We stayed in Rockhampton one time, on a cattle ranch. Our hosts – in-laws of Ben Salter – were totally friendly, hospitable. Great big feeds and conversations. Distance up there is amplified, by a factor of at least five. Our friends were out fighting bush fires the final two nights (this, the year before they got flooded out). We asked for a skinny flat white in town and discovered that in Queensland, outside Brisbane, people still use condensed milk. I fell off the motorised tractor (of course) – and Isaac got to feed the calves. The drive back was supposed to take eight hours (no traffic) but took 11, the final three with a screaming baby (Daniel) in the back. The toilet bowl had cute green frogs in it. Our visit was perhaps the most quintessentially QLD experience we’ve had since moving here four years back.
Depending on your definition of ‘Queensland’.
Allo Darlin’ are from Rockhampton, or at least two of them are. (The other two are from Maidstone, Kent – in the UK. I have a wonderful photo somewhere of my Chelmsford friends, myself included, wearing dodgy suits and sporting cut lips and black eyes at a wedding in Maidstone after we’d been jumped the night before.) This is their first time back in years. The singer Elizabeth’s sister has flown them over to be her wedding band; and they’re taking the opportunity to play their first ever Brisbane show, in front of mums and dad and aunties and uncles and friends and cousins from Rockhampton. The flash from mobile phones is constant.
The support band Monnone Alone amuse us. Their song titles are all things like, ‘You Took Out The Last Book From The Library (And You Turned A Page In My Heart)’ and ‘Lamentable Lonely Loveless Love’, and their singer exhibits an astonishing array of singing styles – from Stephen Pastel (circa ’84) to Dan Treacy (circa ’83) to Gregory Razorcut (circa ’85) to Bobby G (circa ’84). This might sound like it’s bad or despicable, but on the contrary: we can’t help but warm to them. Nostalgia being what it used to be. The fretwork is pleasingly limpwristed. The deprecating banter evidences a strong Flight Of The Concords influence, and… well. It’s like being at a Sarah Records gig in ’90 – all boys, of course – and ‘though I never could countenance reverence, I can’t help but admire their record collections. The sort of band the phrase ‘twee pop’ was invented for. Ex-Lucksmiths. I’m betting they’re from Sydney. [Melbourne, actually - Ed]
Allo Darlin’ make me miss Herman Dune, but in the most positive of ways.
Their songs are all explosions of joy and subtle introspection and hedonism and shared experience. The fretwork is chunky, meaty without once feeling macho. It resonates, it kicks, it feels like a mighty force for good. It occasionally recalls The Wave Pictures’ David Tattersall (and thus the Modern Lovers), which is to the good: inventive, and melodic, and meaty (that word again!) and I am so happy to be out at my third gig of 2012. And at the old Troubadour too. This means decayed push sofas and paintings and lamps. This means good-natured banter. This means good sound: good sound amplified by the fact the (Rockhampton native) bassist is so fucking happy he can’t stop grinning and laughing the whole gig, and this underneath a wonderful moustache. The songs all raise to a chug-a-chug feverish pitch one or two minutes in, and all are eminently danceable and crushworthy. ‘Neil Armstrong’. ‘Europe’. ‘Capricornia’. ‘The Polaroid Song,’ with its tricky little guitar inflections, like The Smiths if they had a suburban sense of humour. ‘Dreaming’, which is so plaintive and pleading and wistful, and of course has that deep male vocal counterpart. ‘If Loneliness Was Art’, which is like listening to my own Personal Debbie Harry. (Probably ‘Picture This’.) ‘Let’s Go Swimming’. ‘My Heart is A Drummer’. Chug-a-chug-a-chug. ‘What Will Be Will Be’. Chug.
I do hope I’m getting some of these titles right.
Elizabeth’s voice OF COURSE makes me miss my friend Amelia, but this is so totally fine as well because it’s Elizabeth up there and she has other concerns and other worries and other lusts and lists and confusions. And the mandolin is more than super-fine.
The moment arrives as I knew it would. I’ve been waiting for it all evening… all year. ‘Talulah’, Elizabeth solo and accompanied only by her mandolin, looking as close to tears as me, as many are. This song resonates so deeply with our experience: the line about missing old friends but loving your new friends… she did the inverse to us, she moved from QLD to England but she still feels that terrible culture loneliness. All the lyrical references to places like Bondi Beach, Coolangatta and St Kilda. That desperately sad line, when Elizabeth wonders whether she’s already “heard all the songs that will mean something”, and her loneliness is so tangible you can taste it.
The place – so full and filled with laughter and chatter and applause – falls silent as the song starts.
Absolutely, totally, respectfully, empathetically, starkly, wonderfully silent.
As the radio played another terrible song
But lucky for me, you found the tape with Talulah on
And it’s been a long time
Since I’ve seen all my old friends
But I really love my new friends
I feel I’ve known them a long while
I’m wondering if I’ve already heard all the songs that’ll mean something
And I’m wondering if I’ve already met all the people that’ll mean something
Such a wonderful night out. My third gig of 2012.