Tuesday, May 31, 2011

So long and thank you for the music

It was with great sadness that I learned from a friend last week that demolition had already commenced on the Perth Entertainment Centre (PEC). Hardly a bastion of world music, but nonetheless, like all good venues, it played its role in delivering many epiphanal moments to many on the ground.

The building itself also commands a special place, having arisen from the barren flat city centre in the early 70s and gradually becoming iconic of both Perth’s second big boom (after the 19th century goldrush). Its distinctive sun bleached orange corrugated roof and circular structure were certainly evocative of the summer heat and the shadowless sun that bathes the city throughout its yearly, endless summer. It was the closest Perth had to the Opera House or a silhouette on a skyline, a skyline that back then only had the AMP building in it.

In the 90s the short lived arrival of the Perth Wildcats basketball team gave it a new lease of life, perfectly coinciding with Australia’s growing closeness to and infiltration by US culture. Their short lived tenure is probably testament enough to how that bubble burst, but it was only later in its career, when it really acquired its status. Long periods of sustained inactivity and indecision turned it into an eyesore that somehow encapsulated Perth’s Dullsville tag. Not even the Entertainment centre was entertaining anymore.

Now with the restructuring of the city centre to make it more open, attractive and interesting it must make way. In the end, there was not enough money and no clear ideas. Now it is no more. In its place, or where its carpark used to be, shall rise the Perth Arena.

My first musical experience was in the PEC at the ripe age of 3.5 years. My parents took my elder sister (10 months older) and I to one of the two concerts that ABBA played there on the 10th and 11th of March, 1977 as part of their Australian tour that saw ABBA-mania throughout the country and birthed a tour film called ABBA: the movie that features footage from the Perth show. My mother tells me that my father was not impressed at having to pay for the tickets, but we were adamant we had to go. My only recollection is of being somewhere near the back and that afterwards we were each bought a cap, mine with primary green and blue stripes and my sister’s with yellow and red with ABBA written across the forehead.

This song "Tiger", played here at the concert, is not one of my favourites, but it gives me one of my distinct early memories of listening to this song on my father’s reel-to-reel player and hiding from imaginary tigers behind the curtains in my parent’s bedroom with my sisters. It surprises me as well to find that there is even a bootleg album available of the concert which seems like a strange souvenir to have from a time that you can barely remember.

My second epiphany at the PEC was witnessing INXS at the height of their powers during the Kick/Calling All Nations tour. We saw the first night of three at the PEC, having got lucky with tickets through my friends mum who also came with us. The first two shows had sold out, but tickets for a third show, which was played first on November 6 1988, became available. It was a perfect moment: with your best friend at the end of the school year, days getting warmer, Kick was the best album ever and you have your first teenage rock experience. We were in the so-called “lounge” the pit in front of the stage, close enough to see into Michael Hutchence’s eyes. The band played two sets complete with costume changes and Hutchence and Kirk Pengiley finishing the first half alone on acoustic guitars with their “hippy song” (so said Michael at the time) “Shine like it does”. This was one of those concerts where you don’t want to shower afterwards to avoid washing the magic away.

"Don’t Change" was the last song they played that night and and will always bear that melancholy feeling of knowing that the show was all over even though you wanted more. The ticket stayed glued to the wall next to the bed for a long time. This version is from San Francisco around the same period.

My next concert there was exactly a year later on Friday 27 October 1989. We went to see Jimmy Barnes, that most particularly Australian rock icon on his Barnestorming tour. The Christmas before he had released the Barnestorming live album which my mum gave me on double cassette. The opening track “Driving wheels” was the sound of that summer. But Jimmy`s show was disappointing even to us amateurs back then. Something about the performance just wasn’t heart felt enough, like it was too heavy for Barnes to perform every night. You could see he wanted it, but he wasn’t touching the same level as his albums. He was getting older and had punished himself enough. After that show, his star in my mind began to fade, but a musical lesson was learned about how to approach your idols.

But this night is arguably more memorable not for Jimmy’s show, but for our escapade outside before the doors opened. I was with some school friends and the oldest looking one of us, probably me because I was tall, had bought a couple of UDLs (premix alcohol drinks) at the bottleo to drink before we went inside. Standing in the park we were approached by two men who began to talk to us, asked what we were doing, about the show and who we were meeting. My two friends D and J had their cans, whereas B and myself had already finished, even though we had another stuffed into our trousers for inside. As we talked an aboriginal man also joined us, carrying a blanket and asking the same sorts of questions. He left us for a moment to fish a silver 4 litre bag of goon (cheap wine) from under a tree. After drinking from the plastic tap he offered it to us. This is when the two men produced their police badges. One went to the side with the aboriginal man and the other stayed with us taking D and J’s details. Since B and I were not drinking at the time, we were let off with no fine. The business over, we scurried inside. B and I were still shitting ourselves since we had alcohol hidden on us, but had luckily not been caught. After entering we dashed off to the bathroom and quickly downed our bourbon and coke. Breath wreaking of booze, we entered the “lounge” knowing that Jimmy would be proud.

Perhaps the last time I ever went inside the PEC was January 13 1995 when REM opened their Monster world tour in Perth. MTV and all the media outlets were in town. Support was Grant Lee Buffalo and Died Pretty and guitarist Peter Buck had been married only days earlier in the Cottesloe Civic Centre where we had our school balls. Mike Mills the bass player fondly recalls playing golf at the Vines and getting disturbed by kangaroos. Expectation was high despite the disappointment of the Monster album, the first turkey REM had ever released. The follow up New Adventures in Hi Fi was a return to form, but also signalled the end of the participation of Bill Berry, the drummer retiring after suffering aneurisms. It was the end of the first and great era of REMs music. Since then I have been too timid to try and discover them again, being content with all the great albums up to this point. More poignant then. that we should see the opening night of the last world tour of the original band. Sadly it didn’t live up to the expectation, with even the band admitting at one stage it was a rough show. The next night was better, apparently, but by then, their star was also fading.

So long Perth Entertainment Centre, and thanks for all the music.

1 comment:

  1. I too was at the INXS gig, remember it well. My first gig was John Farnham at the Ent Centre, Whispering Jack tour.