How will Melbourne cope without The Palace?

Originally published in July 2013.

The loss of The Palace looms as a logistical nightmare for bookers trying to entice overseas bands to our shores, writes DARREN LEVIN. Photo above by JESSE BOOHER.

The proposed demolition of The Palace Theatre won’t affect the health of Melbourne’s grassroots music community. Venues like the Palace don’t build scenes like The Tote or the sadly departed Arthouse. They don’t give a chance to emerging talent. They don’t create a platform for the sounds that shape this city.

What The Palace does provide though is a place for mid-sized tours – the kind that can’t fill out Etihad (53,000 capacity or 20,000 in “intimate” mode), Rod Laver (14,820), Hisense Arena (10,500), Festival Hall (5445), the Myer Music Bowl (25,000), or The Plenary (5540). We’re talking shows by the likes of Bernard Fanning, Foals, Parkway Drive, Devin Townsend, Amity Affliction, Lana Del Rey and Pennywise. And that’s a big gap to fill for a city that likes to think of itself as Australia’s live music capital.

(Photo by CarbieWarbie)

If you were a teenager in the 1990s you’re probably familiar with The Palace’s previous incarnation as the notorious underage disco The Metro. That changed in 2007 when property developer Jerry Pilarinos shifted his Palace Entertainment Complex from St Kilda to Bourke Street. Pilarinos battled the State Government for two years to keep the venue in St Kilda, but he was driven out before the venue burned down. The Palace in St Kilda was never a great place to see shows, but the Bourke Street Palace is. It’s housed in a historic old theatre, with excellent sightlines from the floor, or the balcony level, and truly world-class sound.

It’s hosted memorable gigs from the likes of Nick Cave, Queens Of The Stone Age, My Morning Jacket, Arctic Monkeys, Flaming Lips, My Bloody Valentine, The Dirty Three and Girl Talk. But its future is looking shaky after reports of a proposed 30-storey building, including a 205-room hotel and 145 apartments.

(Artists impression of the development, The Age )

Its loss, as Soundwave promoter AJ Maddah correctly noted on Twitter this morning, would be acutely felt. “This will pretty much fuck Melbourne rock scene w[ith] no venue between Billboard’s 1050 cap & Fest Hall 5000 cap & heft hire fee”. Capped at 1850 patrons, the only other comparable venues are the 1500-capacity Forum Theatre in the city, or the 2896-capacity Palais Theatre in St Kilda. The Palais, however, is a seated venue in a suburb six kilometres from the city, and it’s certainly not conducive to rock shows.

At the other end of the scale, there’s a glut of smaller venues spread across Melbourne’s inner-city. There’s the Prince Bandroom (950) and The Espy’s Gershwin Room (650) in St Kilda; Richmond’s Corner Hotel (850); The Hi Fi (650), Ding Dong (300), The Toff (300) and Cherry Bar (200) in the CBD; The Northcote Social Club (250); The Workers Club in Fitzroy (200); and the newly opened Howler in Brunswick, which at 400 capacity is a like-for-like replacement for the East Brunswick Club. All these venues are part of the fabric of a thriving music scene, but none of them can accommodate the kind of shows The Palace books.

The dearth of 1000-plus capacity venues only amplifies when we head into festival season. Three Big Day out sideshows – The Killers, Bloody Beetroots and Animal Collective – took place at The Palace in January. A month later, it played host to Sidewaves by The Offspring, Sum 41, Kyuss Lives and Flogging Molly. Other sideshows are typically spread across the CBD’s other venues including Billboard, The Forum, The Hi-Fi and Festival Hall. Melbourne is already stretched to capacity during this time. If The Palace is bulldozed, how will it cope?

The loss of The Palace looms as a logistical nightmare for bookers trying to entice overseas bands to our shores. Over the past few years Australia has emerged as an attractive destination for international bands. We have an insatiable appetite for live music and the strong Aussie dollar has allowed us to lure more big-name artists than arguably ever before. Melbourne is a non-negotiable stop on an international band’s touring schedule. But if the infrastructure isn’t there – if The Forum is the only venue between the 1000-capcity Billboard and the 5000-capacity Festival Hall – where will these shows take place?

A Facebook page has been set up to help save The Palace. Click here to join.

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