LIVE REVIEWS

AHAB: TOFF IN TOWN (Thursday March 15 2012)
Published in Beat issue 1313

Port Fairy might sound like a quiet hamlet of elderlies, but last weekend more than 150,000 folk fans spilled through the little town for the annual Port Fairy Folk Music Festival. And it would seem, from the turnout on Thursday March 15, that a large portion of them were floored by London 4-piece ahab. Hailing from the borough of Hackney, ahab’s sound is straight from the American south, filled with mandolin, guitar and cantering soft-stick drums.

From the very first song, these lads wrapped tendrils around the large crowd gathered at the Toff in Town. “Were you at Port Fairy?” and “Did you go to Port Fairy?” were incessantly whispered by rapt young women throughout the room, but once the boys began to hit their straps there was no time for pleasantries but only for some serious dancing to done get danced.

Only two out of the five on stage were sporting flannelette shirts, which ain’t bad for an alt-country band. With lead singer Dave Burn looking like a young Peter Andre and bassist Callam Anderson channelling James Franco circa Freaks and Geeks, it’s no wonder the boys’ elfin banter was punctuated by excited giggles from the crowd. Not that it was an especially young group: A number of middle-aged fans pressed right up to the stage’s edge and even instructed the youth to shut it on a couple of occasions.
Lightnin’ Bug and Call a Waiter rocked out early on and showcased the boys’ ability to enmesh their voices into a sort of harmonised caramel. Love is Hell, sung by Anderson (who at this point was playing a guitar – there was so much instrument-swapping it was staggering) was magical: “My, my, my, love is hell” delicately rumbled across the room, the heartbreak tangible in the air. The tenderness gave way to a foot-stomping rabble when Joanna and Million Reasons led the last part of the set.

The most warm and raw voice of the four is Burn’s, whose tone sounded like something simmering or growing in slow motion, particularly in the stand-out track Soho. However, it is clear that ahab are so attuned to one another that their voices work wonderfully in harmony as well as each on their own. During their encore (and a quick WC break for their drummer), the four fellows stood close together to deliver an acoustic Father’s Eyes, which lit up the room. Everybody crunched in and stamped, clapped, sang along like a commune after a long day picking cotton and fighting off wild animals with rakes. The set was rounded out with the debut single Rosebud, and there wasn’t a dry armpit in the house after the dancing frenzy. Everyone retreated to the tiny balcony to breathe some cool air and let the rain wash off the red dust.

 BEN KWELLER supported by YOUNG REVELRY: HI-FI BAR (Monday March 5 2012)

The third and final show of Young Revelry’s supporting spot for Ben Kweller’s Australian tour began with semi-spirit on Monday night, as my housemate Miss Oniwaski and I bought ciders and made an easy route to the base of Hi-Fi’s stage.

Bassist Tyler Millot’s hip-shot grace immediately took the spotlight but vocalist Seb Astone’s voice, usually strong with spoken-word gravity, started out a little heavy and oppressive. ‘Nineteen Seventy-Three’ saw a lost opportunity for dynamism in the breaks but did offer Astone space to start soaring.

Hi there, who is that half-Singaporean deftly weaving around the cables? Surprise tech! Alfi Dalloway, fill-in bassist from the Workers’ show last month. In fact, the line-up for Young Revs has seen a few temporary twists in past weeks, with Millot beginning what looks to be an extended membership, and the addition of limber guitarist Joe Connolly. For Kweller’s tour, the unfortunate inability of drummer Shaun Sibbes to mesh work commitments has meant Daniel Marie from Ballarat band Hunting Grounds (formerly Howl) has picked up the sticks. Marie did well; while not matching the delight and fervour of Sibbes’ showmanship, he did make particular songs his own with innovative tom fills and some sensitive cymbals.

‘You and I’ burst out as the first song where all the Revs looked like they were enjoying themselves. Astone really hit his straps with the closing, repeated lyric ‘you always got the best out of love’ – clear and beautiful. ‘Hey Now’ got some more limbs moving, and was succeeded by the epic single ‘Never That Close’. Always an impressive live track, the powerful main riff was accompanied by a moody smoke & light effect, very like when Harry sees Snape’s patronus over the lake (apologies for spoils). A good performance with interesting new dynamics, but ultimately falling below previous shows’ standards.

