Author: Melody Menu
It’s a Saturday night and we’re in a stranger’s backyard in inner-city Wollongong. Of the 30-odd public tickets that were on sale, we can surmise that we’re just about the only ones that don’t know the hosts or any one of their family and friends, with a passing connection to the further handful of artists busily setting up over the homely verandah-turned stage.
It’s the most unique gig experience any of us has ever been to, with people sprawled across the grass picnic-style, drinking beer, eating dumplings, crackers, chips and dips. Four small dogs have the run of the place, one eagerly anticipating pats and attention, the others completely bemused by the spectacle. With so many people milling about that we don’t know, it’s enough to just sit back, drink iced tea and admire the stage, hung with velvet curtains and fairy lights, graced by the occasional dog.
The owner of the house and our host for the night takes the stage with a beer in hand and passionately thanks us all for ‘Taking the power back from the powers’ – celebrating the DIY spirit that has brought us all here tonight. He introduces the first act – Lax Charisma – and our night begins.
Amongst the family barbeque-vibe, Lax cuts a contrasting figure, spinning drug-addled yarns of addiction and tragedy to the sounds of kids splashing in the pool. Children circle around, a dog intermittently joins him onstage, and a lone woman in the audience stands front-row centre – facing the crowd, eyes half-closed and swept away in song.
Tiny & The Broken Hearts offer a change of pace with their south-coast Stetson-booted rockabilly twang. The first song follows the singer’s move to Wollongong, referencing the suburb Fairy Meadow as a complete misnomer, while reflecting on her surprise to find herself living ‘in the bush, on a farm, with some chooks.’
Morgana Ancone and co. have a great energy on stage, with complementary harmonies and heartfelt songs that cover the human condition from love to lust; empathy and heartbreak; community spirit and breaking up before moving out (‘Life Is So Much Better When You’re Not Around’). Smiles sigh through the crowd as they begin ‘Under The Milky Way’ complete with a note-for-note melodica solo, which elevates the much-covered track to a new level.
In-between, our host’s introductions become more and more loose after each act. As the headline approaches, all he needs to say at this point is: ‘I’ve got the fucking Tall Grass in my backyard!’ to rapturous applause.
True to form, The Tall Grass take us on a journey Down The Unmarked Road from beginning to end. It’s just the pair of them tonight, and this pared-down setup brings the songs to life.
These songs have Sydney in their bones, but are just as resonant in this backyard in Wollongong with their lush soundscapes and attention to detail to the sights, smells and textures that make up contemporary Australian life.
The fantastical also has a place here, with rousing, lung-busting songs about cars, mystical mechanics and broken hearts, made all the more psychedelic by dogs wandering around the stage, threatening to topple over near-empty glasses of red wine.
The banter is ripe with dad jokes, and lends an insight into what makes the songs work as they do. Fenton and Hutchings have clearly known each other for so long as to complete each other creatively. A lyric here, a strum there, they complement each other’s ideas in a way that is a treat to listen to.
This synergy reaches its peak in ‘Weathervane’. Kind and gentle, ‘Weathervane’ is infused with nature and the minutiae of detail found in memory, interwoven with acoustic strings and bright ukulele.
As the set ends, it is ‘Weathervane’ that continues to turn over in my mind as we make our way out into the cold, coastal night and begin the drive back to Sydney, the track ringing out our gratitude for our hosts and our renewed sense of community.
‘I dropped in on a whim that morning / Down The Unmarked Road.’