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RIP Palace Theatre: A Eulogy From Five Melbourne Musos

Fake IDs, flannelette shirts and backstage debauchery — the Palace remembered by some of Melbourne's finest.

By Meg Watson
June 01, 2014
By Meg Watson
June 01, 2014

The lease is up, the music has stopped, and demolition seems all but inevitable — the fight to save the Palace Theatre is coming to a close. Much to the distress of Melbourne music lovers, this weekend marks the last for the city's iconic Bourke Street venue. Plans are underway to turn the site into a multi-million dollar hotel and apartment complex, and punters young and old are feeling a little raw.

First operating in 1860, the Palace has an incredibly rich history. Over the years it's changed from the Metro Theatre to the St James to the Apollo, and it's housed world-class acts such as Sonic Youth, Arctic Monkeys and Florence and the Machine. With its three-tiered amphitheatre, ornate decor, and classic charm, the Palace has a special place in every local's heart. It held the stage where you finally got to see Nick Cave, it's the place you snuck into with that shitty fake ID, it's where you took that all-important first date.

On a larger scale, the Palace played an important role in Melbourne's live music stakes. With a venue capacity of 1855, it was one of the few mid-size venues available for international tours. Without it, big acts are forced to choose between smaller gigs at venues like the Hi-Fi that don't cover the touring costs, or huge alternatives like Festival Hall that lose that sense of intimacy. The Palace struck the perfect balance for bands and patrons alike, and without it, many musicians may be discouraged from booking such tours in the future.

The loss of this cultural institution is understandably enormous, and Melbournians have been pretty vocal about their feelings. Since the first announcement last year, the movement to Save the Palace Theatre has picked up the support of over 35,000 people. There have been petitions, letters to the council, protests, and vigils that continue to this day. Though the consultation period has officially closed, Melbourne City Council has reportedly received 791 objection letters about the site's redevelopment and efforts continue to get the venue on the Victorian Heritage Register. Melbourne music lovers prove time and time again that they never say die.

Regardless, as of May 31, the owners have officially ceased control of the venue and the fate looks all but sealed. As the protests gradually descend into wakes, we asked some Melbourne musos to pen their thoughts on the much-loved venue. The wrecking ball may rise and the building may fall, but at least the music and the stories will always live on.

Emily Lubitz - Tinpan Orange

I have fond memories of lining up outside the Palace, waiting eagerly to see a show, coupled with memories of struggling to find the backstage entrance down a dark lane after eating too much at Pellegrini's before playing on the great Palace stage myself. I've sweated in the pit, and I've watched from on high, as the stage sparkled. I've had the honour of playing to a room of beautiful faces sparkling back at me from the three tiers, like a waterfall of Melbourne coolness.

I have partaken in a dash of debauchery in some of those backstage rooms and one of my favourite photo shoots was taken backstage at the Palace, in the 20 minutes we had before we were due on stage. This urinal picture is from that.

It's truly sad to lose this theatre, this precious gem in Melbourne’s cultural crown. For more than 100 years artists have been treading those boards and singing their tunes to happy punters and heaving crowds. RIP Palace Theatre. I hope the people who buy those apartments that they are turning you into can still hear the ghosts of the legendary artists, wild nights, ecstatic crowds and moments of pure joy echoing through their walls.

Photo credit: Andy Hatton.

Matt Darveniza - 8 Bit Love

When asked about my experiences at the Palace, I thought 'Yeah I love that place! I've seen heaps of shows there. This will be easy". Then I thought about it and realised I'd actually only ever seen two shows there: riding a MySpace-fuelled wave of post/pop-punk in the forms of Jimmy Eat World and Death Cab For Cutie. While neither of these bands could be considered direct influences to the music we write in 8 Bit Love, I think they both really influenced the way I thought about how live shows should be delivered, with audiences completely hooked on every aspect of the performance. It made me aspire to one day have the same impression on our own audiences.

