Pre COVID-19 you would often find me in the crowd at a small club listening to live music in either one of two poses – the zen like lip syncher or the dancer that has fifty square centermetres to show off my very limited and unappealing dance repertoire. This consists of only one move the “flightless pogo”, a move where I bounce up and down but do not get off the ground. With no room to swing my arms for upwards momentum, I get as far as standing on my tippy-toes for a split second before my heels get reacquainted with the ground. It’s born out of necessity, the last thing I want to do is collect a fellow punter with a stray flailing arm in the middle of their favourite song. It had been a long six months without the joy of live music but all that was about to change in a couple of hours. The pandemic will be pushed to the deep recesses of our brains, a brief respite and a return to the simpler times pre-2020.
Before the music comes the sustenance. Man wasn’t meant to sing and dance up a storm on an empty stomach. Even Keith Richards tucks into a hearty feed before playing to a packed stadium. Everybody in Brisbane seemed to be taking advantage of the trademark summer night. Restaurants were at capacity and finding a table was harder than finding an inner city carpark. After being turned away on multiple occasions we continued grinding and were rewarded with seats at Fat Dumpling on King Street, Bowen Hills. In case you didn’t know you were at King Street there was a twenty metre long mural to ensure you didn’t get it confused with other streets with a royal flavour.
I love dumplings nearly as much as my music so this double header was falling into place nicely. With both fried dumplings and steamed dumplings on offer, virtually any derivative of the humble parcel was covered. Fillings included fish, chicken, fruit/vegetable, pork, prawn and beef – nearly anything you would find on a farm or in a zoo was available to be chopped up, wrapped up and then dished up.
The thing that caught my eye was a menu item called “Pumpkin Rampage”. This was a dessert item of pumpkin dumplings served with brandy, lychees and vanilla bean gelato. That seemed unusual enough to heighten my curiosity. Pumpkin would be classed as a “placid” vegetable so I doubt it would cause me to suddently go on my own journey of destruction, tipping over cars and throwing molotov cocktails into the windows of the units nearby? Being that eager to try I threw convention out the window and told them to bring it out first. I better add servings of fish, pork and cabbage and vegetable dumplings to calm me down just in case the pumpkin dish lived up it its name and I followed in the footsteps of Bruce Banner.
The steaming hot dumplings were crispy on the outside with a semi sweetened pumpkin puree in the middle. When I burned by tongue I was angry with myself but a grunt from a closed mouth that escaped via my nostrils was as much “rampage” that I could muster. Why be angry when there is alcohol and icecream together on a plate looking lovingly up at you? The melted icecream and brandy formed a pool of liquid which I was able to recycle back into the shot glass after a careful balancing act. The result, I had concocted my very own pumpkin flavoured cocktail. A perfect companion to my black beer and the rest of the food to follow.
My friends ordered similar dumplings but for some reason they ordered the side of beans. “Seriously, a side of beans?” I thought to myself, but they had eaten at Fat Dumpling before and knew the menu like your dentist knows every bit of plaque on your teeth. Usually beans are beans, but these were some Jack & The Beanstalk style magical beans. Covered in chilli, garlic and some other secret ingredients I polished these off so fast my friends had no choice but to convince themselves that they had already eaten enough and couldn’t fit them in. Fee-fi-fo-fum, get them beans into my tum.
The first tranche of dumplings were disturbingly bitter. This had nothing to do with the kitchen staff, it was me who failed to distinguish between the identical unmarked bottles of light soy and vinegar. Fortunately some of the dumplings could be salvaged and were better than even I had hoped. All were enjoyable with the standout being the steamed pork and cabbage.
It’s nearly showtime…
Our arrival at the Tivoli coincided with the first some of the last support act, the local band The Stress of Leisure. It wasn’t the first time we crossed paths but since then they must have drowned in a sea of 1980’s sounds. Influenced heavily by The Cars and Talking Heads it became a bit same same after the fifth song. However than out of nowhere they played their cult hit “Pulled Pork“. This 2 minutes of utter weirdness got stretched into a 6 minute magnum opus. By the end pulled pork was being blamed for every misstep in life (“when you go to the polling both and vote for a candidate you don’t know because you are thinking about pulled pork”). I’m with the lead singer “Talk to me about calamari rings, not pulled pork.” Be warned you will have nightmares about the pig in the gold jumpsuit.
As the frontman (who looked like Shirley Strachan) left the stage he said their band was just “the palate cleanser before the seven course degustation”. All this food talk was making me hungry again and I cursed under my breath for not ordering some more beans. Next the main attraction, Custard. For those who didn’t grow up in the 1990’s Custard had a reputation on the pub and festival circuit as being one of the nation’s finest live acts. Their blokes next door demeanor got them a run on Australian music TV shows ranging from Hey Hey It”s Saturday to Recovery where they carved out a name for being different to many of their shoe-gazing contemporaries. No other Australian band name drops Brisbane suburbs and Queensland towns into their lyrics with as much regularity as Custard. Within the first handful of songs we had heard Stanthorpe, Indooroopilly, Spring Hill, Toowoomba and Beenleigh. Custard, a cartographer’s favourite band.
After breaking up in the late nineties they reformed in 2015 and have released three albums since, all of which can hold their own amongst the rest of the back catalogue. Their biggest hit “Girls Like That (Don’t Go For Guys Like Us)” has been frozen in time from 1998 and is on display on You Tube (below).
Their second coming see them operate more as a cottage industry without the backing of a major record label. Able to play shows where and when they want to do so. For those of you that listened to the above video, the lead singer, Dave McCormack, is more well known these days as Bandit, the father from the hit animated kids show Bluey. Many of the ladies who were in their prime during Custard’s reign as a 1990’s alternative music powerhouse were keen to ask Bluey related questions between songs so they could be the cool Mum on Monday’s school drop-off. They were politely told that “Disney’s lawyers have the place bugged and any more mention of Bluey would see cops storm the building!” For two hours the crowd was thoroughly entertained, culminating in a extended rendition of “Ringo” where it was “deconstructed and put back together like a taco”.
As the tickets went on sale for this initially in early 2020, the seats where sold to conform with the health guidelines at the time. This meant a seated gig but worst of all I was unable to dust off the dance moves from the first paragraph. My friends on the other hand were relieved.
Nearly twenty-five songs later after the strum of the first chord, the main lights found their spark and the encore was silenced by the city’s strict noise and licensing laws. The end of night had arrived. Time to comb over the merch desk and see what trinkets were on offer before heading for the exits. Drop my friends home and head back up the hill. The voice of Bandit in my head and the garlic and ginger from Fat Dumpling on my breath – singing all the way with my Custard playlist.
“Oh Lez come home, the pinballs need ya. Oh Lez come home, the casinos are rigged to beat, beat ya”Pinball Lez, from Custard’s “We Have The Technology”
Welcome back live music my dear friend, it’s been too long and I’ve missed you.
Pre-Show Dinner: Fat Dumpling – Bowen Hills (Asian Dumplings)
Show: The Tivoli – Fortitude Valley (Music Venue)