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Pub Review: Glorious in Excelsior, Today-o

In June I chronicled our first pub visit in 92 days, and now I describe our final pub experience for, well, dunno.

Back then it was at the Broady in Glenelg South, and on this occasion circumstances allowed us to swing by the Excelsior in the inner suburb of Brompton.

The government’s lunchtime press conference saw our lockdown outlined, and so, with a singular wish, we made a booking.

I’d last frequented the Excelsior about twenty years ago as part of a loose, but committed collective which attempted to visit every hotel in Adelaide under the cross of a Wednesday Schnitzel Club. Back then the pub’s interior design was Phantom-themed as in the ghost who walks, man who can not die. I’ve since discovered this connects to Marvel comics hero Stan Lee’s lifelong catchcry- excelsior.

Now, this motif has been retired and the pub is a little more anonymous with standard boozer carpet and taupe walls and a circa 1998 Triple M soundtrack. But, its location is trendy Coglin Street and the mise en scène as we alighted our cars was suggestive of Melbourne’s Fitzroy given the proximity to the CBD, and aspirational and artsy population.

The service was friendly and the staff were certainly approachable. There was no gloomy subtext which in their position would’ve been fair. Ordering a Big Shed American Ale the advice was, “It’s highly drinkable and quite fruity.”

Claire opted for an entrée of parmi (not parma) bread and this got our last supper underway in a fashion of which JC may have nodded his Neoplatonist approval. It was a warm evening, but C’s glass of red was both generous and pleasant in that luxurious, midweek way.

Despite the swirling uncertainty in our city-state the pub patrons appeared calm and accepting. Nearby, a family with three young girls coloured in their books in functional silence. Even their pigtails were cooperative, laying still on their narrow shoulders. Thinking of the boys at their age, I shuddered at the likely fiscal and psychological tolls of a similarly modest mealtime.

My beef burger was satisfactory although I’m constantly dismayed at the absence of beetroot in these. Surely, its inclusion is as Australian as pineapple on a Hawaiian pizza. My chips came in one of those petite wire baskets about which I have reservations. Still, they’re better than suffocating them beneath a schnitzel which must soon enjoy a Royal Commission.

Claire’s salad was plentiful and enjoyed. The roast capsicum, red onion, baby bocconcini, and bacon all played their roles like a young Meryl Streep, whatever this means.

Strolling out into the early evening a clot of lads was settling in for the night on their apartment balcony and judging by the hollering were each about five beers deep.

We were all on the cusp of lockdown, but I remember that excelsior means upward and I nodded to myself and glanced again at the balcony.

Their approach seemed impeccable.

2

My Greg Chappell Hat

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“Why should anyone be frightened by a hat?”

Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, The Little Prince

“Some hats can only be worn if you’re willing to be jaunty, to set them at an angle and to walk beneath them with a spring in your stride as if you’re only a step away from dancing. They demand a lot of you.”

Neil Gaiman, Anansi Boys

“You can never have too many good hats.”

Phil Klingberg, Kimba Cricket Club (1993)

*

On this gusty afternoon I’m on our patio writing. I’m just up the road from where the Chappell brothers attended St Leonards Primary School in the palindromic suburb of Glenelg.

It’s sitting on the table quietly, but has a full and boisterous past. Faded and frayed, on its front an emblem; two golden stalks of wheat embrace the acronym KCC. Kapunda Cricket Club. Down one side; the crowded loops of a celebrated signature.

It’s in its fourth decade. Mothers, wives and girlfriends, everyone, please look away now for it’s never been caught within twenty-two yards of a twin-tub.

It’s my Greg Chappell cricket hat.

*

I was at high school when the Kapunda Cricket Club distributed these hats in 1982. Cold Chisel had released Circus Animals, the Violent Femmes erupted with their eponymous debut, and the Eagles presented their second greatest hits album, meaning there were only forty-three such offerings to come (thus far). On average each Australian household now contains six separate versions of “Desperado.”

My hat was there as I featured in four losing grand final sides on the West Coast (South Australia, not California). This doesn’t bother me as cricket was always more social than showdown, and provided a fun, often protracted afternoon and post-afternoon structure to my Saturdays. I enjoyed the temperate rhythms, wit and mateship because if you played cricket with a chap, then bumping into him at Adelaide Oval guaranteed a happily frothy conversation.

