Brisbane indie-pop troubadour Jeremy Neale must be one of the hardest-working musicians plying his trade today. Not satisfied with being a member of rabble rousers Velociraptor, surf-rock piss-takers Teen Sensations and space-noise act Tiger Beams, as well as being support act of choice for the likes of The Preatures and Surfer Blood, he’s now releasing a long-awaited debut EP under his own name. It’s reasonable to think that having fingers in so many pies might mean In Stranger Times would be a patchy affair, but in reality, it contains some of the Queensland Music Award winner’s best musical output to date. Giving generous nods to sixties lo-fi garage-pop and classic girl groups of the same era, it’s a fun and catchy breath of musical fresh air from start to finish. Neale’s innate ability to write three-minute pop gems and his soulful garage croon are his strong points, most notably on latest single ‘Swing Left’, which manages to mix clap-along pop with ominous piano-led despondency. The title track is another highlight, as Neale joins forces with Brisbane’s favourite all-girl guitar band Go Violets to run through a perfectly-rounded pop song with instantly catchy guitar intro and boy-girl harmonies to die for. ‘A Love Affair To Keep You There’ is a darker effort; the inevitable break-up song that’s in contrast to the previous lyrical content. It will be interesting to see if Neale continues with his solo ventures in the near future, or whether he’ll be happy to remain as frontman and song-writer for Velociraptor or one of his other acts, but on this evidence the path to take should be pretty clear. (Create/Control)
Haim might be the most well-known group of sisters to storm the charts in recent times, but the hard-rocking Findlay sisters of Stonefield have been impressing on the live circuit since 2010, quietly (or blisteringly loudly, if you’ve been to one of their shows) building a following, and baby-of-the-family and bassist Holly is still only 15. For their debut album the quartet from rural Victoria have dipped a sponge into their parents’ album collection, soaked up the best vibes from early ’70s classic rock (think Led Zeppelin and The Who) and turned them into a classy set of rock tunes for a new generation. Drummer/vocalist and oldest sister Amy is the most powerful weapon in the band’s arsenal; her voice could probably knock out a bull at ten paces, as on grandiose lead single ‘Put Your Curse On Me’. Combined with Sarah’s swirling keyboard lines and the crushing riffs from Hannah’s Les Paul, it makes for a powerful album that will give you confidence that the future of Australian rock is in safe hands.
NEW year’s eve for Wombats bassist Tord Øverland-Knudsen normally means snow and family times in his native Norway.
The band’s upcoming appearance at Falls Festival will change all that.
“On a personal level it’s going to be strange,” he said. “I’ve never been away from Norway for New Year’s Eve; I’ve always been back with my family. I’m always home for a white Christmas and a really cold winter, so it’s going to be really weird to not have snow around I think. We’re really looking forward to the shows – Australia is our favourite part of the world to play in, and playing a big gig on New Year’s Eve is going to be pretty special. We’ve done a few pretty hot shows in America and Dubai and different places, so hopefully we can cope.”
The Liverpool-based trio have kept themselves relatively out of the spotlight in recent months, with work on a new album already under way.
“We’ve been in Liverpool working on new songs,” Øverland-Knudsen said. “We’ve been making the demos and trying to finish the third album. We’ve been to LA to record one song properly, and we’ve done a few gigs here and there in between. We went to Brazil, which was a nice experience; we did some headline shows in fairly small venues in both São Paulo and Rio. It was the first time we’ve been there and it was amazing; the gigs were packed and people knew our songs, which was kind of crazy. Hopefully we’ll finish the writing this year and record half of it before Christmas, and the other half in January, with the idea of a release around March or April, but you never know with these things. It depends on when producers are available and stuff like that as well.”
It has been a long road from when the band first got together in 2003 for them to arrive at the synth-led sound they are now known for.
