Day 5: Melbourne
Another day, another ridiculously early departure. Cities that appear to be nearby on a map are actually quite distant. So in order to get to Melbourne in plenty of time for that night’s Robert Forster gig, we need to be on a 7am flight, as the only other flights to Melbourne are in the afternoon. And since we can’t check in online (they want to see proof we’re leaving the country, and it’s a one-way ticket), we need to get there no later than two hours before. Or we don’t get on the plane.
The Wellington airport is pretty small, which makes this looming figure above us in the gate area seem even more imposing:
It’s 5am and time for first breakfast. No fancy lounge breakfast this time, as we’re flying a budget airline. Though I am impressed that we’re able to get some quite good poached eggs on toast with spinach from one of the food vendors. Poached eggs, as I’m learning, are a standard breakfast offering in this part of the world. I approve!
The flight is long (around three and a half hours), and we’re both pretty tired, so Mike tries to catch some zzz’s and I zone out for a bit before catching up on my writing. It’s a budget airline, so no second breakfast (for now).
Stepping into the arrivals area at the Melbourne airport, I can already feel the temperature change — no more need for wool leggings. And time to switch our SIM cards in our phones from the NZ to Australian ones.
The clerk at the Vodafone kiosk in the Wellington airport had been very helpful in setting up our NZ SIMs, finally getting the Internet to work properly with Mike’s phone. He even showed us where the settings were to likely make things work when we got back to Australia, so Mike fiddled with his phone for a bit and then — voila! — the tweets and Instagrams began rolling in.
And it’s a good thing we had internet access again, because I hadn’t yet researched how to get to our Melbourne Airbnb from the airport, or even how far away it was. However… trying to use transit directions in Google Maps proved to be a bust. I guess they don’t have that in Melbourne yet? Signs pointed to an airport express bus that looked like it was going to be the quickest way into town, we hopped on that.
Arriving at the central railway station at the end of the bus ride, it appeared that we still had a ways to go. Time to cab it to the Airbnb and figure out the transit stuff after we’d dropped our bags and caught our breath.
I hadn’t heard from our host recently, so I messaged him now. By the time we arrived at his place in the Collingwood neighborhood, there was still no reply. So we walked up and rang the bell and… nothing. Another ring, still no response.
At this point, the wisest move seemed to be… second breakfast! A small Japanese cafe was a few blocks away, so we sat down to get some food and wait, while I messaged our host yet again.
Another flat white, and this time avocado toast. This is another thing I’d kept seeing on menus over here, and heck, for something so simple — very ripe avocado slices drizzled with a little olive oil plus salt on a large slice of toast — it was freaking delicious!
We finish breakfast and there is still no word from our host. And we have these heavy backpacks we really want to ditch. So we head back over to the flat to try ringing the bell again.
Ring, ring, no answer. Uggggghhhhh!
Time for Plan B: head back to the cafe for another coffee, contact Airbnb and start scoping hotels for the night just in case this goes completely south. Because we actually experienced similar flakiness with our Airbnb in San Francisco at the beginning of our trip: our host was non-responsive, then kind of evasive about checkin, so we ditched that for a hotel.
I call Airbnb and am starting to explain our situation to a customer service rep when the connection drops. Less than a minute later there is another call — from our host! He apologizes profusely for forgetting to message us with entry details, then gives me the code for the lockbox with keys.
Chugging down the rest of my coffee, we walk back over to the flat, get the keys, and take a breather in our space for the next four nights. It’s a self-contained, modern studio flat in our host’s back yard that looks like it was converted from a garage. With all the mod cons and a complimentary bottle of wine. Nice.
We still have some time to kill before night #3 of the Jen’s Musical Heroes Tour (tonight: Robert Forster!), so we decide to walk over to the main retail strip near our part of north Collingwood. There are a couple of “op shops” (thrift stores) we check out, in search of cool t-shirts or records.
Just as we arrive at the first one, a “Salvos” (Salvation Army), the overcast skies deliver on their threat, dumping down sheets of rain. We have no jackets and no umbrellas, so this is a worrying development. On the plus side, Mike finds a Making of Dune book and a t-shirt for NYC comic shop Forbidden Planet, plus a circa-1960s LP of Moog synth-peppered instrumentals that I gladly scoop up.
The store doesn’t have any umbrellas for sale, and we’re at the point of considering buying a couple of secondhand rain jackets when I think to text our host to see if maybe he has a couple of umbrellas we could borrow?
He replies quickly that he does (yay!), so we check out and buy a bag to protect our purchases (and Mike’s head) from the rain, which has now lessened from torrential to heavy downfall. Our host, a very tall, gregarious Australian, meets us at our flat with the umbrellas, and we’re good to continue exploring on Smith Street.
The rain is fairly constant for the rest of the day, though it does ease in a bit. At one op shop I spot a “University of Washington” t-shirt on one rack, which makes me laugh. A little bit of Seattle in Melbourne.
We somehow manage to not do any record shopping before hunger gets the better of us. We both agree on the best food for a rainy day: soup. Specifically, we are lured by the promise of ramen at Shop Ramen. Though we first start with a steamed tofu bun for Mike plus a couple of cocktails: a watermelon shoju concoction for him and some Japanese rum mixed with ginger beer for me.