As Oniwaski and I awaited Kweller’s entrance, I was alarmed to see that the man beside us whom I thought was wearing a mohair jumper was actually just boasting extremely hairy arms, and we began to look around at the crowd. I wanted to get an idea of what to expect from Kweller, whose music I don’t know well but vaguely remember from a few years ago. When the innocuous fellow did appear on stage, it was plain to see that most of his fans share his aesthetic, excluding the man beside my housemate and I.

A humble and sincere talent, the Texan Kweller sports shiny curls, a rather pasty face and very smooth skin that the sweat ran off of like rain on a freshly waxed bonnet. The wedding band and protruding Adam’s apple were the only details to betray his manhood. ‘Hospital Bed’ was a particular joy to listen to, and Kweller’s jaunty sways continued there behind the keyboard as they had when he was picking his guitar.

Half-way through, Oniwaski and I began to get a bit jaded. The sweetness was turning saccharine. I didn’t feel special any more, and the lyrics ‘I’ll do anything you want me to’ sounded like every other promise this sweet-talker had made. When he mentioned owning the Cocktail soundtrack without ever having seen the film, asking the audience “Isn’t that weird? When do you buy the soundtrack without seeing the movie?” Oniwaski shouted incredulously ‘ALL THE TIME. ALL THE TIME’ while looking around to see if anyone else could believe this madness.

There were small moments of great sensitivity and beauty, but the conclusion was this: A little bit wussy.

CAMERAS: THE WORKERS CLUB (Saturday July 14 2012)
Published in Beat issue 1329

Despite some initial sound and setting-up issues which saw them begin almost half an hour late, Cameras did an incredible job of creating the deep atmosphere which swirls up around you when listening to their tracks recorded. Lead vocalist and keys player Eleanor is very tall with exceptionally long legs and a haughty mouth, and as such had some problems deciding whether to use the rickety chair provided for her or get her band mates to lift her enormous instrument while she adjusted its stand. Once they were on their way though, Cameras had the crowd’s attention for the whole set.

Opening with Polarise, Eleanor’s brilliant projection saw her thick but delicately controlled voice bowl to the room’s corners. Drummer Ben Mason (who looks rather like John Turturro inBarton Fink) used open snare to great effect, and the 16ths on the hats were just crisp enough to make the awesome light/dark duality work. Vocalist and guitarist Fraser Harvey showed his graceful ease on stage straight away, and his voice provided a great James Murphy-esque counter to the female vocals.

Break Hands’ intro was absolutely gorgeous, with Eleanor really showing her piano chops. At its conclusion she seemed quite genuinely emotionally affected from playing it. During Patience, It Was The Truth guitarist Mike Murphy (whose birthday we all applauded) sang along to himself while Harvey took the lead mic. In fact, Murphy sang happily along to most tracks which I just love seeing; there’s an uninhibited joy in it, when the audience obviously can’t hear (hence not for their benefit).The following track saw Eleanor back on the mic and bawling it out like a zeppelin coming down on fire: slowly, with incredible mass and gravity, and scarily beautiful.

Just before Kruezberg, Harvey needed a break. “Wait, wait wait,” he said, picking up his glass and zooming it towards his face, “it’s been like three songs since I had wine.” I think a good portion of the audience realised this was true of themselves as well, as the show was so intense it promoted short-term amnesia. During this track and the next, Eleanor got a little excited and rushed her thumping keys which detracted slightly from the gallop but otherwise it was hard to fault her – an excellent musician.

I understand now why, as Harvey said during our Beat interview a few weeks ago, people stand quietly and just ‘take it in’ at Cameras’ shows: you want to thrash around to the drums beating against your ribs (this is certainly danceable stuff), but you also want to keep still to make sure you hear every single note.

LOVED: So loud.
HATED: Extended equipment problems. No soundcheck prior?
DRANK: Dirty Granny.

 EMMA LOUISE: NORTHCOTE SOCIAL CLUB (Friday June 29 2012)
Published in Beat issue 1327

It was a diverse collective at Friday’s sold-out Northcote Social Club show for Emma Louise. One girl in the front with curly ropes of hair looked like Lulu from Human Traffic and another maturely wrinkled lady was patting people on the head in excited anticipation while the stage curtains were still drawn. The diminutive star of the night appeared in a deep red velvet dress with a white collar, and her now shoulder-length hair in Swedish braids. Opening with Seventeen Hours, the honeyed harmonies provided by sole backup singer Hannah Shepherd (who also played some excellent keys) drew the audience into a quiet reverie. Emma is very charismatic on stage but doesn’t truly realise her power, with slight unpretentious squints and sneers during the most emotive notes. While it was a pleasure to hear how pure her voice is, as she stuck loyally to her record’s sound, but this same approach let down the backing band a little. I expected more acoustic-ness in the performance, but there seemed too much of a disconnect between what the band was doing on-stage and what we were hearing. During Stain Ache, a shaker came in; after searching high and low on the stage there is still no material person to be seen actually playing it. More live percussion would have done wonders, despite the electronic elements in her sound.

