Grand Central -- From Janea:
I arrived at the Grand Central Hotel at around 7pm just in time to see Alan, Dean, Dave and a few other band members leaving the restaurant and heading for their room on the second floor. They passed right in front of me so I took the opportunity to give Alan a “hey, Alan”.
He reached out and touched my arm and said, “hey, how’s it going” with a huge smile on his face. The man is a walking mass of positive energy! He is definitely someone I could hang out with. I think he recognized my Canadian accent.
I sat in the Grand Central Pub and waited for the 9:00pm start.
Two Diet Cokes and a third read a Famous Musicians Photo Album (Mick Jagger used to be hot!) took me up to 9:00pm. When I walked into he lounge where the guys were to play, I noticed a guy singing on stage. The TOFOG show wasn't to start until 10:30pm. I bought another Diet Coke and waited for the boys.
Finally, at around 9:30, Dean and another band member walked in. I’ve never met Dean or even followed TOFOG but I recognised him right away. I asked him for his autograph, he was super nice and patient with me. I had to tell him how to spell my name twice because he couldn’t here me. I have a soft voice and rockers generally have bad hearing. Lol!
I thanked Dean and turned to walk back to my table, that’s when I noticed Russell standing beside (and a bit behind) Dean. He looked very deep in thought and preoccupied with other things. Basically, he didn’t look approachable at that moment so I left him to his thoughts and hoped to get an autograph after the show.
I felt like a groupie asking for autographs, it’s a matter of dignity and I wished I hadn’t bothered them about it. I recommend passing on the autograph and taking that short time to talk to the person.
The next time I saw them they were on stage doing what they do best, making beautiful music! If you’ve ever watched Dean glide from chord to chord you will know what I mean. Not that one member of the band makes the bands music a success. Together they clicked. They didn’t miss a beat all night.
Russell’s voice was as sharp and clear as you could imagine and the way he tells his stories is mesmerizing, I could listen to him tell them for hours. I caught myself with my mouth hanging open when he was talking about Richard Harris, that’s how interested I was.
This is a group of very talented musicians who have respect for their work and for each other. There is nothing “back yard” about them, regardless of what some people in the media may think. They must not be listening, nope, not for a second.
The beat of TESTIFY had everyone rocking! This song is going to be a hit and not just because Gavin Wood thinks so lol!, people were asking where they could by the CD. I think TOFOG has found their big hit. If you haven’t seen them yet you should, it’s an unforgettable performance.
I could feel their message through their music. I play guitar myself so I know how satisfying it is to be able to express yourself through a musical instrument and KNOW that it sounds and feels right. Not that it happens to me very often! ha!
Dave on the drums, what can I say. As far as I’m concerned TESTIFY wouldn’t have the same affect without the beat and that’s where Dave comes in. Not only is he one of the nicest guys I’ve met, he is an excellent drummer. Honestly guys, it all just clicks, the guys click. Dave told me that the gigs have been great, it’s like a bunch of guys “hanging out” and having fun doing what they love. He told me that it can also stressful because a lot of work goes into making everything sound right but mostly, they're having a great time.
The songs I know they sang are Mr. Harris, One Good Year, My Hand My Heart, Raewyn and Land of the Second Chance. They also sang a Johnny Cash song and a few drinking songs at the end. Ahh, to hear Russell and Alan sing/talk together without instruments, what a treat that was.
The band sang their last song and then left the stage, be we all cheered them back for another two (I think) songs. It was over too fast though, I could have listened to them for another few hours. It wasn’t just singing either. People were dancing, guys and girls, everyone loved TOFOG. Well, except for this crotchety old guy [see picture?] who kept climbing on stage to get at Russell. The boys took care of him though J. This same guy tried to correct Russell on something he said in his Raewyn story, but Russell’s wit came through for him in the end and the guy looked like and idiot.
I carried Richard Harris sheet music around with me for three days hoping to get it signed by Russell. Why I needed it so bad I will never understand, strange isn’t it? If I could do it all over again I wouldn’t have bothered him about it. Anyway, he came through for me in the end. It’s beautiful and more special than ever now, thanks Russell.
The show ended around 12.00 midnight and some of the more privileged like Paul Dainty and his tribe (two giraffe women lol!) headed upstairs to the bands room. I think Paul put on a spectacular show (the AFI awards) but I didn’t get off on his “I’m important” attitude he had at the gig last night. The guys of TOFOG seem to remember their roots. I like that about them.
The night was fun, interesting and exciting for me because I have never heard the guys play live before and I dig listening to good music. It was also fun to share my experience with the fans that couldn’t be there, I know what that’s like. For those of you going to the December and January gigs, I promise you won’t be disappointed.
