Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Indie Australia Sampler Vol. 5

It's been a really good year of Australian music, with some great EPs and albums coming out throughout 2014.  Here are some of my favorite songs from this year, which I put onto the sampler CD I make for my cousin each Christmas.

1. Dan Sultan- "The Same Man"

2. The Preatures- "Cruel"

3. Kimbra- "Miracle"

4. Saskwatch- "Give Me A Reason"

5. The Good China- "What You Learnt From The Self Help Section"

6. Vance Joy- "Winds Of Change"

7. Wagons- "Hundred Years Or Six Foot Down"

8. #1 Dads- "For Randy Robinson And Cassidy"

9. Dan Kelly- "Melbourne vs Sydney"

10. The Ocean Party- "Wading In"

11. Holy Holy- "House Of Cards"

12. Millions- "Clementine"

13. Joelistics- "Say I'm Good"

14. The Basics- "The Lucky Country"

15. The Stiffys- "Boogie Boarding"

16. Bloods- "Want It"

17. D.D Dumbo- "Tropical Oceans"

18. Rolls Bayce- "Don't Get Me Wrong"

19. Slow Dancer- "We All Make Mistakes"

20. C.W. Stoneking- "I'm The Jungle Man"

21. The Harpoons- "Ring Ring"

Monday, December 29, 2014

Keith Haring- The Political Line

I was excited to learn that the Keith Haring: The Political Line exhibition would be on at the de Young Museum while I was in the Bay Area, and my Mom got us tickets to attend today. Haring was a well renowned New York street artist in the 1980s who achieved great fame with his recognizable visual art style during his all too short career. The exhibition features 130 of his works including paintings, sculptures and some of his subway chalk drawings, in addition to photos and handwritten journals. Haring was quite active in the fights against nuclear proliferation, racism, apartheid, environmental degradation, AIDS and the excesses of capitalism. The exhibition groups pieces in relation to those themes and is a great testament to his creativity and political activism. If you are in San Francisco be sure to catch the exhibition before it ends on February 16, 2015.

de Young Museum

de Young Museum

de Young Museum

de Young Museum

de Young Museum

Saturday, December 27, 2014

Beach Blanket Babylon

Steve Silver's Beach Blanket Babylon is a San Francisco institution that is celebrating its 40th anniversary this year. The long running musical revue is known for its insane wigs, costumes and hats as well as political and social commentary. My Mom and I went to the early show this evening at Club Fugazi in North Beach. The show follows Snow White as she searches for love in different cities around the world and encounters various characters along the way.

I was very impressed by the cast and all the quick costume changes they had to make during the hour and a half show. The vocals by Renee Lubin and Tammy Nelson in particular were big highlights throughout the night. As it is the holiday season we were also treated to a holiday themed section at the end of the show, which included not only a huge Christmas hat with a toy train running around a Christmas tree, but also the traditional San Francisco skyline hat. They closed the night with the traditional song "San Francisco." All in all it was a very entertaining show and you can understand why it's been so successful for so long as they constantly update the musical numbers to refer to current events.

Friday, December 26, 2014

Muir Beach and Muir Woods

After an indulgent Christmas dinner it was good to get outside into the fresh air today to see some sights. Leilani came and picked me up for our planned day out at Muir Woods. The park service were not kidding about the limited parking available, and it seems many other people had similar ideas to us as our first attempt at getting in was not successful. Undeterred we continued down the road and went to Muir Beach instead. It was a beautiful and clear winter's day on the beach and great to listen to the waves crashing in. We then decided to hit the trails and started hiking up the Pirates Cove Trail, stopping along the way to rest and enjoy the view. The push to the top of the steep hill was well rewarded with an amazing panoramic view that stretched all the way to San Francisco as well as back to Muir Beach. Thankfully going down was much easier and quicker than going up.

After finishing at Muir Beach we tried getting into Muir Woods again on the way back, but the parking lots and roadside were still full. As we were hungry we decided to head into Mill Valley for a late lunch at The Depot Cafe. It was nice to sit outside in the afternoon sun and enjoy our sandwiches after the big hike.

