We used to dream
Earlier in the day, an ominous message appeared on The Smith Street Band Facebook page.
As occupants of Sydney, we're used to this. Not just the Annandale Hotel's own isolated case, but numerous other scenarios over the past decade or so, where much-loved venues have hung in a state of limbo for years. They're rarely given their deserved fanfare finale, often simply fading slowly amidst contradicting rumours and finger-pointing antics.
"Fuck the Suits"
A hand-drawn message scribbled on the almost empty bar fridge. We get three of the last seven bottles of Coopers Luigi. Pear cider and some sort of horrific Jaegermeister and ginger ale concoction line the other half of the fridge. They'll sink with this ship. Plastic cups are draped over 12 of the 13 beer taps. Somewhat fittingly, Victoria Bitter, the David Boon of resilient Australian Lagers and Paint Strippers remains the last keg standing.
The security guards know little more. All they've been told is that this afternoon's show is the last event for a while with the pub closing temporarily for renovations. To local residents, this would hardly come as a surprise. On daily commutes down Parramatta Road it's appeared obvious that the decaying state of the venue has precipitated rapidly since the new owners, Oscars Hotels, took over.
Nobody likes to watch live music from inside a rotting corpse. And it's Sunday afternoon and the impending Munday-ness is rapidly closing in on us. It's hard to tell which is the root cause, but there's a definite lacklustre feeling in the air this afternoon. Smith Street Band frontman, Wil Wagner, compares the mood to that of a funeral. A jestful tone, but the infamous Sydney Bitterness is a hard nut to crack. Wagner, whilst commenting on the Annandale's unknown future, capably cuts through the tension, receiving an elated response to his call to "drink the place dry".
If all the chatter is true, then this is it. The last time we're likely to stand in the Annandale Hotel and watch a great band perform. Scheduled shows for The Snowdroppers and Tumbleweed remain on the hotel's sign board, but few actually believe they'll be honoured. The hotel's website gives no further info because, fittingly, it's now been shut down. It remains the top result on Google when you search for the suburb of Annandale. A fact the bots will surely soon catch up with soon enough. And then we're definitely done.
In many ways, the dire situation is an appropriate backdrop for a performance by The Smith Street Band. Everything is fucked, but we have each other. For each commanding opinion the band deliver and each whimper of self-depreciation, there's a defiant cry of determination, primarily empowered by the feeling of inclusion. Everything can be taken away, our interests evaluated as useless. But we'll be standing next to numerous other people who think the same. And there's definite comfort in that.
Thus, the show slowly moulds into the finale we never get. We sing-a-long to songs and pretend like we still don't get as pissed as we did when we were younger. Scrunch our faces to assist in the consumption of plastic cup VB. Close our eyes, freeze time. Aim fists skywardly at key moments to show our appreciation and prior knowledge of the music performed. It's Sunday afternoon, we're mildly inebriated, still kinda hungover and sore from the previous night's activities. Feet sticking to the carpet that's remained unwashed for weeks.
Obviously as perfect as it sounds.
Photo by James Weavers.
I thought they were joking. But as the first guitar notes vibrated the Manning Bar PA and Japandroids frontman Brian King exclaimed the appropriate crowd-igniting phrases, the first shirt was discarded.
One by one those around me succumbed. The first wave was just peer pressure and pub promises. Then came attempts for inclusion, strangers looking to create lifelong mates. For others it was an essential response, their exceptional chest hair, once a signature of manliness, was now a magnet for their sweat drenched t-shirt and the main source of discomfort. I made it until the second last song, at which stage it felt pointless holding out. Surrounded by my shirtless brothren, my t-shirt had become transparent, the perspirant melting the worn white fabric.
The show itself is a blur. Intoxication, normally the root cause of such haziness, wasn't a factor. Friendly shoves preferenced over Tooheys. Head locks over Hahn Premium and whatever else the bar offered. The whole process of honouring your shout being pointless, given than drinks wouldn't last more than minute in the bustling front section.
That recognisable guy from cable television frequently cleared space for wrestling challenges, only to be met head-on by solid bros with country rugby league experience. People who had only ever traded friendly business emails exchanged introductions amidst half-naked awkwardness. Shy guys requested assistance in being boosted up to crowd surf at specific, personally significant moments. People were busy creating memories of the moment. Often too distracted to take in the show itself.
And then there was Continuous Thunder.
A small circle of friendship expanded parallel to the song's own momentum, eventually engulfing the majority of those in the free-standing area. Fifty-or-so people, many now shirtless, interlocked and loudly singing "and you had the body you wanted". A beautiful moment of solidarity. And a fitting climatic conclusion.
Except the band pushed on, leaning on two of their most recognisable tracks — Young Hearts Spark Fire and The House That Heaven Built — to maintain the audience's now obviously dissipating energy levels. Either of which would have also been perfectly apt finales. Instead they chose to close out with the over-frantic Gun Club cover, For The Love Of Ivy. All too much. And for the crowd, the majority of which had just experiencing the exercise equivalent of sprinting 11 marathons, the song's conclusion was met with unified relief.
The aftermath was far less glorious. Monday was dominated by the stale feeling of exhaustion and alcohol abuse. Joyous memories replaced by looming deadlines. Age, whilst temporarily discarded as an irrelevant numerical value for the cause of the weekend, once more became a lingering burden, as bodies unleashed their stored punishment credits.
And on the Monday evening, I successfully sprouted my first grey hair.