Flannelette Sheets was a particularly gorgeous track, and it became obvious here that we were getting a big glimpse into her next album, due out in early 2013. With every chord in the song, Emma reached her hand back up to gently grasp the mic; it felt like she didn’t want to leave us long. A very present performer, the connection between her and the audience was strong.

The penultimate track was 1000 Sundowns, and Emma precluded it with a small speech about its meaning: her Auntie and Uncle met when they were 16, and were together every minute until her Uncle passed away from cancer. What followed was an astonishingly moving rendition, which I watched through teary eyes, I’m not ashamed to say. “I still don’t understand encores,” Emma laughed after the audience had cheered her back on to stage. Shepherd grasped her gold-ringed hands gently together in a most unaware way for the final song, as the two friends closed the show. Emma Louise is a disarming figure and so very there, when performing, that it wasn’t difficult to forget the room was packed.

LOVED: She’s obviously besties with her band.
HATED: Too many samples overshadowing said band.
DRANK: Cider.

LOST ANIMAL: PHOENIX PUBLIC HOUSE (Friday May 18 2012)
Published in Beat issue 1323

Having won the title of Beat’s Album of the Year in 2011, Aussie Jarrod Quarrell is touring Ex Tropical and clearly having a lot of oddly nonchalant fun while doing so. On this particular night, he was celebrating the vinyl release of the album with an all-too-rare headline show. The Phoenix Public House was packed out with fans and other notable industry luminaries (Paul Kelly’s dimples were hanging at the bar) to see the box-jawed guy do his stuff.

Opening with Don’t Litter, Quarrell took the opportunity to point our attention to Shags Chamberlain on bass, whose chops perfectly fit the song’s minor thirds and Drive-like (in the ’80s noir sense) ambiance. Say No To Thugs delivered a weirdly sexual but sentimental schmaltz. Quarrell was initially only in charge of vocals here but still had total command over the track. He then leapt onto an organ and in the ensuing frenzy, ended up looking and sounding like a Frenchman artfully losing his cool.

Quarrell’s vocals are strong but not stronger than most; he’s deep on the pitch register but not deeper than most; it’s the fact that his presence truly permeates things which makes him stand out as a charismatic figure and an accomplished musician (despite the fact he doesn’t really look like a frontman).

The peculiar, laid-back, extremely hot, tropicana soup continued as the crowd tried its best to dance while smooshed in against one another. A brilliant and eerie sound like skeletons playing on marimbas rolled over the audience as the percussionist in the red beanie shook maracas and what appeared to be two gym weights – the auxiliary instruments really took this show to another level. Underneath the coconut island vibe of Ex Tropical is something far more deep and dark, and it was communicated in a totally compelling way in the live mode.

LOVED: The crowd – everyone was stoked to be there.
HATED: Knowing it’ll shortly be curtains for this awesome venue.
DRANK: Tequila shots.

 MUTEMATH: THE CORNER HOTEL (Tuesday May 15 2012)
Published in Beat issue 1322

Mutemath have made a huge impression in Australia during their first visit in this form, and they’re not coy about expressing their joy. It’s a grand thing, considering the acts they’ve been offered up to as (sacrifice?) support in the past, and no wonder Warner had problems deciding what to do with them – so much so their contract was nearly shelved early on. The New Orleans four-piece are truly original and each musician is highly accomplished in his own right, making for an incredibly exciting and technically explosive combo live.

An eerie clothesline crucifix strung with fairy lights traipsed through and above the crowd, while synths built sand with a grain of salt to accompany the procession. Odd Soul burst out as the group appeared on stage, with guitarist Todd Gummerman playing up the trills and drummer Darren King mixing up his fills every time. Lead vocalist Paul Meany immediately made it clear there are no fancy production tricks going on with his voice on record – he can hit every one of those high notes and does so while attacking the keyboards in perfect rhythm.