Never ones to give up we gave it one last try to get into Muir Woods. Although both parking lots were still full, we managed to find some roadside parking and finally got in a bit over an hour before the park was due to close at sunset. The redwood forest is amazing to walk through along the boardwalk paths they have built in the park. The trees are very tall and majestic, and some have their own character due to being hollowed out by fire or having burls on the base or sides that can sprout if the tree is injured. The creek is flowing pretty well due to all the recent rain and we were able to cover the whole walking loop before it got too dark. If we had more time we could have added some trail hikes to the mix- maybe for a future visit.

Thursday, December 25, 2014

Christmas Dinner 2014

One of the great things about being home for the holidays is that I get to attend the annual Christmas dinner that my parents hold each year. It sort of makes up for missing Thanksgiving. Since my brother was working today it was just us and my aunt and cousins this year. Leilani arrived early as she skipped going to my uncle's house and benefited from listening to her traffic app which told her not to go through San Francisco. Chris and Mei were not as fortunate and it took them over 3 1/2 hours to get through the City to our house due to total traffic gridlock. What a nightmare! By the time they arrived we had already indulged in the hors d'oeuvres, including baked brie, bacon wrapped pineapple bites, shrimp cocktail, and my favorite holiday beverage mulled cider.

After breaking open some sparkling wine for the weary travellers, we grabbed our plates for dinner. Mom had things set up buffet style this year and the menu was as follows:
- Jello salad
- Biscuits
- Roast turkey
- Sausage and herb stuffing
- Spinach gratin
- Goat cheese mashed potatoes
It was all very yummy even though the stuffing got a bit dry due to the longer than expected cooking time (gravy fixed the moisture issue). After eating and chatting in the dining room we went into the living room to open presents before hitting up the desserts. I spent all of Christmas Eve baking apple pie, a pistachio and rosewater cake, sugar cookies and snowball cookies. Thankfully they all turned out pretty good! Everyone was well and truly full of holiday cheer (and food) by the end of the night.

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Holiday Hustle

It's good to be back in the Bay Area.  My flight over on Sunday was the usual long haul journey, although this time I had to deal with an older gentleman in front of me who made the worst loud hacking noises throughout the flight. I think I would have preferred a crying baby instead (and some ear plugs).  I killed time by watching Boyhood, The Grand Budapest Hotel (every shot in that film is a winner) and season 4 of Portlandia.  Sleep was not really an option with Mr. Hacky.

I seem to have brought nice weather with me as the last couple days have been quite pleasant.  I had most of my Christmas shopping done before I arrived, but picked up the last few gifts on Monday.  Today I got to catch up with my oldest and dearest friend Lynne as we braved various shopping centers around Marin as she finished up her shopping.  We also took advantage of sales and I got myself a pair of pants at Banana Republic for $20 (originally $89)!  In addition, I have been eating a lot of sourdough bread and my Dad made a really yummy dungeness crab cioppino.  With all the food I will be eating in the coming days I think I better start doing some exercise.

Friday, December 19, 2014

Ben Folds And The MSO

Ruth, Danny and I jumped at the opportunity to get tickets to see Ben Folds live with the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra at Hamer Hall months ago when they went on sale.  This Australian tour has Ben playing with the local symphony orchestra in each city he's stopping in, which must be a huge undertaking to organise.  The evening began humorously as Ben's friend Keir Nuttall came out on stage pretending to be him (they look a bit similar) and started to sing the opening song "Effington."  Ben soon appeared and told him to go before continuing with the number.  The set list contained songs from throughout Ben's career and he told stories about the origins of each one before launching into them.  Highlights of his solo material included "Landed," "Cologne," and the song he wrote for his daughter, "Gracie."

Seeing these songs played with a symphony orchestra was such a special treat.  I was particularly happy to hear some Ben Folds Five tracks, including "Smoke," "Brick," "Steven's Last Night In Town" and "One Angry Dwarf And 200 Solemn Faces" as the jazz origins of the songs really allowed the whole orchestra to shine.  He even played the first verse of "Cigarette," which was based off of a very long run on sentence in a newspaper article, before launching into its companion piece, "Fred Jones, Pt. 2."  We were very fortunate to get to hear the first two movements of a piano concerto he took a year to write, and he also brought out special guest Kate Miller-Heidke to join him to sing the duet "You Don't Know Me." 