The fact that a mere two shows have left me with such a fondness for the venue also speaks volumes. Each night was really special at the time, in a way shows at other similar-sized venues I've frequented have never quite matched, and the place feels far more familiar than it should. It was a great setting, the sound was always huge but also clear, and it had a certain unquantifiable charm. I'm super sad that I'll never have the chance to play there myself, and devastated that the Palace won't have the opportunity to share more amazing experiences and music with myself and the rest of Melbourne. All for more shitty CBD apartments no one wants to live in anyway. I suppose at least we've still got the memories, which is something. Thanks, you marvellous venue.

Mitch Ansell - Northeast Party House

In 2008, fake ID in hand and a body full of testosterone, I made my way with two of my buddies to see Queens Of The Stone Age at the Palace Theatre. I’m pretty sure we went straight from school to the venue which lead to us loitering around the city, flicking through the latest releases at JB Hi-Fi and most notably, our appearance at a near by $2 peep show. The latter was perhaps fitting for what our night's viewing would entail.

I’m pretty sure it was their Era Vulgaris tour — an interesting album that I had debated with friends and my music teacher as we spoke of this new ‘industrial’ progression in sound. The album translated amazingly well live, everything hit so damn hard. Their encore was perhaps the perfect finish to the night playing ‘You Think I Ain’t Worth A Dollar, But I Feel Like A Millionaire’ and ‘A Song For The Dead’ back-to-back, which saw the venue turn into a pool of compressed flannelette shirts. The sweaty, robust and commanding performance from Josh Homme provided me with weeks of emulation to the point where I purchased the same Maton guitar that he used. That night was up there with the best.

Alex Lahey - Animaux

The first and only time Animaux ever played at the Palace was by accident. We were lucky enough to be supporting The Cat Empire last year and due to a double booking, the final show of the Melbourne leg of the tour took place at the Palace. I remember when I first told my mum that we were playing at there and she got very confused about where the venue was. But when I started referring to it as The Metro, it all came flooding back to her. There are few live music venues in Melbourne that have managed to transcend generations and now that the Palace is gone, they truly are an endangered species.

When we first got to the venue, I took a few minutes to do some exploring and climb the stairs to the highest point of the theatre. You couldn't name another place quite like it — there's nowhere else you could find regally embossed balconies with a sticky floor below! Of course, the show was killer too. The crowd were red hot and there to party, and I knew it wasn't just about the lineup. The vibe of the venue was undeniable. It was about having a good time with great music. Melbourne has lost a true live music icon with the closure of the Palace Theatre and it's a damn shame.

Photo credit: Chantelle Elise.

Declan Melia - British India

It took me a few moments to remind myself just how many great shows I've seen at the Palace and looking at the names of the groups it reads more like a teenage rock fan's wishlist  than notches on a venue's bedpost. Pavement, Arctic Monkeys, Brand New (my all time favourite band perhaps?). I was even able to pull some strings and get me and my brothers on the door to watch The Presidents Of The United States Of America perform their debut album. A feat that sounds awesome or embarrassing depending on your allegiance to faux-alternative '90s novelty music.

Perhaps the first gig I saw there was Sonic Youth performing the Daydream Nation album in full. That album had been my soundtrack to the previous summer. The band were gods to me, far more than they are now and in the sea of nonchalance that made up the crowd I was able to get right up the front — there they were dude, right there, playing those songs just like on the record. I probably didn't even have a mobile phone in those days so social media will never know just how close I was, in spite (or because?) of this it's still absolutely embedded in my mind.

It was the first warm night of the new summer and everyone crowded around outside after the show, bumping into old friends and discussing the show with either wide-eyed astonishment or over-earnest cynicism, 100 different groups of three or five or six all discussing the same thing at the same time. Each group alike. Each group completely different. Even then I was too cynical to believe in anything that a journalist might describe as 'the Melbourne scene' but here were all these people crowded on the footpath after the show and every sentence focused on Sonic Youth performing Daydream Nation at the Palace. You couldn't help but feel you weren't the only one after all.

Lead photo credit: Scott Boelson.

Published on June 01, 2014 by Meg Watson


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