What we saw from the cheap seats…
August 2, 2015

There was a photo that one of the music majors took for their cover story on Mark Ronson.  I guess it was after the hype and play of the Version days, around when Record Collection was due for release.  In it, Mark was putting on a scowl, but it was obvious that he was trying to hide the laughter lurking behind it.  He was holding a trumpet which he’d broken, presumably across his knee, with the headline printed along with his name a quote on how he doesn’t want to work with trumpets again.  It is ironic, because during this tour, Ronson was at his best when flanked by his horn section.

Mark Ronson,
Margaret Court Arena, Melbourne, July 29, 2015…

This was my first visit to Margaret Court Arena (as I hadn’t been able to attend the Wombat’s Splendour Sideshow the previous night due to an engagement next door) and it is certainly a venue with pros and cons.  As a smaller concert venue than its older brother Rod Laver, it brings a surprising warmth and illusion of intimacy to the arena setting.  Upon arrival, staff recommended that patrons use the facilities outside the arena in the Melbourne Park precinct to avoid prophesied queues inside, with vague signage seeing me exit the restrooms onto a tennis court.  Sadly, we are not in the midst of the Australian Open, so hilarity did not ensue this time.  Inside the arena, I was greeted immediately by a long queue that did indeed snake its way around the outskirts of the venue that surely, I thought, could not be for the bathrooms?  I followed the queue in the direction of my door to find it ended in what appeared to be the only bar for the evening.  Hopefully this was the result of venue management misjudging the audience’s thirst on this occasion and choosing to open only one bar, and that there are actually other dedicated beverage facilities hidden away somewhere, otherwise this would constitute an unforgivable design flaw.

On the other hand, the hungry were well-catered to, with an assortment of food options to rival even those of the Araneta Coliseum. Event staff paced the expansive bar queue, deceptively recommending patrons order drinks from one of the dining venues. (Deceptive, as many did not serve liquor, and those which did seemed to only stock the house beer.)  Once I’d foolishly conquered the bar queue, I found my way to what could be Melbourne’s best wheelchair concert viewing area.

Pond played as main support, and played it well, producing catchy electro-rock sounds not dissimilar to those of Midnight Juggernauts.  It was an exciting set, which enforced the intimate feeling of the arena, and put the group on my list of bands to see again.

During the intermission after Pond, and elaborate band-stand style prop was revealed on a stage distressingly otherwise bare of instrumentation, and the staff at the main bar advised patrons that the beer had sold out.  The show opened in strange and underwhelming fashion.  The house lights were dimmed, but instead of any action on stage, the PA was turned up to play a Tamsin West’s closing theme to Round The Twist to a darkened venue.  After a moment of awkward silence the fake band-stand lit up with bright white, while a pair of rappers I couldn’t identify bounded onto stage to rap over a video of Mystikal singing Feel Right.  The emergence of Mark Ronson himself, atop the centre pillar of the illuminated band-stand, was peculiarly overshadowed by the bold karaoke lyrics projected behind the animated dancing of Mystikal on screen.

MarkRonsonIt was when feature singers started emerging to the stage that the show really kicked off, with The Bamboos’ Ella Thompson impressing on vocal duties for Bang Bang Bang, the early sing-along remaining the night’s highlight, though closely followed by The View’s Kyle Falconer shyly reprising his Bike Song vocals.  Business Intl songs stole the show from the current album selection.  The show came to life when Mark took to the stage from behind the props to take up his guitar, and Mark himself looked to be particularly enjoying jamming with Kirin J. Callinan.  It was a shame – though not a surprise, and understandable – to have Valerie played with an empty stage and Amy Winehouse’s piped vocals instead of utilising one of the many guest singers (Daniel Merriweather was, after all, featured only briefly and might have changed up another of the Version covers.)

These DJ shows are always a tricky thing to enliven, but Mark Ronson ended up doing well after a shaky start, though shouldn’t be afraid to feature more live instrumentation, because those moments were when this trip to Melbourne really shone.  After pronouncing his excitement at playing his first arena show tonight, it would seem he can pull it off, though I’ve no doubt he won’t have any problem returning to clubs either.