Then the ramen arrives, and it is seriously the best I’ve had outside of Japan. Still-crispy pork belly in a shoyu broth and soy-marinated egg and mushrooms. I sample some of Mike’s and it’s just as delicious: tofu in an intensely-flavored milky-white broth with edamame and marinated shiitakes. OMNOMNOM.
What comes after dinner? A rock concert, of course. We make our way down to the bustling central-city neighborhood where The Toff, tonight’s venue, is located. It’s on the 3rd floor of a building called the Curtin, which also houses a restaurant, a nightclub, and a venue for rooftop movies, among other things. We’re a bit early, so we get our stamps and head out for a drink in a slightly less posh setting. ($20 cocktails? No thank you.)
Mike finds a listing for a bar that looks pretty good, so we head down a street that seems to house an enormous, upscale shopping mall on both sides, then down a side alley. Inside are bottles of beer from all over the world lining the walls.
We grab a couple of pints of a local brew, find a seat, and start leafing through a local music weekly that someone had left at our table. Maybe there are some other gigs happening this weekend? Because we didn’t have anything planned for either Friday or Saturday.
A few pages in, I see it, and jab the paper with my finger: local band Flyying Colours is playing a gig on Friday! We both love that band — they’re on our personal short list of local bands we’d hope to see while in town — so this is pretty exciting. Then we see this is actually an opening slot for Irish band Ash, which is part of a festival, and the tickets are therefore pretty pricey. Hm.
Then I say, “what the hell, why not!” because when are we going to get the chance to see them again, and wouldn’t we totally regret it if we didn’t go? So I order tickets on my phone right then and there. Sorted!
We down the rest of our beers and make our way through the bustle back over to the Toff. The opening band hasn’t gone on yet, and there aren’t that many people there, so we’re able to grab a table near the back. There’s only one chair, though, so Mike asks if an empty one at the table in front of us is taken. Indeed — it’s for a friend who has yet to arrive. Other folks do have a free chair, though, so we settle in an wait for the first act.
Shortly afterward, the friend arrives to take that seat in front of us. He looks mighty familiar. “I think that’s one of the guys from Dick Diver,” I whisper to Mike. He starts looking up photos from the Dick Diver show we were at in Seattle last year, as I do a little Googling. “Yeah, that’s Al Montfort from Dick Diver.” Indiepop celeb-spotting powers: activate!
It looks like the first band, Lower Plenty, is about to go on, so we get up and move towards the (still mostly-empty) stage area. Wait, who’s that on stage? Why, it’s the dude from Dick Diver, plus some of his table-mates! They play minor key, slightly shambolic tunes, with odd bits of percussion — a rainy-sounding metal shaker, a brushed snare sound — gently flowing over most. Quite nice.
Since a few really tall dudes had ambled over and stood in our general area during the first band, as soon as the band is done we move to almost directly in front of the stage with surprising ease. Unobstructed sight lines, hooray!
I’m fidgeting with excitement yet again. I’ve seen both Robert Forster solo and playing with fellow Go-Between Grant McLennan (RIP) numerous times, mainly in the 90s when they’d visit NYC to play shows to promote their solo albums. But the last time I’d seen Forster was in 2005, also the last time I saw the Go-Betweens, at the Triple Door in Seattle. It would be interesting to see what mix of his own and his (late, great) band’s songs he’d choose to perform.
Taking the stage in style, with subtly stripey trousers and suit jacket over white dress shirt, Robert Forster briefly acknowledged the crowd’s adulatory applause before launching right into the first song with his four-piece band. The initial few songs were from the new album, 2015’s Songs to Play, which I still need to better acquaint myself with, especially since those songs sounded so great performed live. His band is ON IT, three younger dudes on drums, guitar and bass (plus backing vocals and keyboards from the latter two), as well as what I believe is his wife Karin on violin and backup vocals. So on top of every note, so effortless-sounding.
Of course the highlights for me are the Go-Betweens songs, especially one of my favorites, “Head Full of Steam.” He even dips as deep back as Spring Hill Fair-era, with “Draining the Pool For You,” which I’d never heard him perform live before. And of course the latter-day Go-Betweens catalog was well-represented: “Surfing Magazines,” “Finding You,” “Darlinghurst Nights” and “Here Comes a City” are all treats.
Throughout the set, Robert seems a bit quieter than usual, which he later acknowledges as he begins to loosen up, saying that this is the first time in awhile they’ve played. But by the time he encores with a 1-2 punch of two early solo live favorites — “I Can Do” and a riveting, guitar-less, Robert-at-the-mike tour-de-force performance of “Danger in the Past,” any lingering reticence has been shed. Out with a bang.
Would I see Robert Forster again on Saturday night for his second gig? Why yes, I do believe I wanted to now, after this performance. Mike, having never seen him live before, was also impressed by the show.
Why any doubt about going on Saturday? Well, as much as I love seeing old favorites, I’m just as excited to check out newer bands. So I wanted to leave room for the possibility of attending another show stacked with current Melbourne bands. But none such gig materialized, at least not with a strong enough lineup to tempt me. Besides, we already had tickets for Saturday due to my ordering for both nights when our final itinerary was not yet clear.
We hopped on the tram to take us back to Collingwood, and two stops later, wouldn’t you know it, on hops… the dude from Dick Diver! Maybe he’s able to play with so many bands because he’s secretly triplets? Anyway, see ya in Brisbane next week with one of those other bands (Terry).
Sleepytime now, so we can rest up for a day of hardcore record shopping (and hopefully better weather) on the morrow…