“It’s been a while between tours,” says guitarist Matt Aulich quietly with a wry smile as we head onto the tarmac for that long walk to the waiting Tiger plane that money-conscious Melbournians know only too well. This understatement is typical of the self-depreciatory sense of humour that underlies The Paradise Motel’s ostensibly serious work and it’s something that saves us again and again from getting bogged down in the minutiae of touring.
On the road promoting their first album in 11 years, Australian Ghost Story and playing songs from an as-yet-unreleased album I Still Hear Your Voice at Night (aka ISHY VAN) and their first Australian tour since 1997, The Paradise Motel have prevailed over more obstacles than most bands in order to put this tour together. With the cost and practicality of singer Merida Sussex living in London, the band overcoming the death of former drummer Damian Hill, dwelling on the not-unchallenging concept of the life and death of Azaria Chamberlain and heavy expectations of long-time fans, this tour has a lot riding on it. With all this, oppressive Sydney traffic and the vagaries of budget airlines, IPhone’s Google Maps and bottles of ‘splishy-splashy’ wine, this was a tour to remember for many reasons.
Once safely deposited in Sydney we variously head to the ABC radio studio for a live-to-air performance while others collect the van in which our hired equipment will be transported. After an hour of waiting, we are presented with a standard white Renault one-tonne van which utterly reeks of fish (aka FISHY VAN). Protesting to the hire car rep gets us nowhere so we leave to collect the gear, soon discovering that somehow opening windows worsens the stench. With the equipment very reluctantly eased in by nose-clenching dudes from Billy Hyde’s we make for Katoomba and the first show of the tour. Tuning into local traffic reports the DJ seems to find the main roads on which we’re driving as the places to set awful accidents. The M4 and M5 are variously described as ‘best avoided’, and ‘no-go zones’ before all but pleading with us not to use these densely-packed bitumen lifelines. After many conversations of the ‘this would never happen in Melbourne’ variety, talk of hijacking a similarly stationary Winnebago and other survival strategies, we limp, stinking and late, into the Blue Mountains for what turns out to be a fantastic show.
Sianna Lee is our support act for the tour and she and her band turn out to be great companions and fine musicians. We ape for photos by the Three Sisters and don’t seem to tire of each other’s songs. After an evening partying hardcore (read: drinking wine while watching ‘hilarious’ YouTube videos) with Matt Tow of The Lovetones we sleep, wake, and again brave Parramatta Road on the drive back into Sydney.
The Sandringham is one of the few venues left in this staggeringly vast metropolis. Why a major venue is situated in a bare room two floors above a bar with massive bellowing sports screens and sozzled regulars in a feedlot of pokies is a sad and complex mystery to the Melbournians amongst us. After the back-cracking lug of gear, a set-up and brief soundcheck we walk out into the Newtown air, count hipsters and feel weirdly at home.
Tonight’s show is a glorious surprise, with fans driving in from Wollongong and Bathurst and several familiar faces from the Katoomba gig. With many of the quieter, older songs punctuated by shouts and cheers of recognition, we share smiles and raised eyebrows. From the back part of the stage we can only see the front row – a line of smiling upturned shut-eyed faces bathing in memories, and finding some resonance in Azaria’s story. “Um, well…it’s been a while since we’ve played here,’ says Merida smiling, to a throng of cheers as we kick in to the another song.