Gig review

Seth Sentry
The Metro Theatre

So I'm at a gig. Scribbling away at a reporter-style notepad to pass the time. It's awkward, how the hell did Bob Woodward work with such a small piece of paper? I guess I look a bit like a reporter what with the pad and the trench coat I'm wearing. Or maybe a music journalist given that I'm at a gig. A bad music journalist since I thought the first support act was the main act. One and a half stars. For him and me. But I'm standing where I suppose a music journalist would stand. Leaning dispassionately against a wall, elevated by a single step, close to the exit, next to a heavily bearded guy. In my defence the support act looked a lot like the main guy, I googled it. That's how familiar I am with Seth Sentry, I had to google his face. There's another support act on now. He is also not Seth Sentry and I could have told you that without the aid of a search engine. He does have a song about Thundercats though with a dubstep sound to it. Two and a half stars. His man working the decks is wearing all black save for a slit exposing his eyes and declares himself (via a sign) to be a ninja. Three and a half stars. I feel though, despite the clothing, bass as heavy as this may compromise his stealthiness. I don't go to a great many gigs (which undermines my musical journalistical credentials no end) so when I do it is interesting to check my current tastes against their demographic. These days though I think I'd only feel young at a Rolling Stones gig. People in their thirties still go to gigs but if the artist/band you're there for is considerably younger than you maybe you should instead be going to what is known as a 'concert'. So let's analyse my situation. A few tweens (n.b. not sure what that term describes but they look like what I imagine it to mean). A fair few bearded chaps including the aforementioned proximate. A lot of baseball caps. Either it is still legal to wear them in Australia after thirty or those people are younger than me. Both support acts are now on the stage in a duet, though I doubt it's called that in the hip-hop world. Oh yeah, Seth Sentry is a white, Australian rapper in his mid-twenties, I'm not certain which part (if any) of that description should preclude me from this gig but I suspect one may. But live music itself is a curiosity to me. Wait...there is another guy on stage isn't Seth. Support act 1 has gone and and support act 2 has been joined by what appears to be his twin brother, distinguishable only by the differing angle of their baseball caps. Anyway, live music. I go to the gigs of artists I like because...? For some experience I can't get through a pair of hard, white, plastic earphones? I guess. For the inestimable cache of seeing an artist before they become big? Don't discount that. So I hear a song on the radio, I like it. I listen to the album, I love it. Pick my favourite songs, learn the words. Sing those songs at an offensive volume and tone when drunk. Decide I need to hear them live. And when I do they come with a certain sense of disappointment. They don't sound the same. They lack the backing, featured artists are absent. The singer subtly alters the lyrical delivery throwing out your meticulously rehearsed parrot. You kinda wanted to turn up, have the band put on the CD and pretend to play their instruments while the singer mimes. You can compare it supporting a football team. The strength of your support will ever be questioned unless you see them live. The support acts have finally, finally fucked off. Seth's team is now unpacking his decks, his Macbook, his guns. Part of his act would appear to involve items you find at the back (aka the best) part of the Argos catalogue. They're multi-coloured so they probably shoot pellets or water, either that or he 3D printed them and intends to kill us all but since this is Australia and not the USA that feels infinitely less likely. I suppose we still don't trust modern technology to deliver us the authentic entertainment experience. Football through a TV, music through an iPod, it doesn't entirely count. Seth is out, he is bare-headed! No, hold on, he's put on a baseball cap. Maybe I should reassess caps. He looks like support act 1 but is somehow more substantial. He's larger, as if puffed by fame. He's brighter, as if buffed by fame...the fame that comes with being on Australian national radio anyway. He's started his set but there is a constant flow of people back and forth, where are they going? It makes it hard to write as they squeeze past, this sort of thing must really irritate other music journalists too I reckon. Seth is asking the crowd to wave their arms in the style of Limp Bizkit's 'Rollin''. I want to join in but I can't because -
1, I'm a dispassionate music journalist.
2, I'm stood next to a wall.
Seth is firing the gun into the crowd, they look like pellets, pinging between jazz hands and spirit fingers but they could be E's for all I know. That would certainly get him a name. And a sentence. He is reminding me why I come to gigs. To stand in a room full of people who love this sound as much as you do easily beats the cold, repeatable perfection of digital media. It's the shared orgiastic experience of seeing someone who drew these lyrics from the swirling pool of their imagination and experiences, who hummed this tune before they built it into a 4/4 structure. To see someone stand up in front of strangers and under glaring lights that allow no dark corner in which to hide and do something they'd dreamed of since childhood. To do something they'd ploughed blood, sweat, tears and life savings into despite the insurmountable odds of it turning into something. They probably staked everything on getting here and headlining the Metro Theatre in Sydney isn't even halfway there. And if, for me, all that isn't the reason to go to live gigs then at least some of the price of my ticket goes to the artist. 'Cause I probably pirated their album anyway.

