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Playing On

26 September 2012 | 5:15 am | Brendan Hitchens

It’s a night where people are out and about, the town is full of people and it’s probably the easiest night to get people from interstate to Melbourne.

Weddings, Parties, Anything are an institution, as much a part of the Melbourne fabric and the final week of September as the sporting code that has made the month famous. It's no surprise then that the seminal band's frontman and St Kilda fanatic Mick Thomas has artistically aligned the two. “When the Weddings broke up in 1998 it was a proper split up and wasn't a calculated thing. We stayed away for ten years,” he says on reflection. “When we came back in 2008 to do a tour, it felt really good and the crowds were really strong. It left us with that lingering question, 'What should we do now?' So we just thought one show a year would be a good thing to do.“

That one, official show a year has since become a staple of the musical calendar, with their AFL Grand Final-eve show now in its fourth consecutive year. “I wanted one night and thought Grand Final eve was as good a night as any in Melbourne,” says Thomas. “It's a night where people are out and about, the town is full of people and it's probably the easiest night to get people from interstate to Melbourne.”

The annual celebration is a reunion for band and fans alike and sees the group returning to their element, the live setting. Recorded in their final year, Weddings, Parties, Anything released They Were Better Live – a live recording of their triumphant Christmas Eve show at the Central Club in Richmond – in 1999. Tongue-in-cheek in title, Thomas admits there was a hint of truth to the label. “I think we got around to making some okay records. It was always the way we were considered, a live band that couldn't quite get it happening in the studio.”

Initially active for 14 years, they weren't without line-up changes (Thomas is the one consistent member across all versions of the band). Ironically, the reunion shows have featured their most consistent line-ups to date. “We copped some criticism towards the end that it was a bit of a supergroup and that everyone in the band had played in a well known band,” he says (the current WPA line-up features past members of Paul Kelly & The Coloured Girls, The Black Sorrows, The Badloves and Huxton Creepers). “There were 14 people through Weddings and they all brought their own identity, but the final line-up was our longest. From '95 to '98 we had the same line-up and, subsequent to that, all the reformations have been that same line-up.”

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Testament to their name, the Grand Final-eve gig is one of only two shows they play each year. As a warm-up for the main event, they perform at the Maribyrnong Immigration Detention Centre to a room of refugees; it's a stark contrast to the full house of adoring fans they perform to later in the week. “It's a total closed shop, no one's allowed in or out either,” jokes Thomas. “We play for a bunch of bemused detainees. It's pretty weird, but that's the other side of the band's persona; we can go and do things that we are concerned about.” A test for the band to win over an unfamiliar and often unaccommodating audience, Thomas admits it has made him a better musician and performer. “The principles are the same, you strap on your instrument and try and play it the best you can. It's good for us to have a hit-out and experience an inverse level of regard for what we do.”

With a “big back catalogue” that consists of “seven bona fide albums and any amount of bootleg collections of bits and pieces”, Thomas says the show will be a celebratory, best-of set. “When you get all those songs that were released between, say, '83 and '97, when you get a certain group of people playing with a certain energy and attack and a certain audience, that's what defines the Weddings.”