Today was my last day of holidays.
I did bitsy things like vacuuming the house, going and having my eyes checked, doing the groceries. I had a cup of tea with Jake, Jackie and mum. I got dressed in my black pinspotted dress, which always makes me feel elegantly summery, and drove into the city to meet Ben and Karen for dinner and Andrew Bird.
I meander from York Street to Hyde Park, taking my time and marvelling at how beautiful the city can be on a warm summer’s evening, wandering beneath the massive Hyde Park fig trees. As I pass the Spiegeltent, I see Karen, so I give her a big hug and we walk down to Bill and Toni’s together.
Ben and Karen have never been to Bill and Toni’s before. It’s kind of hard to describe to newbies why it has such great appeal for me. It’s down at heel, it’s basic, people always seem a little bemused when the bowl of iceberg lettuce and the huge jug of cordial is placed on the table, but when I cut into the schnitzel with cheese or a mouthful of spaghetti bolognese, it just takes me back to similar balmy summer evenings of my adolescence. I don’t know if it translates, but it just reminds me of good friends, lots of laughs and happy times.
We amble back up the hill to Hyde Park, while Ben describes the highlights of the Festival First Nights to me, then we head into the Spiegeltent. I hadn’t been to this venue last year, but I am greatly impressed. It’s a lovely space, all coloured glass and mirrored panels and dark wooden booths, with a stage set up in front of a starlit backdrop. We’re all packed in like sardines, but the atmosphere is chilled and pleasant so it doesn’t matter. We take some silly photos and soak up the ambience.
And then Andrew Bird comes on. A skinny, unassuming chap with messy hair and wearing a striped tie (why is indie musician hair always so bad?). Swaying with his eyes closed, playing the most luscious sounds on his violin, which loop and then loop and then loop over one another. He holds each loop in his head and improvises over the top, then opens his mouth and sings. The bottom drops out of my stomach. His voice is just so clean, so soaring and sad and joyful all at once. He kicks his shoes off to reveal brightly coloured stripey socks and he lurches and tiptoes all over the stage as he whistles and grabs his guitar and plays another loop on his violin. (Although the photo below is horribly blurred, it does give kind of an accurate impression of what it was like to watch him)
His band join him to add more texture to the mix, quirky bass and guitar effects, shimmering cymbals. They play my favourite song of his, A Nervous Tic Motion of the Head to the Left and I am grinning the whole time. Even when he messes up the lyrics or presses the wrong button and the wrong loop comes on, he is charming. His mistakes are charming. But after only an hour and a bit, no amount of cheering can bring him back onstage (when he picked up his shoes after the second encore, I knew it was over) and we are forced to shuffle out.
Standing in the twilight, we check out his merchandise and I feel like a teenager again when I couldn’t afford to buy any of the merch after a show. Karen buys something and gets Andrew Bird to sign it. While we are standing around, I am kissed on the cheek by an old uni friend, one of those friends who you think fondly of, but you realise you’re not actually especially close to. “What have you been up to? What’s news?”
“Um…well…nothing.” I know that’s not strictly true, but what else can you say? “I’m finishing my first novel…although I’ve been doing that for the last year.”
He grins. “But you feel good about it?”
He is distracted by another friend and moves off.
While we are standing in the queue to get Karen’s things signed, a couple kisses a long-lost hello in front of me, and I suddenly realise they are two old friends from my high school – A was my best friend until, one day, she wasn’t; R is as gorgeous as he ever was when I had a huge crush on him. “Hi!” we all exclaim, and share kisses, I introduce them to Karen, we all mutter something about how cool Andrew Bird was and then they both turn and head back to their friends without any further conversation. I suppose it’s better that way, nothing much to say after all, but it feels odd. I wonder if I look funny, different – they look the same, if not more attractive than they used to; maybe that expression of surprise on A’s face was “Goodness, look how fat she’s got”. No. I shouldn’t think that. What a way to think about yourself! Maybe they were thinking “she looks the same, if not more attractive than she used to”. And why does it matter to me anyway?
Yet I look at them from a distance and feel sad, wish that I had something to talk to them about, wish I was cooler, wish I was better at this social stuff and could muster up something witty to keep them tantalised. So that they would want to know me. A bubbly girl who is with R tries to push in front of us in the queue, and then, just at my shoulder, I hear his voice with a hint of a charming smile, saying to her “You can’t push in front of her, I went to school with her.” Maybe it’s not so bad after all.
Karen, Ben and Malcolm are heading off for a cup of tea and a chat, so I wander back through the streets alone. I get in my car and listen to Andrew Bird as I drive. I come home and look in the mirror and realise I look quite nice in my black pinspotted dress. My mother and my flatmate confirm it, apropos of nothing. So I needn’t have worried.
Why on earth do I worry about things like that?
Andrew Bird was wonderful. I want to hang onto the lusciousness of his music, the beauty of the polyphony, the bittersweet tingle of that sound. I want that to be my memory of tonight.