Live review: The Bamboos + Axolotl – The Hi-Fi, Brisbane – July 2012

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I arrive at the Hi-Fi bar in Brisbane’s West End on Saturday night, fully prepared to be wowed by The Bamboos and ready to get my groove on. After a bit of a wait at the entrance, much miscommunication, and a brief discussion with the venue manager in which I find myself having to convince her that I’m not actually asking to be let backstage for any devious or sordid reason (apparently “Paul from AAA Backstage” is easily mistaken for “I want to go backstage”), I walk into the packed main hall of the Hi-Fi and catch the end of support act Axolotl’s set.

Dreamy folk music is the sound that greets me from the Melbourne three-piece; a pleasant, floating ambience centred on the vocals of Bamboos member Ella Thompson. They remind me slightly of the scene from Twin Peaks where Julee Cruise sings ‘Falling’ in the Roadhouse, although much less creepy, and with infinitely better fashion sense.

Axolotl leave the stage to polite applause and the heavy curtains close for some time, allowing the audience to fall back into comfortable conversation and sip on their beverages. Some time passes, and almost unsuspectingly the curtains suddenly whip open to reveal the nine-piece Bamboos, looking all kinds of dapper in their smart suits and colourful dresses. Frontman and songwriter Lance Ferguson and singer Kylie Auldist take the stage front-and-centre as the band launch into ‘What I Know’, while “We are the Bamboos, make some noise!” is the call. The sound is at once stylish, clean, and slick, and the band an engaging sight; there is just so much to look at and plenty of movement across all members.

By second song ‘Cut Me Down’ most of the audience is dancing along to the Bamboos’ mix of soul, pop, and funk, and ‘Now That You Are Mine’ and ‘Daydream’ follow. Auldist has one hell of a voice, Ferguson is the epitome of cool at this point, and I especially notice Graeme Pogson’s mastery behind the kit.

Ferguson introduces ‘Window’ as “a song I wrote for the late, great Amy Winehouse” and Auldist pulls it off brilliantly; she really puts everything into her vocals and leaves nothing in the tank.

Soon it is time for the unquestionable highlight of the evening, and as rumoured it is in the form of one Megan Washington. The Brisbane chanteuse is champing at the bit to get on stage as Ferguson introduces her, and she is looking fantastic dressed in all black, with dark lipstick to match. She throws her arms into the air and generally flails around as the band launch into Kings of Leon cover ‘King of the Rodeo’, which includes Anton Delecca absolutely killing the flute solo (words I would never have expected to say). Until now I generally considered flute solos to be about as cool as a punch to the lower spine, but this one is impressive in all kinds of ways.

Next up for Washington is a cover of James Blake’s ‘The Wilhelm Scream’ which she says is “a song about a junkie”, before saying hello to her dad, who is in the audience somewhere. Then her final song of the evening and contribution to latest album Medicine Man, ‘Eliza’, proves to be the best of the night, as Washington puts everything into her vocal, before leaving the stage to massive cheers.

How to follow such a performance from a much-loved hometown singer? The answer for the Bamboos isn’t easy to find, as the rest of the show slowly peters out and I retire to the bar area and watch one particular guy, who is steaming drunk, dance like a maniac. ‘You Ain’t No Good’ and ‘I Got Burned’ follow before an encore of ‘Like Tears in Rain’ and ‘Keep Me In Mind’ finish the show, and the Bamboos leave the stage to cheers and plenty of applause.

The Bamboos have taken giant strides forward with the song writing on Medicine Man and that comes across in the live arena. Overall it is a great night of soulful good times, with Megan Washington not only providing the best moments, but also strangely killing off the rest of the show as her performance can’t be matched. Advice to the Bamboos: only collaborate with people who are slightly less talented than you, lest they steal the show.

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