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.
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.
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.
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)
Belle & Sebastian could never be accused of being attention seekers. Ever since their 1996 debut, they’ve flown distinctly under the radar in terms of self-promotion, but have somehow still managed to gain a fiercely devoted following of mostly pale and lonely Smiths fans. Newest effort The Third Eye Centre is less a bona fide album, more a collection of EP tracks and B-sides from the Glasgow band’s Rough Trade career, a sort of companion piece to 2005’s Push Barman To Open New Wounds, which featured a similar collection. Drawing songs from such a wide range of origins means this release has inevitable peaks and troughs, but unfortunately the troughs far outnumber the peaks. ‘I’m A Cuckoo’ is an aimless opener that takes too much from Jethro Tull’s baroque-rock nonsense. Second track ‘Suicide Girl’ is more cheerfully up-tempo, yet with miserable lyrics, while ‘Love On The March’ sounds like a twisted Brian Wilson B-side that didn’t make the cut. Dreary remixes by the likes of The Avalanches and Miaoux Miaoux come infused with the unmistakable whiff of filler, and will probably offend more than one of your senses. Under the pretentious façade of a few of the later tracks lurk the bones of some good songs; ‘Blue Eyes Of A Millionaire’ being a good example. Despite this, there comes a point early on when all their whimsy and effete dreaminess has never seemed so obsolete. (Rough Trade)
If you’re a fan of pop, punk, garage, rock, girl bands, catchy two-minute guitar songs, or any combination of the above, GET EXCITED – Bloods will make you want to jump around and forget about all the things you probably should be doing with your day. Golden Fang is their debut EP, and with a slew of catchy singles already under their belts, the Sydney pop-punk trio have left behind the days of doing Spiderman theme covers and beefed up their sound, as well as recently signing to Shock Records. While their outer veneer might make them seem a like a trio of snotty kids sticking a middle finger up at the idea of getting a real job or any of that ‘square’ sort of stuff, there’s serious power and musical ability strewn between the bubblegum punk-pop choruses and sneering lyrics, not to mention a solid dose of reckless abandon and a sense of forgetting about tomorrow, or “living for the take” as singer-guitarist MC says in ‘Bodies’. They’re not a one-trick pony though, being just as adept at the slower love song-type stuff too; ‘Back To You’ having the type of direct “You’re the one that I want” chorus that has reverberated through all the best love songs in pop history. The sugar-sweet vocal interplay between singer MC and bassist Sweetie Zamora is what make Bloods so special though, and when fused with instantly catchy punk riffs and a cut-the-crap approach to song-writing, makes their music feel like some of the most essential of recent months. (Shock Records)
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.
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.
“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.
It’d be reasonable to assume that the prospect of a night of country music and the proximity of the Ekka might be enough to attract a few out of town punters to the banjo-twangin’, boot-stompin’ events of the evening at The Zoo, but this wasn’t to be the case on Saturday night, with only around forty to fifty hardcore fans showing up for the second instalment of Labours of Love at the beloved venue.
The bands didn’t seem to be put off by this, however, and after a short set by local quintet Bandito Folk, and much fiddling with electronics and synth cables, Seja Vogel and her three band members take to the stage. “Hi, I’m Seja and I’m going to play some not very country music,” she explains, before running through a series of synth-heavy tracks from her new album All Our Wires, including the excellent ‘Like Fireflies’ and German number ‘Die Wolken’, followed by a sublime acoustic cover of cult Gold Coast band Arbuckle’s ‘Love Vacation’.
Halfway take to a stage now adorned with a projected backdrop of various pictures of country Queensland, and coolly work through a set of songs taken from their upcoming fourth album Any Old Love. Despite all the new songs being totally unfamiliar to the audience, they receive a warm response after each tune; from the slower country numbers to the more up-tempo rockers. There are hints of The Band throughout, and even touches of Warren Zevon in parts, and the sporadic dancing that breaks out by the third or fourth song among the loyal fans in front of the stage keeps up until the final chord is struck. Surely this is a better way to spend an evening than watching fireworks and eating ice cream?
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?
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.
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 music of Crosby, Stills & Nash will be forever intertwined with the era in which it was created. The coming-together of members from some of the most prominent American groups of the ’60s – The Byrds, Buffalo Springfield, and The Hollies to be precise – saw the creation of some of the best politically-charged folk-pop seen in music up to that point, in a time when post-JFK, America was tearing itself apart. It’s impossible to listen to their music without getting images of the Vietnam War, Woodstock, the Summer of Love, the Black Panthers, and the Chicago Democratic Convention police riot in your head. Their heyday also came at a time when some of the best damn music in existence was being made.
Strangely enough, the trio only got together after the Summer of Love in 1967, but ultimately were to go down in history by being part of Woodstock in 1969, along with the likes of Canned Heat, The Who, and of course, Jimi Hendrix. The fact their music is so closely associated with a particular era makes another ‘Greatest Hits’ (which this essentially is, with added extras) hard to view objectively, but one thing is crystal clear: this is classic stuff.