“We met in university,” Øverland-Knudsen said. “At our first practice we all had massive hangovers, and in the beginning we were just really crap, but I’d like to think we’re not crap any more. Murph’s song-writing is still recognisable in the early stuff, but it was more like Pixies or Weezer; except more garage-y and immature, and his voice was softer and more high-pitched in the early days. After we released our first album we didn’t stop touring for about two and a half years, and we only wrote one song in that space of time. I think we almost forgot how to write a song, and I think you have to keep doing it for a while before you can make anything good. We had to get refreshed, take a month without doing anything with The Wombats, then get down to writing again.”
We wanted to do something different, and there was only so much we could do as a three-piece, and that’s when we brought the synths in. We had a couple of synths in a practice room and brought a couple more in because we didn’t know much about them before we started experimenting with them. After we wrote more and more songs, they became an integral part of most other songs, and it’s really great that we got to learn how to handle them. We’ll still be using them on the third record. I think that as soon as you experiment with something it’s really hard to go back – especially in the studio. I really love experimenting and using technology, but maybe at some point we’ll get really bored of that and just do a guitar album again, just the three of us.”
The band’s upcoming appearances at Falls, a New Year’s Day set at Field Day, and a gig at Southbound Festival on January 4th will allow Australian fans to sample new material.
“We’re really looking forward to coming back and doing some big gigs,” Øverland-Knudsen says. “We haven’t done that many shows recently, and it’s really exciting to be able to play some of the new songs. It’s going to be nerve-wracking as well; it always is with new songs, but it will be great to play them live in a place that we know appreciates our live shows. We’re really looking forward to it.”
THE WOMBATS PLAY FALLS FESTIVAL AT BYRON BAY JAN 2.
Melbourne’s Calling All Cars have just released a new single in ‘Werewolves’ and are about to embark on a national tour to launch the track.
The first time I saw you play, you were supporting AC/DC with Wolfmother in a bloody big stadium. What are your memories of that tour?
I remember the first show of the tour, walking out onto the stage and thinking…. “Holy f*#cking shit!!!” After that show, we really started to have fun with it. After all… How often do you get to support AC/DC!? It was rad.
You just played BIGSOUND, and drew a heap of people into the Tempo Hotel for your set. How was your experience of the gig, and BIGSOUND as a whole?
BIGSOUND was an excellent experience overall. It’s growing bigger every year, and there seems to be a real vibe around the whole thing, which is great to see! To be honest, we weren’t sure what to expect with our gig at BIGSOUND, as we have been in a writing hibernation for a while. Luckily for us, the room was full with a nice warmth in the room. We had a great set and then got drunk… er. We saw a whole bunch of rad bands, and also played a DJ set. Keep an eye out for ‘Calling All Cars DJs’!
There has been a fair degree of secrecy surrounding the upcoming new album. How deliberate has that been?
I’m not sure I can say… Haha. No, it hasn’t really been intentional, but we also don’t want to give it all away. Sometimes it’s nice to keep a surprise a surprise.
What does the new record sound like? Are you throwing any surprises in there?
Definitely. We have really pushed ourselves this time round. We wanted to step right out of our comfort zone for this album. We wanted every beat to be hip shaking, and every melody to be creeping back into your head when you’re least expecting it. Again, you’ll just have to wait and see.
Does having two brothers in a band help you to resolve disagreements quicker than you perhaps normally would?
I’m not really sure, as I have never been in a band without my brother. Ha. But I can only assume that it has its pros and cons just like any other scenario. Sure, we can resolve ‘tiffs’ nice and quick, but the ‘tiffs’ are usually over the dumbest things. I guess the cool thing is we can read each other on stage without words. That nice. Brotherly nice.
You’ll shortly be embarking on a tour to support the single. What can fans expect from a Calling All Cars show in 2013?
Well, a whole bunch of new songs. Also, we have reworked some of the old ones too. Lots of energy, drinks and fun.
What are your plans for the rest of 2013 and beyond?