In the encore someone shouted out for "Rock This Bitch," which is where Ben creates a song on the spot.  The audience member gave him the title of "Cheating Asshole" for this one, and as he built the musical parts with each section of the orchestra someone was googling the phrase backstage to find a poem of that title that would end up being the lyrics.  It was amazing to watch it all come together, and Kate even came out to sing along with Ben.  Although they could have easily finished the evening then and there, the official last song of the night was an epic version of "Narcolepsy" featuring a tenor on some of the vocals.  All in all it was a pretty amazing show and really great that Ben feels so strongly about the importance of symphony orchestras that he continues to do shows like these all around the world.

Saturday, December 13, 2014

Christmas In The Forest

It was a beautiful day in Kalorama, located in the Dandenong Ranges, for Peter and Mark's Christmas party.  Fran was kind enough to pick me up along the way out there.  It's been quite a few years since I was last up at their house, and this year they held the party on the grounds near their live Christmas tree, which was decorated for the occasion.  As the tables and picnic blankets were set up on a slope it was a running gag all afternoon that we would end up rolling down the hill.  People brought different dishes to share for lunch, and music was supplied through people taking turns picking some vinyl to play.  Instead of traditional Christmas hats Peter had decorated some Fez hats for people to wear.  There were a few musicians in attendance, including Greg McCanish from Skyhooks, Andy White, and Nigel Griggs from Split Enz.  Fran and I chatted quite a bit with Andy, who we saw live last month at The Toff for his album launch.  After eating lunch the presents were distributed, and Peter managed to string up a Santa pinata to a tall tree branch for Rosemaree to hit (not sure Santa with a noose around his neck screams Christmas).  Overall it was a nice afternoon amongst the trees in the forest.

Sunday, December 07, 2014

Melbourne Christmas Decorations

Being in the southern hemisphere you can't rely on the weather to signal that it is the holiday season, so it's good the Melbourne City Council does so much to decorate the CBD and get us all into the Christmas spirit.

The best part of the Christmas festival this year is the light projections on the Melbourne Town Hall by The Electric Canvas.  Starting at 9pm each night the Christmas themed show takes you to celebrations around the world in the span of seven minutes.  It's definitely worth sticking around in the city until after dark to be able to check it out.

Sunday, November 30, 2014

Victorian State Election 2014

Photo by Scott Barbour
There has been a change of government in Victoria as the Labor Party swept into power in yesterday's state election.  Daniel Andrews is now the Premier-elect of Victoria, but we will need to wait a few days for the final results as over 30% of people voted early and those votes won't start to be counted by the Victorian Electoral Commission until tomorrow. 

There are quite a few seats that are too close to call, many of them in the inner city where the Greens could pick up more seats beyond its historic win in Melbourne.  It will also be interesting to see how preferences flow in the Upper House as it's expected that a number of micro parties will control the Legislative Council.

Here is some analysis about the election result:
"How things went so wrong for the Napthine and the Liberal Party" by Josh Gordon
"Tony Abbott sweats as Victorian voters cast harsh judgement" by Mark Kenny

Saturday, November 29, 2014

Night Noodle Markets 2014

The Night Noodle Markets are in its second year in Melbourne, running in the evening from 14-30 November.  After it became a bit of a victim of its own success last year, the site was changed to the much more spacious Birrarung Marr, with a doubling of food vendors and food trucks as well.  Things are spread across three terraces, with plenty of tables and chairs and space to sit down if you wish.  Also, with the doubling of vendors it means you don't have to wait for an hour to get food.