Known for their often complex vocal harmonies and political activism, David Crosby, Stephen Stills, and Graham Nash have had a monumental influence on music, in America and elsewhere, and it’s all here to see in all its glory. There’s a demo of ‘Guinnevere’; the original being from their classic 1969 debut, and an alternate version of ‘Woodstock’; originally penned by Joni Mitchell. There are also spotless live versions of ‘Black Queen’, ‘Dark Star’, and ‘Love The One You’re With’, and an embarrassment of riches plucked from the entire career of the band. Basically, this is essential stuff – every home should have one.
Lately, I’ve been going to gigs and finding myself more impressed and entertained by the support acts than the headliners themselves; Big Scary, Pigeon, and Jagwar Ma have all put in live performances more memorable than the groups above them in the bill. Is there an argument that support bands have more to prove, so tend to put in more effort? Possibly, although doesn’t every band with enough balls to get up on a stage have something to prove, night in, night out? I’m putting it down to coincidence.
I mention this, as tonight’s support acts at Brisbane’s Black Bear Lodge are both outstanding, as well as being closely related, musically and personnel-wise. First up is local lads RINSE, featuring members of Babaganouj and Jeremy Neale’s band, amongst others. Playing a tight set of heavy shoegaze and dream-pop, the band leave quite an impression, and climax with ‘Coin’; a Buzzcocks-esque number with added keys.
Next is Babaganouj, lead by Charles Sale and featuring members of Go Violets (the Brisbane music family tree is a complex and extensive one), each band member comes on-stage one song at a time, until the quartet is complete. Their sound is heavy with mid-’70s radio rock influences, with a touch of The Replacements circa 1984 in there for good measure, and their entertaining set culminates with perhaps their most pop-y track, ‘My Favourite Colour Is You’. Sale is an engaging frontman with a strong voice, and is equally adept at getting the audience out of their seats and dealing with a mid-song tuning issue.
The house music cuts out and Major Leagues kick into their first song so inconspicuously that some people in the small venue take a short while to notice that the head-liners have begun their set. The four-piece’s vocals are a little lost amongst the sound of their own instruments at first, inciting the desire to walk over to the sound desk and turn up the relevant dials, but the band’s strong point is their knack with a surf-rock/pop melody, and this makes them pretty special. Major Leagues have the melody gene dripping out of every pore, while drummer Jacob Knauth keeps things from ever getting too light. The single they are here to launch, ‘Endless Drain’, is a typically cheerfully melodic, summer-y pop number with a sneering lyric and plenty of vocal harmonies. While ‘Teen Mums’ is still their best track, this band have a bright future if they keep producing tunes of this calibre.
Billed as being for young people by young people, Youth Music Industries’ fourth annual all-ages 4 Walls Festival at QUT boasted quite a line-up this year.
Before a hoard of baby-faced and expensively attired onlookers, local alt-rock quartet Twin Haus provide an early highlight on the rooftop stage with a tidy racket of a set, before English-Australian four-piece Tourism unleash a new batch of Arctic Monkeys-esque tunes with some heavy moments on the main stage in the darkness of QUT’s lecture theatre. During a previous Brisbane gig guitarist Adrian Brown puked on his guitar mid-song, but everyone is clearly under instruction to be on their best behaviour today, which is helped by the lack of bar at the venue.
The biggest draw of the day so far is Brisbane’s Go Violets, who almost send a swelling crowd into spasms with their cheeky brand of all-girl indie, with more than a hint of the ‘1-2-3-4’ aesthetic of J-Pop and near-perfect depiction of adolescent angst. With lines like “I really like you, I like your hair”, they could be any teenager here today, and after eliciting proposals of marriage from male members of the crowd, they finish with the Powerpuff Girls theme song. Once they master stagecraft, this band could be huge.
Meanwhile, SURFER CATS are making a boneheaded yet strangely charming mess of noise on the rooftop stage with a set of songs about – yes, you guessed it – surfing and cats, including tunes with names like ‘Vampire Cat’, ‘Catch A Wave With Me’, and ‘Schizophrenic Cat’.
Baseball cap-sporting Jeremy Neale takes to the main stage to thunderous applause, and proceeds to provide the throat-shredding vocal performance of the day, with ‘Winter Was The Time’, ‘Merry Go Round’, and ‘Darlin’ featuring, before being joined by Go Violets and members of Major Leagues to finish with a raucous ensemble version of ‘In Stranger Times’.
Having just driven from Newcastle to make the gig, Pigeon proceed to up the quality tenfold and steal the show with a high-energy blast of electronica, including a ten-minute Daft Punk medley which fuses ‘One More Time’, ‘Around The World’, ‘Robot Rock’, and ‘Harder, Better, Faster, Stronger’ into a single pulsating jam.
Late additions to the bill Cub Scouts headline the main stage with their usual collection of well-crafted indie-pop tunes and send the kids of Brisbane home tired but happy, while the rest of us retire to the nearest bar for a well overdue drink.