We’re always writing new songs, planning future tours and looking to travel. We’re just taking it a day at a time.
CALLING ALL CARS PLAY ALHAMBRA LOUNGE OCT 26
Finding myself at a loss for which band to check out next at the recent BIGSOUND festival in Brisbane, I sauntered into Ric’s Bar where several hairy young men were readying to play. Thirty minutes later, after an intense onslaught of hardcore riffs and throat-shredding vocals, my state of mind could best be described by one the band’s songs: ‘Oh F_ck, My Face’. That band was Melbourne hardcore/punk quartet Clowns, and my semi-melted mug and fragile eardrums haven’t quite been the same since. I’m Not Right is their debut album, and it packs a punch in a similar fashion to that of The Bronx or Black Flag; all sweaty, beer-soaked hardcore and barely-restrained punk aggression. Movie nerds will notice a sound-bite of “Rowdy” Roddy Piper’s voice from ’80s cult flick They Live in 55-second opener ‘Awake’, before ‘Grave Junkie’ explodes with a savagery that is maintained for the rest of the twelve tracks. The album title is probably more autobiographical than is initially apparent, as the lyrics detail subjects like horse tranquillisers, acid, and various powders, and being an outsider on a daily basis, or “every day I wake up late, surround by the same old sh_t,” as the lyrics go on ‘Sheep in Black’. With song titles like ‘Eat A Gun’, ‘Jesus on Acid’, and ‘Rat’, this isn’t going to be an album you’ll play at your granny’s birthday party, but it’s a kick-ass collection of international-quality hardcore and punk that should come with a warning: must be played LOUD. (Poison City Records)
It’s a school night and one of Brisbane’s biggest and best venues is sold out – this is something very few bands have been able to achieve in recent months. Such is the diverse appeal of English indie-rockers Foals that it’s obvious this is one of those gigs that attracts people who don’t often go to gigs. Hipsters too; lots and lots of hipsters.
Support for tonight is Melbourne indie-poppers Alpine. Having just jetted back into the country from North America after playing a number of shows there, they admit to being exhausted, but put in an energetic and typically tour-tight performance, heavy with songs from their excellent album A Is For Alpine. Singers Lou and Phoebe are charming and enchanting as ever, and they finish with ‘Gasoline’ to a huge show of appreciation from the audience. With more tour dates in Canada the States on the cards in the next few days, life is only going to get more busy for the six-piece, but they’re looking and sounding mean and lean.
Foals’ stage setup is pretty impressive. A small army of dudes spends quite an amount of time setting up a lighting and sound rig that could fry the retinas and burst the eardrums of an audience several times the size of this one, but it’s all part of their live appeal. By the time the quintet take to the stage amid a haze of pink and blue lights and kick into ‘Prelude’ and then ‘Total Life Forever’ to huge reverberating cheers, the Tivoli is as rammed as I’ve ever seen it, and the phrase “losing their shit” could be applied to the audience collectively.
Holy Fire hasn’t been around that long, so there are plenty of tunes from that album on show, including ‘My Number’, ‘Providence’, and ‘Late Night’. Frontman Yannis Philippakis’s crowd-surfing-from-the-balcony-thing may feel a bit contrived (come on, we all knew he wasn’t gonna not do it), but again, the audience responds by almost to a man losing their shit. You’d definitely feel a little hard done by if you had suffered an “immediate eviction”, as the sign says, if you’d been caught crowd-surfing at any point before this event, but I guess you can’t evict the main man.
With an encore including ‘Inhaler’, many people have gone home after this gig claiming that this has been the best live show they’ve ever been to; such is the effect of this band’s music.
There’s something pretty irresistible about Go Violets, even before you’ve heard a single note of their music. The Brisbane all-girl indie-pop quartet take the kind of infectiously rosy approach to making music and performing that makes you feel like you’re stuck in some perennially perfect version of your teenage self, with nothing but carefree good times and unadulterated high hopes for the future.