11/27 - Grand Central --
From Lynda: I've been going to see live music since I was old enough to talk my way past whatever age restriction stood between me and a show I wanted to see; growing up in Los Angeles - then moving first to San Francisco and then to Seattle - has meant that I've always been lucky enough to see some of the best performers and hear some of the best of their music. LIve performance is, for me at least, first and foremost about the bond forged between whoever it is up on the stage and those who have come to share the music that is being offered to them on a given night; the passion and the power of the performance (the performer) has always come first with me, and on those rare occasions when that passion and power is coupled with music that embodies and expresses creative intelligence and emotional honesty, those are the nights for counting oneself lucky to be present in whatever bar, club, pub, theatre, rink or arena - as well as whatever city or even country - in which such a fortuitous magic is being practiced. On those even rarer occasions when that magic is being practised with fine-honed and well-rehearsed skill, when all of the players are not only doing it well but doing it with a dedicated professionalism that shows a deep respect for the music they are sharing, that goes beyond the notion of "luck" and heads toward the serendipitous, made more so by how uncommon that synthesis of magic and dedication most often is.
The show at Grand Central in Melbourne last night was not what I expected, which is in itself beginning to become what I expect. Technically the fourth time I've heard the players who have come together to become The Ordinary Fear Of God (with all of the newly regular players present and accounted for - yes, including Stuart "The Chameleon" Hunter at the keyboards, and with Bones Hillman back playing bass), this was the second full set of their music I've seen and heard, the show at Le Thor having been the first "real" show of theirs I've been to. Grand Central is a long way from that auditorium in the South of France, and not only as measured by distance; this small dinner club (capacity around 300 or so, with somewhere around 250 wise and/or fortunate souls showing up on this night) was an ideal venue for forging that bond that is the heart and soul of live music. As good as this band had been on the auditorium stage, they were even better, their magic was even stronger and more skilled and more assured, on a tiny stage in a little club in front of what looked to be a crowd of others who were finding themselves equally fortunate to be serendipitously experiencing something they too may not have expected.
We got there early, and our impatient enthusiasm was rewarded when we got to listen to a good portion of sound check. You can tell a lot about a band by the way they do their sound check, and as I listened to this band work their way through many of the songs that would be on the set list this night - stopping and starting over again and again to get this bar just right or to make sure that line was being sung correctly, working out their timing for who would be playing which parts at what time - how seriously the players are taking the music and its performance was very clear. Not surprisingly, given that seriousness, they sounded better in sound check - cleaner and more precise - than many bands do during the show itself. While they were working to assure that their magic spell would be letter-perfect on this night, a young couple wandered in and started to head up the stairs to the second-floor bar. Russell was singing his heart out in the first-floor club, and as the couple went up a stair or two, the woman peered in through the open door of Grand Central and, with wide eyes, turned and said to her companion, "That's Russ!" Those two would wind up at the dinner table right behind us for the show. At the table next to us were Michelle and Leanne, two Great Big Sea fans who had come to make the most of being able to see Alan (it takes a great deal of loyalty to be a GBS fan in Australia), Michelle having become a GBS fan via conversion by a Canadian boyfriend, and having done her share in persuading Leeanne to become a fan as well. It would take a little encouraging, but by the end of the evening, Michelle would find herself standing right at the edge of the stage between Russell and Alan.
The dinner served at the club was excellent - another
one of those unexpected pleasures - and the opener, a fellow from
Victoria named Sime Nugent, was also very good, a singer-songwriter
type with a strong voice and an interesting penchant for yodeling.
There was a fairly long break after his short set before the main event,
and the club filled up very well during that break, with the standing-only
ticket holders getting themselves well-lubricated and establishing
their positions stage ward, off to one side and behind of the centrally-placed
dinner tables. There was room to stand between the front tables and
the stage, and even if it took a bit of ironic encouragement, actually
some sarcastic encouragement after the ironic encouragement failed
to get people up to the stage edge, it was spectacular when the move
was finally made and we could join in with it (following the lead
of the locals is going to be the motto of this trip for me, even when
I am one step from personally going and bringing those locals up
to the stage edge myself, giving me the excuse of being up there too,
of course...no claim at all of any absence of ulterior motive from
me) and be close to all of the passion and energy and sheer fun that
was taking place right in front of us. I am finding that watching
Russell and Alan play next to each other, and play off of each other,
goes beyond being distracting all the way to being bedazzling and bewitching;
they catch my attention to the point of my doing foolish things like
leaving my notepad on the table when that cumulative magnetism causes
the move to the stage, and then losing that notepad when a diligent
but oblivious server decides to clear the abandoned table (almost
as painful to lose my pint as well). So this one is without benefit
of notes (both helped and hindered by a set list that was not strictly
followed), and it is still being written while being more than little
spellbound by all of that wild magic; if I get a fact wrong here
or there, take it as a sign that the band's power to enchant is far
stronger than is my resolve to remember. And apologies in advance if
I get some of the TOFOG songs/titles wrong.
