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Live review: Dead Letter Circus + Closure In Moscow + Sleep Parade – The Hi-Fi, Brisbane – 14/9/13

Those of us whose ears still have that droning mrrrrrrhhhhh sound resonating from BIGSOUND and related gigs should probably have stayed at home tonight, instead of heading along to West End’s The Hi-Fi Bar to catch bands whose volume levels could be described as toweringly gargantuan, at the very least. But alas, here we are; our battered ear-drums present and correct to take another beating at the hands of one of Brisbane’s finest alt-rock bands of late. Ear-plugs have never been my thing; I see wearing them at a gig as like going to a pie-eating contest and taping up your mouth, although I’ll probably revise this approach when the pain of hearing even the softest folkie becomes too much. Secretly and somewhat desperately, I’m banking on bionic ears being readily and cheaply available from Big W or K-Mart by the time I hit retirement age, otherwise I’m pretty much fucked. Either that or I’ll have walked in front of a bus by 35, having not heard it barrelling towards me at 110 kph with horns blaring. So it goes.

The first band to take several years off my hearing lifetime tonight is Sleep Parade; the Melburnians putting in a solid set of searing guitar lines and apocalyptic drums, despite being a bit cramped to the front of the stage so as to avoid the range of gear laid out for the head-liners. A large and enthusiastic crowd has already made The Hi-Fi close to uncomfortably full, and give the alt-rockers a rapturous response, especially after singer-guitarist Leigh Davies does the old playing-the-geetar-with-the-teeth trick. Nice.

Next up is a band who are also capable of putting out suitably massive amounts of sound to further reduce my chances of listening to Keith Richards’ 100th birthday concert; Closure In Moscow. The Melbourne prog-rockers take to the stage after some time and blare out monumental levels of noise, centred on the grandiose lead vocals of front-man Christopher de Cinque. Yeah, he might look like an avant-garde Vince Neil circa 1987 and dress like a dandified Goth complete with silk shirt, gold medallion, and shorts so tight they remind me of the time I wrapped the Christmas ham in cling-film, but he has a voice strong enough to make all the luminous skull-waving silliness seem like a secondary part of the show, and nothing more than a bit of harmless fun.

Closure In Moscow
Closure In Moscow

Dead Letter Circus enter from stage right at around 11:30, and after only a couple of notes from Stewart Hill’s bass I know the future is bleak for being able to hear stuff. First up is opener from latest album The Catalyst Fire ‘The Cure’ followed by ‘The Mile’ and ‘Reaction’. After ‘Alone Awake’ huge chants of “D.L.C! D.L.C!” reverberate around a by-now close-to-capacity Hi-Fi. Security guards here have a reputation for zero-tolerance in regards to crowd-surfing and moshing, and it’s at this point one particular thrill-seeking lad is hauled from his lofty position atop a couple of dozen audience members’ heads and slung back into the crowd where he is suddenly introduced into my world with a sudden clash of skulls. Well played Mr. Security Man – don’t you just have a giant pair of primitive balls that we should all be so impressed with, ya big fuckin’ knucklehead? Never mind, as by the time the on-fire band get to new single ‘Lode Star’ the audience has lost their collective shit and is enjoying the sounds and spectacle as one. After an encore including a massive ‘Next In Line’ we make for home, and as I cross Victoria Bridge with an even bigger mrrrrrrhhhhh sound in my ears for accompaniment, I’m grateful for the lack of buses running at this time of night. Well played, Dead Letter Circus.

Live review: BIGSOUND Live 2013 – Brisbane – Paul McBride

Mining Boom
Mining Boom

Trying to remember everything that happened at BIGSOUND Live 2013 is like trying to pee with an extreme case of stage-fright; you just gotta persevere until you get it all out. When the moment of sweet, glorious relief comes, a million sweat-drenched, beer-stained memories pour out at a rate quicker than Bakery Lane filled up in the minutes before Billy Bragg hit the stage. Here are at least some of mine, mostly unsullied by the passage of time.

Forget all the industry shenanigans, the free tote bags covered in corporate logos, the lanyard-wearing, glassy-eyed matronly types who look like they haven’t been to a gig since Led Zep were last in town, the live section of BIGSOUND is – and always will be – about the bands, and there is no shortage of fine examples to sink our teeth into this time around.

Looking at the program for Wednesday evening, one name leaps out immediately: The Delta Riggs. Having seen them four or five times before, I’m keen to maybe give them a miss this time and check out someone new; perhaps Patrick James or Mama Kin – that being the whole point of BIGSOUND Live. But after procuring my blue wristband shortly before 8pm I am drawn by some invisible force towards The Zoo, where subconsciously I know there will be a rock ‘n’ roll show that probably won’t be beaten, and before I know it, I’m watching the five lithe blues-rockers knock out a suitably raucous start to proceedings. One of the great things about each band’s set being only thirty minutes is that no time is wasted cutting to the chase, and The ‘Riggs do so with ‘Stars’ and ‘America’; the first two tracks off their latest album. Frontman Elliott Hammond is all hips and wrists as usual, and as ‘Rah Rah Radio’ is fired off into a rapidly filling venue, we all know we’re in for a good night.

The walk to Electric Playground takes about two minutes, or about the same length as one of Sydney punk-poppers Bloods‘ songs. The trio of MC, Sweetie, and Dirk are all smiles and clearly enjoying themselves as they play songs from their new EP, Golden Fang, and even manage to fit a new song in, because “we’re such professionals we’re going to play a new song in front of a bunch of industry people.” There’s something pretty special about their brand of garage-punk-pop and their vibe is infectious; a clear line runs from the earliest days of Brat-pop in the fifties, to classic punk bands like The Ramones, and through to the best of nineties girl alt-rock bands. Despite some ear-melting feedback, ‘Bodies’ and ‘No Fun’ are catchy early numbers, and the slower, more melodic ‘Back To You’ rounds things out nicely. In truth, we all could stay in Electric Playground all night and have an absolute blinder, with Dune Rats, King Gizzard & The Lizard Wizard, Bleeding Knees Club, and Regurgitator putting in appearances, but alas, my fate lies elsewhere.

Next comes possibly the most diabolical timetable clash of the whole deal, as Billy Bragg, Mining Boom, and Yukon Blonde all play at the same time (I’m not concerned with Cub Sandwich, or whatever they’re called now). As I stand in the static queue to see Billy Bragg and am told by a staff member that Bakery Lane is at capacity, I recall the words of Bragg himself from his earlier keynote. “If you want change, it’s your responsibility, not mine,” and “Singer-songwriters can’t change the world. The only people who can is the audience.” With this, I immediately decide to leave the queue and go see relative newbies Mining Boom at Ric’s, and am almost instantly glad I did.

One of the first of several top performances by Perth bands this year, their set is a ragged, charming, and eccentric mix of self-conscious indie-rock stoner beauty and unassuming pop melodies. Opener ‘Craigie’ may be the best song played by any band anywhere tonight, or anywhere this year. With lines like “One day I will bash that cunt, and it won’t be pretty and it won’t be fun, but one day I will bash that cunt,” it’s a song that will stay with you a long time, and ‘Telecom’ is a wonderfully scratchy ode to the “fifty buck cap and unlimited texts”. If you weren’t one of the thirty or forty or so people here tonight, I’m tellin’ ya – you missed out. Sorry about that.

Back at The Zoo, Stonefield are getting ready to be the loudest band here tonight, and they proceed to be just that. The four sisters from Victoria step onto the stage in front of a large and sweaty audience and with singing drummer Amy Findlay taking the front-woman role for the initial part of the set, the band kick into crushing opener ‘Blackwater Rising’ and all of a sudden I want to drink harder, rock harder, and break out my The Doors and Jimi Hendrix records. New single ‘Put Your Curse On Me’ rocks in a similar fashion to their earlier tracks, and just when you think Amy’s voice can’t possibly take any more, she cranks up the action several notches more for a colossal finish.

Stonefield
Stonefield

The fight to get into Electric Playground to see King Gizzard & The Lizard Wizard isn’t one I’m ever going to win, so it’s back to Ric’s I go for a dose of dark indie-rock courtesy of Bad//Dreems. I’m going to say it here and now – these guys were the highlight of the first night of BIGSOUND. Yeah, they look like a bunch of bogans who just finished a shift carrying bricks at a building site, but they’ve got the tunes and an us-against-the-world attitude that, when combined with the sticky, almost unbreathable air and electrical-cables-lying-in-puddles-of-beer aesthetic of the front bar, it makes for quite the show. At times they might seem to opt for sheer brutality of sound from their traditional two guitars, bass, and drums set-up, but on songs like ‘Chills’ they show they can really play, and the barrage of noise that blasts the audience’s ears during closer ‘Caroline’ comes as one of those moments in which you wouldn’t trade places with anyone in the world.