How’d you go if you could face your own bowling? Would your eyes light up? Or would you cringe at the crease? Like Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn attending their own funerals it’s delicious to ponder, but unattainable. I’d endured a poor season when I made more runs than I took wickets. And my bowling wasn’t fearsome. More Les Paterson, than Lenny Pascoe.

I’d my cricket hat with me when old mate R. Bowden and I flew to New Zealand for that shamefully compulsory rite of passage, the Contiki Tour. On the South Island we visited Fox Glacier, where our tour guide advised us to take a hat. Yes, a fox hat.

It was summer, however in the photo we’re huddled on the bitter, elevated tundra. I’m petrified as I’ve climbed many icy steps to the frozen plateau, but know in that nagging way going up is easy; it’s the coming back down which gets unpleasant. I didn’t want my distorted limbs, innards and freshly bloodied cricket hat sent back across the Tasman in a chilly bin.

*

Like any commendable cap it’s versatile. An enthusiastic but fabulously incoherent golfer, on a par four I can go from Greg Norman to Norman Bates to General Stormin’ Norman Schwarzkopf (I’m assured he’d a hideous slice) in seven shots. I like to wear my Greg Chappell hat up and down, but more often, across the fairways, and remember a coach telling me, “You’ve got it arse-about. You hit a cricket ball in the air, and a golf ball along the ground.”

It was shielding my boofy face just before the change of millennium when, up the Riverland on the wonderful Waikerie golf course, I lipped out on the last. This would’ve given me a best-ever back nine of 39. The next morning at Renmark, sure I’d the sport sorted, I bludgeoned my way to, and swiftly beyond one hundred, like David Warner in a feisty frame of mind.

At Kimba playing Buckleboo during harvest an unspeakable northerly roared down the desert, blasting sand and flies and primordial horror. While umpiring in the reddish apocalypse a team-mate signed my hat with the names of West Indian cricketers Viv, Joel and Clive. He even spelt most of them adequately. But that was ages ago, and his ink is submerged beneath the yellowing cloth.

While we lived in Singapore my Greg Chappell hat spent three years in friendless and dark storage. How did I do this? Retrieving the hat from its tomb, I felt the antique brim, creased from its slumber, but still sturdy.

*

Now like a retiree forever doomed to two-fruit-and-ice-cream its solitary excursion is accompanying me and my Victa across our lawn. Given its unattractive capacity for making babies cry and dogs growl, my wife’s banished the hat from public appearances.

She’s right.

But on the backyard table it’s looking at me like Wilson the volleyball, from the Tom Hanks’ flick Cast Away. Later tonight with the wife and boys in bed I’ll continue to write and reflect over a Barossa shiraz, and when nobody’s peeking, I’ll stick it on my head.

I might even take a selfie.

 

Eagles

2

Fish and Chips Review: Sotos of Semaphore

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A massive cold front lashed the Adelaide coast as we placed our order. As required by the new regime, we moved outside to the footpath and the rain blasted in, piggybacking or, maybe, rodeo-riding on the howling wind. It was not an archetypal evening for fish and chips by the seaside. No picnic rug accompanied by carousel music as a blue sky stretched above us.

Late May and all week I’ve screamed at TV news anchors as they’ve crossed to the weather reporter with variations upon, “So Amanda/Jane/Kate, how’s the last week of autumn looking?” With the winter solstice weeks away, it seems season change denial remains as incurable as climate change denial.

Semaphore is Adelaide’s most idiosyncratic beach suburb. There’s a range of compelling shops and eateries and attractions. The jetty is quaint and the wide lawns attract families and all types. While other strips such as Jetty Road in Glenelg and Norwood’s The Parade might present as tired, Semaphore is a vibrant and diverse village.

On this elemental evening, Claire and I order fish and chips from Sotos Fish Shop, established in 1949 and occupying a grandfatherly position in Adelaide’s seafood scene.

There’s a sturdy torrent of customers and, once I’ve got our food, we head to the foreshore where the diabolical conditions dictate that we eat in the car. I suspect the seagulls have clocked off for the day. Already the dark has closed in and the broiling ocean is hidden.

We’ve a medium chips and it’s a most generous pillow. The front seat of a mid-sized car is not an ideal dining venue and I’m worried that the floor may become a chip graveyard. Chips deserve better.