Part 2 - Jingo unchained

The new guy, whom we shall call Jonny (for that was his name) had never considered himself racist. But there was something that grated about taking orders from Asians with a limited command of English. Being the new guy though meant everyone felt entitled to boss him around and deny him the privilege of using the spray guns. You could see this behaviour as the result of Balram's autocratic management style, the more experienced employees desperately grasping any shred of self-respect they could by elevating themselves above the others in informal authority. Jonny had never been especially patriotic, feeling the line between patriotism and nationalism to be too thin. But removed to a country far from his home soil he took a slightly arrogant pride in his Englishness and the automatic respect he felt should be afforded it. He had hoisted the cross of St. George in the front lawn of his conscious. Whilst he knew not what history was taught in Asian schools some of his nation's glorious past must have been worth a mention. After all Britain had invaded some 90% of the world's countries which he felt was an impressive statistic however you feel about colonial (mis)adventure. Balram had certainly noticed this aloof attitude and had mockingly taken to calling Jonny 'your majesty'. In truth, at 30 years of age, working at a car wash did touch Jonny's pride somewhat. This fostered and ill-suppressed sense of superiority was a means of protecting his self-respect and in that respect he was no different to the rest of his co-workers though the parallel was lost on him. He believed he was better than everyone else precisely because deep down he worried he wasn't.
"You think you're too good for this job." Balram accused one day.
"I'd hope everyone here feels they are capable of more." Jonny answered with a diplomatic avoidance of the question.
He still bore the indelible psychological scars from a failed degree a decade ago and sought to prove his intellect, sometimes abrasively so, at every opportunity. But conversations with Balram were just monologues with margin notes. He never asked any employee a question that he showed the least interest in hearing the answer to, indeed he never really established eye contact with anyone but customers. If Jonny hadn't exactly struck up the warmest of relationships with his manager he had at least swiftly become friends with Mo. While dialogue with Mo also involved a great deal more listening than talking there was at least an affable entertainment value to his filibustering. Ideas and opinions sprayed from him at such a rate it was difficult to examine their veracity let alone form a response. He regularly despaired at the state of his home country and seemed to harbour a genuine wish that it was still under the Raj. He confounded this desire with a gratification at the influx of Indian immigrants to the UK and the damage he imagined they were doing there. He thought this reciprocal invasion justified in light of the fact that the British 'took everything from the Indian peoples'. Jonny soon realised there was nothing particularly to be gained by pointing out contradictions in Mo's soapbox sessions.
"Yo Jonny English! You read Mein Kampf?"
"Can't say I have mate"
"It's good, you should read"
"Bit fascist for me probably, besides..."
"Nah man, good ideas in it you know"
"You do realise what Hitler would have thought about Indian people don't you?"
Whether he did or not, whether he truly believed the ideas he so vigorously espoused was anybody's guess. Mo was an avid collector of both foreign coins and foreign languages. He plundered the French and Italian lexicons of Gasquet and Rocco for phrases whose sound amused him and used them incorrectly and heavily accented at every opportunity. Jonny also counted the tall Frenchman and the short Italian among his friends. He was glad of their urbanity and felt a rapport carried all the way from the old world. The three Europeans would sit smoking cigarettes during their breaks discussing football, the crumbling EU and, naturally, Rocco's porn career.
"I am a manager"
"Oh. Right. Well no-one tells me anything around here"
Jonny hadn't realised that the blue shirt worn by, among others, iPhone denoted another level in the hierarchy. He had increasingly been greeting the instructions from, among others but especially, iPhone with a reply of "do it yourself". It was true that Balram hadn't bothered divulging information such as the management structure, the pay rate & frequency or, as previously noted, his name thus Jonny had to pick up what he could from the other workers. But it was probably injudicious to be so disrespectful while still in his first week. Most of the blue shirts wore their authority over the red shirts fairly lightly but iPhone definitely saw himself as Balram's faithful lieutenant. Jonny, prompted by Mo, was beginning to see iPhone as Balram's faithful lapdog. Any slight deficiencies in the work done by the red shirts was swiftly reported to Balram and no-one likes a snitch. iPhone seemed to have a bit of a man-crush on Balram given the sycophantic way he behaved around him. The bespectacled second-in-command ran the 'polish' section of the car wash, the final stage before a car was done. A car first entered the vacuum section where the detritus of the customer's lives on the road was sucked from the carpets and seats of their car. Jonny had been dispatched here on his first day under the care of Mo for his training. The training took two hours though anyone who failed, in thirty minutes or less, to pick up the skills required to vacuum, wash and dry a car was surely too inept even for this place. Training was actually just a ruse to get two hours of unpaid labour out of each new worker. The