Artists of the world unite at the Old bar
Mikelangelo And The Tin Star, Amanda Palmer and Fraser A Gorman — National SLAM Day, 23 February, 2012 at The Old Bar
SLAM (Save Australian Live Music) grew out of the threat of closures at The Tote and other loved venues in Melbourne due to ill-conceived state licensing laws. In 2010, 20,000 people march on State Parliament demanding action to save live music. On the second anniversary of the march, hundreds of SLAM gigs were held across the country. Sarah Webster made it along to catch a very special SLAM event at the Old Bar.
Exercising my right to wholly undignified punctuality, as is my wont, I arrived for Mikelangelo And The Tin Star’s SLAM gig at Old Bar just as the band was getting down some quick takes for its upcoming video clip. It was exciting. The lights were down, the costumes pressed, the sound tech fully versed in modern reverb theory – add the cool breeze coming in from Johnston Street and my childish compulsion to steal Mikelangelo’s novelty sized sombrero, and the night was fraught with giddy potential.
The gig proper kicked off with Fraser A Gorman and band treating us to some classic lyric-laden country tracks– mostly originals, with the exception of a standout cover of The Band’s The Weight which spoke well to Fraser A Gorman & Co’s aptitude for harmony.
After the break, Mikelangelo and the Tin Star swaggered onto the stage – dripping with charisma and an almost complacent confidence in the fact that they were about to rock our worlds. While Mikelangelo’s aesthetic was a clear Presley reference, the Band’s as a whole was one of an incoherent, but surely classic, time.
They opened the set with a reverberating, surfy, instrumental wind up track – so that when lyrics were added, the strength and groundedness of Mikelangelo’s voice made you feel that the vocals were carrying the instruments, rather than the other way around. While the sound as a whole was tight and cohesive, an innovative creativeness from the drummer emerged – particularly during the next instrumental for which Mikelangelo observed “It doesn’t have words, so you can all be the protagonist.”
But he was lying. Because you can’t be the protagonist when Amanda Palmer is in the room…
She mounted the stage in black skinny jeans, laced knee high boots, a striped corset and a velvet jacket like a woman/pirate with a plan – viz. to auction off Mikelangelo’s ukulele to the highest bidder. She kept her hands on the ukulele just long enough to give us a chance to sing along to her Ukulele Anthem, and to remind us that Art Is Not Hard.
When accounting firm Ernst and Young found that live music in small venues contributed over $1 billion to the Australian economy every year, attention was brought to bear upon alcohol sales, and bar jobs, and the fact that money spent on venue-based live music had that charming way of trickling back into the rest of the economy just as any well behaved manifestation of the free market should. It was a boon to the SLAM movement – because it meant that government had to play nice if it wanted to keep its hands on tax revenues, or to avoid paying unemployment benefits, or to circumvent the massive deflationary effect of the disappearance of that kind of money from the consumption economy.
But what I get out of Saving Live Australian Music is a sneak peek at a video clip, an unexpected union of three different genres of music, a multidimensional meshing of aesthetic and sound, an invitation to make my own story of songs, and an impassioned reminder that that Art Is Not Hard, and that if I really put my mind to it, I could be on the stage too. It was not the minutely produced perfection of a studio album, nor did it have the great expectations of going to a large venue and seeing a lifelong hero through opera glasses. Live music in small venues is unique because it is the only context in which patrons can truly interact, in real time, with the making of the art. The only context in which they are, by definition, part of it.