Money For Rope are a Melbourne band whose surf-rock and dual-drummer sound is perfect for a venue like The Zoo, and in front of a large crowd they put in a hair-twirlingly energetic set. Mostly featuring songs from their excellent debut album, like second track ‘Easy Way Out’, their tunes take from the best of the classic rock bands like The Who and The ‘Stones, and chuck in liberal doses of flailing limbs and sweat.

Thursday night’s gig-going starts off at The Zoo once again, with Canberra’s Fun Machine. Covered in enough glitter to partially blind the growing audience, the band confidently flow through their first show in Brisbane like a pop-punk version of Scissor Sisters in hotpants. It’s a good warm-up for their upcoming shows to launch new single ‘Naked Body’.

It somehow seems strange that it’s taken until now for me to darken the door of Oh Hello! and the Triple J Unearthed stage, but Brisbane’s own pop up-and-comers Major Leagues provide enough of a draw to pull me in. Sometimes when I see them play, I want to turn the vocal volume up a couple of levels, but ultimately their understated approach is part of their appeal. Single ‘Endless Drain’ is a high point, as are the guitar lines on ‘Teen Mums’ as the packed venue heaves and sweats in unison with the band’s sweet melodies.

Over at Ric’s Sydney’s Born Lion are embarking on some sort of jazz odyssey and spewing out words that sound suspiciously like Percy Sledge’s ‘When A Man Loves A Woman’. “When a man loves a woman, he just wants to fuck her,” apparently, although this approach quickly gives way to an indecipherable wall of scream-y, squally, no-frills punk-in-tight-pants noise and head-banging that has the small venue packed to the gills once more.

By this stage Oh Hello! is rammed for The Love Junkies, and it soon becomes clear why, as the Perth trio put in the performance of night two. Relentless and raucous from start to finish, the retro rockers fill a set with bluesy grunge and rock riffs and plenty of energy from the off, and as early as second track ‘Black Sheep’ it feels like a fire has been lit under the arse of BIGSOUND and something is about to explode or go deaf, or both, despite a broken string on lead man Mitch McDonald’s guitar which flails like a windsock in a gale for the rest of the set. “My guitar is being temperamental, but we’ll all laugh about it after,” says McDonald, before unleashing another maelstrom of noise. Many a set of ears will be hurting for days because of these guys.

Back at Ric’s Bed Wettin’ Bad Boys – clearly a touch uneasy at playing at an industry event – are being heckled by their audience to produce business cards to share around. “We’re selling analogue business cards. They come in the form of T-shirts and cost fifteen dollars,” they announce, while New South Wales six-piece The Walking Who are making good use of the awkward layout of The Press Club by compacting all their members onto the tiny stage with little room to spare. Their bluesy psychedelic rock might be better suited to a venue like Ric’s or The Zoo, but their kaleidoscopic jams are strong enough to carry them through, with second track ‘Have You Seen The Colours?’ being a particular highlight, before a long, smooth, fuzzed-out jam sees them finish up. Over at a throbbing Bakery Lane The Jungle Giants have the audience bouncing with songs from their new LP, and once again I’m most impressed by the classy guitar moves of Cesira Aitken, as well as her fondness for pulling goofy facial expressions when wringing out the notes.

It’s at this stage that my evening goes temporarily awry as, after my mate and I buy a beer back at Ric’s I am accosted by a menacing big skin-headed bastard claiming to be a plain-clothes policeman and threatening to do all kinds of damage to my extremities if I don’t show him what’s in my jeans pockets. Refusing to do so unless he produces his police I.D. only gets him more fired up and in my face, and while I’m pinned to the bar and trying to casually sip my beer and appear nonchalant while inwardly shitting bricks and expecting a glassing or head-butt at any second, security guards step in after what seems like an age of illogical arguing and psychological to-ing and fro-ing. The bonehead so-called Constable has one arm in a sling which quickly pops out and appears to be fine (Ted Bundy, anyone?) and is frantically protesting to the (calm and professional) Ric’s security guards about how I have (the plot thickens) now “stolen his police I.D.” We all go outside to sort it out, I empty my pockets to prove my innocence to the security guards and after he makes a lunge for my jeans pocket once more (which contains nothing more than my wallet and timetable), he is removed from the area and I go back inside to down my beer and be thankful for the fact my nose is still pointing in its usual direction.

After a suitably angry blast of hardcore punk from Melbourne lads Clowns helps to clear my head, it’s back to Oh Hello! for the grand finale, Kingswood; and what a finale it is. The Melbourne rockers follow the trend of cutting to the chase with opener ‘She’s My Baby’, and are uniformly pumped and energetic throughout, despite guitarist Alex Lasta being chair-bound due to an unspecified injury. By fifth track ‘Ohio’ the sense of BIGSOUND soon coming to an end has unleashed desperate last-ditch attempts at crowd-surfing, and as singer Fergus Linacre’s spirit bottle is passed around and downed by the hardcore at the front, the volume is cranked up to eleven. A sublime cover of ‘Jolene’ is only bettered by closer ‘Medusa’, and we all file out of Oh Hello! not yet ready to go home.

KINGSWOOD
KINGSWOOD

To sum up, what can I say? BIGSOUND – you’ve done it again. Personal highlights were Mining Boom, Bad//Dreems, and The Love Junkies, with honourable mentions for Bloods and Kingswood. In saying that, last year I picked The Preatures and King Cannons as the cream of the crop, and in the last couple of weeks, one of those bands has played arenas for the first time and the other broke up, so one of these bands is probably going to do really well, and another is fucked – good luck guys. I’m off to get my ear-drums sewn back together. Well played, everyone.

Live review: Cloud Control + Palms + Gang of Youths – The Tivoli, Brisbane – 23/8/13

Cloud Control
Cloud Control

The Tivoli has started to feel like a second home recently, such has been the frequency and quality of gigs happening in the fine old Fortitude Valley venue. Spending so much time there has resulted in the first whiffs of the beer stench of the old carpet feeling like a comforting pair of arms drawing me to some familiar, homely bosom, willing me to forget the trials of whatever day-to-day crap I may have encountered and lose myself in the religion of music… or something along those vaguely ideological lines. Recent reports of it possibly being sold and bulldozed hopefully won’t become crushing reality, otherwise where would nights like tonight happen? It’s enough to make a live music lover want to chain himself to the balcony railings, plaster his self-righteous physical form in bicycle grease and start ranting about how our culture is going down the tubes. Or maybe just buy a pizza slice and skulk off home with the rest of the apathetic masses – given that I’m all out of bicycle grease.

Generalisations aside, there’s a gig to be reviewed, and first support for tonight’s show is Sydneysiders Gang of Youths, who are already making an outstandingly melancholy noise as I enter a semi-filled Tivoli; their lead singer possessing one the most wonderfully rich voices I have heard in recent months. There is very little information about these guys online, but go to Soundcloud and check out their song ‘Knuckles White Dry (Car Ride Home)’ – I defy you to tell me it’s not beautiful.

Palms
Palms

Next up is Palms; the Sydney shredders introducing an immediate element of scuzzy raucousness to proceedings, with frontman Al Grigg putting in a brilliantly manic and sweaty performance from start to finish, as they plough through a set of “aspirational rock ‘n’ roll songs about living your dreams,” including ‘Don’t Be Ashamed’. As his baseball cap flies off his head mid-head-bang during the first song, the audience know this is going to be a good set.

It’s with the stage lights almost totally dimmed to nothing that Cloud Control enter the fray, and like any band with a new record to plug, they begin with the first two songs off the new release, ‘Scream Rave’ and ‘Dojo Rising’. The woozy psychedelia of that album sounds great booming from the Tivoli stage, with hooded frontman Alister Wright exclaiming “This is the first show of the tour – I think we’re off to a good start!” and the audience responding in the affirmative. There’s plenty of time for the best of 2010’s Bliss Release to make appearances with the pop melodies of ‘This Is What I Said’ and ‘Meditation Song #2 (Why Oh Why)’ and it’s vaguely Celtic chorus chant as the faithful down the front bounce in unison, before the band jump back to the new material with ‘Scar’ and ‘Moonrabbit’. The new songs show the diversity that Cloud Control have injected into their sound, and it’s during ‘Promises’ that we get a feeling of how much of a charismatic frontman Wright really is, despite his diminutive stature. A finishing rendition of ‘There’s Nothing In The Water We Can’t Fight’ sends the audience daft before the band come back on for an encore that includes the title track from their new album, inevitably sending a Friday night Tivoli crowd into spasms.

With the final chords still ringing in our ears, all that’s left is for us to leave our beloved venue and head off homeward-bound, stopping only for a pizza slice and to check the prices of bicycle grease.