Justin joined me last night after work to hit up a couple booths before he headed off to the soccer.  We started off at Roti Road, where I had the vegetarian curry puff, which was a Malaysian style home-made curry puff stuffed with potato, carrot and onion.  It tasted delicious and was a great starter to the evening.  Next we stopped at Thy Thy for our main meal.  I had the lemongrass chicken with Vietnamese vermicelli noodles, which tasted really good.  Charlie Dumpling was offering milk chocolate dumplings with raspberry and chili sauce, which I just had to try out.  They were more of a drop dumpling versus being in a wonton wrapper, so they weren't quite what I had envisioned in my mind.  My last stop was Gelato Messina, which was doing four unique 'pot luck pies' for the markets.  I chose to have the Phuc Khing Tasty, which contained a cinnamon scroll, coffee gelato, condensed milk pannacotta, walnut crunch and an Asian spiced cookie.  It was absolutely delicious with a lot of different textures to keep things interesting.

Friday, November 28, 2014


One of my favorite lunch spots of late is the Japanese restaurant Takumi on Bourke Street.  It's a hidden oasis in the middle of the CBD that you could easily walk by and not realise is there.  My friend Kat introduced me to the place (as she has many others at work).  My top dish is the Vegetarian lunch, which contains Japanese Agedashi tofu, deep fried gyoza, and is served with salad, steam rice and miso soup.  It's like a gourmet bento box due to the way the food is presented in all these beautiful ceramic bowls.  I love all the different little morsels of food, which taste so delicious and fresh.

Thursday, November 27, 2014

Andy White- How Things Are Album Launch

Last night I headed to The Toff in Town to see Belfast singer-songwriter Andy White launch his new album How Things Are.  I first became familiar with Andy through his involvement in ALT in the mid-1990s, and it's been years since I last saw him play.  It was great to run into so many friends at this show- Fran, Peter, Mark and Rosemaree.  The opening act was a member of Andy's band, Alison Thom, who played a lovely set on acoustic guitar.

Album launches are great because you often get the opportunity to hear the complete album played live, which is what happened in the first half of Andy's set.  Jointed by the Antipoet Orchestra (which included his son Sebastian on drums), Andy played nearly all the album track by track.  Many of the songs focus on the break up of his 19 year marriage, and some of the tracks were just heartbreaking, especially "Band Of Gold," "All It Does Is Rain" and "Closest Thing To Heaven."

After a brief intermission Andy came back on stage for the second half of the set, which was a mix of tracks from throughout his career.  He played "Religious Persuasion" and "Promises Broken" solo, which I really enjoyed as they were the most folky protest songs of the night.  He finished the set with the one album track he didn't play in the first half, "Lennon," and then did "Jacqui" for an encore.

Here's a video introduction by Andy to the album:

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Melbourne Street Art: AC/DC Lane

AC/DC Lane, a tiny laneway located off Flinders Lane between Exhibition and Russell Streets, is the home to rock music institution Cherry Bar and was renamed after the band by Melbourne City Council in 2004.  The street art down here and in the surrounding laneways matches the rock aesthetic of the location.

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Songs Of Protest

I thought I had escaped right-wing, conservative governments when I migrated to Australia and left the Bush/Cheney regime behind, but Prime Minister Tony Abbott and the Liberal Party are proving to be just as bad as those two were.  During the 2013 Federal election Abbott promised there would be "no cuts to education, no cuts to health, no change to pensions, no change to the GST, and no cuts to the ABC or SBS."  One by one these promises are being broken, and when you add in this Government's denial of climate change and deplorable treatment of refugees, I feel like I'm back in the Bush/Cheney years.

Of course, extreme governments can lead to great art- especially music and songs of protest.  Two recent examples are as follows:

Joelistics' "Say I'm Good" off his second album Blue Volume is a fantastic take down of the current state of Australia, with a great video done by Oh Yeah Wow.  I love the lyric: "I don't buy the bullshit dreams of an aspirationalist modern Australia."

The Basics' "The Lucky Country" is a play off of Donald Horne's 1964 book of the same name.  It's a blistering attack on the age of entitlement in modern day Australia, with an animated video created by Andrew Mortlock (who also did the clip for "So Hard For You").  "Someone called this the lucky country, where our leadership is second rate" couldn't be a more apt lyric if you tried.

