Riverbank Palais: Adelaide festival gets decadent with floating 1920s dance hall

Modern incarnation of the ‘Taj Mahal of the Torrens’ will serve as festival’s hub and have entertainment co-directed by Neil Armfield and Rachel Healy

Do South Australia’s flappers still have their sea legs? This March, they will get the chance to find out on board the Riverbank Palais, a homage to a decadent floating dance hall that was Adelaide’s premier nightclub during the roaring 20s.

Berthed off Elder Park, the modern incarnation of the “Taj Mahal of the Torrens” – which originally featured five Moorish domes – will, together with the on-shore Parc Palais, serve as the hub for this year’s Adelaide festival, with entertainment co-directed by Neil Armfield and Rachel Healy.

There is plenty going on by day, with weekday mornings occupied by Breakfast With Papers – current affairs discussion over coffee with leading media personalities – while weekends will feature leisurely long lunches curated by culinary entities such as Gill Minervini (Dark Mofo) and Duncan Welgemoed (Africola).

A utilitarian mesh of steel beams and plywood, the vessel doesn’t exactly ooze 1920s class in the harsh glare of the Adelaide sun but it really comes into its own by night as a dazzling maze of neon lights, geometric patterns and, of course, plenty of music.

It all kicks off with an opening night performance by the swinging Andrew Nolte and His Orchestra.

Andrew Nolte and his Orchestra Adelaide Festival Media 2 credit Rebecca Hayes
True to the era: Andrew Nolte and his Orchestra will be playing the Riverbank Palais at Adelaide festival. Photograph: Rebecca Hayes

Dripping with sweat in his black tie after performing on a scorching hot preview night, Nolte told Guardian Australia the music would be true to the era, even down to his authentic 1926 carbon microphone.

“We stuck within those bounds of musical choice of actual tunes published back then in America and available in Australia, for bands not dissimilar to ours in venues like this,” he said. “We’re an accurate representation of exactly what they would have heard in the time of the Palais.”

The rest of the ticketed musical line-up is of a more contemporary bent, including chillwave innovator Toro Y Moi and the American singer-songwriter Kurt Vile, while Neil Finn will be putting on a free concert on 5 March.

Australian talent will also be on offer, including the Sydney folk trio All Our Exes Live In Texas and indie legends Dave Graney ’n’ the Coral Snakes.

Up late, the Riverbank Palais will bob to the Afrobeat and reggae-infused DJ sets of New Yorker Nickodemus as well as Adelaide’s own Late Nite Tuff Guy, among others.

The modern looks, sound and tastes on offer would be distinctly out of place in the 20s but perhaps it is best to chart a new course given the fate of the original Palais De Danse: in 1929, the vessel was sunk by a series of mysterious explosions, attributed at the time to business rivals of its colourful owner, Barcroft Teesdale Smith.

Nolte and his 10-piece orchestra will be doing their best to recreate the Palais De Danse experience on opening night, bar the explosions, of course: “There are a few explosive solos in our tunes but hopefully none that cause any material damage.”

The Riverbank Palais is part of Adelaide festival and will be open from 2–19 March


Max Opray

The GuardianTramp

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