But casualties are minimal and the chips are excellent: crisp and golden and soft in the middle, and not too big. Pleasingly, they are far beyond the french fry’s absurd, Lilliputian dimensions which are a design and gastronomic parody. Who actually likes them? With its addiction to the huge and the excessive, I can’t believe these haven’t been outlawed in the US. Additionally, I recall seeing this online (not Sotos) and am still struggling with its paradox-

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I’ve a piece of battered hake and it’s a treat too. Belonging to Iceland’s favourite family, the cod, I devour it as insulation against the peninsula’s cold. The staff at Sotos are also a deft hand with the salt shaker, achieving a balance between taste and imminent heart surgery.

Given the beverage restrictions, Claire has packed a thermos of hot chocolate. Is there a word as suggestive of huddled winter gatherings as thermos? Fish and chips followed by hot chocolate is a unique pairing, but Semaphore is a unique destination. Outside, the storm passes, on transit to the Adelaide Hills.

On the way home I listen to Triple J which, in a break with their usual brief, has been playing requests all week. Yesterday I heard Beethoven’s ‘Symphony No. 5 in C minor’ and the Mamas and Papas’ ‘California Dreaming’. Happily, I missed Axel F’s ‘Crazy Frog’, and the Antiques Roadshow theme song but, navigating through Henley Beach, I hear ELO offer up ‘Mr Blue Sky’ with its magnificent coda.

It’s been a day of welcome peculiarities – culinary, musical and meteorological.

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Wichita Lineman: a 42-minute version

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Glen Campbell is waiting in the studio for a song. He has an album to finish. A courier rushes in with a cassette. The Wrecking Crew, a collective of session musicians, gets to work.

The song is ‘Wichita Lineman’ and the writer Jimmy Webb. Under pressure to finish it, he sent an incomplete version, but heard nothing back. Bumping into the singer weeks later Webb said, “I guess you guys didn’t like the song.”

Campbell replied, “Oh, we cut that.”

“It wasn’t done! I was just humming the last bit!”

‘Well, it’s done now!”

Yes, it was.

Indeed, Webb had scarcely completed two verses totalling a dozen lines. He’d intended to add a third if required. In this space Glen Campbell put his now famous and improvised solo.

I wonder if Jimmy Webb ever finished his lyrics. What might he have said? What else might he have taken from the lineman’s interior monologue? In the original he moves between the immense three of love, self and work. What else is there?

It’s a great unfinished artwork like Scott Fitzgerald’s The Last Tycoon, and Gaudi’s Basílica de la Sagrada Família.

If Webb had now penned a third verse I’m unsure I want to read it. Would it be like painting a hat on the woman in the Mona Lisa?

The song’s superb just as it is.

*

Lengthy songs have always fascinated me for their enhanced narrative possibility, and I enjoy entering these protracted sometimes strange worlds. I find The Doors’ ‘The End’ (11:43), ‘So I’m Growing Old on Magic Mountain’ by Father John Misty (9:58), ‘I Heard It Through The Grapevine’ by Creedence Clearwater Revival (11:04), and Frank Zappa’s ‘Billy the Mountain (24 minutes) are all, for me, enduringly absorbing.

Early in our post-Sweden isolation, I was scanning the alternate music website Pitchfork when I found a post on suggested music for these uncommon times. Seeing the song title ‘Wichita Lineman’, I leant closer to my screen. It was the famous song but a cover version by the Dick Slessig Combo. No, I hadn’t heard of them either.

WL book

There was a YouTube link and my search indicated that the song wasn’t on Spotify. Indeed, trawling the internet I’ve discovered that they’re from LA and formed after the demise of cult group Acetone with guitarist Mark Lightcap common to both. They pressed a few hundred CDs. That’s about it.

*

Clicking the link I hear a slowed, almost eerily subdued set of notes. The iconic melody only arrives after seven minutes, and the entire piece – ‘song’ seems inadequate – drifts and hovers with guitars quietly climbing before falling away like an elderly priest. Over its 42-minute duration it’s entirely instrumental.

The soundscape conjures both the empty landscape of Kansas and the protagonist’s mindscape with graceful use of tremolo and reverb.

Vast and sprawling, it evokes Webb’s everyman “apparition.” It’s not sad or lonely but rather about aloneness. There’s deep beauty carried in the music and a compelling, respectful fragility. It probes and portrays.

Like the original, it’s inward-looking but also a meditation. Given the deep and universal thoughts of Webb’s character, the existentialism is expressed perfectly with the sound flowing like an ancient holy river.

