St Vincent @ The Hi-Fi, 10.03.2012

Tonight gig marks a special occasion in that I’m trying out my new camera for the very first time. I only bought a new memory card for it yesterday (it takes a completely different type of memory card to my previous camera, which means that I’m going to have to go out at some point and buy a complete suite of cards to replace my old ones) and all I’ve done with it so far is take a few quick shots of the bookcases in my lounge from the comfort of the sofa, mainly to make sure that it works. I probably should have read the manual a bit more before heading out to use it in anger but feel reasonably confident that I’ll be able to figure things out as I go if I need to.

Having commented that Oscar+Martin were the worst band I’d seen in a long while, when they supported Metronomy at The Zoo at the start of the year, I can’t believe that they’re the support band tonight. Having waited over 3 1/4 yrs for a new camera they weren’t exactly the band that I wanted to have the ‘honour’ of being the first band I photographed with it. However, although it’s not planned in any way, I get to The Hi-Fi in time to see the final 30 seconds of their set. The start times are a lot earlier than the usual Hi-Fi start times, with Oscar+Martin playing 8:30pm to 9:15pm and St Vincent starting at 9:40pm. I’m used to the venue’s headliners not playing until well after 10pm. It’s a quick turnaround between acts due to all of St Vincent’s equipment already being set up on the stage. On one hand I’m glad that St Vincent gets the honour of being the first act I photograph, on the other it’s a bit stressful that there’s no chance to test out it before I really need to get some photos to submit to accompany the review.

The new camera is… weird. Cameras used to be so simple and I liked that. My new camera has an electronic viewfinder and it’s really weird. Having had a lifetime of looking through the viewfinder and seeing what’s there, it’s really different when you see a pixelated view when it is turned on and just see black when the camera is turned off. It’s not real, you’re not looking through a piece of transparent plastic (and not even that on those cheap, disposable film camera that just have a hole in the casing to look through) that gives you a ‘real life’ view via a mirror. It’s a live video feed in the viewfinder, like looking at a mini-tv really close up when you put your eye up to the camera. Not only are you using a live image to compose the photo, the exposure of the feed changes as you change settings, essentially providing real-time assistance in correcting and fine-tuning the exposure. Weird. One major annoyance I quickly find is that although you can use the viewfinder for real-time exposure, when you increase the ISO, the quality of the viewfinder starts to deteriorate, and to a point where it’s akin to watching a slightly out-of-tune TV with all the snowstorm static from the digital noise being really hard to work with. Ultimately, I don’t think the A77 is going the be the best of cameras for low-light, music photography but it’s what I’ve got for the next few years and hopefully I’ll get more used to it with time.

Although all the buttons being in different places (including the on/off switch now being positioned on completely the opposite side from where it used to be, the other main source of weirdness is that the camera doesn’t have a normal mirror. It’s not a DSLR, it’s a SLT; a Single-Lens Translucent, which, as the name suggests, has a semi-transparent mirror that allows the majority light to pass through it to form the image on the sensor while still reflecting a portion of the light to allow the camera to autofocus. With no moving mirror, there’s no reassuring mirror opening and closing ‘clack’ when you take a photo, instead there’s an electronic whirring noise that sounds more like the doors on the Enterprise in Star Trek than what a camera should sound like.

The final observation on first use is how complex everything looks through the viewfinder. I’m used to seeing what’s basically painted-on cross-hairs to line up shots. The A77 is like some really technical sci-fi flight simulator than any camera I’ve ever used before. White boxes, green boxes, boxes that move, zoom in, zoom out, flash and beep at you. It’s hard to focus on the subject of your photo of when you’ve got all that going on right in front of your eye.

There’s no photo pit and as I get there as Oscar+Martin are finishing, I claim a space against the front on the left-hand side of the stage. However, the roadies bring out a theremin and position it on the other side of the stage so I decide to move over to the right-hand side to hopefully get some better photos of the theremin in use. In the end, it’s probably not the best decision as there’s no theremin until the last song and the instrument just gets in the way when taking any wider shots. I photograph the first three songs, which turn out to be my favourite three songs from her latest Strange Mercy album; Surgeon, with its more frazzled, second-part-of-Shine-On-You-Crazy-Diamond keyboard sounds, Cheerleader (which I had expected would be the encore) and Chloe In The Afternoon. Then I put my camera back in its bag and start watching the rest of the show. However, I keep seeing other photographers in the crowd still taking photos and as no one has specified, as there’s no pit and as it’s the first time using my new camera and I want to try it out a bit more, I take it back out, move around to in front of the mixing desk and take a few more photos during the rest of the show. I end up preferring these photos as I was too far side-on for the first three songs. I only really focus on Annie Clarke herself, as the rest of the band are in the dark corners of the stage and I also want to make sure I get something to send off to go with the review (a bit surprisingly my photos gets published in that week’s Rave)

Given the dense electronica in Annie Clark’s songs, I wondered how it would work live but with two keyboard players, a drummer and Clark on guitar it comes over really well through her 90 minute set. She’s a very impressive guitarist, with a really interesting tone and she sings flawlessly throughout. She plays a new song, Krocadile (is how it looks like it’s spelt on the setlist), and jumps down from the stage, singing the whole song in the midst of the audience. All the photographers leap in, cameras in the air but as I’ve got a long lens and am too far away from the action, that I’m not going to get any close-ups. She gets back to the stage completely out of breath and tells the audience the story about how the singer of The Pop Group (Mark Stewart) gave her a Sex Pistols dish cleaner called Sid Dishes and told her to look at what had happened to punk. Clark also regales the crowd with the story of getting her photo taken with a koala earlier in the day at Lone Pine. Everyone laughs, which makes her question what’s so funny, but everyone has heard this story so often from touring musicians that it’s become a bit of an in-joke. It’s also a bit sad in that is there nothing else in Brisbane to offer people visiting the city for a short stay. Is that as good as it gets. If you’re in one of the big cities, all the paparazzi hand outside the latest, trendy nightspots waiting for celebrities to emerge; in Brisbane you’d just need to hang around outside Lone Pine Koala Sanctuary if you want to be sure of photographing anyone famous who’s passing through Brisbane. Surely there must be more to do here than that?

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