Set List (as played) for the Grand Central show:
Weather With You (taped, original version, I think) Weight Of A Man How Did We Get From Saying I Love You Land Of The Second Chance Mickey Swept Away Bayou Worst In The World Raewyn Miss My Mind Mr. Harris What You Want Me Things Are Gonna Change Memorial Day One Good Year
On a night where Russell would say he was having a visit from his "old friend" jet lag, they started out a little low key and serious, and then they built steadily throughout the set, getting stronger and more intense with each song, their smiles keeping pace with their progress; the farther along in the set they got, the more fun it looked to be for them, especially as they saw how much fun their crowd was having. I have always been a sucker for a sweet smile, most especially for Alan's dangerously sweet smile, and to see that sweetest of smiles answered by one nearly it equal in being charming and endearing and persuasive is a sight more than worth traveling a very long way to see. This entire band is so good together, skilled musicians plying their craft with both concentration and grace, but it is the two men front and centre whose charisma and presence (as well as their abundant joint writing talents) create something unique and powerful together. Each of them puts both body and soul into the performance, each of them singing the song with his eyes and his hands and his heart as much as with his voice, each of them seeming to inspire the other to reach a little higher than he might without the other. By the time they got to How Did We Get, they were starting to hit their stride, and those exchanged "this is so much fucking fun" smiles showed that they knew it too.
Russell told the story of meeting Mario at Bill and Tony's and hearing about his life over lattes and vegemite on Turkish bread - "which is fucking good and you should try it" - adding that for him, Australia is that fortunate country of second chances, which launched this band of a second chance into a gorgeous version of the song, musically complex and beautifully played. Again and again during the evening, it was the arrangements that caught so much of my admiration, all of those skillfully played instruments blending together perfectly into a seamless whole, the most beautiful part of it all being the blending of the keyboards and the horns played by Stuart and Stewart, respectively. The sound was good in this little club, full and rich with both power and subtlety - it was especially good to hear the drums so well, given how skilled a live drummer it turns out that Dave is - and their blend and balance as arranged is impeccable, another one of those elements of surprise for me. For a band with so few live performances under their collective belt as yet, what they are doing this early in the game is very impressive, and it's a testimony to the professionalism and commitment of all the players.
Russell did a splendid job with Mickey, holding onto the mic stand firmly with one hand and onto the mic itself tenderly with the other hand, his eyes as expressive as his vocals. This song has beautiful and insightful lyrics, all of that beauty and insight coming out even more clearly in the song's live version. The greatest power of Swept Away Bayou is that a cappella part where just about everyone on stage sings and they sound like there must be at least a dozen or so more people on stage (the strength of their harmonies is even more noticeable on Mr. Harris, where they sound like a choir). By the time they hit Worst In The World, with all of that song's cocky energy being sung and hip-swayed to perfection, it was officially a rock show, and officially a successful rock show at that.
The pace change from Worst In The World to Raewyn gives the latter song an even more-shattering power. Russell told the full story of the song, from the loss of the local friend and Russell's thought process that started with how that man's sisters would live the rest of their lives without their brother, to how his own life might have been without his brother, to the history of family tragedy of the loss of a beloved sibling shared by his parents. The single most moving moment of the evening came when, with a wistfully earnest look in those expressive eyes, Russell said that what that thought process eventually came to for him is "how much I love my parents". Russell and Alan do Raewyn as just the two of them, side by side on stage (with a little keyboard work from Stuart in the background), Alan playing that delicately lovely guitar part with tender precision and their two voices joining together at first seamlessly, then in harmony with each other. The effect is both mesmerizing and moving, emotional impact that is simultaneously achingly raw and touchingly gentle, as well as simultaneously wistful about the past and hopeful about the future, the loved ones who will always be missed and the loved ones whose continued presence is even more deeply appreciated because of the loss of those others.