Then you hear their tunes, and before you can work out whether the sweet, summer-y harmonies and tales of innocent adolescent longing are cleverly and carefully reconstructed versions of pop masterpieces from times gone by or whether the reference points are entirely coincidental, you find yourself being absorbed into the simple upbeat beauty of it all and thinking that if there’s any justice in the world, this band will be bigger than Robin Thicke’s ego. That’s pretty damn big.
Heart Slice is their debut EP, and in a nutshell, is a six-track, eighteen-minute blast of power-pop and catchy choruses that will charm you into falling under its spell, even if it’s not exactly ground-breaking or particularly technical stuff. “We’ll stick and never will divide,” sings lead vocalist Phoebe Imhoff on opener and best track ‘Teenager’, starting a lyrical run of subjects that include being “mad about you” and “meeting in the park” – get the idea? Various members switch instruments and take turns at lead vocals, as they do when playing live, with drummer Ruby McGregor and guitarist Alice Rezende swapping spots with ease, while bassist Harriette Pilbeam underpins it all with a punchy pop groove.
There are some pretty goofy lyrics here and there, “Hey Josie, this is not the end, or as the Spanish would say ‘fin’,” on slacker-pop second track, ‘Josie’ for example, but they all add to the overriding senses of charm and fun throughout. Buy this EP, and you’ll listen to ‘Teenager’ about fourteen times in a row – I guarantee it.
HEART SLICE BY GO VIOLETS IS OUT OCTOBER 4
Hailing from the northern beaches of Sydney, indie-pop quintet Lime Cordiale make the kind of pop music that will make you think of summer sun, beach parties, beer, barbecues, and good times. The core of the band consists of brothers Oli and Louis Leimbach and one thing that makes this EP different from most similar indie releases is the frequent addition of brass to the songs, including trumpet and trombone at various points. There’s also a bit of clarinet in there, because why the hell not? It’s indie-pop, but with a touch of ska and world music influences in places.
As the band’s name name suggests, Falling Up The Stairs takes a fresh and sprightly approach to indie-pop, and there’s a definite Australian laid-back and upbeat vibe; this music couldn’t come from anywhere else, and much of the style isn’t too far off that of fellow Sydneysiders Sticky Fingers.
Opener and single ‘Bullshit Aside’ is the best song, and sounds fun and upbeat despite having some fairly heavy lyrics. The playful synths in ‘Famous’ are layered over what is a tight and groovy rhythm section, and the jaunty ‘Sleeping At Your Door’ sounds like it would be pretty amazing played live.
The only criticism that could be levelled at this EP is that there isn’t an obvious stand-out killer track, but with the band having just played a by-all-accounts killer set at BIGSOUND and with the might of Chugg Entertainment behind them, expect to hear a lot more from Lime Cordiale in the coming months.
FALLING UP THE STAIRS BY LIME CORDIALE IS OUT NOW
I recently interviewed Peace frontman Harrison Koisser and he told me how much the band was looking forward to coming to Australia for the first time. “I’ve heard the lifestyle is different but the ideas are the same. It sounds like something we can get along with. I want to feel it,” he said. Tonight, in Brisbane’s best venue, the young English quartet will get a taste of that feeling, which probably involves a lot of heavy sweating in their leather jackets while blasting out a series of more-than-decent indie-rock tunes.
As I make my way from the traffic lights outside The Royal George towards the welcoming stairwell at The Zoo’s entrance, gladly escaping the god-awful blare coming from the Kaliber Lounge, the four lads of Peace are ambling along just in front of me, all shabby Converse and stick-thin legs, looking nonplussed and generally pretty cool with life, and like me they grab a spot to watch the support acts. Local indie-shoegazers The Creases are first up tonight, and they play a set full of heavily-distorted guitars, plenty of fuzz all round, shared vocals between members, and a bit of jangly pop thrown in for good measure. With support slots coming up soon for some bigger bands, these guys are worth keeping an eye on.