The occasionally maligned Billy Joel once said “Wichita Lineman” is “a simple song about an ordinary man thinking extraordinary thoughts.”

The Dick Slessig Combo offers an exquisite tribute and exploration of the song’s haunting, singular image.

It’s transcendence.

 

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Sausage Roll Review: (not quite) Hurling on Hurtle Square

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Colonel William Light’s vision for Adelaide included five public squares: Hindmarsh, Light, Victoria, Whitmore and Hurtle. Each has a distinct appearance and mise en scène and despite driving through it for decades I’d not enjoyed the latter’s leafy space.

Claire and I bought a late lunch from this state’s dominant petrol retailer and biggest private company: an On The Run (OTR) service station. Of course, its customers are rarely running anywhere as they’re in vehicles and as such are necessarily sedentary, and most outlets of this type haven’t provided any traditional service for epochs. Simply fill the car and then scoop up hideously overpriced drink and food and go to the cashier. The only service offered is a chirpily redundant, “Would you like your receipt?”

Hurtle Square is in the south-eastern corner of the city and mostly surrounded by low-rise apartments whose balconies look out over the greenery. Arboriculturally, this park is diverse with magnolia and thin pine trees and other trees in seemingly random arrangement. But I remember that like a late-period Steely Dan album, it’s possible to over-engineer.

I’ve a cheese and bacon sausage roll. It makes a positive optical impression with agreeable pastry that’s neither flaky nor oily, but my context is reminiscent of the soon-to-be-regecided King Duncan gazing upon Macbeth’s home when he remarks: this castle hath a pleasant seat.

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Unsurprisingly, this pastry’s sinister mission is to protect an inferior filling, like a heavy-set Secret Service agent from a 1980s film starring Brian Dennehy. While it’s admirable, camouflage and strategic distraction are evident and I note that yet again subterfuge lurks in my simple foodstuff.

Its texture is uncertain and mushy, and I understand that sausage rolls don’t contain real sausages, but if this were encased and sizzling away on my barbeque in front of people both dear or of mere acquaintance, I’d have an acute case of Sausage Shame (SS). Knocking sullenly on the office door of my superior, I’d hand in my tongs and apron and barbequing badge (a scene from a different Brian Dennehy film).

The cheese I was promised is barely present. Instead it’s like the elusive memory of cheese from, say, my middle past, and in the manner of a Wordsworth conceit it’s both troubling but also hopeful in that one day I may again enjoy cheese, possibly in a sausage roll advertising such. In 2020, even cheese is complicated.

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My longing deepens when I gaze over at the Coopers Alehouse. It began as the Earl of Aberdeen before Dame Edna Everage reopened it with a new name in 1987 (wouldn’t Sir Les Paterson been better placed to handle this?). Like many pubs it has a forlorn canvas advertising pick up only meals from 5-8pm.

Still, it’s a breezeless, mild May in our mostly safe and opportunely isolated state. SA’s had no new cases for twelve days and Audrey’s vintage coffee van was doing a lively trade this morning on the Glenelg North esplanade as I ambled through.

While my sausage roll was of motley quality Claire and I now turn to the next course of our alfresco eating: an unapologetically decadent vanilla slice with a calorific count probably beyond a K-Mart abacus.

As the Two Fat Ladies’ Clarissa and Jennifer used to rejoice, “Munch on, munch on, what a lovely luncheon!”

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Kenny Rogers and me

K D

In 1983, during Year 12, these are the songs I unforgivably thought were cool:
“Twisting by the Pool” by Dire Straits
“Bop Girl” by Pat Wilson
and this, yes, this
“Safety Dance” by Men Without Hats.

How could this ever have happened?

Later that year, just after I turned seventeen, Kenny Rogers and Dolly Parton released “Islands in the Stream” (named after a Hemingway novel) and I scoffed at it. Country music! Old people! Corny! I was seventeen.

It was unlikely played on 5SSA-FM as SA-FM was then known. I can’t recall hearing it on the Morning Zoo with John Vincent and Grant Cameron as I drove my sky-blue HR Holden to Kapunda High to endure the poetry of Gerard Manly Hopkins (“I caught this morning morning’s minion, kingdom of daylight’s dauphin, dapple-dawn-drawn Falcon”).