Miss My Mind was hauntingly beautiful, especially that ethereal horn part, and at the end of it, Russell, who said he wanted to have an "honest relationship" with this crowd, said he needed to "'fess up to fucking up a line," adding that he realised this "probably ruined the song for three or four of you". That one was said humourously, but there was indeed a lot of honesty that he showed to this attentive crowd on a night where Russell asked if it was alright if he could be a bit more introspective than usual. Coupled with his prodigious story-telling skills, he made what is not my most favourite MHMH song, Mr. Harris, into a an excellent live song. Starting off introducing the song only as "a choral requiem for a dead friend," it wasn't until midway into the song that Russell began to tell the story of his friendship with Richard Harris, how his friend had died before Russell could come to Ireland to spend time with him, and how Russell had decided to go on his own throughout Ireland to see all of the places he had hoped he would be seeing with his friend, including a wonderful description of how he came to Dublin to see the outmatched Irish footballl team win a wildly improbable first-time-on-home-soil-in-37-years ("half of Richard's life") victory over a far stronger Australian team. After telling this story so well, and ending it with saying that he knew that it was Richard out on that field helping his team achieve the most improbable of victories, they moved directly into those choral harmonies, and the combined effect of the emotion of his story and the sheer power of those harmonies was awesome.
Before What You Want Me and Things Are Going To Change, Russell began working on encouraging the crowd to move closer, to get those sitting at the tables to stand and dance and those standing over to the side to come down front and centre, even going to the point of asking Alan how Alan felt about the "unique cultural experience" of Melbourne's version of a "rush" to the stage when said rush failed to materialise. The crowd was still a bit bashful and reticent; it wasn't until the closing song and the encores that they finally worked up the nerve to make that move. Another fascinating story from Russell as intro to Memorial Day (one which I had very good notes on, but which now must come from my bewitched and bewildered memory), about his grandfather on his mother's side, who was a cinematographer on WWII and who won an MBE for film work he did in Borneo. This led to a telltale twinkle in a pair of expressive eyes as a non-sequitur-punctuated geography lesson began: "Borneo is above Papua, New Guinea, which is above Queensland"...and then the twinkle turned to mischief..."which is a fucking long way from Mexico, and the story is in the song". The regular set ended with One Good Year, which finally brought the crowd up close and before which Honest Russell explained how the encores would work: "We'll go off, you'll do that chant thing you do, we'll sit back there for a minute and talk about how crazy you are and perhaps we should give you another tune." And he would be a man of his word.
They went off, that chant thing promptly started ("Russell!...Russell!...Russell!") and back they came, starting off with My Hand, My Heart, preceded by a wonderful intro where Russell explained how he had told his wife that he was writing a song about the evils of drink, although she wasn't exactly convinced that this was his true songwriting intention. "'Fuck, off,' she said - she talks that way on occasion, especially to me - 'you just want a bunch of drunks in a pub to sing along with you.' I said to her, 'Can't you hear the apology in that?' And she didn't." The perfect intro to an excellent version of the song, which I thought was sung even stronger and with more confidence than the recorded version. Then it was time for Russell to pick up that beautiful Gretsch again and take no prisoners on a kick-ass, rendition of Folsom. Exactly like Alan, Russell rocks so well that it looks to me that they both have rock-and-roll souls.
They went off and were back on so fast there was hardly time to get that chant thing going full steam. Russell launched into the Nick Cave-written Breathless, handling that difficult melody line with what looked like effortless ease and poise. Another Girl followed in rapid succession, and then it was time for The Preacher t take the stage, and The Preacher's come-to-Jesus demeanour had the crowd loving every minute of his spiel about how there had been changes made in the church with a lovely mural of the Hill of Calvary being added, and that an agreement had been negotiated with the local fast-food establishments that for every burger purchased, one dollar would come back to the church, "and for every $1,000 we raise, we'll put a gold cross up on the Hill of Calvary...so brothers and sisters, I am asking you to Eat For Jesus."
What song other than Testify could be the song being introduced by The Preacher? Not a bit of doubt about it, this one is, and will always be, a show-stopper, if a little dizzying when you try to watch Russell's seductive finger-snapping and Alan's sultry guitar-pounding both at the same time. I'll leave it to others to guess which view won out, though those who know me won't find that to be a challenging endeavour. Then Russell decided to go over and tickle Stewart while he was playing, with a valiantly determined and ultimately successful effort to keep right on playing being made by the tickle recipient.
Then they were off off again and back on in a flash, Russell saying they were going to start a new tradition and end each show with a singalong, which led into Easy and Free (Jock Stewart), Russell and Alan trading verses (and Russell making Alan giggle by making appropriate sound effects when Alan sang the line about the dog). Some of the looks exchanged between Alan and Russell and the other band members were priceless here, the smiles of camaraderie and accomplishment and pride that you see shared among those who know that this has been a good night and that they have all done their jobs very well. A bit of what looked like a "what does Russell want to do now?" pause, and then Alan began to sing what Russell said was the "best bar song ever written," a sweet and smiling Molly Malone, with the shared smiles now looking a little bit relieved and very much triumphant.
Deservedly so. A skilled magician should always take all due pride in a well-cast spell.