Next up is Millions, who have a different but equally good vibe, and a higher level of musicianship. The audience responds well as the band work through some new and unfamiliar songs throughout the set, and despite there not being much crowd interaction – as with all the performances tonight – the band, and particularly guitarist Ted Tillbrook’s impressive riffs, keep the top quality tunes coming; a highlight being ‘Stone Roller’ from last year’s Cruel EP.
Peace have recently toured with Mystery Jets, The Vaccines, and Palma Violets, so it’s tempting to lump them all together by describing their existence as some sort of resurgence in English indie guitar bands, but in truth, they play a style of music that has been around the block several times. Their sound is almost like a Brit-pop revival with more than a hint of psychedelia, and probably quite apt for this place and time, given that a large percentage of the Australian music-loving community is pissing their pants about Blur making their way Down Under very shortly. In saying that, they are a talented bunch of guys who aren’t into rehashing riffs, sounds, or styles from any previous era, and can put on enough of a show to make you forget about all the blog buzz and hype surrounding their debut album. Such attention has probably done them a disservice, as they’re a kick-ass live band first, bunch of pretty indie-boy pin-ups second. The quartet launch straight into their up-tempo set, only pausing to say hello before fifth track ‘Float Forever’, which Koisser introduces as “a slow one”, and the big choruses of ‘Toxic’ have heads nodding venue-wide, after he begins the track with just his solo guitar and voice. ‘California Daze’ is still probably their best song and would sound amazing at an outdoor summer festival, as it does in a small venue, and despite the ‘next big thing’ tag a large section of the music media has tried to force on the band, tonight’s gig is definitely a triumph of substance over style.
Sydney-via-Wollongong trio The Walking Who don’t seem like the type of band to stick to traditional methods. Take making a record, for example – the house for which the EP is named (and in which it was recorded) is a now-demolished old dwelling previously occupied by an eccentric theatre owner who died in the master bedroom, and in recent years became somewhat infamous locally for the strange and supposedly spooky goings-on there. Clearly the band weren’t put off, as this second release – after their 2011 debut Candy Flu – is a cool mix of psychedelic space jams, summer-y rock wig-outs, and indie-fuelled guitar fuzz along similar lines to parts of Pink Floyd’s career and compatriots Tame Impala’s last record. You can almost smell the incense and rollies in the air as the tracks go by, starting with opener ‘Rita’; a cool, calm, but not altogether collected track that ambles along at a casual pace. The heavy use of swirling organ and twangy guitars coupled with Rohin Brown’s deep vocals make single ‘Have You Seen The Colours?’ the most psych-rock track here, while ‘Pollen Of The Hour’ has a mystical vibe to begin with before breaking into shoegaze territory. Angus Stone makes a cameo on jointly-penned final track ‘Dead Man’s Alter’, and brings a dose of his folk sound to proceedings, complete with ominous undertones and brooding lyrics. They haven’t reinvented the wheel and it’s hard to pin-point exactly what it is they’re trying to do here, but The Walking Who have definitely got something good going on. (Independent)
Having recently celebrated ten years in the business of making top-notch punk-tinged indie-rock and with a new record full of songs spanning the band’s career, Gary Jarman, the refreshingly down to earth bassist for The Cribs, is looking forward to coming to these shores for a run of shows next month.
What can fans expect from a Cribs show in 2013?
Usually when I’m asked this question it’s a pretty tough one to answer, because we’ve always hoped that, idealistically, it’ll be somewhat unpredictable like it always used to be when we first started out. We always thrive off the idea that we never really plan stuff too much, and we’re never a particularly slick prospect, as that was the thing that used to drive us and keep things interesting. With these tenth anniversary shows we’re trying to mix in a bunch of the older stuff for people who didn’t see it the first time round, as we never toured the first album in Australia. The shows will be smaller, and I think that’s the right way to do it, and will hopefully be the best representation of where the group is coming from and from where we first started out.