cars of dog owners were bad, interiors coated with clinging hairs from the boot to the front. Jonny was slightly concerned at the amount of time dogs seemed to spend in the driver's seats of cars in Sydney. Outdoorsy types were worse, somehow managing to turn their car floor into a forest floor. Leaf litter, gravel and soil formed a new carpet on top of the existing one. It would have made a habitable environment for all manner of ground-dwelling insects had not The White Wash's industrial vacuums made short work. Children. Undisputed champions when it came to transforming a car interior into something unrecognisable from the spotless, movable lounge that you drove off the dealer's forecourt, still savouring that unique smell, were children. One child seat in the back portended destruction, two meant de-se-cration. It seems keeping your little angel(s) fed whilst on the road was a top priority given an average level of food debris that would have sustained a poor African family for a week. Vacuuming the mats was a Sisyphean task, each sweep of the nozzle stirred up a 'fresh' layer of particles from the substrata of the mat. After the vacuum stage came wash. The car was doused with water from the spray guns and then soaped up like a bed-ridden pensioner. There were several important things to remember when washing - 1, Not too much soap. Too much was anything much more than any. 2, Straight lines. Move the brush in smooth, lateral strokes along the bodywork. Mr. Miyagi's circular 'wax on, wax off' technique was not applicable. 3, Avoid white cars. Dirt clung to white cars like a limpit even after the usual spray, soap, rinse cycle. Now, every car would retain some sort of invisible mark that would require Balram to redo whatever task you had just completed but white ones were especially bad. White 4x4s were incredibly popular in Sydney. Post-wash came iPhone's fief, the aforementioned polish stage. Here the customer's car is dried with chamois, the windows wiped with a soft cloth and a paintbrush is used to gently disperse the dust from the dashboard. And not forgetting the application of liquid silicon to the tyres to make them shiny. The importance of shiny tyres cannot be overstated. All these varied disciplines Jonny learned in his first week. His first literal week for there was no 'working week' at The White Wash. Monday to Sunday, half six to half six, 364 days a year. Christmas it was closed but New Year was a half day because even as the clocks were turning to midnight and people's minds were turning to the hopes and resolutions of a fresh annum and its clean slate, somebody somewhere in Sydney was thinking 'my car is dirty'. Completing his first week had also left Jonny with two enhanced senses. The first was the sense that no matter where he was and no matter what he was doing somebody was about to rush up and berate him for doing it wrong. It was a feeling of uneasiness, of a wariness that sat at the back of his mind and kept him tensed whether sat eating breakfast in his hostel or browsing the aisles in the supermarket. Balram's irritability and impatience had claimed Jonny's waking hours as well as his working hours. The other enhanced sense was that Sydney Part Two was not going to resemble Sydney Part One nearly as closely as he had hoped. For he had been to and left this city before. The first time Jonny had acquired a good job, friends, a girl, a life, with astonishing rapidity. On this basis Australia seemed a fine country in which to live and Jonny, in order to secure a second year to his visa, had duly decamped to the other side of the country to complete the farm work required for this. Six months later he departed the isolated town nowhere near anywhere and returned to the bright lights and big city. It didn't seem to have noticed he was gone. His old job couldn't or wouldn't take him back, the employment agency he got it through were indifferent to his availability for redeployment and after sixty job applications and zero interviews his vivid picture of Sydney had turned grey and bleak. Hence the car wash. Six short months had seen his hands re-purposed from valued articulators of high technical knowledge to blunt instruments of basic motion. Where once his fingers danced over keyboards crafting elegant expressions of 21st century advancement on-screen now they formed a rictus grip around a vacuum nozzle or stiff-bristled brush. Jonny painted a romantic vision of himself as strength in adversity, as undergoing a trial until the world righted itself and remembered "who the fuck I am!" He'd only been doing the job a week. But that was a not entirely insignificant amount of time to work at The White Wash. In those seven days he'd seen others come and go with regularity. Staff turnover was a mildly vexing issue to Balram. "Backpackers come to the car wash and they, y'know, they can't handle it, they're unreliable." True, thought Jonny, they probably aren't used to being greeted on their first day at a new job one of two ways - with unfriendliness if Balram was in a good mood, with outright hostility if he wasn't. Despite having told these new guys to come he seemed to regard their subsequent presence as a nuisance unreasonable to have to endure. And despite the mandated two-hour training he thought every aspect of The White Wash's functioning to be simple and obvious. Any gaps in the haphazard training were therefore to be covered by your own 'common sense'. Should your common sense fail you Balram would fail to conceal his deep and abiding belief in your deep and abiding stupidity. All this Jonny had endured and his tongue was near bitten through but since begging was undesirable choosing was also not an option. Sunday came around again.
"So, your majesty, you coming next week?"

