It's Friday afternoon and the office workers are beginning to stream into new music venue The Triffid, housed in an old World War II supply hangar in the Brisbane suburb of Newstead. Co-owner John "JC" Collins is backstage setting up the rider for tonight's bands, there's a range of teas ("good for the throat"), wines, beers and maybe a magnum of Dom.
"We started a tradition of giving the performer a magnum of Dom Perignon if the show sells out," says JC.
"It's been happening a lot lately, we might have to get Moet instead," he jokes as we walk back into the beer garden and take a seat among the crowd, who are feasting on burgers designed by chef Ben O'Donoghue.
Added perks for bands is just one of the things JC learnt as a member of wildly successful Brisbane band Powderfinger, who played their last show five years ago.
"It's been a labour of love, and I have poured everything I have taken in on the road into it," he says of the Triffid, which has taken two years to come to fruition.
"I've spent a lot of time researching band rooms."
This includes a generous spread for up-and-coming bands ("they're the ones that can't afford it"), and a comfortable backstage area in a shipping container with palm-trees-at-sunset wallpaper (inspired by the movie Scarface) and an astro-turfed outdoor seating area, including a shower.
The main room in the hangar has been perforated with thousands of tiny holes and stacked with several layers of insulation in an effort to absorb sound. JC rightly foresaw that beyond the doors of The Triffid construction would begin on new apartment blocks surrounding the hangar. Inside, JC has ensured bands will get the best sound available, and that's part of the reason that some are saying this is the best room to play in Australia.
The Brisbane music scene is going through a renaissance with the help of new venues like the 800-capacity Triffid, Lefty's Old Time Music Hall and a few in the laneways of Brisbane's CBD adding to established stages of the Tivoli and The Zoo.
This is a city proud of its music heritage. There is a music walk of fame on the Brunswick Street Mall in Fortitude Valley, a 50-metre Bee Gees Way featuring murals of photos and a statue of the brothers Gibb in Redcliffe and the public voted that a bridge erected in 2010 be called The Go Between Bridge in homage to the seminal band of the 1980s. When I grab a CityCycle and pedal across it, it's impossible not to hum their Streets of Your Town along the way.
It might be reductive to say that, like British bands responding with protest songs to the Thatcher era (the Clash, the Jam, the Specials), bands like the Saints (with their 1976 song (I'm) Stranded) and the Go Betweens were reacting to the oppressive Joh Bjelke-Petersen days, or it could be those long, hot summer days in the suburbs. Whatever the case, Brisbane has produced its fair share of musical greats.
Along the side wall of the Triffid (named after The Day of the Triffids by John Wyndham and the Perth band the Triffids) there's a huge mural of cassette tapes stacked up, each with the name of a much-loved Brisbane band on it. the Saints feature prominently, as well as the Go Betweens, Custard, Violent Soho, and tucked up above, Powderfinger.
"They wanted me to have it lower but I wanted the Saints at eye-level position," says the self-effacing JC.
"I've left some space up the top for new bands as well."
"The one thing you really notice is that Brisbane people really get behind Brisbane bands, for example Violent Soho cannot do anything wrong; we're really proud of our bands here," says JC, sipping on a schooner of XXXX Gold.
Up on Caxton Street, another original band is setting up at Lefty's Old Time Music Hall, just metres from where, 40 years ago, the Saints had their own venue, in a rehearsal space – called Club 76. The room is full. The saloon's previous incarnation was as a strip club known as The Velvet Cigar, remnants of which include a long mirror and patches in the ground where poles once stood.
Named after 1950s honky tonk singer Lefty Frizzell, it's one of the city's bars drawing influence from the USA.
"We opened two years ago, on July 4th," says general manager Mick Dwyer.
The live music roster here is mostly blues and country, one of the best being The Good Ol' Boys, who will be performing the entire Martin Scorsese-directed film of the Band entitled The Last Waltz in November. Tuesdays are reserved for campfire sessions, where aspiring bands and singers can play the room full of dim chandeliers, scarlet walls and animal taxidermy.
Upstairs is the nautical-themed Mermaid Lounge, with rum being its specialty. The bar is festooned with sharks and a model sailing ship that fires a cap gun.
The same owners have continued the American theme with Sonny's House of Blues in Brisbane's CBD. Though named after bluesman Sonny Terry, the bar has an LA '80s metal dive bar theme. Think Skid Row posters, fairy lights strewn across the ceiling and Guns N' Roses over the speakers. On my visit all booths are full, the bar is serving blue lagoons and the clientele are happily munching on Mexican bar food.
Closer to the river and down Eagle Lane is The Brooklyn Standard where a band called the Demon Drink are pickin' and fiddling and causing the room to rumble. Continuing the US theme, the bar serves Sierra Nevada and Coors Light and features live music every night. The neon sign warns entrants "If the music is too loud, you are too old".
In Fortitude Valley there are live venue stalwarts The Zoo and Ric's, as well as the new Greaser Bar and the Black Bear Lodge, a candlelit live venue tucked away in the Brunswick Street Mall, right near the Walk of Fame. Every establishment I have visited is near capacity.
"Brisbane is really changing for the better with all these original live music venues," says JC. And it's breeding like-minded businesses. Already three breweries have sprung up in the streets surrounding The Triffid.
"It's good to have bands earning an income by playing in all these places, bands used to have to go to Sydney or Melbourne to become successful but these days Brisbane bands stay; Powderfinger never left," JC says.
Later that night, as I walk out of the Black Bear Lounge, there's a poster for an upcoming performance by Ed Kuepper, co-founder of the Saints who went on to form the Laughing Clowns and has had a very successful solo career. Another local, he left but came back, and stayed for good.
BRISBANE'S OTHER COOL DESTINATIONS
THE LANEWAYS OF FORTITUDE VALLEY
Fortitude Valley's Bakery Lane – where the buildings are among the oldest intact commercial buildings in Brisbane – has been revitalised with retail, including the very cool Phase 4 selling vinyl records, and new cafe Lost Boys. The organic cafe is inspired by Peter Pan, there's a giant tree inside and fairytale books as menus. Try their ricotta pancakes with fig and berries. Across Ann Street in the Valley is Winn Lane where you can find Tym's Guitars and record store A Love Supreme. lostboysfortitudevalley.com; winnlane.com.au
On the second Saturday of every month there's a record fair selling across three venues in the West End facebook.com/BrisbaneRecordFair, otherwise make a direct route to Egg Records to get some of Brisbane's greats on vinyl. eggrecords.com.au. Hidden among the bustle on the main drag is a laneway leading you to the Brisbane Brewing Co, where the beer is brewed on-site and the share plates are incredibly delicious. brisbanebrewing.com.au
CYCLE ALONG THE BRISBANE RIVER
Register online for a CityCycle (citycycle.com.au) and pedal along the Brisbane River towards Southbank. Fuel up on muesli, lemon myrtle and fresh honeycomb at Gauge Espresso and then lock the bikes in a nearby bay (helmets are included) to visit the Gallery of Modern Art where all current exhibitions are free. Then cycle the Go Between Bridge toward Eagle Street Pier for an antipasto share board at the new Bar Pacino while enjoying views of the Story Bridge. bellezzagroup.com.au
NEXT Hotel, which opened in 2014, is located in the heart of the Brisbane CBD, on the Queen Street Mall and offers entry and check-in via a smartphone app. There are also sleep pods available in the Club Lounge should you need to check-in early and catch up on sleep. silverneedlehotels.com/next/brisbane
The writer was a guest of Tourism Queensland