Pryotania was next and the sound desk seemed to be having a couple problems mixing Meany’s vocals, which is forgivable considering the amount and variation of sounds which were emanating from the dais. King was also visually lost momentarily, in a billow of smoke, which was a shame as he’s amazing to watch – doing his nana and shaking his head like a dog. Things balanced again by the time single Blood Pressure began; Meany’s keys were a particular wonder. Moving about with elation, his left hand beat at the keyboard like he’s enthusiastically patting an Alsatian and his right kept the funky chords going. Dedicating an instrumental jam of Odd Soul to the late MCA, Meany told the crowd that the Beasties have always been a great influence on what Mutemath do.

There is a real element of jazz about the ensemble; several tracks began with drums and/or organ, then introduced each instrument into the fold. Their grooves are actually like a very tight funk band, each dude really getting the feel of the others as songs progressed and improvisations increased. The keys became off-beat, and Meany recorded the crowd’s singing and yelling, mixing it percussively into the track.

Precluding Chaos by stating that they’ve “been together for eight years,” and were “trying to cram everything in,” the next half an hour included confetti bazookas gunning around Meany while he sang from on top of the sound desk, King handing his drums out to the audience and then thrashing at them like a Michel Gondry clip, a rousing rendition of the band’s Like A Version track (Alicia Keys’ Fallin’) and Meany rowing his way around the crowd in a blow-up boat. Mutemath managed to squish everything in and more, and it’s impossible to do these legends justice in this many words.

LOVED: Meany. Like, I am in love.
HATED: When it ended.
DRANK: Cider.

SAN CISCO: THE CORNER HOTEL (Wednesday May 2 2012)
Published in Beat issue 1320

Girl drummers are awesome, not just because they are doing this very physically demanding thing on stage and showing they can rock it as hard as the guys, but because of all the other downtime stuff that goes along with the instrument, which seems a bother. You’ve got to carry awkward things, manoeuvre cumbersome cases and adjust oddly-placed nuts whilst crouching or in otherwise unladylike positions. You also can’t play sitting side-saddle. San Cisco’s Scarlett Stevens impressed The Corner very thoroughly with her ability to navigate all these things on this Wednesday, and the show was a truly danceable, indie-pop success despite my initial misgivings.

Singer Jordi Davieson’s innocent speaking voice belies his beautifully strong singing voice – his notes are round and robust like they’re coming through a giant conch shell but there’s a sincere vulnerability to them too. Early on, Fred Astaireshowcased Jordi’s skills as well as guitarist Josh Biondillo’s jiggy, Strokes-y style. Stevens brought her sticks way up high, enjoying the playful track.

Covering Arctic Monkey’s 505, the parallel between the two bands was clear. Lover followed with an extremely cool melody and some great 5.6.7.8’s style rhythms from Stevens, with the double snare and all. Biondillo played keys, producing an apt merry-go-round-the-Hammond sound.

Reckless was another stand-out, with big melodies flying up and down and a huge finish. All endings were pretty excellent in fact: crisp and sweet without any self-indulgent messing around. Around this point, somebody in the crowd threw a love letter (presumably) up onto stage, which Davieson retrieved. “I’m Scarlett’s PA now,” he joked, as Stevens opened the cologne-misted (presumably) missive. She responded with a coy but firm “thank you,” and the show resumed.

At the opening bars of Awkward everyone looked alive and it really was a great rendition of the track which reached number seven in last year’s Hottest 100. To be honest I expected less effort from these young cats, but they’re determined and they nailed this gig. Hats off.

LOVED: Spritely old lady fan in the tartan hat.
HATED: Many fans staring blankly at the stage.
DRANK: Sparkling wine, just ‘cause.

SNAKADAKTAL: NORTHCOTE SOCIAL CLUB (Saturday March 17 2012)
Published in Beat issue 1315

The dichotomy of Snakadaktal is one that few bands should ever be so lucky to have to own: Their confidence and patience when playing live is offset by several odd little reminders that they are in fact teenagers (which in itself usually means eagerness and awkwardness). Their packed show at the Northcote Social Club on Saturday March 17 followed a trail of capacity gigs from the very beginning of the year, with many dates for the rest of their March/April tour around the country already sold-out. These guys truly deserve it.