Live review: Ash + Blonde on Blonde + Charlie Horse – The Hi-Fi, Brisbane – 21/8/13

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“Like the baby Jesus, Ash were born in a lonely stable. The sleepy Northern Irish village of Downpatrick is about as far away from the throbbing heart of the rock ‘n’ roll jungle as it gets. But like all such places, it’s packed with countless kids intent on escaping. And with Ash, it started the way it always starts – with two guitars, a drum kit, seemingly boundless energy and invincible optimism. ”

So says Ewan McGregor’s voice-over at the start of the Ash documentary Teenage Wasteland, as a trio of spotty-faced teenage wannabes thrash around in a series of fuzzy video clips from around 1992. It’s been a long twenty-one years since those heady days of busting a three-chord groove at Downpatrick Civic Centre, but while their music may have changed, the memories of those glorious mid-nineties days haven’t. Ladies and gentlemen, please get comfortable while this review gets a touch nostalgic.

Tonight’s show begins with a suitably exuberant set from Sydney band Charlie Horse, followed by proud Fortitude Valley rockers Blonde on Blonde, whose frontman coaxes the growing crowd to the front of the floor by promising that if we all “come forward, I’m not gonna touch you. Okay – I’ll probably touch you.” The quartet are probably too talented and stylish to be covering the likes of Oasis‘s ‘Hindu Times’, and while they do it well, their final track – new number ‘Weekend Behaviour’ – is much, much better.

Now: Ash. Being forced into this world in the same Downpatrick hospital ward that spewed forth the probably-delightful bundles of humanity that eventually became the indie-punk-pop heroes, in some roundabout way makes me feel like I understand them. For the three inarticulate Northern Irish schoolboys, making music was all about escape. They’ve taken the limited abilities that they were given at the time, started running, and never looked back, while managing to save Irish pop music from the shiver-inducing hideousness of the fucking Cranberries while they were at it. Most of what they’ve achieved was the result of a work-rate that would kill off many a lesser band, and singer-guitarist Tim Wheeler’s ability to write punk-pop songs that spoke to us like a fibre-optic cable hard-wired directly into the deepest recesses of our very souls. It’s pretty powerful stuff.

Tonight, the band take to a Hi-Fi stage awash in blue light, and launch into opener ‘Lose Control’; the three-piece immediately sounding tight, powerful, and incomparable all at once. Tim Wheeler has essentially always been a poser; the Flying-V in his (still surprisingly youthful for a man pushing 40’s) hands is evidence of that, and Mark Hamilton – while having put on a few pounds since 1977 was released in 1996) has lost none of the energy that has always made him so fun to watch on stage. The bassist’s ability – in the band’s early days – to perform while horrendously wasted was always worthy of admiration, in this writer’s opinion, and drummer Rick McMurray is just Rick McMurray – hammering away at the skins without so much as changing facial expressions all night, or probably all his life.

1977 spawned no less than four singles, and the next two tracks, ‘Goldfinger’ and ‘Girl From Mars’ are two of them. Watching the band perform such classic tracks makes for a strange, wonderful, and somewhat distressing feeling; when you realise that these songs don’t belong to you solely, and that there are hundreds and possibly many thousands of people to whom they are every bit as sacred; when the lyrics are so intertwined with memories of your own adolescence that it’s hard to tell them apart and it feels like someone is dictating your very thoughts on a public platform. After ‘Goldfinger’, Hamilton stands on the monitor, stares down the audience with a look of extreme distaste, grits his teeth and mouths “COME ON” like his life depends on it. Like I said – powerful stuff.

The crushing and often overlooked ‘I’d Give You Anything’ and softer ‘Gone The Dream’ precede the first ape-shit moment as ‘Kung Fu’ has the audience losing their collective marbles. “Kung Fu/Do what you do to me/I haven’t been the same since my teenage lobotomy,” sings Wheeler with as much energy as he did way back when, and the crowd give it back in nostalgia-tinted spades. A blues-y interlude and a bit of a crowd sing-along is a nice touch, before the final single ‘Oh Yeah’ and it’s devastatingly close-to-the-bone story of bitter-sweet teenage love.

Once 1977 is done and dusted the band have free reign, and brilliantly delve even further into their catalogue with ‘Jack Names The Planets’ from 1994 mini-album Trailer. Jumping back to the post-1977 era, they continue with ‘A Life Less Ordinary’, and despite a stoppage to allow a bone-headed security guard to get his meaty paws on a crowd-surfer and Wheeler’s exclamations of “We’re trying to have some fucking fun,” the shows continues with an encore including ‘Shining Light’ and ‘Burn Baby Burn’ in a strong finish.

You can say they’re just a pop band. You can say there are better bands out there. You can call it nostalgia or nineties-revival. But the simple fact is this: Ash playing 1977 is a bloody beautiful thing. Powerful stuff.

Live review: Queensland Music Awards – The Tivoli, Brisbane – 13/8/13

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There are two headlines you will already have read concerning the 2013 Queensland Music Awards: the first is that the night ‘belonged’ to Best Female award winner Emma Louise, and the second that Ball Park Music are still pretty damn good. Both these things are at least partly true, but a large percentage of the following also happened.

My own evening starts with an exasperatingly winding taxi tour of the Valley, as a ludicrously dated so-called community festival is taking place at the RNA Showgrounds and there are road closures all over the joint. Upon arrival at the Tivoli, it seems that most of the rest of the guests must also be having confused taxi-driver syndrome, as only around a third of the seats are taken. Ah well – on with the show.

First up is Zimbabwean-Australian Blaq Carrie; the young rapper performing her debut single ‘Let There Be Hope’. It’s a pretty good start, but not as good as Thelma Plum; who looks like butter wouldn’t melt in her mouth with her sweetly shuffling introduction and cute ankle socks, and while a few rounds of “fuck-yous” in her song ‘Dollar’ may be amusing or mildly shocking to some, it’s really no big fucking deal.

It’s around this point that it becomes apparent that there’s a fairly large amount of people who have arrived at the Tivoli this evening with the aim of standing at the back in their probably-expensive-yet-tacky-looking frocks/suits and chattering amongst themselves like a bunch of schoolchildren who need delivered instantly back to an era where corporal punishment was de rigeuer – these clowns simply need several wheel braces to the spinal column. What the fuck is the point in coming to an awards ceremony and ignoring the vast majority of the evening’s proceedings, while rudely and loudly babbling shit to each other during all the important parts? If you’ve paid big money and a band is putting in a dismal performance and turning you off, I get it – vent your dissatisfaction with all the bland self-important fury your tranquillised-to-the-eyeballs hedge fund manager parents bequeathed you, but for fuck’s sake shut your useless traps when Mick Hadley’s widow is presenting a video tribute to him and accepting his Lifetime Achievement award on his behalf. Makes sense when you think about it, wouldn’t you say? Dickheads.

Meanwhile, Pigeon put in a typically fantastic performance that has host Sarah Howells marvelling at their ability to get stupidly sweaty in the space of a couple of songs (they are surely one of Brisbane’s best live acts right now), and Seja Vogel follows with another sweet burst of tuneage from her seriously synth-heavy new album All Our Wires.

Now, there’s another sticking point right here. Let me start by saying The Trouble With Templeton are a fine band and their debut record Rookie is an excellent and worthy piece of work; I highly recommend adding it to your collection and songwriter Thomas Calder and his band deserve awards and recognition in spades. However, when Q Music give them the Rock award, then allow Violent Soho to put in the best rock live performance of the evening by far (and I include The Trouble With Templeton in that), we have a rather disconcerting, head-scratching moment. But, what the hell; most of the audience aren’t paying attention anyway. Did I mention those fuckheads up the back?

Violent Soho
Violent Soho

Country Award winner Harmony James then puts in an entertaining short performance, showcasing that fine country vocal twang she’s got going on, and then another highlight flits in and out of tonight’s proceedings: a trio of new songs from The Jungle Giants, with Cesira Aitken putting in the axe-wielding performance of the evening with a series of quick-fingered, Fender-based riffs – beautiful.

The Jungle Giants
The Jungle Giants

After an epic giant-slaying of David and Goliath proportions that sees Jeremy Neale gloriously beat Bernard Fanning to the coveted crown of Best Male, it’s time for The Trouble With Templeton to show why they are considered to be such a strong new force on the Brisbane music scene. Their song ‘You Are New’ is particularly great addition to the evening’s entertainment, and after another win for Emma Louise and a by-now fairly hammered Ball Park Music, it’s time for Brisbane’s only (?) Afro-Cuban salsa group Chukale to play to a by-now practically empty Tivoli.

