Tales From A Sunburnt Country, Part 5

I think the guy who brought the PA that night said it best:

“They keep trying to introduce culture to Nannup, and it keeps getting rejected. Tonight’s just another example.”

We drove for hours through a thick forest to get to the isolated town of Nannup, in the Southeastern corner of Western Australia. There were none of the random, isolated dwellings you usually see on the road from one country town to another. No trailers with broken down cars in the yard, no trim, cute little farmhouses. Nothing but forest. Aside from Perth, a thriving metropolis like any other, Western Australia can be disconcertingly underpopulated.

Every person we encountered in this part of the world laughed ominously when I told them we had a gig coming up in Nannup, so I had a foreboding feeling that we were headed for a fiasco. The band pooh-poohed this as negativity on my part. They were all way too experienced in the ways of the road to be wearing these particular rose-colored glasses, but I admired their positive spirit.

From the moment we were accosted in the dirt parking lot by a local who wanted to know “if we were going to do some Abba” and who, upon being denied that particular request, elaborated threateningly that “we better play country, then,” I knew we were the wrong band in the wrong bar.

Andy the drummer had flown in from Sydney that day with his wife and arrived in a separate car. Qantas had lost his cymbals. You can’t really have drums without cymbals. The claim was that as soon as they located this lost luggage, a courier would drive it down from Perth to Nannup – almost four hours. I held little hope that this event would transpire, but as we were setting up, the courier arrived, cymbals in hand. It was all downhill from there.

We had borrowed a keyboard for these three dates from a friend of a friend. It was a Roland digital piano of mid 90s vintage. I had owned the very same keyboard myself in the mid 90s, and I knew it was trouble. However, I was getting it for the price of a bottle of whisky, which was just about what I could afford. Like many Roland products, the concept was great but the execution was terrible. Keys break, strange, gig-ending electronic glitches occur. A piece of machinery ill-suited for the rigors of the road, where your shit has to work. Every night. No excuses.

About twenty minutes into Karen’s opening set, the keyboard suddenly changed keys. There I was, playing an A minor chord, and a B-minor chord was happening instead. The band and my wife stared in horror. I was sure I had lost my few remaining marbles. I know I’m playing the right fucking chord! I thought. As the band played on, I turned the keyboard off and then on again. This reboot seemed to solve the problem. Like the fucking thing was running on Windows 95. It held for the rest of the evening. I spent that time preying none of the keys would snap off.

Early the next we headed out for Denmark, some four hours away on the far south coast. The venue was in a striking location on a hill overlooking the Southern Ocean, nothing but thousands of miles of churning sea and Antarctica to the south.

The place was booked by a musician, so he had our back. I did a quick radio interview for the local station, the six of us had dinner and then we did the show.

It was one of those small towns populated mostly by people who had moved from bigger towns to get away from it all. Well-educated types, musicians, artists, young hippies, old hippies. We met a guy who had moved there from Philly with the money he made from his self-started fitness empire. That sort of thing. My kind of crowd. They were with us from the start. Some sat, some writhed pleasantly around the perimeter, doing that Grateful Dead dance. I love that shit. There was one point where that connection got made in which you feel the room is about to levitate. Those are the moments we do this for. The keyboard changed keys again at almost exactly the same time. I restarted and got on with it. It was just part of the show now.

The next day, another four hour drive back up to Margaret River and our last show in W.A. – Cape Lodge. Cape Lodge is the swankiest and most expensive retreat in the west of Australia, but still, nothing prepared us for the treatment we got there. As soon as we arrived, the misses and I were whisked off to a five-star suite the size of our apartment, while the band were taken to equally well-appointed cabins on the lush and peaceful grounds. The place was so impeccable I felt like I was soiling it by just standing there. A sound company brought in staging, lights and sound for the show and set up everything while we rested and washed off the road grime. The wife was very pleased.

About an hour before showtime, armies of waitstaff brought course after course of high-end tucker. This was a gig? It was hard to believe. If we’d been patrons here, this food plus the room probably would have set us back two large.

The show was transcendent from beginning to end, the crowd had paid $120 a head for a “Jazz Soirée With Bob Malone” and they were primed and ready to dig the show. But during the first song, the keyboard changed keys three times. And it did it again in every one of the next four songs. The reboot thing became way too disruptive, so I just started playing in the new key as it would happen. Good thing I went to music school! I remained calm, told jokes about it, and the adversity got the crowd even more on our side. I turned it to my advantage. About halfway through the show, the trouble stopped and we wrapped it up unmolested by any further electronic mayhem. With two encores. It was a memorable night. A very fine way to end this part of the tour…this would be my last show with this band until next year. We toasted our good fortune, and headed back to our plush rooms. –Bob Malone

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