With bright Rorschach visuals playing behind them, and a hand-made blue and white banner off to the side of the room (which was oddly reminiscent of house swimming sports, particularly the way the letters were skewed the way you might to do make a school project look more exciting), Snakadaktal impressed right away with an innovative stage set-up. Drummer Barna is elevated to the north-west, so that everyone can see him and take cues, not unlike the way you’d set up for a rehearsal. Joseph, Jarrah and Sean (guitarist, bassist and singer/guitarist respectively) are lined up lazily to the right of the kit, and singer/synths darling Phoebe graces stage-right.

The most wonderful thing about Snakadaktal is their afore-mentioned patience. They are not afraid to take their time on a beautiful, thumping build-up where fools (or the inexperienced) would rush in. Solid house drums get the crowd going and the boys’ psychedelic, bleating guitars wash over the top. The approach could be naff but Barna rarely closes his hats, which makes for a laid-back sound. During Carnival he utilises tight drum machine claps. The song sounds rather like a girl’s journey growing from the playroom to her adolescent diary, with the keys glowing like bells. Phoebe’s playing is in fact the cornerstone of this act: It could sound pedestrian without her varied sounds.
During Chimera the crowd stamps so hard there’s almost a shower of glitter from their faces, which they’ve painted to match the band. It doesn’t look pretentious, by the by, but just like they’ve come from playing in the park. One is also a spectacular favourite, with a great harpsichord sound from Phoebe and the guitarists all playing on off-beats. Impossible not to dance to.

Snakadaktal have all the hallmarks of a band about to burst out into the wider mainstream consciousness but none of the uppity accessories. They excitedly came straight out to speak to the crowd after the set, meaning that after their last song they walked off side-stage (for show), then walked back on as everyone was milling about, grabbed their stray picks and jumped off the front foldbacks to a small table under their banner, and started signing. With the confidence to let their sound build and leave space for gorgeous harmonics, Snakadaktal’s star is on the up and up.

THE ROLLING STONES’ STICKY FINGERS TRIBUTE: CHERRY BAR (Saturday November 19 2012)

If you had any wayward belief that Melbourne’s love for the Rolling Stones had gathered a particular green patina, Saturday’s tributary session at Cherry Bar would have resolutely banged it on the head. There was quite a bit of head-banging actually, from fans across the age spectrum as well as the musicians themselves, as the entirety of the Stones’ seminal 1971 album Sticky Fingers rolled across AC/DC lane. Featuring the talents of Spencer P Jones and Ash Naylor, the impressive ‘supergroup’ was assembled to celebrate the 40th anniversary of the LP’s release.

The record’s artwork is almost as renowned as its anthem Wild Horses: The cover of the original release featured a real zipper on the fly of the model’s jeans, which could be pulled down to reveal cotton briefs inside. It was also the first time the group’s iconic ‘tongue and lips’ logo was used, if you can believe there was ever a time when it wasn’t the most recognisable insignia within the rock world. You certainly wouldn’t think so looking at the crowd which assembled to hear Sticky Fingers played from beginning to end.

I must admit, I missed the opening track as I was at a Ukranian hens’ party. Coincidentally, Brown Sugar would have been a truly apt accompaniment to the fireman’s strip routine we were being treated to at that moment so I like to think I was there in spirit. Sway struck inoffensively enough with a very nice groove, featuring the legendary Spencer P Jones on vocals, and some particularly impressive sounds on the keys from Ben Timmis. Wild Horses still makes me think of Marky Mark and Reese Witherspoon on that roller coaster so let’s move on to Can’t You Hear Me Knockin’ which was a total gem: Andre Warhurst (Silver Night Drive and KRAM) ensured there was plenty of Jagger spirit infused into his vocals, and the crowd made its appreciation known.

Dave Larkin of Dallas Crane attacked the classic Bitch, making it his own with red-blooded grit. Bitch was followed by I Got the Blues and Sister Morphine, both sung by Carl Treasure (Devilrock Four). Ben Marlsand produced some juicy sax for the former track, which also gave drummer Shaun Sibbes (Young Revelry) a chance to show off his ability to make even a simple beat sound and look incredible.

The finale of Moonlight Mile brought Ash Naylor to the helm, and the house down. A thorough success, and I’ll not be surprised if more shows put together in this way over the summer. This could even become an annual event at Cherry Bar: God knows there’s enough material to have a party almost every year. I will certainly be looking forward to more of the like.

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