All in all, it was a great evening and very important part of the Queensland musical calendar; one in which the bands and artists we witnessed showed what a high standard of music is being made in the Sunshine State. All the winners were worthy and live performances were across-the-board outstanding. Now, I’m off to find a wheel brace…

The Trouble With Templeton
The Trouble With Templeton

Live review: Paul Kelly + Urthboy – QPAC Concert Hall, Brisbane – 1/8/13

One of the great things about seeing a concert at the Queensland Performing Arts Centre is that you know the acts will take to the stage exactly on schedule, and if you take too long finishing your drinks or get caught on the toilet and miss the warning buzzer, it’s tough luck, Jack. This almost happens to me, as I find myself with two untouched beers as the ‘please take your seats’ announcement permeates my relaxed mood and sends me into a mild panic consisting of desperate chugging and worried glances towards the general direction of door 8. Of course I could have left the brews behind, but music and drinks go so well together, don’t you agree? Consider those beers slammed.

Urthboy
Urthboy

It’s great to see the majority of tonight’s audience have also found their way to their seats early enough for support act Urthboy. The Blue Mountains singer is joined on-stage by fellow The Herd member Jane Tyrrell, and they run through an outstanding high-energy set of hip-hop songs with a thread of socially-conscious messages running through the middle. An early highlight is ‘Letters From Jamshed’; a touching and inspiring song based upon the letters received from an Afghani refugee friend, who eventually found his happy ending as he was accepted as an Australian citizen, even though afterwards he “went on to study accounting”. Urthboy’s music is motivational and reflective in equal amounts, as he tells the audience “You have won just as many Tour de Frances as Lance Armstrong – remember that,” before introducing his song ‘The Big Sleep’ as being about Natalie Wood; the pensioner whose body lay undiscovered in her Surry Hills home for eight years.

Paul Kelly
Paul Kelly

After a short interval (lesson learned, bar avoided) Paul Kelly steps onto the stage with his young band, looking dapper in a light grey suit and reflecting the spotlights off his shiny head, as the audience show their enthusiastic appreciation. Firstly, he announces he will be playing his new album Spring and Fall straight through, which will “only take about forty minutes, don’t worry”. It’s a cracker of an album, in the form of a ‘song cycle,’ as Kelly informs us, with each song depicting an event that happens in relation to all the other songs and events. A definite highlight is fourth track ‘Gonna Be Good’, which sees drummer Bree van Reyk (who is bloody exceptional all night) at one point playing tambourine, drums, and singing at the same time. Dan Kelly is similarly impressive on guitar and vocals throughout the show.

After Spring and Fall, Kelly is free to play the hits, starting with ‘Bradman’, ‘When I First Met Your Ma’, and ‘Forty Miles to Saturday Night’, with plenty of banter and story-telling in between. There’s a definite feeling of being in the presence of an Australian legend at this point, and a pretty special atmosphere is apparent in the concert hall, as hundreds of eyes and ears and totally transfixed by what’s happening in front of them. ‘Our Sunshine’ – Kelly’s Ned Kelly tribute – follows, and van Reyk breaks out the spoons on a couple of tracks after ‘The Foggy Fields of France’. The final song is the beautiful ‘From Little Things Big Things Grow’ and a mass sing-along breaks out for the chorus. It’s almost enough to bring a lump to the throat of this hardened gig-goer.

Anyone who thought it would end there is gravely mistaken, as Kelly’s skills are demanded for three – yes three – well-deserved encores, which includes an a-cappella vocal track with his four band members, and an appearance from Urthboy and Jane Tyrrell once more. Several bows, waves, thank-yous later and it’s all over, two and half hours after it began.

He’s been called one of the best song-writers around, a master storyteller, and a national treasure, and Paul Kelly deserves all of these titles. What a performance we just witnessed.

Live review: Ben Salter + Seja + Machine Age – Black Bear Lodge, Brisbane – 19/7/13

Are there many better places to be in Brisbane on a Friday night than Black Bear Lodge? Probably not. The snug venue is quite perfect for a cold and rainy evening, and tonight’s bill of all-Queensland talent looks set to keep things toasty.

Seja
Seja

First up is Cairns native Adrian Mauro, otherwise known as Machine Age. The virtually unknown Mauro begins with just a folk-y, Fender-y sound and his rich voice, before breaking out the synths and turning his solo act into a whirlwind of electronic drums, heavy bass, and ramped-up guitar noise. After singing ‘Happy Birthday’ to someone in the audience (don’t you have to pay royalties to somebody to sing that song?) his final tune is a colossal, Communist-era chuggernaut of a jam; the sound building to such a cacophonous, blaring drone that it felt like a derailed train would crash through the walls at any second. This guy is definitely worth keeping an eye on.

Next up is Brisbane’s own Seja, who takes to the stage with an appeal to the audience. “Sorry for my nasal voice, I woke up this morning feeling like a pig shat in my head,” she says, earning top marks for choice of film reference to make her point. With second album All Our Wires having just been released (featuring collaborations with Gotye and members of Cut Copy and Regurgitator, among others), her set is heavy on new material; a highlight being the folk-y ‘Die Wolken’, on which Robert Forster sings on the album.

Ben Salter has been in and around the venue all night, so he is well aware that a large percentage of the audience has been loudly chatting up to this point, foolishly oblivious to the artists on stage in front of them. “Can we have a bit of shush?” he demands, changing the atmosphere immediately for the better, before beginning with ‘Not Today’ from his newly-released European Vacation EP. It’s a great start, and immediately shows what an outstanding vocal talent Salter is. The title track from previous album The Cat follows, and then perhaps the most Brisbane song ever written, ‘West End Girls’. “West End girls run wild and free, take the 199 to the Valley”: fantastic.

Immediately after this tune the charismatic Salter announces “You can take your Dick Diver and all those other bands and get rid of ’em… The Young Liberals albums are all free online,” (and so they are, so go get ’em), before telling a story about him and Seja making plans to play each others songs, before changing their minds at the eleventh hour. Salter continues to be entertaining in more ways than one, throughout an excellent set of songs.

Having secured a deal with ABC Music to release the travel-inspired European Vacation, Salter’s stock is pretty high right now, and tonight’s confident showing by one of Brisbane’s best singer-songwriters is surely confirmation of that.

Live review: Bernard Fanning + Big Scary + Vance Joy – The Tivoli, Brisbane – 18/7/13

There’s something about a sold-out show that will partly make you happy that artists can still sell out venues on a cold Thursday night in Brisbane in these uncertain times for live music, and partly apprehensive about the fact you’ll be spending the next three hours crammed shoulder-to-shoulder with a plethora of potential idiots after enduring a two-day wait to get to the bar. I guess some of us are never happy.

Big Scary
Big Scary

Young Melburnian folkie Vance Joy is first to step into the rich blue lightning of The Tivoli’s stage; and his amiable and charming patter entertains a quickly swelling crowd, between songs from his new EP God Loves You When You’re Dancing, including ‘From Afar’ and the excellent ‘Riptide’. A cover of ‘Dancing In The Dark’ fits in nicely mid-set after Joy explains he saw The Boss recently and didn’t expect such a lengthy set.

Next up is Melbourne duo (or in live form, a trio) Big Scary who also have a new album out in Not Art. Beginning with the slow and ominous new song ‘Phil Collins’, the band are instantly engaging and almost hypnotic, as all eyes turn to drummer Joanna Syme for the second track – the outstandingly grand ‘Belgian Blues’ – as she displays her enviable skills all over the kit, before asking the audience to engage in a joint “drool over Vance Joy”. The edgy ‘Twin Rivers’, ‘Luck Now’, and older track ‘Falling Away’ see singer Tom Iansek switch between guitar and keys with ease, and the only way this set could have been any better would be with the inclusion of ‘Mix Tape’. Like I said: some of us are never happy.

*** Allow me to now take a moment to congratulate whoever decides on what music plays between bands at The Tivoli; it’s never anything but top-notch tuneage. The boring lull waiting for gear to be set up is transformed into a collective musical erection with the likes of The Faces’ ‘You’re So Rude’ and Ike & Tina Turner’s ‘River Deep – Mountain High’. Keep up the good work, you fine, faceless people. ***

And now: Bernard Fanning. Where I grew up Powderfinger were never big, so tonight’s show isn’t fuelled by nostalgia or a sense of musical loyalty for me, as it seems to be for a lot of the audience in front of The Tivoli’s stage. Fanning and his five band members take to the stage to massive cheers and begin to rip through songs from new album Departures, as he announces his first gig in Brisbane since 2007 by saying “this is already markedly different to Toowoomba,” to the sound of even more resounding cheers.

