Another Bloody Bootleg Review

Here is a review of the latest installment of the Bootleg Sessions at the Phoenix, the fourth in a series of appraisals of the bizarre little efflorescence of musical culture that the Sessions represent. It is both the most immediate and drunkest review I have written, it being about 4.00 AM in the morning after a night on which I myself, with my redoubtable partner Sharkie, rounded out a night of grand entertainment in that little den of visceral pleasure, the Phoenix Bar, with a set of songs that somehow, inconceivably, made the Phoenix seem glad to have us like a good friend you suddenly get to know a whole lot better.

We arrived in the midst of the Cashews‘ set. Alison has become a good friend and Pete would become one too, maybe, if I could drag him away from his familial bliss. With cellist Emily they manage to create a unique and thrilling suspension of reality wherein, for example, traveling down the Tuggeranong Parkway is an almost spiritual experience.

The Cashews

The quirkiness of their choice of subject matter is reflected in their rejection of almost all that pertains to modern ‘commercial’ music. With the Cashews, sound and fury, bling and porn star posturings are supplanted by a gentle aesthetic of sound making that values beauty, sweetness, humour and melancholia in a combination that is uplifting and driftingly, hypnotically arousing.

In doing so this evening they were hampered by the amplified sound that played some evil tricks on the cello and rendered the spoken word not entirely intelligible. Little damage was done for an audience that became free with its warm embrace. Check out a small video snippet…

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I drank a pint of beer during the Cashews’ set, then I stopped drinking. There’s an art to drinking just enough for a gig. If you’re a nervy guy like me, a certain amount of beer before (and during) a gig will disinhibit you enough to disable your profound sense of insecurity without ruining your fine motor skills and/or sense of decorum. Turning up to a venue some 3 hours before you’re supposed to play is tricky in this regard and I was very proud of my restraint in this respect.

Matt Dent was next up. Matt has been featured on a recent podcast and can be found lurking in the busker’s section of this site as well. Matt is what some might call a fine and decent human being, a musician who has struggled with his demons, trod many hard yards, and who lives with his heart raw and bloody on his sleeve.

His craft has progressed steadily over the last few years. He blows a fine harp, his guitar playing is dynamic and he has a fine, unaffected tenor voice that makes you believe what he sings. His performance this evening was a little marred for me by his vocals not rising above the guitar (an almost constant refrain from me I’m afraid), but I was sitting in the front section of the bar where the translation of the sound from the back room is not always accurate. A summary? Good bloke, good songs, well played, enjoyed by crowd.

Ben Drysdale runs the Bootleg Sessions and has been seen regularly playing in solo mode. This evening he came with a small band comprising Damien from the Dan Banks Band on keyboard and an unknown assailant on hand drum. This set won hands down as far as sound quality on the night goes.

Ben Drysdale

Ben’s twangy Maton (guitar) sounded gorgeous surrounded by the warmer tones of the keys and his voice soared with ease above the lot. The drummer was effective too and despite being a little under-rehearsed (as Damien informed me), the total effect was to raise Ben’s previously rather raw and raucous solo act to a rather classier and more rich and satisfying experience. Watch a segment of the song 6/8.

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About the next act I should say very little but hey, if you feed the pigeons rat poison, you can expect to get a bit of bird-poop on your shoulder. They did not seem to be musicians in the sense that the other acts on the night were, ie. people with a good command of their instrument and so on.

There was a man and a woman, a guitar which was strummed not very rhythmically, a bass guitar that thrummed spasmodically and largely inaudibly, and a collection of bizarre words and the occasional yowling sound emanating from some rather unenthusiastic and unengaging mouths. Was it performance art? Was it the realisation of a long cherished childhood dream that should have been shelved alongside the astronaut fantasy? I should have asked them, but I was deep inside my personal pit of pre-gig hell at this stage and didn’t have the psychic energy for it.

The crowd were united in their desire to ignore these two (whose name I’ve forgotten) and it was a relief for everyone concerned when the Lavans began plugging in their guitar amps. I bought my second pint at this stage.

(I’m not drunk any more – it’s the next day) The Lavans reminded me why I asked them to come on a podcast. If all goes well they should be coming to record tonight. Employing a four piece, standard rock band formula, the Lavans rocked the Phoenix and even got a few people dancing at one stage.

They’ve got the smilingest drummer in town whose grand sense of enjoyment at merely banging out a four-four back beat was palpable. A woman of my acquaintance fairly swooned at his ingenuous antics. The bass player too is a character, bobbing and weaving to his own internal rhythm and clearly enjoying himself immensely without forgetting to bond with his drummer’s kick like chocolate to ice cream. I noticed the electric guitarist less, though it’s no discredit to him because from where I sat, he was obscured from view.

Is it important that musicians seem to be enjoying themselves? Personally if I wasn’t enjoying playing any more I’d throw in the towel. Playing music in Canberra has very few other rewards, let me assure you. But one doesn’t want to be found pretending to smile because you were told to by your 3rd grade choir director.

Jacob, the bands front man and rhythm guitarist, is not doing that, nor could he be said to be in an ecstatic reverie, but to my mind he has a certain brooding remoteness that befits his role and the style of music which is… well I’d call it rock and roll, though I’m not even sure what that means any more. The only criticism of Jacob’s vocals was a tendency to lose power in the lower registers, dropping him out of the picture at times against the background of some solid rawkenroll.

I particularly like Ballad of the Ex (which you can hear by clicking Audio MP3).


It’s one of their slower songs with a great lyric (beware – the word fuck abounds) and a melancholic chord progression and monotonous vocal delivery fitting for a break-up revenge song.

I won’t delve into derivations, though they do remind me of numerous bands and I’m sure there’ll be detractors who’ll call them copyists, and perhaps they are, but last night I couldn’t give a fuck, it was fun, loud, a bit cocky, a bit kooky and full of the sort of juvenescent exuberance that makes you wistful about your own vanished youth.

As I said, last up was us, Cuddlefish, and it was a daunting experience to be playing in front of some respected peers. The nerves, having been obscured by an overpowering desire to curl up on a bench and go to sleep for much of the night, had kicked in during the Lavans’ set, setting off the ritual pre-gig movement of the bowels and the desire to smoke 13 cigarettes in half an hour.

New pint in hand, we ventured on stage and.. well maybe someone else would like to appraise what happened next?

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