Something funny was going down the night the Lansdowne closed its doors. After providing Sydney with 90 odd years of live music something about the evening had an air of apocalypse. I could feel it walking out my door. Heading toward the bus stop I saw some guy in a business suit stand pissing in the street. In many ways that sums up Sydney’s attitude to live music. Something disposable. Someone else’s problem. Something to complain about in the bright light of day when councils and yuppie renovators rule with their zoning approvals, brass shower fittings and four dollar coffees. It’s all part of Australia’s war on rough edges, art and anything that fucks with rising house prices.
Walking into the battered old pub for its “Last Call” closing down party there was a distinct feeling of things about to kick off. The Hotel’s inaugural year of 1933 called with a different breed of Australian. More lawless. Less willing to accept bicycle helmets for the questionable greater good. The whole room was filled with the stench of sweat, fresh ink and new piercings. A powerful undercurrent of cannabis wafted through the air and the closer you got to the loos the acrid stink of ammonia. Seems that despite the fall of the razor gangs, coke is still it in Sydney and this last bastion of drinking, debauch and rock ‘n roll stood testament to the fact. Some punters have been here since midday. Others are still wandering in.
The crowd was eclectic but heavy on the friendly metal bastards and a statistically improbable number of rock n’ roll beauties. Exactly the kind of scene Hollywood films like to set up below the headquarters of some super villain. Somehow associating loud music with arms dealing and human trafficking is seen as only fair and logical. For my five cents though, I’d much rather have a heart attack in a room of strangers with Satan tattoos than boat shoes. I know both crowds and in my experience the compassion is not evenly distributed.
The music is loud. The Ruckus – appropriately named are tearing up the stage. The lead singer has one of those classic 80s metal voices. You get the vibe he sang in church every Sunday. Quite the wail. His band take part in an impromptu rock love wedding. Two guitar buddies declare their never-ending passion for each other’s riffs and the deal is sealed by the fabulous mistress of ceremonies Burley Chassis. Things start getting a little wild. The audience are getting frisky. Staying Alive gets played with more venom than you’d think possible. The lead guitarist is suddenly riding around on the singer’s shoulders. Right into the crowd. Standing on the bar. Preserving the fixtures is starting to look like a low priority. The people love it.
Next band up is Fait Accompli and they have an amazing drummer. The drum kit is going to need surgery after the beating she’s giving it. Between solos she gets up and prowls around the stage. Takes a drink. Then back to the music. A wall of noise builds. The symbolic molestation of cymbals. The tracks build in speed and intensity. A feeling of pressure gathers in the room. Again the crowd start getting rowdy. Jumping into each other. Making out. Shirts are coming off and being thrown around. One sticks in the lighting rig overhead. Five people build a cheerleader pyramid to help get it down.
Money for Rope come onstage to work with the crowd. It’s a change-up. They’re a little funkier. The crowd are fine to go along. People sway to the music. Lean in to each other. A real mood sets into the room. Handsy. Shoulders move together. Down the front a battered roach is passed from hand to hand. Smoking indoors? The heresy!
Juice, the expected final band get up. It’s their time. The lead singer has a 70s telephone draped around his neck. Wild sounds begin. Echoes of Toy Death. Transcendental noise. Epic. Spacey. People are handing around beer jugs to share, sipping and passing along. Champagne is opened and sprayed over the audience. Crowd surfing begins again in earnest. Suddenly all the lights go out. An organ melody, vaguely Doors-ish takes us up and over. One great mass of people together looking down on the green tranquillity of the ocean.
You start to understand the threat. Great music is scary. Like sex and drugs. It makes us realize that underneath it all, money doesn’t really matter that much. That loving each other isn’t really that hard. That things can be better. That we’re more than consuming sacks of meat. Call it a soul. Call it what you will. It lets us know that we can be more. Be better. More caring. More loving.
As expected, the bouncers came to clear everyone away like clockwork, the second the final act was done. First asking people to move, then the casual assault of pushes and guiding grips. The circle of fascism complete at 12:42. Past the bedtime of modern infantile Sydney. They can’t help themselves. The bouncers don’t even understand that their jobs are done. That the venue is closing for good. Nobody is giving them a dressing down tomorrow for failing to clear away the human detritus. They operate like automatons. The crowd shuffle around like irritated cattle. Cleared away from the entrance but near enough to greet the bands as they come out, laden with instruments. We hang around. Trying to suck the last moments out of the night. In a final act of rebellion a decent sized section of the crowd start singing together. Loitering around like criminals. Smoking and chatting. The bouncers look irritated. They’ve shooed us away from the front of the venue, a public space we have as much right to occupy as any jackbooted dudes in ugly jackets but we haven’t broken yet. Haven’t been cowed back into our beds. The bands hang around and talk to punters and friends. Clearly they can tell something kinda amazing just happened. Cabs cruise by expectantly but nobody is interested.
Written by Alex Wregg
CLOSING OF THE LANSDOWNE
Featuring: The Ruckus, Money For Rope, Juice, Fait Accompli. Photographer: Joshua Pike