Bernard Fanning
Bernard Fanning

‘Tell Me How It Ends’ is up first, followed by the big rock number ‘Inside Track’, and ‘Limbo Stick’, which all get great responses considering the record has been out barely six weeks. Introducing songs from his 2005 Tea & Sympathy album, including ‘Believe’, and then giving a shout out to his sister, mother, wife, and mother-in-law in the audience (“four firey ladies – don’t fuck with them”), Fanning seems entirely at ease throughout his hometown show, and appears to be enjoying the fervent adulation reverberating around the venue, which peaks during the best of his new songs, ‘Battleships’.

The title track from Departures is one that Fanning introduces as being about where he grew up, and gives a shout out to “anyone from Toowong”, before a massive sing-along erupts during encore highlight ‘Wish You Well’, and a happy audience pours onto Costin Street and makes for home.

Bernard Fanning has put together another fine album in Departures, and has a kick-ass touring band, and while we just enjoyed a solid set of quality Aussie rock, it’s Big Scary who fill my thoughts as I head for home; reinforcing the argument that gig-goers should NEVER avoid the support act, lest they miss their new favourite band.

Record review: The Red Paintings – The Revolution Is Never Coming (2013, LP)

Red Paintings

Orchestral art rock: three words that don’t exactly get the fires of primitive musical lust burning deep in the loins of the average punter wanting temporary escape from the humdrum routine of daily drudgery. In large part a complex form of music, the very suggestion of it evokes images of groups of misguided, over-educated tragics plucking lutes and banging on whale bones while dressed as failed auditionees from the latest Lord Of The Rings movie.

HOWEVER: for every rule an exception, and here it comes in the form of Los Angeles via Brisbane conceptual outfit The Red Paintings.

For all intents and purposes, The Red Paintings consists of one man: singer, songwriter, and multi-instrumentalist Trash McSweeney (not an Irish garbage collector), whose sprawling and sometimes twisted visions are the basis for his band’s songs. On tour, the group is a five-piece, expanded to include orchestral, choral, and performance art elements into their act, with musical influences as diverse as Mogwai, Muse, and Japanese art rock group Envy.

The range of musical ideas on The Revolution is Never Coming is quite simply, staggering, and will have your head in a spin if you can stand the pace. From the delicate piano and strings of opener ‘Vampires’, to the crushing metal bawling of second track ‘Dead Children’, and the fairy-folk flitterings of ‘Dead Adult’ (noticing a pattern here?) the scope is mind boggling.

‘Easps’ begins with what sounds like something out of the Richard Burton-narrated version of War of the Worlds, as some sort of alien invasion is described, before a sudden blast of heavy alt-rock is unleashed. ‘The Fall of Rome’ follows in a similar vein; all heavily distorted guitars and strings, as does ‘Street’. Listening to this album through is like descending into some dark dream, spiralling out of control and with no end in sight.

‘Hong Kong’ lulls you into a false sense of low-tempo relaxation before once again unleashing a torrent of devastation, and closer ‘Revolution’ begins with a nightmarishly scratchy violin before the sounds of bloody stabbing death and brutal guitars take over, along with some heavy cussin’ and a tirade against religion.

The Revolution is Never Coming: allow yourself to slide deep into the belly of the beast – it’s quite the ride.

The Top 10 Music Documentaries

rory gallagher

When most of us think of the words ‘music documentary’, Spinal Tap springs to mind; and that’s not only because it’s one of the funniest films of all time, but because it’s also probably pretty close to the truth. That aside, the music doco can be a vital part of a fan’s collection, and more often than not, provide an intriguing insight into the lives and careers of our favourite acts. Here are the top ten music documentaries of all time; each one as unmissable as the last:

10. Gimme Shelter (1970)

An occasionally harrowing visual record of the Rolling Stones’ 1969 tour and free concert at Altamont that sees the unwitting band being present at the tragic killing of a fan by over-aggressive Hells Angels hired as security. Sometimes labelled as ‘the day the ’60s ended’, the Altamont concert has gone down in history as a defining moment in music and the Stones’ career. Watch Jagger & co. shake their stuff here:

9. Rory Gallagher – Irish Tour (1974)

The original Gallagher brother, Rory Gallagher was a blues-rock troubadour and – by all accounts – a gentleman of the highest order. Having disbanded his first group Taste shortly after wowing Jimi Hendrix at the Isle of Wight festival in 1970 and rejecting a chance to join the Rolling Stones, Gallagher embarked on a long journeyman career, earning the respect of musicians and fans the world over, and it was in 1974 that he was probably at his peak. Check out Gallagher shredding like a demon on his signature tune ‘Tattoo’d Lady’:

8. New York Doll (2005)

This outstanding documentary tells the story of legendary punk trash band New York Dolls’ flamboyant bassist, Arthur ‘Killer’ Kane, as he hits rock bottom after the Dolls break up, to his final redemption and band reunion some thirty years later. From being at the epicentre of the musical world to doing volunteer work in a church, Kane proves to be a loveable and almost pathetic character in parts, but ultimately triumphs as the Dolls get back together. The fact that he dies shortly after the reunion makes this film all the more poignant. Here’s the trailer:

7. The Filty And The Fury (2000)

Julien Temple’s 2000 documentary The Filth And The Fury is the story of the Sex Pistols, as told by the band themselves, and is in part a response to his own 1980 farce The Great Rock ‘N’ Roll Swindle, which has been criticised for being too skewed to the outlook of band manager and prize buffoon Malcolm McLaren. It’s honest, dirty, and downright seedy in parts, and that’s what makes it so good. Watch the full film here:

6. It Might Get Loud (2009)

Three guys sitting around chatting about chords and stuff; sounds boring. But it’s unspeakably bloody intriguing. Starring Jimmy Page, Jack White, and U2’s The Edge, this is the musician’s music documentary first and foremost, but anybody who simply likes watching the masters at work will also get a major kick from watching it. Jack White and The Edge are both excellent guitarists, but there’s only one Jimmy Page. Watch the Led Zeppelin master show ’em how it’s done:

5. Woodstock (1970)

The one that started it all? Woodstock is the most famous music festival of all time, and the original gathering needed a concert film to meet the occasion. Jimi Hendrix’s set has been released as its own movie, as it has since been seen as a defining moment of the ’60s counter-culture movement, but check out 25 year-old Ten Years After guitarist Alvin Lee’ shredding it with the best of them in the festival’s overlooked musical highlight:

4. Anvil! The Story of Anvil (2008)

Anyone who says they were a fan of Anvil before watching Anvil! The Story of Anvil is a liar. Anyone who says they aren’t a fan of them after watching it is an even bigger liar. The story of a down-on-their-luck Canadian metal band who never fully reached their potential and are barely holding it together, this is a touching, tear-inducing, and ultimately triumphant look at one bunch of guys who always kept the dream alive. Better buy some tissues before having a look at this one. Watch the trailer here:

3. The Doors – When You’re Strange (2009)

Described by keyboardist Ray Manzarek as the “true story of The Doors”, When You’re Strange turned heads upon its release in 2009, as the only film up to that point to make footage from Jim Morrison’s own HWY: An American Pastoral available for public consumption. It’s eerily beautiful, and you won’t be able to stop watching, even though you know how it all ends. Johnny Depp’s narration adds a touch of class to a fascinating look at one of the ’60s best bands. Watch the full doco here:

2. Joe Strummer: The Future is Unwritten (2007)

Alternating between uplifting and heartbreaking, The Future is Unwritten is an intimate and revealing look into the life of the late Clash frontman. Starting from his childhood as a British ambassador’s son, through squatting in the empty wastelands of West London, before finding himself as a new-age punk rock warlord, this documentary will make you laugh, cry, and ultimately have a better appreciation of where much of the Clash’s music came from. Beautiful. Check out the trailer here:

1. The Band – The Last Waltz (1978)

This Martin Scorsese-directed concert film is quite simply, the best music documentary of all time. Literally the ‘last waltz’ for a legendary band making their final concert appearance before breaking up, it is a stunning piece of film showcasing not only one of the best and most influential bands of all time, but also a ridiculously impressive cast of characters and cameos, and with more show-stopping moments than all of the other documentaries on this list put together. From Levon Helm’s drum-and-vocal mastery on ‘Cripple Creek’, to Bob Dylan’s ‘Baby Let Me Follow You Down’, and Van Morrison chucking a tanty after a career-best version of ‘Caravan’, The Last Waltz is the most essential music doco of any age. Check out the opening sequence, a version of Marvin Gaye’s classic ‘Baby Don’t You Do It’:

Live review: BIGSOUND Live – Fortitude Valley, Brisbane – September 2012

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Those who fear commitment must love BIGSOUND Live; it’s the music festival equivalent of speed-dating. There’s barely enough time to get comfy with a band or venue before being whisked off to another to be overcome with a brand new feeling of admiration or excitement all over again. It’s also a festival that provides endless opportunities for good times. Got your schedule, wristband, and beer money? Then let the games begin…

Wednesday 12th September

The BIGSOUND timetable causes strange things to happen in the Valley’s entertainment precinct. Like unnatural tidal phenomena, waves of people wash in and out of the twelve venues every twenty minutes like clockwork, beaching themselves in a rush to get to the action before heading off to check in somewhere else. Doorways are crowded, stairwells filled, and alleyways transformed into heaving masses of humanity, eager to suck in the atmosphere before it dissipates for another year.