Part 1 - The White Wash

Based on true stories.
Scene: The White Wash, a carwash/café in Sydney.
"Will! Will!"
Who was Will? It seems he was urgently needed.
"Fix Will!"
Will must be broken. The new guy had no idea how he might be fixed but a job at The White Wash was probably not the solution. Newly resplendent in red uniform his head spun in 360° of confusion as instructions in diverse accents issued from every direction. Judging by the frantic gesticulation that accompanied the order he was required to do something to the 'wheels' of the car in front of him, clean them perhaps. The impassioned voice was that of Balram Halwei, manager of The White Wash. Two days previously the same voice at the end of a phone had brusquely told the new guy to be at the carwash at 9AM on Sunday morning for training. Sunday morning had arrived and here he was yet it would be two further days until he actually learned the name of his immediate superior. Naming on the whole was a haphazard affair in his new place of work. Indeed the very name of the business was a misnomer in terms of the spectrum of nationalities represented by the workers. Real, invented or anglicised every employee had their given name bellowed across the forecourt at regular intervals. There was Sueño from Mexico, whose middle-aged hangdog expression betrayed a weariness at his lot and a general sense of defeat by life. His presence absorbed the greater part of Balram's daily ire and ensured a quieter life for the other employees. iPhone was from China (as iPhones are) and combined his mechanical engineering course at the local university with grindingly long hours at the carwash. He was also in charge of the microphone used to announce when customer's cars were ready for collection, Sueño's inability to distinguish between Honda and Hyundai, Mazda and Maserati ensured he was rarely given MC responsibility. Last of this group was Indra, an Indonesian, who despite being from the country with the world's largest Muslim population, was an incongruous christian. These three were all 'blue shirts', employees paid a set wage for stipulated hours. The true scullions were the 'red shirts' who were only paid when there were cars to wash, no money for a rainy day. And they were paid, curiously, two dollars less than the official minimum wage but no-one desperate enough to be a red shirt was really in a position to enquire about this discrepancy. Mohandas Narayanan Ramachandran or 'Mo' for short lead this motley crew. He professed to be from the Brahmin (priestly) caste in India, which gave an interesting dynamic to his relations with Balram given their origins on opposite ends of that country's social scale. Balram's surname 'Halwei' denotes the caste of sweet makers which falls within the larger shudra class at the bottom of the pile. Go back sixty years and Balram would be unquestionably serving Mo, Mo would be treating Balram with the scorn and prejudice that tradition dictated. As it was things were exactly the other way round and, in this instance at least, it would be hard to call it progress. Mo also claimed to be heir to a multi-million dollar fortune. Whether or not he meant rupees one still had to wonder at his motivations for working at the carwash. 'Bruce Lee' was so called because he was Chinese and no-one could understand anything he said including, presumably, his actual name. He didn't demonstrate any knowledge of martial arts so the resemblance ended there. The lofty Frenchman went by the name of Gasquet. He had a girlfriend in Sydney and thus was one of the few people at The White Wash that could genuinely claim to have something better to do. Charlie was Vietnamese and bore a constant look of abject misery and desolation. He was another who passed the day without holding a single intelligible conversation with any other employee. As far as anyone could tell he didn't surf. Angelo and Jesus were young South Americans haling from Brazil and Chile respectively. Jesus got that name due to his resemblance to the figure towering over Angelo's hometown of Rio de Janeiro. He shaved his beard after the first day which spoiled the reference but the name stuck regardless. Balram had probably imagined he could charge a premium to customers having their car washed by the son of God (or a look-a-like), 'The Holy Water Handwash, a baptism for your car' as, alas, it wouldn't be called. In reality the customer's options ran from the $55 'Spit Shine' all the way up to the $385 'bodywork by buffed by virgin's breasts' wash. The obscenity of spending nearly four hundred dollars in a time of worldwide financial crisis on your unnecessarily large, fuel-drinking, school-running, ozone-destroying 4x4 seemed lost on the population. In a country that continually reminded the occupants of its barren thirst, of its parched soil, the ecological irony of pouring thousands of gallons of water a week down the drain in the name of making things shiny also held no resonance. The business could only thrive in a culture of mechanical vanity. The final red shirt, Rocco, had recently arrived at The White Wash and the differences between this line of work and his previous career as the editor of porn movies in Italy were marked. They made for interesting conversation among the workers during the quiet periods.
So this is the story of the exploits of a close-knit, multiracial group of employees that commiserate at the status society has imposed on them, proud men forced to work at a meaningless job for meager pay. Enter the new guy, this tale is told through his eyes.