Monday, November 24, 2014

To The Left, To The Left

In the immortal words of Beyonce in "Irreplaceable:" To the left, to the left- why can't Melbourne pedestrians keep to the left?  As someone who walks everywhere it drives me mad that people can't follow basic etiquette on how to walk on a sidewalk.  You don't drive on the wrong side of the road, so why don't Melburnians apply those same rules when they are walking down the street? 

I feel like I'm running a gauntlet when trying to cross intersections in the city as no one will move out of the way.  It's like some giant game of chicken.  This behavior in any other city would have you run (walked) over or yelled at, so I was extremely happy to read in The Age today that the City of Melbourne is starting phase 2 of its Share Our Streets campaign to educate people and bring a bit of courtesy back to the CBD.  Hopefully people will get the message and pay more attention to those around them- and also keep to the left!

Sunday, November 23, 2014

Millions- For Your Leisure & Pleasure Tour

Brisbane band Millions released their debut album Max Relax a few months ago, so it was great to get to see them play in support of it last night at the Northcote Social Club.  The opening act for the evening was Ballarat indie rock band Them 9's.  Although they were down a band member I was impressed by their songs and felt they had a bit of a special spark to them.  Next up was Sydney four piece band High-tails, who I thought were ok but their songs didn't really stand out to me.

Millions came out onto the stage with all the band members wearing long sleeve white shirts, with 3 of the 4 of them in matching turtlenecks.  They kicked off their set with "Slow Burner" from the Nine Lives, Six Degrees EP.  Unfortunately it was a disappointingly small and lacklustre crowd in the venue, which I think was due to the number of competing gigs on last night in Melbourne (e.g. I had two other shows I would have liked to attend).  While this seemed to frustrate the band, particularly lead singer Dom, they kicked things into another gear with "Champagne" and "Those Girls," which got the crowd moving and more involved.  Other highlights of the set included "Clementine," "Agony & Ecstasy," "Writing On The Wall," "Daydreaming" and a lovely cover of Righteous Brothers' "Unchained Melody."  By the time they finished the evening with "Nineteen" nearly everyone was dancing along.   Hopefully the next time they come to town they will be playing in front of a sold out crowd because they are too talented to be saddled with a half full venue.

Here's the video for the current single "Clementine" (note the matching white shirts):

Saturday, November 22, 2014


In search of a place to eat post-after work drinks last night, Onagh and I stumbled upon Meatmaiden on Little Collins Street.  A sister restaurant to Richmond's Meatmother, it has been open for a few months.  You enter the restaurant through a door with a woman's face painted on it and descend to the basement on some very industrial looking stairs.  The restaurant space itself is large with a dark, Gothic feel (axes seem to be a featured tool in the decor). 

The menu is American BBQ themed and reasonably priced for sharing.  We ordered the O’Connor pasture-fed flat iron steak, lobster mac and cheese, and side dishes of mash and rye gravy, and the NQA salad which had fennel, orange and pomegranate in it.  All of the dishes were really good, and the meat was cooked to perfection and quite tasty.  After a bit of time to digest our dinner we were ready to try a couple of the desserts: Crack mom’s apple pie with vanilla ice cream, and the Sundae diner with peanut brittle.  Both of those dishes were also very yummy.  We definitely left feeling full and satisfied and I look forward to returning to sample more of the menu.

Friday, November 21, 2014

Paul Dempsey- 3 Cities Tour

Paul Dempsey's 3 Cities Tour was initially just three shows in three cities, but he added a second show in Melbourne, which is what Mary and I attended last night.  This was the first of two sold out shows at the Corner Hotel.  The opening act was Alexander Gow from Oh Mercy.  Alex and Paul first met on the 2011 They Will Have Their Way: The Songs Of Tim And Neil Finn tour.  I was super excited when he was announced as the support act because it's been over a year since we last saw Alex play live.  His set list contained three new songs, including "I Am A Man," as well as old favorites "Drums," "Lady Eucalyptus," "My Man," "Deep Heat," "Get You Back" and "Keith St."  Alex closed his set with an impassioned cover of The Waterboys' "The Whole Of The Moon."

