19 January 2011

Music Review - Bluejuice & The Philly Jays @ the Hoey Moey

It’s already about 90% humidity inside the small Hoey Moey gig room when the openers, Philadelphia Grand Jury take to the stage. The two-man garage rock combo (with new drummer Susie Dreamboat of Brisbane band I Heart Hiroshima) don’t need long before the crowd is wrapped around their little fingers, with their twangy guitar riffs and thumping beats.

As much theatre performance as a music gig, we’re entertained by MC Bad Genius (the bearded one - bass player) striking a statue-pose for minutes on end during the middle of their recent hit “Save Our Town”, while Berkfinger (the blonde one - vocals/guitar) jumps into the mosh pit, guitar in hand, getting down and dirty with the crowd. The Philly Jays, as they are also known, put on a great live show, with all the energy and rawness of your older brother’s band playing at a 21st birthday party. Their brand of lovable geek rock won’t appeal to everyone, but if you’re open to new experiences and a good time they’re the men for the job.

Giant fluoro letters appear across a blacked-out stage as the room swells to capacity in anticipation of the second act on the bill. Bluejuice are a five-piece Sydney outfit who first gained success on Triple J with their 2007 single, Vitriol - an unashamedly catchy dance pop gem. Opening the show with a few lesser known tracks, the party really gets started with the title track off the band’s 2009 album, Head of the Hawk.

The trademark 80s sitcom synthesizer and heavily distorted bass brings out the dancer in all of us. Front men Jake and Stav’s tight harmonies sit nicely inside well-crafted melodies, almost at odds with their mischievous on stage antics and obvious penchant for partial nudity. The air conditioning is still missing in action, but the infectious ska-tinged beats won’t let anyone stand still, as the crowd jumps and drips in time with the band. If you want to lose weight, come to a Bluejuice show.

6 January 2011

Chaos and calm in Vietnam

Saigon has charmed us by the time we travel from the airport to our hotel. Absolutely buzzing with activity, people and scooters everywhere, the footpaths struggle to contain the masses of people eating, chatting and cooking, as close as they can get to the middle of the road without being run over. The three and four storey terrace-style housing means everyone is living on top of each other, so groups congregate out in the hot air under the street lights, perched on parked motorbikes and impossibly small plastic stools, forcing the traffic into single file.

Our hotel, the Duc Vuong, in the bustling District 1, is like a tiny, cool oasis in which to recover from the heat and sensory overload of the street. Ironically, I have succumbed to the “holiday flu”, the one that you manage to avoid during the stressful planning, booking and packing stages but that finally gets you once you are airborne and relaxed. Upon checking in, the manager mentions a “free dinner” to be held at 7pm for anyone in the hotel who wants to join. Too tired to think about other options at the time, we give in to his charm and agree. 10 guests are there that evening, seated together at a perfectly laid out table, and we’re welcomed by the manager, grinning from ear to ear. As if reading our minds, he begins to speak,

“You may be wondering why we offer you free dinner. Well, because at Duc Vuong Hotel we are a family.”

The speech goes on for a few minutes, the manager obviously ecstatic that we have accepted his generous offer. And the food which follows is delicious beyond our expectations. Succulent fried tofu with pineapple and tomato, delicate clear soups, chicken and vegetables all part of the banquet.

Far from being just another grotty, overcrowded city, Saigon has an energy in which nothing seems to stand still long enough to let the dust, sweat and soot settle and weigh it down. At the time of our visit, a four-day national holiday celebrating the end of the Vietnam War (or “American War” as it is known in Vietnam) has everyone in vacation mode.

Of course, in Saigon, like elsewhere in Vietnam, everyone rides a scooter. There are whole families of five balanced casually atop a single bike: the father at the front, mother and two children holding on behind, with the toddler standing in between its father’s legs. It’s clearly the most effective method of zipping around the narrow streets, nudging through 4 lanes of oncoming traffic and squeezing past tourist buses with arms held out to ensure you don’t scrape as you go past.

To get around on foot you literally have to walk in the road, dodging the traffic as it dodges you. The busy, steaming pace of it all somehow manages to accommodate all forms of human activity without discrimination. Parents push prams, ladies carry boxes full of undecipherable nicknacks, young men smoke and chat, grandmothers sell noodle soup made on bicycle kitchens. Despite the chaos and constant horn-honking, the atmosphere is immediately relaxing. We feel as though we could happily disappear into this disarray and emerge completely unwound several days later.

Our next destination, Mui Ne, is a complete contrast to the city. A small seaside town around four hours north east of Saigon by bus, it is a sleepy stretch of resorts and houses along the South China Sea. Here food vendors amble down the main road on bicycles, Vietnamese pop tunes pumping from tiny stereos attached to their tiny awnings. They always smile and say hello, but it’s far too hot to purchase the dried, salted fish most of them are selling.

For our evening meal we sit at small tiled tables at a beachside shack, feasting on the catches of the day. As we drink Vietnamese beer and watch the day settle into night, hardworking fishermen continue to replenish the restaurant’s tanks with crayfish, clams and fish brought up fresh from the beach below. We have entrees of gigantic prawns, and scallops slathered in garlic, shallots and pepper cooked to perfection on a 44 gallon drum. The waitress, with her limited English (our Vietnamese is even worse!), entices us with a suggestion of “fish soup”. It is one of the best dishes we have ever eaten! A small terracotta pot comes set over a bed of flaming coals, filled with a sweet pineapple, tomato and onion broth and stocked full of chunks of shark meat. It’s accompanied by a plate piled high with okra, bok choi, and other strange vegetables we’ve never seen before. The moon is bright red as it rises up through the clouds above the tin roof, and happy, Vietnamese synthesizer-pop blares over the speakers, as if bringing us back to reality.