When You Am I take the stage for the first time ever at Melbourne Town Hall as part of Melbourne Music Week, bandleader Tim Rogers may well find himself overshadowed for once. The famously focus-pulling frontman will be dwarfed by the venue’s historic organ, a three-level instrument dating back to 1929 and boasting 10,000 pipes.
Like You Am I, who next year will celebrate their 30th anniversary, the organ has prior form. Refurbished and relaunched in 2001, it has 552 keys and contains drums, bells and almost ten thousand pipes across three levels of the Town Hall. As well as containing enough electric wire to run from Melbourne to Adelaide, the organ is the largest and most valuable in the southern hemisphere, and the third largest in the world.
As well as being a standalone attraction, the formidable instrument has been handled by a slew of genre-pushing acts, including internationals Brian Jonestown Massacre, Tangerine Dream and Italian prog-rock giants Goblin (who scored the original Suspiria), to locals Taipan Tiger Girls, Sarah Mary Chadwick and theremin-led Melbourne ensemble the Night Terrors, who have both performed and recorded with the organ.
On November 18 You Am I will be added to that canon. Working the famous keys will be James Fleming, who played with the band for their recent Spinal Tap tribute. “He’s part of the family,” says Rogers, speaking to Broadsheet from the road alongside You Am I guitarist Davey Lane. “Davey could do it, but he refuses to wear the cape”. Fleming did once play in a Deep Purple tribute band, “so there’s talk of Purple-ising or Deep-ening our set,” says Rogers.
Not everything from the frontman is a wisecrack – though he does deliver them so well. He’s earnest about the band getting a crack at the venerable instrument and venue alike, which has been a regular feature at Melbourne Music Week since the event kicked off in 2010. “We’re very flattered to be asked,” says Rogers. “So even though we’ll rehearse for a total of 20 minutes, please don’t interpret that as insouciance on our behalf.”
Which You Am I songs will get the organ treatment? “That would be giving it away,” says Rogers, giving nothing away. “I suggested we do a classical piece, but then I remembered we’re You Am I. We have talked about songs we’ve never played before that utilise the organ. So it’s not just a colour on the song, but more a feature. We’re not ones to over rehearse, but because the instrument’s there, we do want to feature it as heavily as possible.”
The rest of the four-act bill includes rapid-fire punks Clowns, whom Rogers calls his favourite band (“I love them so much,”); Gareth Liddiard, of Tropical F- -k Storm and The Drones, playing an intimate solo set; and post-punk brooders New War, who as well as just releasing their second album, Coin, used the Grand Organ for a commissioned piece on Halloween night last year.
Throw in the organ itself and it's one of the years’ most stacked bills. Rogers knows it. “We want to show our gratefulness by being ridiculous and putting on an extravaganza,” he says. “And I will be wearing a cape, unlike the rest of my band.”
You Am I will play with Gareth Liddiard, Clowns and New War at the Melbourne Town Hall on November 18 as part of Melbourne Music Week. Get tickets.
This article is produced by Broadsheet in partnership with Melbourne Music Week.