As this tour is just Paul solo on acoustic guitar it has allowed him to draw on songs from his solo catalogue, material from his band Something For Kate, as well as a few new tracks.  Paul was mesmerising to watch play as he sung his songs from the heart and was able to get so many different sound dynamics out of his acoustic guitar.  Highlights included "Private Rain," "Ramona Was A Waitress," "Bird In A Basement," and "Asleep At The Wheel."  Alex came out about half way through the set to join Paul for the Something For Kate song "Stunt Show," new Oh Mercy track "Cool Water" and a cover of The Motels' "Total Control."  Paul also played a cover of David Bowie's "Ashes To Ashes" as part of the encore.  Overall it was an amazing evening with two great Australian singer-songwriters.

Here's a little interview with Paul and Alex around the time of the They Will Have Their Way tour and their version of one of my favorite Crowded House songs, "Kare Kare."

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Kris Schroeder- Retreat Hotel Residency Week 3

Last night was week three of Kris Schroeder's residency at the Retreat Hotel in Brunswick.  The opening act this week was David Bramble, an occasional live contributor to The Basics.  He played solo on acoustic guitar as well as a bit of harmonica on a couple songs.  I thought he sounded good and I really enjoyed the songs which were written on a recent trip to the USA and Nashville due to their amusing story lines and country vibes.

It was a bit more packed this week as Kris played his somewhat loose set.  He has not had the best of weeks after his appearance on the Vote For Me! State Election: The Parties Bring It! panel at the Face The Music conference on Friday didn't go to plan and resulted in this opinion piece being published in  He made references to it during the evening but didn't really go into full detail.  The set list was pretty similar to last week's show.  Highlights were the new Basics songs "To Think Of You," "Tunaomba Saidia," "What Ever Happened To The Working Class" and "Every Part Of Me," which he played solo for the first time.  We got a couple solo EP songs as well as the Keep Your Friends Close album tracks "All Or Nothing," "Keep The Door Open" and an audience request for "What Do You See In Me?"  While he once again did covers of Neil Young and Yusuf Islam, unfortunately we did not get to hear his interpretation of Kenny Loggins and Michael McDonald doing "What A Fool Believes" as was promised last week.  Kris did admit this omission may add to the number of people who currently hate him.  Next week is the last week of the residency so if you are free get on down to the Retreat!

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Melbourne Street Art: Hosier Lane

Hosier Lane off Flinders Street by The Forum is probably the epicenter of Melbourne street art.  It is constantly evolving with new pieces to be discovered every time you visit.  Last year for the Melbourne Now exhibition they painted the whole laneway black and started from scratch.  Even within that time frame there are only a few pieces that still remain.  These are some photos from Hosier Lane and neighboring Rutledge Lane that I took earlier in the week.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Jam Drop Cookies

Jam drop cookies are easy to make and are pretty popular in Australia.  This recipe is one I got out of Real Living Magazine a few years ago.

- 180g butter
- 1/2 cup caster sugar
- 1 tsp vanilla extract
- 2 cups plain flour
- 1 tsp baking powder
- 2 tbsp milk
- 1/2 cup jam of your choice
- raw sugar for coating

Preheat oven to 180C/356F and line a baking sheet with baking paper.

In a small bowl mix the flour and baking powder and set aside.  In a large bowl, beat the butter, sugar and vanilla extract until pale and fluffy.  Gradually add the flour mixture and milk to the butter mixture until a soft dough ball has formed.

In batches, roll the dough into small balls about 3cm/1 inch in diameter, roll the ball in raw sugar, and place on a baking sheet 5cm/2 inches apart.  Flatten each ball with the bottom of a flat-bottomed glass, then make an indent in the center of each with your finger.  Fill the indent with jam.  Bake for 12-15 minutes or until lightly golden.  Allow to cool for 5 minutes on the tray, then transfer to a wire rack to cool completely.  Cook the next batch of cookies.

Monday, November 17, 2014

Myer Christmas Windows

The Myer Christmas Windows are in their 59th year at the Bourke Street store in Melbourne.  The theme for this year's display is the book Santa Claus and the Three Bears by Maria Modugno.  It's a Christmas twist on Goldilocks and the Three Bears with Santa wreaking havoc on the three bears' home.

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