California Love… in Sydney

Earlier this month, my husband and I took a weekend trip to Sydney that I’d planned last October. The impetus for the trip was to see my favorite band, Incubus, play at Sydney’s Hordern Pavilion. The guys hail from southern California, but tour worldwide a fair bit. Their Australia/New Zealand tour announcement had absolutely lit my inbox on fire; although I haven’t been to a concert for years, I bought my tickets online literally two minutes after sales opened. To make things even better, the show fell nicely on a three day weekend for Canberra. Although my husband had made a quick work-related trip alone to Sydney already, I hadn’t been back since I finished postgraduate school there in 2006 and flew home to California via a Balkans vacation. I made a list of things to do on our first trip together: Royal Botanical Garden, Taronga Zoo, Sydney Opera House, visiting my old apartment, and road tripping instead of flying or taking the train.  I’m happy to say that we did all that, and more.

On this trip, nothing could go wrong. Or at least, nothing that went wrong could faze me. Our tax preparer sent us our return for approval on the Saturday morning we were headed down to Sydney, and we delayed getting on the road by 20 minutes to review it. I made the four hour drive blasting the A/C and Incubus, all but ignoring the menacing glow of the Nissan’s engine light (I bought us another car, and we’ll get it in early May). After arriving and checking in to the fabulousness that is the Intercontinental Sydney Double Bay, we unpacked, ordered room service, and took a nap.

I’d reverse-engineered our arrival at the concert: doors were opening at 18:30, therefore arrive at Hordern no later than 18:00, therefore get an Uber no later than 17:40, therefore wake up and start getting ready no later than 15:15. And yet, somehow I’d turned off my alarm in my sleep and awoke randomly at 16:34. How in the hell I allowed that to happen, I could not tell you.

I spent a couple of minutes feeling upset and trying not to panic, but soon accepted that since I’d already laid out my clothes, and had showered and washed my hair at home before getting on the road, what I’d really needed most was sleep. Rolling my eyes, I considered the jeans, long-sleeved shirt, and reversible vest I’d worn to an Incubus show in Sacramento in January 2000, which I had spent less than one second overthinking. I was going to see INCUBUS, not to the Marine Ball! (Or, at that time, sorority ball).


To my surprise, we still left more or less according to my original timetable. When we arrived, there were only about 50 people ahead of us in line. The Gen-X aura of subdued thrill was pervasive. I was wearing an Incubus band shirt from their 1997 S.C.I.E.N.C.E. tour: this shirt is now officially old enough to order a beer…in an American bar. One dude wearing a shirt from that era gave me the appraising head-tip equivalent of a “hell yeah”.

The gates opened, and one female guard said something about cloaking my collapsible little bag just because there was a pair of flats in there (in case my flip flops broke). But as we moved forward and were screened, the next guard didn’t say anything about it, so I just strolled away Uzbek airport-style, denying the legitimacy of their arbitrary rule enforcement.

Everything after that was yes and yes: yes there is food and you can bring it in there, yes we have tour shirts that aren’t yet available online, yes the beer is cold and cheap, and YES there is empty seating galore!

The pavilion is shaped like a U, with an open floor in front of the stage and limited, tiered seating on three sides. I think it’s probably been many years since real thrashing and moshing at Incubus shows, but after foot surgery in December and spinal surgery in January, I wasn’t going to even risk being on the floor in the crush. I am getting around all right and am less of a fall risk than before, but too much jostling could still put me in the hospital. So my plan was to rage happily from my chair, a place I wouldn’t have to physically defend for hours or lose while on a loo run.

While everyone else who came early tore down to the open floor space right below the stage, we went for seating and got front row, center stage seats! We were literally the first in the empty row. I could not have been more happy about having somewhere to sit.

The opening act eventually warmed up the crowd, and as we ate and drank, we watched the floor fill with people until all the seating and floor space was jam-packed. Sitting in sandals and with my sore back, I was immensely grateful for my seat. And that, kids, is why you get there early and drink some beers while occupying the space you want.

About the moment my heart exploded!

It was honestly such a great show. They sound so good live! Music, lights, background, vocals – everything was on point. I’d read criticisms that the acoustics in Hordern are subpar, but that wasn’t my experience. I spent my time enjoying it instead of trying to take awesome pics and vids.

Although I was a little bummed that Incubus didn’t play anything from my favorite album, S.C.I.E.N.C.E., I note that they did play relatively a LOT of their older songs (setlist below), more than I guess you could expect, which was fantastic. I found myself singing (yelling!) along with all the lyrics. The vibe in the arena was just a bonus – people stood in line, women in the bathroom were friendly, people kept the stairways and halls clear by giving each other some space. Good times. The other thing that made me a tiny bit sad was that I didn’t realize that the encore was the encore (beer fog? euphoria?). And so when the band left and the lights came on, I stayed for a long time first shocked and then smiling and soaking it all in. By the time I hit the bathroom on the way out, the cleaners were looking impatient.

