Garageland: Last Exit To Garageland 25th Anniversary Tour
San Fran; Wellington
Friday, April 29
Contrary to what you might think, given my obvious size and shape, I was always a fast runner. At high school I was more athletic, very busy with sports and though I was big I was quick. In the relay running team – and fast over 100m.
Many years later, burgers, drinks, the works, I had it in mind that I was still pretty quick if and when I needed to be. And so, one drunken night, when the farm girl was visiting, she dared me to a race. We lined up outside a pub on Willis Street (it’s no longer there). And someone dropped the flag – we bolted. She was faster out of the gate, but I caught up quickly and zoomed right past. Fortunately, I spied the imaginary finish line before she did and started to pull up. I called the race, and we went straight into the bar for a drink.
I had pulled my hamstring. And I walked with a limp for a few weeks after, wounded pride dragging behind.
This strange memory popped into my head on Friday night watching Garageland. A band I loved when I was finishing high school, starting university. The band that unknowingly soundtracked me ditching sport and only continuing to work on the one stretch that involved vigorously bending an elbow.
When I first saw Garageland play live it was vital and wonderful. They were a new wave of Flying Nun act, and they weren’t ever the best instrumentalists, nor were they terrific in any real sense – but most importantly they had something. Chiefly: A bunch of catchy tunes. And they were ours. Bands like Garageland and Superette were aping the Pixies or other indie-rock staples, but they were doing it for us, and in a low-key Kiwi way. And it meant the world.
So when Garageland takes the stage at the San Fran late on a Friday night, a middle-aged crowd in attendance, the band about to be the perfect metaphor for – or literal embodiment of – aging, I think about how I was once a fast runner. I think about how I now wouldn’t even get away with just a pulled hamstring; how if I had to run for my life I might just surrender immediately, considering it a decent enough life, cut short by my physical failings.
Garageland in 2022 – delayed, like everything by the raging pandemic – was fun and cute, bittersweet and rather lovely. The band doing their level best to sell the songs they wrote when they were vastly different people. Playing them to a crowd, assembled, masks off, trying to remind themselves of the people they used to be.
I was kinda struck by the way they fucked up, almost instantly. Words missing here and sometimes there. Occasionally on purpose (Billy Joel either not such an arsehole with time’s more sympathetic reading, or possibly threatening some legal action was it?) and sometimes due to the hill-climb of even just being there and trying to sing.
Jeremy Eade was never great at singing. A bit of a shame, given that for a while it was his job. But also, he didn’t need to be that great at it when he was young and cool (because he was young and cool) and even besides that he wrote fun hooks and great songs; he wrote and played and his slightly tortured yelp didn’t matter, it helped sell the urgency of the songs if anything.
A quarter-century on most things have softer edges, and Eade was almost like Drunk Uncle singing those same songs, although that’s too cruel to say – despite me choosing to not edit it out – because he was always at the endearing end of the Can’t Sing spectrum.
Watching Garageland in 2022 was to see my life soften, and age. No longer ripe, but still happy to be here, still trying to make a decent fist of it.
Beelines to Heaven was a giant singalong and Fingerpops still, erm, pops. But for me it was the less urgent but more vital chug-songs like Nude Star and Tired and Bored, or the less obvious ‘hits’ from that great debut album, Classical Diseased and I’m Looking For What I Can’t Get, that really hit home on this outing.
These are the songs that are indelibly there in my life.
Last week a friend sent through a photo of me. My head shaved. I’m in a shirt and tie, attending, presumably, a 21st. But also barely there if you know what I mean. Both my wife and my mother did not recognise me in the photo. Fair enough though, for that is no longer who I am.
Garageland will always be the band that wrote and released Last Exit To Garageland, a one-album wonder that hit big with a generation of us. But the members of that band are not the same people that played and wrote those songs, they’re different. For better, for worse, for both and neither – and always and only because of the march of time.
It was never a painful reminder. Not a sharp jolt, like a torn hamstrung, not a rude shock like a photograph you might wish was torn, just a gentle – lovely – reminder of what aging not only looks like, but what it sounds like.
A great guitar sound – purple hues of smoke and dust clinging to the edges of the sonic – and precise drumming framed the songs anew; just enough of a reminder always of how these songs used to be. But these versions were also a bit like if I’d found a cassette tape of Last Exit To Garageland at the bottom of a mouldy old sports-bag and decided to give it one more run around the block.
I would not have wanted it any other way. It could not – of course – have been any other way.
The masks were off, and whether they should be is quite another story, but the government tracers have no record of this event, yet we do. Those that were there will remember it in their own way, just as I have now. The bottom line of course is that they made it. They turned up. They did it. Made it through the set. Garageland decided to come back. And, for that alone, all is forgiven.
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