Ric’s bar is filled to bursting as Jeremy Neale kicks off proceedings, with punters scrambling for vantage points or watching from outside. Despite announcing to the audience that he has lost his voice, his vocals and indeed the entire band sound tight and focussed, as they bob their heads to the side in unison and knock out some bangin’ ’60s-flavoured pop, with plenty of wide grins from the man himself. Fifth track ‘Darlin’’ proves to the be the highlight of a jaunty and jumpin’ party-starting set.

A quick dash up the Black Bear Lodge stairs later and I am greeted with the ever-good voice of James Walsh, playing his band Starsailor’s ‘Good Souls’. “Welcome to BIGSOUND everyone!” he offers the growing audience in his deep Wigan brogue, before playing ‘Barcelona’; a new song in the talented vocalist’s arsenal. Starsailor classic ‘Silence Is Easy’ still sounds fantastic, before a charming cover of Springsteen’s ‘Hungry Heart’ provides a pleasant surprise.

Over at the Zoo in Ann Street, Sons of Rico are setting up to a sparse audience, before a sudden influx of wrist-banded people semi-fills the venue. As the band launch into the rocking ‘Miss Adventure’ and benefit from the quality of the venue’s sound system, sporadic dancing breaks out in front of the stage, and there are definite hints of head-nodding across the rest of the audience. Threatening to break into an all-out heavy-psych jam at one point, the quintet round off an impressive set with radio-staple ‘This Madness’, leaving me thinking that their album doesn’t do the band’s abilities justice.

Barely an hour has passed and it’s time for band number four: slacker-rockers Bearhug, who are tackling the awkward layout of the Press Club. It’s not the best venue for live music, given that a massive fan/propeller blocks out the stage, but the five Sydneysiders don’t seem worried, immediately kicking off a slow, groovy jam as the venue absorbs punters from the street. Fourth track, the West-Coast-flavoured ‘Angeline’, ups the pace and gives the dual guitars and military-precision drumming a chance to shine. Jesse Bayley can fire off a solo with the best of them, and he does so on ‘Over The Hill’, before the final tune, the Pavement-esque ‘Cinema West’ is introduced as being a “song that a 55 year-old woman told us was shit.” Shit it definitely isn’t, as the set finishes to ringing applause from all around.

Back at the Zoo, Sydney’s post-rock folkies Winter People are making a politely-ethereal noise. The girls’ dual violins add a touch of country to the band’s sound, and frontman Dylan Baskind is as humble a musician as you will find. “BIGSOUND is like being at a gourmet food buffet,” he announces. “So many options, and you chose us: minced cabbage.” If you haven’t caught them live yet, do so, and get your filthy paws on their Gallons EP while you’re at it – these guys are something special.

Déjà vu is setting in as Black Bear lodge beckons once again, this time for Melbourne’s bastards of blues-rock, The Delta Riggs. The energy reverberating around the small venue multiplies many-fold as the cocksure five-piece take the stage and roll out one of the rawk-iest performances of the evening. Frontman Elliott Hammond is all hair, hips, and swagger, as he leads his band in a one-two attack of high-tempo rockers, before breaking it back down for the disgustingly-groovy ‘Mary’. Introducing ‘Money’ as a “song for all you cunts out there”, Hammond proceeds to improvise the lyrics in an extended jam, coaxing the pumped audience into a giant sing-a-long of “holy guacamole, we got chips!” before announcing that everybody present is “now in the band”.

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The luxury of staying in the same venue is a welcome relief as next up at Black Bear is Sydney quintet The Preatures. They again draw a large, energetic crowd, and it quickly becomes clear why. As the band take the stage and kick their blend of gothic rock ’n’ roll into gear, any semblance of journalistic professionalism I have floats out the door, as I’m too mesmerized by the performance of singers Isabella Manfredi and Gideon Bensen to take notes or even really care why I’m here; the performance is that damn good. Manfredi has an impressive range and works the crowd like a dream; flicking her hair and making eye contact with the front rows, before Bensen opens his mouth and lets out a sound that you would expect to hear from an old delta bluesman, not a 20-something bloke from New South Wales. I come back to my senses in time to realise ‘Take A Card’ is a fantastic track, and hear Bensen announce their last song ‘Hero’; a newly-written tune. The Preatures are my undisputed live highlight of day one; simply fantastic.

Maybe I’m still buzzing on a Preatures-induced high, but over at Winn Lane Velociraptor’s performance seems a little sub-par. That’s not to say they don’t still wipe the floor with most of the other acts on the bill, but maybe it’s frontman Jeremy Neale’s voice or the reduced crowd interaction from being on a raised stage, but the guys and girl aren’t as chaotically-brilliant as usual. Reduced to a ten-piece as the DZ guys are in the States, they nevertheless power through ‘Hey Suzanne’ and ‘Riot’, among others, and provide an interesting spectacle to look at, as always.

All that’s left for day one of BIGSOUND is to go through the airport levels of security into Oh Hello! and catch King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard, who have no hesitation in cranking out an unholy racket from the get-go. The Melbourne eight-piece launch into a tangled, crunching mass of psychedelic punk with energy by the truckload, as songs like ‘Black Tooth’ and ‘Dead-Beat’ encourage the crowd-surfers and pogoing punks to bounce around like chimps on speed. Having just realised their debut album, the band are clearly riding high and full of confidence, as they provide an ear-drum-splitting finale to Wednesday night.

Thursday 13th September

The working day passed me by as if I was stuck in suspended animation between two zones of music festival awesomeness, punctuated only by a quick lunchtime blast of tunes at Jamie’s Espresso in James Street with Streamer Bendy, who put in a fine performance of shout-y pop-rock in the early-afternoon sun.

Eight o’clock comes around again, and I find myself at Magic City for the first time, to take in another band who have just released their debut record: Split Seconds. Looking lean and mean, the Perth boys put in a fine set filled with songs from You’ll Turn Into Me. The venue quickly fills up by the end of first track ‘Security Light’, despite the doors only being opened at 8pm on the dot (bad decision Magic City!) ‘Maiden Name’ follows, then the catchy-as-fuck ‘Top Floor’, followed by ‘She Makes Her Own Clothes’, which frontman Sean Pollard laughingly describes as being “about the joys of sewing”. The only way to finish is with the always-excellent ‘All You Gotta Do’; the band leaving the stage to well-deserved thunderous applause and satisfied smiles from the audience.

A quick duck into the Black Bear Lodge to hear the pop delights of former Go-Betweens members Adele & Glenn (Adele Pickvance and Glenn Thompson) is followed by a dash down to the Zoo to catch Hey Geronimo. A huge crowd is there to see the Brisbane indie-poppers, as they begin getting hips moving with the opening bass-line to The George Baker Selection’s ‘Little Green Bag’, before launching into their own ‘Carbon Affair’, followed quickly by ‘Dreamboat Jack’. At this point I’m considering chucking my beer away and jumping around like an idiot, the quirky ‘60s-flavoured pop tunes coming from the stage being so infectious, but I settle for tapping a foot and grinning from ear to ear. ‘Co-Op Bookshop’ follows next, as the boys put in one of the funnest and most upbeat performances of the night.

Next it’s into the depths of the sparsely filled Alhambra Lounge to catch a short burst of Sydney’s Underlights. As I arrive they are pumping out impressive waves of bluesy psychedelia, building the sound into a wall of noise that reverberates around the brick interior of the club. However, it’s at this point that my evening is temporarily derailed as my iPhone decides to fuck itself (thus losing my BIGSOUND schedule) and I have to go outside to make a call to fix it, and miss the rest of the set. Damn you, technology!

Back at the Bakery Lane stage, Dubmarine are making sure everybody is dancing frantically with a range of high-energy, pumping dub and dance tracks. Blasts of trombone and synths rain down on the energetic crowd as the energy levels remain high. The fact that they are late replacements for an unwell Owl Eyes has left a few confused people wondering what is going on. One guy sees me writing and we have the following exchange:

Guy: “Is this Owl Eyes, mate?
Me: “Umm… no.”
Guy: “Who is it?”
Me: “Dubmarine.”
Guy: “Who?”
Me: “DUBMARINE.”
Guy: “Oh, I was wondering why they didn’t look like Owl Eyes!”