McNormal and chips…
August 1, 2015

Once I’d checked my bag and coat in at Rod Laver Arena’s efficient cloakroom, strangers immediately started commenting on my t-shirt.  At first I merely gave them a non-committal thanks, for I have lots of nice t-shirts bearing cartoon motifs which prompt my grandmother to ask ‘When are you going to start dressing like an adult?’  When I started fielding questions about if the shirt was from one of this evening’s merchandise stands or from a previous tour, I was confused:  I’d worn my old Blur t-shirts into the ground several years ago.  A check reminded me that I was wearing my Dan Potthast merch, and I realised that passers-by were answering the question of ‘Dan Who?‘ with ‘Dan Abnormal.’

Blur, with Jamie T.,
Rod Laver Arena, Melbourne, July 28, 2015…

I have heard a lot about the evening’s opening act Jamie T., but I don’t think I’d ever actually heard his songs.  I recalled comparisons to Arctic Monkeys at around the time that Arctic Monkeys were promoting their new sound and Alex Turner’s new classic rock hairstyle.  Jamie T. seemed to have a small yet extremely dedicated segment of supporters in attendance, bopping wildly and cheering loudly to tunes which seemed familiar to me, though not immediately recognisable.  It was a set which inspired me to listen out for more from the artist, but not to rush out to the record shop yet.

I also caught myself swinging along with those enthusiastic Jamie T. fans during his set, prompting a woman in the audience nearby to shout ‘Dickhead alert!’ at me at the end of the final song, too loudly considering her proximity to me.  I asked her what she meant, and she responded ‘Have you heard of personal space?  You’re right inside of mine, cunt!’

I had bopped to the music, but hadn’t actually shifted position in the general admission section, and suggested to her that she had, in fact, moved towards me, as was common practice at concerts.  She turned to her tall male companion, and spat at him ‘This is why I said I hate standing at concerts.  I used to enjoy going to concerts till I started going out with you.  Now we are always standing and meeting idiots like this!‘ she gestured to me.

I asked why she came to the show since she had no interest in it.  ‘Obviously because my boyfriend likes Blur!’ she answered, as though that contained the explanation of why she was wilfully enduring an apparently painful experience.

Her continued rambling was drowned out by applause and an introductory compilation of icecream truck classics, in keeping with The Magic Whip theme, as the house lights dimmed.  Damon Albarn bounded onto the stage, his band-mates offering waves, and then icecream truck chimes shifted into opener Go Out.  This set the scene for what was clearly The Magic Whip tour, with at least half of the latest album’s songs getting a play this evening.  Though being fantastic live translations from an excellent album (the aforementioned opener and Pyongyang particular highlights of the set,) the new material didn’t excite the majority of the audience as much as old favourites like Girls And Boys and Parklife (an unexpected inclusion, and a good live experience, despite being the song I usually skip on the CD.)

My concerns regarding the ability of a band who fit perfectly onto the modest temporary stage of Monash University’s Chisholm Hall on their last visit to fully utilise the arena setting were quickly allayed by the inclusion of a brass section and small choir – put to task during the crowd-pleasing sing-along Tender.  Damon’s forays through the general admission audience all the way into the stalls during Trimm Trabb may have been overdoing the arena thing, but it seemed to delight those in the cheap seats.  Meanwhile, songs played straight from the long gap between Blur’s visits were fantastic to finally hear live: 13‘s Coffee and TV was a hit with the crowd, whilst Think Tank‘s Out Of Timeproved a highlight of the entire night.

Blur MelbourneThe set as a whole felt more refined, less punky, than the Blur of the past, with even the anticipated drop during Beetlebum given an almost Calypso makeover tonight (a divisive moment) but there was still plenty of time to jump around – Stereotypes and Song 2 had the room jumping.  Meanwhile, the latter prompted the girlfriend from earlier in the night to complain anew that ‘There’s nothing left for them to play now!  They can’t possibly stay on for much longer, can they?  I mean, what are they going to do for the encore now?’

After being caught in an apparently spontaneous chant from Tender in lieu of the dreaded ‘One more song!’ after the main set ended, the group returned and answered the girlfriend’s question with the epic and surprisingly effective closer The Universal, a fine tune to show off not only that Blur have still got it, but also a showcase for their extended band’s touring vocal and horn section.