Sunday, 24 October 2010

AN OLD SCAB: Watching The Paradise Motel play Sirens

“I'm here to pick an old scab, I suppose”, I said, in reply to being asked why I had come to see The Fucking Paradise Fucking Motel on a windy Friday in Hobart. The reply to that was that I must be covered in old scabs by now, and I suppose I am. I'm quite happy with that; they may even form some sort of armour by now, though I doubt it. It was a good question though; I have never really liked this band all that much, and I was wondering as well why I'd felt such a complete compulsion to go and see the reconstituted Motel play.

First time around, The Paradise Motel were an incongruity to me, mired as I was in the ragged glory of the creative mess of music that fermented in Hobart in the mid 90s, an odd scene that has been over praised and thrashed too hard at the same time, but nevertheless gave Australia some stalwart musicians, many of whom are still at it, incredibly. Some have done well for themselves, others are bitter messes of people and some have not grown up in the least, and none of it really matters anyway. The Paradise Motel were certainly ambitious, certainly interesting and certainly not like much else that emerged from Hobart; they were not feedback drenched punks or brittle minimalists or sonic bludgeons (work out three all allusions there and you get a prize), they were big, lush sounding and wore suits. My head was so elsewhere I could not have possibly appreciated it at the time, and I think I was wondering if I could now, as the intervening years have forced me to remove my head from my arse a fair fair bit, though not entirely.

I wanted to see if I could like The Paradise Motel now, I think. That could have been it. Or perhaps I just wanted to stand there and judge the fuck out of them. They'd just gotten under way when I strolled into Sirens, threw my money on the table like an arrogant prick (what do I mean 'like'? I AM an arrogant prick), and proceed directly to the bar, where I remained for most of the gig, downing stubbies in the company of two other Hobart stalwarts who would not appreciate being named at all, but had similar opinions to me. One would not shut up and got a good stare from Mireda Sussex, and I was sorely tempted to begin heckling the fuck out of the band, but I let it go; I'll do my heckling from over here these days. It was hard to resist though. I had a good one up my sleeve, about travellers from antique lands.

They played well. 
They are a good band, there's no doubt of that. The strengths of writing and arrangement augment the work of the central vocalist, which has lost none of it's power and indeed, she has probably become better as a musician in the eleven year hiatus since The Motel last convened. When she is on point, the vocal attack is a beam of clear, hard light. It's not a siren song, but a reply to one: tied hard to the mast she is Ulysses begging to be set free, and never being allowed.
Yes, she is a pretty good front person, and the songs allowed her to really be that good front person more than once during the performance, but not always. Sometimes the whole thing got lost, and I wondered if I was listening to songs or an arrangement of indulgent histrionics – I mean good fucking grief, what where those bizarre cockatoo cries Charles Bickford launched into at one point? I nearly pissed myself laughing at that moment, it just seemed ridiculous. It wasn't helped by the general sound either – I know The Paradise Motel have a conceit about playing non-standard venues(one with which I concur, I might add), and they could not have known how bad the sound at the high ceiling at Sirens can be, and there had been some valiant work by the band and crew to compensate, but I have to chastise them for not doing a little more homework – they could have sounded fucking incredible at The Brisbane and totally seduced me, or even gone to The Peacock Theatre for a functioning compromise. I like Siren's ambience, but it's hard to make it work sonically. I think the band were let down here, and I also think they should know better by this stage of the game. Whatever else they are, these people are seasoned performers who rely much on good sound and live production to get to their sweet spot.

Nevertheless, a couple of the songs got me in. I moved away from the bar at one point, needing to be front and centre as, for the only time on the night, the band really took off.
“Oh, this is good” I thought.
It was, really. They were working like bastards. I don't know if I truly liked it or not, but watching people try hard is beautiful in and off itself. The moment where good art struggles for transcendence is the moment we all get it, because we all do this, in our own way; one of the reasons we like things like this is the moment when the music is us, the moments when it is a metaphor for life, be it a struggle, as it is for many for much of their lives, or a moment of bliss and relief.
They were nearly there, you know, but I didn't like the next song so much and it was gone, but that's the point I guess. Moments.

Yes, The Paradise Motel are a good band, I really don't know if I like them and there are some things wrong and I can tell you right now they miss some old members a bit, but that is much a bigger scab to pick there, and it is not really mine to pick anyway. I picked at my scab enough for it to bleed a little and the blood caught the blue light and looked pretty enough, and now I'm wondering about the album, and whether or not I should listen to it, because I wasn't going to at all.
Yes, I think I might want to give a good, in depth listen now, and ask all the other questions about why this band even exists, and why Matt Aulich doesn't have a band of his own, and all that crap.
I may even have to buy the fucking thing.
I doubt very, very much that they'll give me one.

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