I should probably try to be more friendly to strangers. Anyhow, a quick stretch of the legs back up Ann Street and Oh Hello! is the location, catching Courtney Barnett’s set the aim. But alas, the bouncer rules that my mate is too hammered and refuses him entry. We decide to take a punt on the Press Club – where the door staff are either much less diligent or much more accommodating, I’m not sure which – and have a look and a listen to the pixie-like Elizabeth Rose. The venue is packed with punters, musicians, and Triple J faces alike; all ready to hear the young Sydneysider’s synth and vocals solo show. If she is nervous it doesn’t show at all, as tune after tune of multi-layered electronica is reeled off, accompanied by her confident vocals. “It’s my first time at BIGSOUND and I’m loving it!” she tells the audience, before kicking into her remix of ‘Foreign Language’ by Flight Facilities, her eyes closed as she puts everything into the vocals, while twiddling several knobs and pushing buttons at the same time.

The only knobs that King Cannons twiddle at Winn Lane are the ones that turn their amps up to eleven. As straight-forward a rock show as you will see; theirs is also one of the most exciting. Striding onto stage like men (and woman) on a mission to be your favourite band, they start into ‘Stand Right Up’, peeling off the committed, everyman style of blue collar rock they have made their trademark. I already know this is going to be the highlight of the entire BIGSOUND Live festival.

“If you feel good, clap your hands!” yells singer Luke Yeoward, and the crowd respond in unison, before the music rolls over into ‘Call For Help’, with Lanae Eruera’s bongos setting off the dual-Fender and piano riffage nicely. ‘Take The Rock’ is next; the chorus part of “Blow it up! Tear shit up!” sounding like possibly one of the best drunken sing-along songs you’d ever want to hear at a festival. ‘Too Young’ follows, another rousing track from The Brightest Light, as sweat pours in rivers from Yeoward’s face and the energy of the audience shows no sign of lowering. ‘The Brightest Light’ and ‘Too Hot To Handle’ are next, without a drop in energy level; the latter morphing into a galloping cover of ‘Rockaway Beach’. Just when I think this set can’t get any better, they go and play a Ramones song. HELL YES.

The closer for King Cannons sweat-drenched set is ‘Teenage Dreams’, the reggae-influenced rhythms allowing the band to have a bit of a jam, chucking in a few bars of ‘Pressure Drop’ by Toots & The Maytals in a singularly epic finale. The appreciative roar from the audience is massive, and with ringing ears and in the knowledge that I’m unlikely to hear anything better tonight, I set off towards the Mustang Bar.

Mia Dyson’s band are setting up in the partially-full venue as the lady herself chats to fans by the pool table. Looking like an ‘80s Annie Lennox and carrying herself with the confident air of a well-travelled performer, Dyson grabs the audience’s attention with her bluesy, whisky-throated drawl and ability to shred with the best of them. Introducing ‘Jesse’ as a “song about adoption”, before summing up her BIGSOUND experience as “having no idea what to expect, but this is lovely,” she then counts in the first track from her new album The Moment, ‘When The Moment Comes’, which she makes sound effortlessly stylish.

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Trudging back to the Press Club for one last set, I realise BIGSOUND Live is almost over. Tired but happy, I fight my way through the crowd waiting to see Drunk Mums. As they start to play in their raucous pseudo-anarchic style, I scribble the words ‘they look like a bunch of hyper, bogan speed-freaks, pissed off ‘cos they’ve had their hubcaps nicked,’ and that, to me, makes some kind of perfect sense. Their set is a glorious mess of scrappy garage-punk songs, mullets, and blood (the skinny, shirtless one covered in marker pen scrawl keeps punching himself in the mouth). As the sweaty, aggro-fuelled set is coming to an end, a scuffle breaks out to the side of the stage as a BIGSOUND bouncer jumps on a guy who was apparently going a bit too far with the argy-bargy on the dance floor, and they roll around, locked in a loving embrace on the floor for a while until the punter realises he‘s defeated. Girlfriends inevitably get involved, handbags come out, there is shoving and confusion, and I decide it’s time for me to call it a night and go home. To the taxi rank, home, and into bed with ringing ears I go, happy after a night of great music and good times.

So, what to say in summary about this fantastic festival? The first thing is that I had a damn good time. The second is that it was put together brilliantly. In fact, probably the only thing worth debating is which bands played the best sets (King Cannons and The Preatures in this writer’s opinion.) Kudos to the organisers, and the volunteers, and the venue staff who made it run so smoothly; you guys did a bang-up job. But most of all, thank you to the more than 120 bands who made us forget the world for a short, but glorious time. BIGSOUND 2013 can’t come soon enough.

Live review: Soundwave Festival, Brisbane – March 2013

Duff McKagan
Duff McKagan

Walking from Brisbane’s Fortitude Valley train station to the RNA Showgrounds before the first installment of 2013’s Soundwave instils a certain feeling in a music fan. Trudging these plain back streets would normally be a non-event, but as the stream of mostly black t-shirt-ed metallers, rock chicks, and the odd shambling drunk winds its way towards the gaping entrance to the festival, a growing sense of anticipation and excitement becomes apparent.

Each of us is swallowed up by the throng of people surging through the entrance barriers, before being delivered deep into the belly of the beast that is the sprawling Soundwave festival. Next comes confusion, as maps are studied in a vain effort to gain a sense of geography, before the line fans out and is absorbed into various crowds. Game on.

Choosing the first band to see solely based on the fact they are (presumably) named after a much-loved coming-of-age TV show you watched at your grandma’s house every Thursday after school may not be the conventional way of doing things, but Philadelphia’s The Wonder Years prove to be a good starting point. Their bouncy brand of pop punk attracts a large crowd, which quickly turns into an energetic, elbow-y circle pit on singer Dan Campbell’s request.

Orange Goblin
Orange Goblin

Next up is veteran English hard rock act Orange Goblin over at the secluded stage five. These guys have featured several times in Classic Rock magazine, and for good reason; they rock as hard as anyone on the bill today, and frontman Ben Ward has the everyman appeal that makes you want to be his mate, as he pumps his fist in the air and asks for more from the audience, wearing a t-shirt bearing the faces of his obvious influence, Thin Lizzy. “This is our first ever show in Australia,” he semi-growls, to a rapturous response, as both band and audience seem genuinely grateful to be present. Well played lads.

Flogging Molly have a large, sweaty crowd eating from their Celtic folk-punk hands over at the larger stage two as they run through a set of songs custom-made for a good ol’ festival singsong. Dedications to Johnny Cash and June Carter-Cash only increase the fervour as Bridget Regan breaks out her tin whistle and spasmodic faux-Irish dancing breaks out among the boozy audience – ridiculously comical, yet somehow quite perfect.

Over at stage three, Sleeping With Sirens are typical of the type of band on the bill that seem geared towards attracting the teen dollar, and each of their poppy post-hardcore tunes elicits a swell of adolescent screeching in the hot afternoon sun, while back at the main arena, Kyuss Lives! mostly ignore the crowd as they crank out waves of heavy stoner rock across the arena. Any form of Kyuss without Josh Homme or Nick Olivieri on board loses the majority of its appeal, and today’s show reinforces that idea.

Seeing many of the Soundwave bands brings back fond memories to ’90s and early ’00s kids – indeed many of the groups on the bill had their first successes around that time and are now either stalking new territory or living on past glories to various extents. There’s no harm in either of these routes of course, as long as they can be pulled off (seriously, how many people are really here to hear Blink-182 play the B-sides from the latest album?), but Sum-41 can’t really manage either, as their newer songs are average at best and their early material was never really that good in the first place. Add to this frontman Deryck Whibley’s lukewarm attempts at crowd interaction and you get a disinterested ‘meh’.

A quick trip back to stage three (via a brief but savage blast of Slayer) to be subjected to a short burst of All Time Low’s sub-par, teen-baiting dick jokes is followed by the hike back to stage five for Duff McKagan’s Loaded. It’s interesting that each of the ex-members of Guns ‘N’ Roses put their names in their band titles – from Slash’s Snakepit, Adler’s Appetite, and Izzy Stradlin and the JuJu Hounds, and it’s a sign of what sells and why people still want to see them play; because they were in frickin’ Guns ‘N’ Roses. Not needing to trade on past glories, McKagan’s band is tight and melodic, and he is an engaging frontman with a decent voice (as well as being in amazingly good shape for a man of nearly fifty).

Back at the main arena, the time of day when bellies being to rumble and the desire to trade all your worldly belongings for a comfortable chair has arrived. The dull drone of A Perfect Circle booms out across the showgrounds as dusk looms, and after a quick visit to the litter-strewn feasting area, it’s time to check out another band who had their heyday in the ’90s: Garbage.