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I didn’t appreciate its alternating lead vocals, superb harmonies, and thrilling key change until, I’m ashamed to share, much later in life. And Dolly, somehow both tiny and colossal, is the perfect partner to Kenny’s warm yet seasoned voice.

Often now making an appearance on the back patio at a BBQ it’s one of the great duets.

*

Growing up in the 70s, Mum and Dad had some of Kenny Rogers’ vinyl including his greatest hits and the compelling Eyes That See in the Dark (of course, he could never have been Ken Rogers for he’s obviously the manager of your local hardware store). The albums are long gone but I remember him spinning on the Pye 3-in-1 (turntable, cassette and radio) and his voice. It was golden but with an edge of experience and slight menace as needed. It also hinted at a mythic America of adventure and promise. It evoked a place I wanted to go.

As with much in art and music there’s often a dramatic gap between the sunny melodies and the lyric’s dark narrative. “Coward of the County” is about sexual violence, “Reuben James” explores deep-seated racism and “Ruby” concerns a Vietnam veteran whose disability renders him unable to satisfy his wife so she ventures into town- “painted up your lips and rolled and curled your tinted hair”- to get her needs met, but my childhood ears were deaf to these distant themes.

*

The Big Lebowski is my favourite film and Kenny contributes to this too. In this shaggy-dog story bringing together a congregation of random, found objects, “Just Dropped In (to See What Condition My Condition Was in)” fits the much-loved dream sequence perfectly. It’s by The First Edition and lead vocals are by Kenny. The scene begins when porn star Jackie Treehorn drugs The Dude’s White Russian.

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The Dude is the main character played by Jeff Bridges and presents like Kenny if he’d let himself go and frequented his local supermarket Ralph’s in his house pants and dressing gown. Featuring bowling, Saddam, love interest Maude in Viking costume, and some Johnson-dismembering Nihilists welding novelty-sized scissors, this psychedelic pop track is an irresistible accompaniment, and gave Kenny some late-career pop culture panache.

The lyrics open thus:
I woke up this morning with the sundown shining in
I found my mind in a brown paper bag within
I tripped on a cloud and fell-a eight miles high
I tore my mind on a jagged sky
I just dropped in to see what condition my condition was in.

Just like the Dude, and most of The Big Lebowski, these are joyously nonsensical.

*

Early this century on my first big overseas trip I saw much that bedazzled me. The Berlin Wall, Big Ben, the Colosseum. But, among the strangest sights was one at the start in Penang. Wandering about Georgetown, the muggy, sister-city of Adelaide, and staring at the Chinese, Indian, Islamic and British architecture beyond the downtown markets, I saw what appeared as yet another American restaurant.

Getting closer, I squint at the signage. Kenny Rogers Roasters. Oh, must be another of that name I thought. A local icon I’ve not heard of. Fantastic. That’s why we travel. But the face seems familiar. White beard, grandfatherly. Vaguely Colonel Sanders so that is right for a chook place. Intrigued I stroll in.

It was that Kenny Rogers. With his own restaurant! In the middle of Asia! A long way from Nashville. What a glorious, unforeseen world.

Inside the walls were festooned with gold records and beaming (possibly photo shopped) pictures of Houston’s favourite country star. “The Gambler” strummed out beneath the slowly circulating ceiling fans. Still disbelieving, and considering the menu, it seemed neither Southern American nor Asian but possibly a Mississippian/ Malaysian fusion.

A decade or so later there was a Kenny Rogers Roasters (although the last American KRR diner closed in 2011, it’s still powering in Asia) across from my Singaporean condominium at the geographically-confused shopping centre Great World City. Fresh to the country, I took the boys there once for a dreadfully expensive meal of chicken and chips, and wondered how mad the unrelenting stream of Kenny’s Greatest Hits might send even the most devoted of wait staff.

KRR

*

Kenny Rogers has drifted in and out of my life in both affectionate and minor ways. Glancing at his back catalogue, there’s an ungodly number of Christmas albums, but he’s made a personal mark. Yesterday with everything spiralling, a mate sent me a message which said:
Kenny Rogers dippin’ out in the middle of an apocalypse is the most “know when to fold ‘em” shit I’ve ever heard.

Well played, Kenny. Thanks.

KR record

 

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Sausage Roll Review: LRB plays the Dulwich Bakery, Glenelg South

 

DB

At noon I remember my quest: to eat this country’s finest sausage roll. The two proximate bakeries offer products of middling quality like Little River Band’s 1978 album Sleeper Catcher which after the hit single “Lady,” falls away dispiritingly.