If someone told you ten years ago that you’d be touring Australia for your tenth anniversary, how would you have reacted?
It would have been a real thrill, you know? But that never goes away; we’re still the same band that we were when we started out. We still have the same motivation and we have the same feelings about things. I think that comes with being in a band with your brothers; we’re still kind of amazed to be able to travel that far away from where you’re from and have people be interested in it. We never lost that sense of disbelief that a project you started with your kid brothers will be something that people will not only care about, but care about for a decade, and then to travel pretty much as far away from Wakefield – where we’re from – as possible, and have people come and be excited to see you play. That’s something we’ve never taken for granted, and being in a band with your brothers has been key to that. If I’d been in a band with other people I might have become jaded over the years, although it’s never been plain sailing for us – far from it. But the fact it’s a family thing makes us such a close and tight unit, and it makes us so honoured that it’s resonated in some way with people, no matter what level.
Some bands with several family members end up hating each other over time, but it obviously works well for The Cribs?
I think so, because the key thing is that we trust each other, and we grew up with the same stuff, and when we formed the band it was out of necessity as my brothers were the only people who had the same tastes as me, because we grew up with the same music. So it was basically a really convenient and ideal scenario for us. Over the years, we’ve managed to retain that, even though we all live in different places thousands of miles apart, and that’s been really good for us as we can all bring different things to the table from our different experiences. Rather than being alienated, it helps us.
Obviously Johnny Marr is no longer in the band, so what challenges does that bring when playing live?
Well, as far as live goes, we never expected to be a four-piece when we started the band, and we never expected there to be a fourth person there, as we didn’t have a fourth brother! Johnny coming along was like a really surreal and exciting thing for us, so we had to adapt to being a four-piece rather than re-adapting to being a three-piece, so it was really natural to go back to being a three-piece. But we do have another person playing guitar with us, who is like a live member, so we can add extra things to records and still pull them off live.
What do you miss most about having Johnny in the band, besides his guitar playing?
The camaraderie. While it lasted, it was a good way of dissipating the intensity in the family dynamic. Everything becomes really extreme in that sense; when the shows are good they’re really good, but when they’re a bit off they can be destructive. So having another person there makes it easier to reduce that intensity. There’s a different dynamic with your brothers or with your family than what you’ll have with anybody else, and you can often forget that unless there’s someone else in the room. It’s easy to forget how full-on it can be and how differently you speak to people you’ve grown up with. It was nice to have someone, not necessarily to mediate, but to see things a bit more rationally, instead of the emotionally-charged way we would always do things.
You won the Outstanding Achievement Award from the NME, and just released what’s essentially a Best-Of album. How do you feel about reaching milestones like these when you’re still so young?
Winning the award was such an amazing thing for us. When you can step away from things and look at them from a distance, it’s really a crazy kind of scenario. To get a lifetime achievement award like that, and to have a greatest hits record – if you started a band aiming for things like that, it’d be an egotistical and cut-throat thing. We never set our sights on that sort of stuff; we came from more of a punk-rock background, but it’s nice to be able to sit back and look at all the ups and downs of the last ten years and lay them all to rest and move on, in some ways. We’ve been playing a lot of these songs for ten years now, and that’s a kind of insane proposition, so this is a nice way to wrap it all up and move on to the next chapter I guess.
You’re known for having a DIY and independent approach to things. Is that something that will change as the band gets older?