Mistletoe & wine

Day 400 - Sydney

My list of favorite cities reads like the signage above an international fashion store or perfumery - London, Paris, New So the latter is somewhat incongruous but here I was carried back across the country on the wings of fond remembrance and affection. I was on a high, in my mind (a fertile, febrile place) returning like a conquering hero. Flushed with western success life seemed a simpler game or if not simpler then one at which I was now more adept. I'd taken a room in Coogee for a couple of weeks and its streets (street) and bars (bar) held happy memories. Amy and Laura were my temporary flatmates, Jeanette, being away for Christmas, was the other resident whose room I had taken. I went directly from the airport to CBH not even stopping to dump my bags. Amy and Jayne were back from their tomato farming and familiar faces were there in force. Christmas is an understated affair in Australia, they don't go in for the cold, dark days broken by warm light seeping from shop windows and twinkling off decorations that I missed from my chocolate box memories of home. And home is where the period would have been spent had I the financial wherewithal. As it was it would be my second consecutive Christmas out of the old country, hopefully there won't be a third. Life In Sydney was much the same as before and yet also tragically different. Me and the girls had the eve in an Irish pub with an obligatory nightcap at CBH. Christmas morning, a little gift giving and receiving (more the latter on my part) at Kirsty and Ferris' flat in which the girls were staying and then I went back to mine for a collective dinner with Amy, Laura and friends. The climate had made a decent effort to allay any homesickness and steadily threw down rain all day. My new flatmates would not be deterred from Christmas on the beach though and headed down with umbrellas and festive bikinis. I rejoined with A&J for a cup of mulled wine in the afternoon. Actually if I recall correctly it wasn't mulled wine, it was gallons of beer. Having said that the memory of much escapes me but we ended up at Morooka (home of several friends in Coogee) for more drinks and dancing before finally making it to the beach for a early hours swim in our underwear, a heady sight to be sure. As the sun rose on boxing day the girls pushed me home in a shopping trolley, my wallet, sadly, stayed on the beach. The messiness of festivities over I knuckled down to finding work, reasoning that my prior success would stand me in good stead. There was no anticipation of the difficulties that lay in this endeavour. I was also shortly to be homeless due to Jeanette's return. Handily Laura would soon be away for 2 weeks herself opening up a vacancy in her room but there was a few days gap between the coming and going. Rather than a hostel I opted to crash with Amy and Jayne who were now living up in Bondi Junction. Their flatmates had disappeared just before Christmas to where we knew not and were back we knew not when. The door opened one evening just before New Year and they entered with two friends and a notable disinclination to speak to us. Seven barely acquainted people crammed into a 2 bed flat made for an awkward few days! Sydney is a city famed for the way they see in the New Year with their spectacular fireworks launched from the harbour bridge, it would be a good bucket list tick. A few of us setup in a park in Balmain to ensure a good view. And spectacular they were, probably the best display I've ever seen. But my night was barely begun with the gong of midnight. Emily was in Sydney and had urged me to book tickets to a boat trip around the harbour to begin at 4am New Year's day. Without understanding what exactly it entailed but in need of some sort of firm NY plan (this was a couple of weeks previously) I had duly booked. I'd kept a steady hand on my alcohol intake over the evening so had few difficulties making it to Darling Harbour for launch. The next 6 hours passed in a mildly euphoric sway, the dance music suitably ambient and the party in muted pleasure. Everyone stepped blinking off the boat at 10am glazed with sweat from the first sunrise of 2013 but in a happy daze.