No, thank YOU!! #enjoyIncubus


(1) Love in a Time of Surveillance {8; 2017}

(2) Warning {Morning View; 2001}

(3) Nimble Bastard {8; 2017}

(4) Anna Molly {Light Grenades; 2006}

(5) Glitterbomb {8; 2017}

(6) Megalomaniac {A Crow Left of the Murder; 2004}

(7) Paper Shoes {Light Grenades; 2006}

(8) Wish You Were Here {Morning View; 2001}

[with tribute to Pink Floyd’s Wish You Were Here]

(9) State of the Art {8; 2017}

(10) Pardon Me {Make Yourself; 1999}

(11) Circles {Morning View; 2001}

(12) Echo {Morning View; 2001}

(13) Pantomime {Alive at Red Rocks; 2004}

(14) Loneliest {Morning View; 2001}

(15) Sick Sad Little World {A Crow Left of the Murder; 2004}

(16) Talk Shows on Mute {A Crow Left of the Murder; 2004}

[with tribute to INXS’ Need You Tonight]

(17) No Fun {8; 2017}

Double Encore:

(18) Are You In? {Morning View; 2001}

(19) Drive {Make Yourself; 1999}

That night I slept with a head full of music.

The next morning, we had a wonderful breakfast and then started our day by heading over to my old apartment on Castlereagh Street. I first moved there in November 2005, after spending the first semester of my program in a suburban on-campus dorm. I had turned 27 by then and after a semester I was pretty done with dorm food and undergrad drama. It had been a nice landing spot (I’d paid extra to live in the new building constructed for extra athlete accommodation during the 2000 Olympics), but ultimately I decided to move in with some friends I’d met in my grad program. One of them was graduating and heading back to the States, so after hanging out there several times we all agreed on the arrangement of my taking her place.

The apartment itself was a two bedroom, two bath with a living room, kitchen, and wraparound sun porch/deck. What made it special was its address: the 23rd floor of Museum Towers across from Hyde Park. I paid more to have my own room and bathroom, although I agreed to let my bathroom double for guests. I stayed there almost eight months and still have a lot of fond memories. Below are some pictures to give you an idea of its incredible city view.

Rainbow from apartment balcony afer Chris chat 001

View from my bedroom after Yahoo Messenger chat with my brother, February 16, 2006

view from my bedroom

View of ANZAC Memorial & Hyde Park from my bedroom, April 18, 2006


On the roof with my Nana, April 28, 2006

So when my husband and I took an Uber to my old street, I had a moment where I wasn’t sure where I was, until I looked up and such a flood of recognition and nostalgia dawned. All these years that I have been gone, it has remained, filled with the lives and stuff and energy of other people. My roommates and I several years ago emailed each other when we noticed that “our” old apartment had sold… for north of 2 million bucks. For us, it will always and forever be “The Castle”.

We then walked through adjacent Hyde Park, past the ANZAC Memorial, and grabbed my first Starbucks in Australia (there isn’t a single Starbucks in Canberra, sob!). We sat for a while on a bench enjoying some shade after I had a minor crisis of exhaustion.

We eventually made our way past St. Mary’s Cathedral, the big fountain underneath the Sydney Tower, and down to the Royal Botanical Garden. It was the way I often used to walk from my place down to the Sydney Harbour and Circular Quay – through nature rather than through a down-hilly parallel cityscape.

When we finally arrived to the end of the gardens, we were treated to such a classic view, the novelty of which has never worn off for me through the years.


Months ago we booked a “tour and dine” package including a meal in the Opera House Bar restaurant and an insiders’ tour of the Opera House. I had already done it a couple of times long ago, but let’s face it – it’s always a good day to go to the Sydney Opera House. Opened in 1973 after almost two decades of planning, delays, political wrangling, and budget snafus, this UNESCO World Heritage Site is one of the world’s most recognizable buildings.


There are more than 2.5 million glazed ceramic tiles on the roof, and remarkably, they are self-cleaning. The tiles are actually two different colors: cream-colored and a brighter, more reflective white. Those entrusted with caring for this magnificent structure told us that they maintain several hundred thousand extra tiles in storage, so they will always be ready for repairs. We plan to celebrate New Year’s Eve this year at the Sydney Opera House, and let’s just say it is going to be once-in-a-lifetime epic!

When we got back to the hotel, we rested our tired bones in the rooftop pool and lounge. Later on Sunday evening we went to a Macedonian restaurant in the Sydney suburb of Newtown and ordered, well, everything.

Monday morning dawned and as the city went to work, we were still on holiday. After checking out of the hotel, we had to drive to the other side of the harbour but after a minor GPS failure in the tunnel, I managed to loop around and recross the water via the Sydney Harbour Bridge. I had crossed it on foot, and probably 100 times or more by bus, but never dreamed I would drive across it. I was trying so hard to stay in my lane I think I held my breath almost all the way across.

On my previous trips to the zoo, I had walked from home to Circular Quay and caught a ferry, so this was a whole new world. (I recommend the ferry for those who don’t drive on the left, but if you choose to drive, get there early for zoo garage parking and be ready for heaps of hills and roundabouts!)

The Taronga Zoo is set on a steep hill with gorgeous harbour views, and since the parking entrance is at the top, we enjoyed a few hours making our way down through the exhibits and then took the AirTram back up top. If you arrive from below by ferry, it’s a lot better to take the AirTram to the top and work your way down, unless you’re keen to hike the whole way uphill.


Yes, that is a real background!


Another beautiful day in Sydney

When we left, I made an attempt to swing by a Starbucks, but sadly the southernmost Starbucks in Sydney is at the airport and I didn’t realize it until it was really too late. I skipped it and contented myself with my water bottle and 20+ years of Incubus on shuffle. As my husband snoozed in the passenger seat, I smiled my way through the traffic back to Canberra. Until next time, Sydney.

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Sarah W Gaer

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