If anything, it’s got a lot more pronounced. Initially, it wasn’t something strange to us, as we had no choice. But when the band started doing well, we didn’t feel the need to deviate from that, and we enjoyed doing a lot of things that way, and we took satisfaction from it. For example, we used to love playing on the main stage at the Reading Festival, and we’d be the only band who had a van; there was something perverse and appealing about that. But, from a different point of view, we’ve never been signed to a major label in the UK, so there was never a great deal of money flying around. We’re actually a really efficient band, you know? We do things on a level that avoids all that rock-star shit, and even when we’ve had top-ten records it’s been business as usual, and that’s possibly why we’re still here after ten years. We get a lot of satisfaction from adversity; we’ve always been so independent and nothing’s changed. Nobody makes money from record sales any more, and it doesn’t bother us at all; we’re used to existing on a shoestring anyway. We’ve never been dependent on anything and although it sounds like a bit of a cute statement, the only people I’ve ever depended on is my two brothers. If we get offered a show and we want to do it, we find a way to make it happen one way or another. It’s an idealism thing. I hate the idea of being dependent on things that other bands depend on to make things happen.
What are you most looking forward to about coming to Australia?
We had such an awesome time last time. We came out there in January, and it was one of the most fun tours we’ve ever had, so it’s not that I’m looking forward to one single thing, just the knowledge that we had such a really awesome time last time is enough to be really exciting for us.
THE CRIBS TOUR AUSTRALIA STARTING OCT 23 IN NEWCASTLE
The Vernons are four guys from The Gold Coast, who – having plundered their parent’s record collections and loaded up on retro-fuelled rhythms and a truckload of optimism – have set out to create music that makes you want to rock. Damn hard.
The band’s bio lists their interests as “beer and rock ‘n’ roll” and this four-track debut EP is built on solid foundations of both those things. While it’s hard to describe their music without listing the obvious influences from the best of ’60s and ’70s classic rock, the young quartet have enough of their own thing going on to avoid being labelled copycats.
Opener and highlight ‘Shake ‘n’ Roll’ borrows heavily from the likes of Led Zeppelin’s ‘Whole Lotta Love’ and Ten Years After’s ‘I’m Going Home’, and barrels along at a frantic pace from the start, before breaking down into a more bluesy groove as the song progresses.
‘Standing In Line’ is a more controlled affair, but loses none of the band’s trademark groove in the process, while ‘White Wine’ is even smoother still. Closer ‘Mercy’ makes a return to hard-rockin’ riff territory before we get too relaxed and before we know it, the EP is finished. With a similar sound to contemporary bands like WA’s The Love Junkies and NSW’s The Rubens, The Vernons have a good thing going on here, and the fact this EP is called Volume I would surely suggest there’s more to come from these Queenslanders.
These songs sound like they would be dynamite played live, and with a reputation for a killer live show, The Vernons are a band to keep an eye on.
VOLUME I BY THE VERNONS IS OUT NOW
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Not to be confused with the Los Angeles-based Deftones-affiliated band by the same name, Sydney quartet Palms have taken a refreshingly traditional route by opting for a full-length debut recording with Step Brothers, and not the three-EP-and-four-singles approach that many new bands seem to be going for recently. If, like me, you enjoy the simple pleasure of hearing three or four raggedy chords being battered out of an old guitar with a hint of a pop melody, a smattering of punk venom, throatily-screamed vocals, and a heap of clanking and bashing noises in the background, then you’ll like what’s going on here. The band’s Facebook page lists their genre as ‘shredding’ and their sound as ‘strum, strum, bang, wah, wah, wah, strum, boom, crash, strummmmmmmm,’ and that’s a pretty accurate description of what’s to be found on this instantly appealing, eleven-track record. Second track ‘Love’ is the obvious highlight; singer-guitarist Al Grigg’s howling during the chorus sounds like recording it probably shredded his vocal chords, but the results were well worth it. ‘You Were Mine’ is another peak, as torrents of youthful angst and desperate longing come pouring out of the band in a series of scuzzy, scratchy, and catchy riffs. Single ‘Summer Is Done With Us’ sees Grigg barely containing his aggression in another savage outpouring of emotion, and downbeat closer ‘Far Gone’ provides a quieter, almost soulful finish to a more-than-promising album. (Spunk Records)