The Dulwich bakery began in Adelaide’s eastern suburbs (yes, in Dulwich) and has since expanded like the belly of the man who ate all the pies and now there’s one in Glenelg South too.

Heading along Partridge Street I pass a school where it’s also lunchtime and I see all the straw-hatted girls, all eating entitled food, all named Charlotte.

Gliding through the roundabout near the Broadway pub and despite being a modest Korean model, my car issues a little automotive whimper as I cruelly ignore the lure of beer garden refreshment and carry on.

Outside the bakery are shiny nubs of metal tables and chairs while inside are wooden booths, and my sausage roll, having been, “plated up” as Gordon Ramsey might bark, I take a quiet corner.

I have a bite.

Food and memory are coupled. Fish and chips on the breezy foreshore; a bucket of undrinkable coffee in an airport dawn; the languid schnitzel in a wine valley pub.

LRB
Sausage rolls speak of the past. Even if you trot out after reading this and buy one, I reckon you’re time-travelling to your childhood. They live in a black and white era when you were small and the world was unthinkably big. Sausage rolls, home-made with fork marks sealing the pastry, at a primary school birthday, when the fun was unscripted and there was running, lots of aimless, skun-knees running.

Today, the pastry is tasty and of a welcoming texture. It avoids the twin evils of being greasy and soggy or dry and flaky. A bright opening like, “Help Is On Its Way” the first song on Diamantina Cocktail. 1978 was a great year for LRB and for sausage rolls.

The filling is a pleasure: warm, with a suggestion of spice and pepper and showing a brownish, beefy hue unlike the Barbie pink of other sausage rolls loitering within this postcode. Various lunch punters come and go; variously corporate, high-vis, matronly, harried parent.

If I applied the Pitchfork (an alternative music website) album review metric I’d give my sausage roll an 8.3.

And with my lunch now commencing its growling digestive journey I considered my good fortune on this autumnal afternoon. I had the three essentials for a happy existence: something to do; something to look forward to; someone to love.

If peak Little River Band is the full version of, “It’s A Long Way There” the first song from their eponymous album, then while the Dulwich bakery release is excellent, I’ve not yet located the sausage roll equivalent.

My quest continues.

hats

2

Hottest 100 (minus 90) Stubby Holders of the Week

Apologies to Triple J, those entrusted with preparing gravy, Billie Eilish, fans of the long barbeque lunch, Humphrey B. Flaubert, Jock Cheese, Eugene de la Hot Croix Bun and Ron Hitler-Barassi.

In a very particular order, and with no editorialising, here they are. Judges votes are final etc.

10. And Stubby Holder of the Week (SHOTW) goes to the Cobdogla and District Club (est.1958).

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9. And Stubby Holder of the Week (SHOTW) goes to the Kapunda Footy Club. Congratulations. Your prize will be sent by carrier pigeon.

KFC

8. And Stubby Holder of the Week (SHOTW) comes to you live today from the Kimba Golf Club where, in a curious twist, the winner is the Kimba Golf Club.

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7. And the winner of Stubby Holder of the Week (SHOTW) is the Footy Almanac. Congratulations to all involved.

almanac

6. And Stubby Holder of the Week (SHOTW) is the one Allan Border signed when I met him at the Holdy. Yes, it is a XXXX Gold holder (don’t show your kids).

AB

5. And the winner of Stubby Holder of the Week (SHOTW) is the Sharks FC, one of Singapore’s finest Australian Rules footy clubs. Your prize will be posted shortly.

sharks

4. And the winner of Stubby Holder of the Week (SHOTW) is Coopers Session Ale. Obviously, no actual beer was harmed during the taking of this photo.

session

3. Congratulations to former Adelaide resident and Le Cornu shopper Ben Folds on receiving Stubby Holder of the Week (SHOTW).

folds

2. And the winner of Stubby Holder of the Week (SHOTW) is Crows’ icon Darren Jarman- Around the body, that will do. That. Will. Do. Congratulations Darren, your prize will be mailed to you.

fudd

1. And Stubby Holder of the Week (SHOTW) goes to Adam and Caitlyn. I bloody love youse. I have never met you.

airlie

0

Ten Footnotes from Vampire Weekend at Melbourne’s Forum

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I notice it early. The drummer, lashing and bombastic and then gentle, is wearing a Collingwood jumper. Chris Thomson is the stickman for Vampire Weekend and here in The Forum, in the heart of Melbourne, it’s a gesture emblematic of this band’s magnanimous outlook. I’m not a Magpie fan, but I smile. It’s an offering, a symbol of hopeful connection.

