Review of Backyard Backanalia Saturday 23 February

Chanel Cole

We had cycled through the encroaching dusk in a fading summer heat with hidden chilly teeth. In my basket was a map printed from the Internet to guide me to the brand-spankin’ Backanalia venue (handily the exact distance from me, but in the opposite direction). Trailing behind me was my brand-spankin’ new lover, fresh from that jaded lady, Melbourne. Beginnings.

We pulled up next to a latent fire-pit, extracted a bottle of red (begged some plastic cups from the bar ” thanks guys) and settled in for the last few morsels of acoustic deliciousness from the Cyclone Rangers.

I’ve been to a fair few Backanalias since I was introduced to Canberra 18 months ago. Somehow I’ve never managed to turn up until at least halfway through: the backyard would be densely crowded with bodies, people sitting, dancing, standing around the fire ” a couple of older children maybe scattered here and there. Tonight was a mellower introduction (necessarily: it doesn’t do to scare the neighbours unduly). The BBQ was in full force, and a small tribe of kiddies were dancing ring-around the rosies, flirting for attention and generally being wobbly-legged and pretty cute.

The line-up for the evening had changed somewhat since the email-out with the loss of Jordan Best, with Ben Drysdale taking up final slot instead of Matt Dent. Jim Boots had asked me if I’d be prepared to do a couple of numbers if it came down to it and I’d agreed because, fuck me if Backyard Backanalia isn’t what sharing music is all about. I’d gotten too squiffy on warmth, red wine and kisses to last the distance by the later stage of the evening, but it’s the thought that counts.

I almost feel as if I can’t write a proper review as I haven’t the objectivity to critique the music: most of the acts featured were friends of mine and I have an abiding love for Backanalia events: it’s the combination of being outdoors under the stars, watching sparks fly from burning logs as your face is cooked by fire and smoke, hanging out and catching up with firm friends and tenuous new ones, all set to lulling melodies, foot-tapping percussion and a feeling of perfect contentment ” happiness, even.

However: The Cyclone Rangers were lovely ” a kind of up-tempo acoustic folk. Enough so that I regretted not getting off my arse to arrive slightly earlier. I caught one and a half songs and felt like the worst kind of traitor for missing the set.

Aaron Peacey and Daniel Kempers introduced themselves as “The Glowing Embers” from Fire On The Hill and proceeded to convince me again that what I really wanted out of life was to sit on the porch of a shack in the middle of nowhere with a banjo and sing the blues. I’ve said it before but it bears repeating: Aaron Peacey is an incredible musician, singing like an angel and playing lap-steel like a demon. Dan was great on the drums as ever ” understated, elegantly supportive with intricate rhythms and soft, just-enough vocal harmonies. Favourite track: probably “God Speed Driver”.

I defy anyone not to feel good, to smile, when listening to The Cashews. As if Alison’s clear, dimpled smile wasn’t enough to trigger a warm fuzzy, the sweet, simple, thoughtful songs; their unpretentious delivery and endearing onstage camaraderie are a light in a dark world. And when Alison’s cohort (Pete Lyon – Ed) busted out the trumpet I clapped my hands in delight. Small children pranced about playing air-trumpet. I was a helpless victim to chair-swaying during much of the set, little bubbles of happy laughter welling in my chest at the pleasure of being alive, sharing good company and listening to Ali’s dusty sunshine voice.

Mechanical Pterodactyl took their earnest, cinematic rock to the stage next. I saw them playing at the Fringe and had wished the sound were better as there’s a real sense of brooding potential. Their songs are multi-layered soundscapes, things half-glimpsed through dark and fog, like a swamp from 50’s noir films ” something beautiful, ephemeral and not-quite-realised. They’re a complicated group, and left me feeling a little complicated too: I like very much what they do, but feel I haven’t seen them in full flight, just yet. I asked around and apparently they formed quite recently, which makes me happy. Give these boys another handful of gigs to find their connections (with each other and the songs) and they will be breathtaking.

A young, long-legged brunette walked on stage with her guitar next and jauntily announced herself as “Matilda, from the Ainslie IGA”. God love her. She’s new (to me), raw and tackled some quite ambitious material in addition to her originals, but does it with a genuine pleasure that quite covered any shortfalls of experience or technique. Much promise, Matilda.

Finally the infamous Ben Drysdale appeared, solo-style. Although I know him relatively well, I haven’t seen much of Ben playing and even less of his solo work. He was great. Rock-confident without the swagger, his performance was assured and his songs strong and well crafted. He’s got a good voice on him too, and knows how to use it. PS: Ben, I liked your outfit ” you should dress like that more often.

Despite wanting to stay to the bitter end to sing-a-long by the fire and watch the embers turn to ashes, the wine won out. Helped along by much romanticism and smooches and a few splinters in the old derriere, of course. I sauntered out of Backanalia’s new digs feeling smug to be in on the best evening out in Canberra and promising Jim to come and play at the next one.

NB: It must be mentioned that the new backyard is beautiful and even better than the previous venue. The performers were pretty happy about the stage set-up and the whole merchandise/bar/ BBQ area was fancy. Well, as fancy as trestle tables can be, but what do you freaking want? Silver service?

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