A eulogy for The Troubadour

November 9th, 2010

I was there the night The Troubadour opened. That very first gig back in 2003. By accident. Complete chance. I didn’t even stay for the gig.

But now it’s the end.

On a whim, I and a friend wandered up the steep, narrow stairs into that long, low room with a tiny stage at one end and bar at the other. We lounged on the comfy sofas. We sampled the (excellent) coffee. We admired the warm ambience, an artful combination of subdued yellow-orange lighting, autumnal-themed paintings, and walls of muted iron-ore red.

It was homey (if only because of the bedside lamp stuck in one far corner of the stage). It was everything Brisbane’s chrome and glass clubs could never, ever be. We instantly liked it.

My friend told me it used to be a club called Mantra. The name meant nothing. But, over the past seven years, The Troubadour has become one of the few live venues venues that I unreservedly adore.

It always felt more like an over-sized living room than a live music venue. One that just happened to put on amazing acts, was staffed by people who actually gave a damn about live music — and were often musicians themselves — and where you could buy Coopers Pale at a reasonable price instead of being forced to gargle expensive swill.

In an increasingly hostile Valley environment swimming with fuckwits braying drunken mating calls and lurching drunkenly hither and yon, it was an oasis and a breeding ground for local bands.

And though it hosted many raucous nights of rock ‘n roll — shows where talented acts like Violent Soho, I Heart Hiroshima, Intercooler and the Horrortones energised people to the point where the floorboards literally bounced — its incredible intimacy always seemed best suited to folksters and singer-songwriters.

Some of my favourite Troubadour evenings were spent seated on the carpeted floor listening in mute astonishment as, over the the clink of glasses and the hushed bar chatter, Ed Kuepper, Paul Dempsey, Angie Hart, McKisko, Timothy Carroll, Holly Miranda, Kate Jacobsen and the like entertained with a sincerity, beauty and wamrth as though they were just messing around in their own lounge rooms.

And, in particular, Darren Hanlon’s 2007 Christmas special when he invited a barbershop quartet to sing carols before his own set. He later mentioned that the quartet was incredibly sceptical at first, and were touched by the crowd’s genuine delight at their performance.

I also discovered that, once I took up a camera, that was a venue that photographed beautifully. I’ve often heard complaints that it was too dark, or that the red stagelights constantly left the performers looking as though they’d bathed in tomato. but I  just loved how you could — with a little bit of desaturation — obtain wonderfully muted background greens (courtesy of the emergency EXIT sign at the rear of the stage) and reds (those aforementioned stagelights and the red brick and panelled walls).

Of course, if there’s one act that epitomises The Troubadour, it’s that other priceless Brisbane musical institution, The Gin Club. I’ve seen their alt-country genius in full-flight many times, but, strangely, never at the venue that they’re so closely associated with.

I’m hoping that there might be one final opportunity to see them play the Troub before the curtains fall. It’d be fitting.

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