Guys (and girls) of a certain age will always have a soft spot for Shirley Manson; she was the alternative rock babe of choice for a while back in the day, and tonight she proves she’s still got the pipes and the performance for a big occasion like Soundwave. The stick-thin singer bounds from one side of the stage to the other in an up-tempo and committed performance, as two of the band’s biggest hits, ‘Stupid Girl’ and ‘Paranoid’ are fired off early in the set like they’re no big deal, earning a huge response from the large crowd.

Fucked Up’s Damian Abraham wastes no time in getting among the sparse but hyped crowd over at stage five. “You could be getting a good spot for Metallica but you came here instead, HA HA HA HA,” the singer yells, before throwing off his shirt and launching his considerable bulk at the front rows. The following couple of minutes is a lesser-known highlight of the entire festival, as the singer mixes it with the fans, invites participation on vocals, loses his microphone cord, and fights off attempts by security to pull him back towards the stage, as the band ploughs faithfully on with looks of “he does this all the time” on their faces and the barrier between band and fan is beautifully and unequivocally shattered. Actually, damn it, it is the highlight of the festival, and the small yet appreciative crowd seems to agree.

Blink-182
Blink-182

And so, the business end of the show is fast approaching as darkness falls over Soundwave. Much has been said and written about timetable clashes and drummers not making the flight blah blah etc, but the truth is that the Soundwave organisers have put together an absolutely stellar line-up for this year’s festival, and the rock-loving people of Brisbane and elsewhere are spoilt for choice, such is the embarrassment of rock ‘n’ roll riches on show here tonight. Two pretty great bands playing at the same time? First world problems, motherfuckers.

As the curtain rises and Blink-182 kick off their set, it occurs to me what a colossal noise they make for a three-piece, and how Brooks Wackerman fits in seamlessly on the skins. By third track ‘Rock Show’ the pumped up audience is so absorbed in the music that Metallica seems like a distant memory. It’s hard to know whether Mark Hoppus and Tom DeLonge are still the boneheaded, dick-joke cracking frat brats they profess to be, or how much of it is just them doing what’s expected, but god damn do they put on a show.

And so, as the sky lights up, the spaghetti western theme trails off, and Metallica open up with ‘Hit the Lights’ and ‘Master of Puppets’ before closing with an epic ‘Enter Sandman’ in an absolute monster of a show, the Soundwave faithful know they’ve witnessed something special here today. AJ Maddah and co. will surely give themselves a headache trying to better this line-up next year as what just happened was pretty spectacular. Led Zeppelin and a reformed Cream, perhaps? Bring it on.

Live review: Future Music Festival, Brisbane – March 2013

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Anybody reading this will probably know by now that the Brisbane leg of Future Music Festival 2013 descended into something close to the seventh level of satanic mud hell; a washout of such magnitude that at one stage I caught myself looking at a discarded soggy pizza box and considering it a good vantage point. It’s tempting to launch into a rant about festival organisation/contingency plans/lack of shelter blah blah etc., but given a few hours to reflect since fighting off borderline hypothermia and trench foot, I realise that the day’s rain, mud, and general quagmire-related grimness are the things that are going to make Future 2013 so memorable. To my fellow festival-goers who made it through the day and came out smiling – I salute you!

I arrived at Doomben Racecourse just before 1pm, and headed to the Mariachi stage on the far side of the compound. At this point there was plenty of water on the ground and rain still falling in torrents, but no hint of the sludge-fest it would soon become. Gypsy & the Cat were just kicking off, sounding like a sight for sore ears with the always excellent ‘Bloom’ appearing early in the set to lift spirits and brighten hearts. The band’s music is perfect for a summer festival; all sunny melodies and harmonies, and it still sounded so through the deluge. ‘The Piper’s Song’ and ‘Only in December’ followed, before ‘Jona Vark’ provided a late set highlight, as singer Xavier Bacash invited the audience to sing along, which they did in spades.

Okay, I don’t want this review to turn into a weather report, but it’s safe to say that at this early stage I was soaked to my balls, as was every other person present, I’m guessing. Ellie Goulding – next up at the Mariachi stage – acknowledged the shitty situation with “thank you so much for coming to see me guys, I know how bad it is out there,” between showcasing her powerful voice (forgive me for not writing the playlist down – my notepad turned to mush and my phone was wrapped in a plastic sandwich bag) and covering several kilometres around the stage. Another fine set to lift spirits.

There are only so many times you can listen to “Brisbane: make some noizzzeeee!” or “Brisbane: put your hands up in the aaaaiiiiirrrrr!”, so Rita Ora’s crap-pop quickly became tiresome. Party and bullshit? Well – you’re half right Rita.

So, after a quick trip to the bar for the soothing nectar, it was back to the Mariachi stage to catch New York indie-rockers Fun.. Satisfyingly, they began with single ‘Some Nights’ and the energy level of frontman Nate Ruess didn’t let up from there, as the crowd bounced in unison to their quirky pop tunes. Any band that can make lyrics like “Well some nights I wish that all this could end, cause I could use some friends for a change” sound so damn cheerful and catchy are okay by me.

Weather update: still raining, beginning to shiver. Grass slowly disappearing under mud.

Azealia Banks has courted plenty of controversy recently with her alleged homophobic remarks, but it has to be said: the girl has a voice. She had gathered the biggest crowd of the day so far to her set; her voice booming across the racecourse with the easy confidence of someone who had been doing it for decades, not the young lady that she is.

One name that stood out to everybody when looking at their timetables was South Korean sensation Psy. His ‘Gangnam Style’ was one of the most talked about things of 2012, and I still can’t work out why. As I got a decent vantage point for his set I felt a small sting of shame that I was a tiny part of making this nonsensical tune more of a thing than it should be. Psy himself, is under no illusions, however. Addressing the audience before a note is played, he humbly pokes fun at his act by saying “You know me for one song only, but I’m contracted to do five, sorry,” before playing three songs (with excellent vocals on his part and a multitude of glamorous dancers), then announcing he will do ‘Gangnam Style’ twice to massive cheers and hectic dancing. I leave thinking that it’s all a bit of harmless fun and we’re all total suckers for finding something so silly even remotely entertaining. Well played, sir.

At this point I needed to get some circulation going again in my limbs, so I made the trek through the sea of deserted, muddy shoes and up to the grandstand to get some heat, food, and beer in my shivering body and send my editor a bitchy text along the lines of “Only the Stone Roses are worth this shit.”

After a deep, drunken, and borderline sexist discussion with some wasted Irish guys about the ins and outs of dating Australian women, I return to the other side of the waterlogged field once more, take in the end of A-Trak’s set, and settle in for The Temper Trap. It had taken over five and a half hours, but finally the musical heavyweights were here. Darkness had fallen, and a superb set by the London-via-Melbourne lads culminate with the ubiquitous ‘Sweet Disposition’ in the red spotlight and stage smoke glow provided the highlight of the day so far. Were they ever going to finish with any other song?

Weather update: total fucking quagmire. Can’t feel fingers. Stopped caring ages ago.

As for the highlight of the entire festival: this is the one. The Stone Roses. Now, I have to admit at this point that I’m a massive Stone Roses fanboy – from doing school exams when only ‘Waterfall’ could ease my nerves, to dancing like a monkey to the wig-out at the end of ‘I am the Resurrection’ as a drunken brat of a teenager, to breaking up with my first girlfriend and ‘She Bangs the Drums’ taking me to my happy place – like many others, the ‘Roses are practically sacred to me. Their songs have soundtracked my life, and when the unthinkable happened and they got back together, I shed a few tears of joy. At Future they played ‘I Wanna Be Adored’, ‘(Song For My) Sugar Spun Sister’, ‘Shoot You Down’, ‘Waterfall’, ‘Fool’s Gold’, ‘Made of Stone’, ‘This is the One’, ‘Love Spreads’, ‘She Bangs the Drums’, and an epic closing version of ‘I Am The Resurrection’. Ian Brown was on top form – his voice sounding much stronger than Friday night’s gig at the River Stage, and Reni and Mani proved why they are still one of the best rhythm sections around. Before I saw them, I was ready to be most impressed by the groovy stomp of Reni’s drumming, but it was the guitar work of John Squire that made me gasp the most. He is a true titan of the guitar; under his unassuming demeanour there is a monster shredder trying to get out, and I could have listened to him, and all of them, play all night. What a fucking occasion – the music world has missed them.

For me, nothing could have topped the ‘Roses, so I dragged my sorry, drowned-rat ass straight onto the train and made for home, and the safe, comforts like hot showers, dry underwear, and cold beers. Standing ankle-deep in freezing cold shit-water while being pelted sideways by a brutal watery onslaught from the heavens for eight hours (with nothing but a flimsy poncho for cover) in order to hear a few tunes is something to be proud of. To every single person who lasted the day, I say well done. Douchebags, one and all.