Yours and Owls Farewell Party Announced!
Words by Jonathon Tooke
Arriving at the two venues, I could see that the people coming had the chance to all experience very different nights – so many combinations of acts to see. The small club of Owls was guaranteed to pack out quickly, while the Town Hall with it’s ticket booth and big sound system was giant and could facilitate a whole lot of people. While trying to find friends, it became obvious that everyone was really confused as to where to go/how to get in to either venue at first. You couldn’t get into Owls without a stamp that the Town Hall would give you – but the Town Hall wasn’t open yet and everyone was really unsure. I talked to one guy who just wanted to see D’Luna play – bought his ticket specifically for it – but almost missed them entirely because of the Town Hall mess up. For such a large event, opening their doors to so close to the start time with so many people wanting to get in seemed like a really strange move on behalf of the organisers.
Once the ball began to roll though, I got over to Owls to check out D’Luna – I hadn’t seen them play in a long while and I was keen to see how they were now. While outside talking to people they sounded so raucous and tight, it sounded really good. I headed in to check out how the show was going and was a bit surprised – it was actually all quite stationary. The sound was so energetic but some of the members looked almost disinterested. I really liked what they were doing in their songs though – they sounded their best when they ventured out of the pentatonic harmony and got a bit darker. Those moments really made their set for me. The darker these guys get, the more of a fan I will become and hopefully they develop a stronger stage presence as they continue.
The next band on was Rocking Horse and the Baby Dolls over at the Town Hall. I had a bit of trouble getting in, but not as much as some. The line for the ticket booth was still quite long. On getting in there though – RH&TBD was putting on a great show. Having such a large band on stage all moving adds to much visually, specifically with the Baby Dolls (their 3 backing singers). They are also blessed with a really strong rhythm section, which really drives the band brilliantly. The vocals of the band are the stand out though with the Baby Dolls adding a lot – Taylor’s solo is always a highlight when seeing these guys and Christie is always fantastic, with her voice carrying so much energy to it. It was strange the work of the sound guys though – this soul inspired band had a hard rock kick drum sound coming through which kind of clashed with the aesthetic of the band. The strangest thing though however was their time slot. Why was such a polished band put as the opening act for the Town Hall? It was a bit strange, but they were great nonetheless. After RH&TBD wrapped up, the Town Hall made it evident that they were still trying to figure everything out – the lights inside of the venue were being switched on and off repeatedly which was super strange, making it almost disorientating to be in the room.
Up next at the Town Hall was 3 of Millions, a band I had never heard or heard of before which is kinda rare in the Wollongong scene. When they were setting up though, I was starting to get excited – a friend told me they do an ambient/free jazz kind of thing, which actually had me super pumped. I then recognised all the members of the band from other things and got even more pumped – they were all stellar musicians in their own right. Starting their entirely improvised set, the natural atmosphere of the large space invited the ambience in their sound. A strong highlight was the leading strength of the drummer, which is definitely a feat considering the free, open and flow nature of the band. The general soundscape-y ambience was often balanced against more melodic sections – with the set being driven by the shifting between these two states. I really dug this stuff – but I can imagine a lot of people would have been a bit challenged by it. I liked that a band like this got put on though; it was a real sign of a varied line-up. After this wrapped up, I thought I’d have a check over at Owls to see how it was going – to be turned away by a bouncer. It was too full – a ‘1 in, 1 out’ policy was introduced because of how packed it was. I kind of wrote off being able to get in from that point.
Getting back to the Town Hall, Obscura Hail set up to play. I’ll say I am already a super strong fan of his work – I think his song Bone Season might just be one of my favourite songs. His guitar playing and singing tonight was on point as always – with a new harmoniser pedal for his voice adding a really nice new texture to the sound, a really strong addition to his live performance. It was unfortunately a short set and the crowd was too loud to really appreciate a solo acoustic artist – I had to come right up to the front of the stage to hear him. I was kinda left wandering how Bec Sandridge was gonna go later because I knew that she would be even quieter than Obscura Hail.
