The Sleepy Jackson, a band from “Down Under,” made a rare tour through the United States in the Spring of 2004 in support of their Lovers album. Their stop in this part of the country was at The Nick – the grungiest club in Birmingham, Alabama. No one else seemed to care much about that, this being “rock and roll” and, well, the music business. Have venue, will play.
In discussions with the label, I was fortunate to arrange an in-store performance by the band. I really dug that record and played it for as many people as I could, likely driving the staff crazy in the process. I felt an in-store was just the thing to help sell a few handfuls of CDs, and maybe put them on the map in this Deep South town. That was wishful thinking, of course, as the majority of in-stores seemed to translate to “free show” for many attendees, and sometimes even big name acts would draw lots of people and sell very few albums. I remained hopeful, if blindly optimistic.
The preparations for the band’s visit were slightly daunting. I was informed by management, through the record label, that the group would require six amplified hook-ups. (Our sound system only allowed for four.) “Sure,” I said and, at the store, we continued our planning for the event. All the while, I knew we would never have the set-up that the band’s management was requesting without a cash layout that surely wasn’t going to happen. The proposed arrangement could have dwarfed the size of the potential crowd.
On the afternoon of the event, I drove to the club to pick up the band and have them (all expected eight of them) follow me in caravan to the store. They had just finished their sound-check and there were only three people there to meet me. Word was – and it was told to me in only the vaguest of terms – that the night before there had been a scuffle of sorts, a disagreement and a physical fight. The only two members of the band who would be attending the in-store would be Luke Steele, the vocalist and leader of the group, and another member who would accompany Luke on vocals and tambourine. The other fellow (whose name I now forget) was a dead ringer for Robert Plant, and his left wrist and hand was bandaged and braced. Luke was sporting a facial cut on his forehead, right between his eyes.
Conversation made its way quickly to the subject of food. Thankfully, Birmingham is a town with a wide variety of food choices, and I told them we could fulfill any requests they had. “We’d like some burgers, mate,” Luke said. R.Plant chimed in. “Yeah, burgers.” Well, that was easy. We arrived at the store, Luke and R.Plant went directly toward the privacy of my office, and we ordered two deluxe bacon cheeseburgers with steak fries from Oak Hill, the local pub (only four doors away, and makers of the freshest burger I’d yet encountered in the entire city). When the food arrived, the “band” was ready for it, having primed their hunger with a few bottles of Heineken. They devoured the hamburgers as if they hadn’t eaten in days. I busied myself with clearing out the unnecessary sound equipment from the floor of the store. It turned out that we only needed three inputs for our P.A. system: two for vocal mics and one for Luke’s guitar.
The performance is somewhat of a blur to me now. The turnout wasn’t as paltry as I had feared, and Luke was completely agreeable to play requests. At one point I requested that they play “Miniskirt,” and Luke responded with a Pfft. “Ah, mate, we haven’t got a drummer!” You wanker, he likely thought. Frankly, I was perfectly happy with everything that they did play. Their set included a song that I was fortunate to capture a part of on video. Luke introduced it by saying that it was a work in progress, that they’d been playing different versions of it on the road. Let’s see what happens and forgive us for any mistakes, generally. Here’s the video clip, including the Heineken bottle evidence, and one of the extra mic stands that didn’t get removed before the set:
It was my favorite song of the set, and I regret that I only preserved that little bit of it. A year or two later, when the next Sleepy Jackson album, Personality, came out, I expected to find this song on it. It wasn’t there, although there are brief moments in the song “Miles Away” that sound, to me, as if they may have been inspired by it (or vice versa).
A few days ago, I came across a YouTube video of a 2006 interview with Luke. Buried within it is another appearance of this song-with-no-name, nearly a minute of it (from 5:05 to 6:01). Can someone provide me with a complete performance of this song, or maybe just a title?
After the in-store, the three of us loaded into my truck and headed back toward The Nick. Not even a block up the street from Laser’s Edge, as we were stopped at the traffic light, R.Plant spied a woman in the window of a neighboring shop. “Look!” he said to Luke. They both leaned out the window. “Let’s get her to come to the show!” one of them said and, with that, they leapt out of both sides of the truck and ran to the storefront. The woman, who I recognized as the owner of the store, had been standing right in the middle of the plate glass pane when we had first come to a stop. By the time that Luke and R.Plant made it to the door, she was gone. R.Plant pulled on the door and it resisted. It was locked. They both ran over to the window and peered in, but the woman was not to be seen. After a couple pacings back and forth on the sidewalk, they dejectedly came back to the truck, and we continued on to the venue.
Although I didn’t see her there, I was told later – by another concert-goer – that the woman who owned the Red Rain organic essentials shop was indeed at the Sleepy Jackson show at The Nick that night.
UPDATE (30 September 2009):
The second member of the band – referred to above as “R.Plant” – is Jay Cortez. Cortez joined The Sleepy Jackson in 2003 and was with the band for at least two years. He now is the vocalist/bassist/frontman for the Australian band, Dead Flowers (video below).