*

I instantly love The Forum. An arts venue must be evocative and not simply functional. It should also be an instructive text, and a participant in the unfurling theatre. Inside’s a blue night sky, kitsch yet confirming Roman busts, spaciousness, coolness, and a beguiling solidarity amongst the eclectic gathering, all there for the same connection. A generous security guard takes our photo, while the beardy Scottish one near the VIP section is chirpy denial when we ask to sneak in.

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*
Third song in is, “Unbelievers” from Modern Vampires of the City. It’s chugging, train-like rhythm and stubborn optimism, but I love the distillation, the there’s-a-life-right-there, gorgeous binary of

I know I love you

And you love the sea.

*
An Oxford comma is a controversial punctuation mark. It’s also the title of the first Vampire Weekend song I heard in which it’s a symbol to critique affectation and exclusivity. It references Dharamshala in India, site of the world’s most strikingly situated cricket ground with the snow-capped Himalayas creating a painterly mis-en-scene. Dharamshala is also home to the Dalai Lama. I hope Vampire Weekend write a song about the apostrophe. Gee, we need’s it.

DCG
*
Fresh from lunch at Il Tempo on Degraves Street we amble up Flinders Street to investigate The Forum. The capitalised black font on the front’s white hoarding rouses a frizz of frisson. Next door Hosier Lane ribbons with its urban art while across the road is angular and aggressive Federation Square. Like the difficult, exciting world itself we’re at once confronted and comforted.

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*
That other 2020 Australian phenomenon, the power outage, quieted the band part way into “Cape Cod Kwassa Kwassa” and twenty minutes later they took up the song where it had collapsed before it plunged again and Ezra said that a third, and final attempt to fix the electrical issue would proceed, but we dreaded our night would suffer voltage interruptus and Claire and I would wing back to Adelaide, unrequited and hollow. Blissfully, the show then rollicked through 27 songs including an encore request for, “Ottoman” which shares lyrical intertextuality with, “Cape Cod” courtesy of the gently self-mocking

it feels so unnatural, Peter Gabriel too.

It could be a nod to the band’s supposed Afro-beats cultural appropriation.
*
To soar music needs space and silence. Within songs and across songs this transpires Tuesday night in The Forum. I like being invited to dart into the air and light by harmony. Colour and texture and welcoming lulls for my mind and ears. Art’s a conversation, a handshake, an invitation to make an investment. I can hear former band member Rostam Batmanglij’s legacy: bewilderingly pretty piano lines; unique guitar resonances; sonic and human fragility.

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Greta Morgan’s a multi-instrumentalist touring with Vampire Weekend and like everyone on stage, she contributes effervescently. We enjoy her 80’s dancing behind the keyboard during which she sways from side to side like she’s in a Human League tribute band. Brilliant. She plays a maraca too, and in a 7-piece outfit, in this age of drowning sounds and buffoon noise, we watch and concentrate and pick out its tiny sunny rattle. At once each band member is both within the ensemble and without, operating in a private territory and yet coupled to organic whole.
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Of the songs I’ve anticipated across both hemispheres and many decades we especially want to hear Vampire Weekend’s “Hannah Hunt.” It’s a text of deep and shuddering significance. At 2.40 the music bursts, and the moment is perfectly formed with beauty and despair and somehow, despite it all, triumph. After the song, front man Ezra Koenig describes how the opening lines were inspired by dialogue from Picnic at Hanging Rock. It’s also an offering, a symbol of hopeful connection.

A gardener told me some plants move

But I could not believe it

Till me and Hannah Hunt

Saw crawling vines and weeping willows

As we made our way from Providence to Phoenix

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Two giant blue and green globes are thrown among the mosh pit who bounce and tumble them about with joyous physics. It’s been a superb set and the realisation of a shared goal. The final song is “Ya Hey” and it’s introduced with an acknowledgment of the bushfire crisis and there’s poignancy in the lines

Through the fire and through the flames

You won’t even say your name.


It’s also an offering, a symbol of hopeful connection.

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