing over whether living in New York was worth doing something I didn’t believe in. Months of wishing I was still 23, so I could leave the job and go back to Uni, the way I had after I worked for a bank for a few months.

I’m 29 now, and just giving up and starting over is harder now than before, especially since the only thing I don’t like about living in New York is what makes it possible for me to live in New York.

That doesn’t mean I don’t think about it, every day, and wonder if what I’m doing is worth it. It is for now, but I don’t know how much longer it will be.


30 in Three Months

I turn 30 in just over three months. I don’t make a big deal about my birthday, usually. Unless you forget about it or don’t act accordingly on the day, that is. I’m both indifferent and intense about my birthday. Doing something big often adds a lot of pressure to the lead up, but when the day arrives I tend to wonder why people didn’t make more of an effort.

Some of the worst arguments I’ve had with people have been on my birthday, and I remember a couple of them (hello, 25) as some of my unhappiest days. That forced happiness, the expectation everyone puts on you is hard to handle. Having people ask you – over and over – how the day is going, if you’re having fun, what you have planned, what presents you got… it’s all too much especially when your answers are “Fine.” “No.” and “Nothing.”

“Well, birthdays are merely symbolic of how another year has gone by and how little we’ve grown. No matter how desperate we are that someday a better self will emerge, with each flicker of the candles on the cake, we know it’s not to be, that for the rest of our sad, wretched pathetic lives, this is who we are to the bitter end. Inevitably, irrevocably; happy birthday? No such thing.” – Jerry Seinfeld

Being sad on your birthday feels selfish. How dare you not love everything people have done and the extra attention you’re getting! You should be happy.
For me, my dread of birthdays has never been about age. It’s about hating the expectations everyone has for you, and having to pretend to be happy when you really just feel ordinary. I feel the same about Christmas sometimes, or I did when I was younger and it mattered more.

I don’t usually start feeling bad about my birthday until a month before. This one is different though. When I turned 29, people started (un)helpfully reminding me that 30 was coming up – even on the same day! “Nearly 30!” “Um no, I just turned 29, thanks.” I don’t know if it was meant to be funny but way to make my birthday even harder guys.


Look at the Google search results when you type in “turning 30 crisis.” There have been a lot of things written about this – as well as so-called inspirational pieces telling you what you should achieve by the time you turn 30.

All of them have the same advice:

  • Travel
  • Move to a new city
  • Run really far (either a half or full marathon)
  • Learn to cook
  • Learn about wine
  • Learn a new language
  • Go to a music festival
  • Sing in public

My problem with these kinds of lists is, while they’re meant to give you ideas of things you can do to add meaning to your life before a certain age, they seem to assume that once you turn 30 you just stop trying.

Probs not going to not learn a new language just because I’m 31… and I’m definitely not going to stop going to music festivals. I might change what I do at said music festivals (I’m never camping at one again) but I’ll still be enjoying them long, long after 30.

Then, there is the idea that there’s no real hurry to get everything done – 40 is the new 30 for us millennials! Right guys? It’s OK, we’ve got another ten years to get our shit together! But this attitude is still putting limitations on our lives. Why can’t I go to a music festival after 40? Why can’t I have big nights out and party after 40? Why can’t I (as unlikely as it will ever be) run some kind of marathon after 40?

And what about physically aging? I asked for input from some friends on the matter and was told not to worry because I still “look young.” And? What does 30 even look like?

Gloria Steinem on aging

This is what 30 looks like, but I don’t really care about that. How does not having wrinkles stop me from feeling anxious about my age? Sure, I’d love my 23 year old metabolism back, but that’s not going to happen so why worry? I still have fun and achieve good things no matter what my face looks like to others.

Even though I don’t want to buy into the “rules” or “helpful hints” about what to do and how to live before I turn 30, I’m finding it hard not to. Maybe I’m being really fucking millennial here, but most of this is coming from wanting to do something meaningful.

I don’t want to explore this desire by way of a relationship, marriage, or children – I’m still happy being selfish for now – but rather, I want to feel that I have achieved something meaningful. I just don’t know what that is yet.

While I figure it all out, I’ll be creating pieces to explain my existential crises.

“30 Before 30” will be a series of personal essays, detailing my feelings of unease, dissatisfaction, and flat out fear in the lead up to my 30th birthday.

I hope you’ll share the journey with me!