Up next in the Town Hall for a short set was Frenchy Sunga Attack – a joke band with vocals/acoustic guitar/drums. It was mostly just covers of songs with lyrics changed to carry some recent reference to something or something else. To be honest, everyone that I was with bailed within a song or two. The thing that I found strange was that such a band was on. There were so many great Wollongong bands and artists that weren’t on the line-up, so it was strange to see a joke band on the line-up when so many other great bands could have had time (see: Thomas Covenant, Koranic, etc) or perhaps more reasonably, giving the other acoustic artists a bit more time. I just kinda hung outside for a while though; it just wasn’t my cup of tea.
The next band in the Town Hall though was The Walking Who. Every time I see these guys, it gets better and better, although there always seem to be changes in the line-up outside of the core three members. Now with a 2nd guitarist, keyboardist and percussionist on stage, the sound was fuller than ever. Their brand of psych-rock worked perfectly with the sound provided by the sound crew and the ambience of the space gave the sound a really great gelling effect. It’s obvious that these guys are seasoned performers – they are simply a really strong band, tight as all hell and writing great songs. They are some of Wollongong’s finest for a very good reason and they further supported that tonight.
I was hoping to catch Bec Sandridge’s set because I’ve been a fan of hers for quite a while now, but I got a text from a friend that Owls was just starting to open up a bit with spaces to get in. It was no secret that Totally Unicorn was the band to see tonight so a chance to get into Owls was worth taking. Before Totally Unicorn though was Bruce!, a band I’d never seen before but heard a bit about. They took me by surprise though, with a sludgy punk sound – I was totally sold. Hearing a heavy band after the last couple of acts was refreshing to the palette. While some songs were at times a bit pub-y, their more dissonant and sludgy tracks really impressed. A highlight was definitely their bassist, with a fantastic grinding tone and a whole lot of stage presence. It was a bit strange though were I was, a middle aged woman went off at a younger guy because he and his friends were dancing around, semi-moshing – not even that hard. It was a bit strange to see such an attitude knowing what’d come next. We could even see people climbing through the window on the 2nd story. The anticipation was definitely mounting. For good reason, too. While starting off with some technical difficulties that kept one of their guitarists out of action for a song or two, Totally Unicorn hit the stage hard. Opening by throwing out pink balloons and handing out pink sparkly party hats, people were ready to have a crazy time. It hit off with a bang – as soon as they started playing the crowd began to go nuts, shifting me from the back left corner right up the front in the space of 3 to 5 seconds. Stage diving and crowd surfing then ensued, with people going straight up nuts and having the best time. It was strangely a real bonding experience for everyone involved. Some highlights of the set included: Mike’s trash can lid cymbal, Drew’s climb up to the former home of the fish tank to the right of the stage and the straight up destruction of some decorative plastic ferns. I left bruised and battered but I felt fantastic. I’m pretty sure there were bits and pieces of Owls that got broken.
I then headed over to the Town Hall to check out the last band of the night, Tumbleweed. The perennial stoner rock greats from the 90’s graced the Town Hall stage with some serious volume. Coming from the barely PA’d venue of Owls to the full setup of the Town Hall presented a big shift in volume, with Tumbleweed using their great battered guitar amps to great effect. While I saw a lot of people getting right into it – I just had the shit beaten out of me at Totally Unicorn so the slower tempos of Tumbleweed clashed with me a bit. They are a super strong band though, with a rhythm section that was so on point – that was great to see. I had to step out though for some air though, which sucked because I wanted to see Tumbleweed. I was just too battered from Totally Unicorn – so my night kinda wrapped up there.
Overall, the Owls Farewell was a memorable night with some weird moments/decisions but I felt really satisfied with such a send off. Seeing Owls from its very early days to blossom into the thing it’s become has been great. While it would have been nice to see some of the other regular Owls bands getting some representation – it was great to see such a varied line-up, one that actually introduced me to some new bands that I’ll definitely be checking out in the future. So Owls for me finished with a wholly ‘Owls’ experience – finding new music. From here, all we can really do is wish the Owls boys well for their future endeavours. They’ll be taking the name with them, but the venue will be staying, changing hands to people we can only hope carry the legacy well.
I once overhead people talking about a Brisbane band that said that Owls is the best small venue in Australia. I’d find it hard to disagree myself.
We’re sure this is goodbye for now, but not forever. With baited breath we wait to see what the future holds for our Owly friends. It would be hard to say anyone has ever done more for this music scene. So long lads, it’s been a hoot.