The Drones + Witch Hats + Hits @ The Hi-Fi

In an age when live music venues in all major cities around the world are closing, or being made to close, a brand new venue in Brisbane should be a cause for celebration, although it’s somewhat muted by the fact that it has coincided with The Arena closing as a live venue and being transformed into an R&B club. The world, and Brisbane, may need many things; however, another R&B club is not one of them.

Moving away from the current spiritual home of live music in Brisbane, Fortitude Valley, the new Hi-Fi, a sister venue to the Melbourne establishment, has set up home in West End. In the days leading up to its opening there has been comment as to whether the place would be ready in time, as it still resembles a building site from outside, with the front facade still all boarded up. Having negotiated the front desk, finding that I’m not on the guest list, that they’ve never heard of the person responsible for my email confirmation but that they let me in regardless and give me a media pass, the proof of the venues readiness to open is instantly evident from the overpowering stench of paint fumes. Moving up the stairs, navigating the obvious bottleneck as the corridor snakes its way into the main room, the first impression is one of disappointment; it’s just a big open room. With the Hi-Fi being similar in size to the The Tivoli I think most people were expecting it to be a similar styled and laid out venue, but instead it’s rather a souless and charmless void compared to its closest rival in the Valley.

Further points are lost when, after a long wait for the bar, it’s discovered that they don’t do any cider; something which makes it an instant FAIL in my eyes… Relocating to the ‘VIP’ bar upstairs, with the aid of my laminate, the open bar is being abused to extremes, with the ‘VIP’ liggers ordering as many spirit based drinks as they can carry in one go and adding in a few shots, mostly of Sambuca it seems, to pass the time at the bar waiting for their more complicated drinks to be made.

Back downstairs the music has finally started, with Hits having won the honour to be the opening band at the new venue. Again, after their recent Troubadour show you can’t help but be disappointed in them. They seem very nervous and apprehensive, look uncomfortable and the confident swagger that they always exude just isn’t there [Note: reading their MySpace blog from the night whilst putting together this post, it’s no surprise to find that they didn’t get a sound-check, and this would go a long way to explaining their apparent uncomfortableness on stage and further evidence of the Hi-Fi’s unreadiness to open to the public]. Also I was expecting more from Evil Dick in the fashion stakes, he was less dressed up than he was at The Troubadour show a couple weeks ago. Tamara seemed quite quiet and less animated as well; I was waiting in anticipation of some good shots of her, not helped by her being in the dark a lot of the time. And then when she bends over trying to induce some feedback from her amp I suddenly felt a bit awkward as I there I am looking through the camera viewfinder getting a good view straight up her skirt…It was giving me flashbacks to photographing Abi Zuton at Falls a few years ago. Ladies, high stages and short skirts don’t mix…

Witch Hats are nothing special; a lack of variation, not much interaction with crowd and the sound is only marginally better than for Hits. It’s dark for first three and then the lights all come on, so I take some sneaky shots in the fourth song and then a few more in the last song. Despite being told it was first three no flash, I don’t think anyone in authority is that bothered, with plenty of photographers in attendance and plenty photographing for whole sets throughout the night.

One of several things has happened tonight; either a bit of “mainstream” success has changed the crowd that The Drones draw or the opening of a new venue has brought out an irregular gig crowd for the night or the over-abuse of the free “VIP” bar, as previously mentioned, has changed the crowd into an obnoxious beast. Or maybe it’s all three of these things. The jerk factor is definitely high tonight, from the annoying guy screaming as loud as he can every five seconds before The Drones come on to the guy downing his drink, cheered on by his mates, and then just dropping the bottle from his hand, where luckily it just bounces off the concrete floor, to the guys trying to drape themselves over the fold-back speakers to help keep themselves upright. After enduring constant conversation drowning him out at his recent solo Troubadour show, it’s no wonder that Gareth Liddiard is rumoured to really hate Brisbane.

Once again I find myself with little new to say about The Drones; still an amazing live band, helped by the improvement in sound over the night.  Opener ‘Nail It Down‘ and ‘The Minotaur‘ are now firmly established in the band’s ever-growing canon and as pivotal songs in their live repertoire. With three bands on the bill I had anticipated 8, 9 and 10pm start times, with the headliners playing for 90 minutes, as they had done in the shows in Sydney and Melbourne a few days prior. Indeed they do apparently play for a good hour and a half but, not starting until 11pm, play to an ever decreasing number until they end somewhere around the 12:30am mark. I’m not there to see it though, only staying for perhaps six songs and leaving at the more sensible Wednesday night gig time of 11:30pm.

In many ways it’s a shame that the venue was open to the public when it is so far from being ready. Hopefully a number of things will be fixed in the coming weeks; the finishing of the actual building work being the most obvious one, the installation of a photo pit being another. Then there are a few things that the venue could/should be fixed but more than likely won’t; an improvement in the poor bar selection, an improvement in the rip-off bar prices and of course getting cider behind the bar… And then there are the more critical elements which just can’t really be fixed; the layout of the building, the bottlenecks and the uncomfortable sense of claustrophobia in the main room. Even more critically I’ve heard on the grapevine, from people with a far greater knowledge of sound than me, that unless work is done to the room, the sound will never be that good.

Ultimately a venue lives and dies by the bands it puts on and the initial list of bands lined up to play at The Hi-Fi is fairly impressive, at least in terms of the popularity of the bands. However, when you consider all the faults of the Hi-Fi on its opening night there’s a real sense of déjà vu; whilst there may be a new building in West End they have also managed to capture the very essence of The Arena and everything that made going to see bands there such an unpleasant experience.

Photos on Mess + Noise and the rest on Flickr.

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