With livers running at 200% capacity and the memories of a normal routine feeling distant and fuzzy, it’s time to dust ourselves off and give it another crack at Bigsound’s third official night of live music.
First up at Crowbar Black is Towns, playing their twelfth show since Saturday. The Adelaide duo immediately set the scene for a tip-top evening with a charismatic, funny and skilful set of punk/pop/rock numbers. “I’m so fucking happy!” says frontman Aston Valadares, grinning ear to ear, before throwing a bunch of t-shirts into the audience, Oprah-style. A medley of television themes, including ‘Home and Away’, ‘Round the Twist, ‘Fresh Prince of Bel-Air’ and ‘Friends’ provide a fun counterpoint to their admittedly “little sad” track, ‘Bleach’.
Over at Black Bear Lodge, Sunbeam Sound Machine’s Nick Sowersby and his band are making a gentler, more blissed-out sound, including tracks from new record, ‘Goodness Gracious’. ‘Talking Distance’ goes over particularly well in a venue that is perfect for the intimate feel of the group’s music.
At the Elephant, Reliqa vocalist Monique Pym is more into demanding intimacy from her enthusiastic audience. “Tell someone you love them – the person right next to you!” she suggests, to awkward glances from strangers taking in the Gosford collective. Pym is a powerhouse of energy with a towering voice that must place Reliqa as one of the most exciting young metal bands in the country.
Mermaidens are certainly not the demanding types at the Ivory Tusk, saying they “don’t want to get in trouble” if they play over their timeslot, although they do mention their new album being out tomorrow (6th September) several times. They do exactly as their bio describes, and do it extremely well – all dreamy vocals, hypnotic guitars and more charm than you can poke your hangover at.
At the Outpost, Teen Jesus and the Jean Teasers are simultaneously expressing their gratitude for the presence of a sizeable crowd, generating considerable industry buzz, displaying their Canberra home-town pride and playing a collection of rock and alternative numbers like its some of the best parts of the ’90s all over again. ‘I Like That You Like That’ is their best song and marks them as serious contenders.
Following a solid first-night show, the draw towards Laura Imbruglia at Black Bear Lodge is almost irresistible, and going against some imagined principle/protocol/ethic/whatever of Bigsound and seeing the same artist twice suddenly doesn’t seem in any way criminal. The Melburnian and her band, the Bin Chickens, are, quite simply, a class act. ‘Tricks’ and ‘Carry You Around’ allow lead guitarist Alex MacRae to flex his considerable chops as the quartet settle into a potent groove for another evening-winning set.
What a bloody great three nights of live music.
Fun and positive vibes were the name of the game at a bouncing Foundry in Fortitude Valley on Friday night (7th June).
In town to promote latest single ‘Close to You’, Melbourne beatmaker Alice Ivy was to play the penultimate show on a nine-stop tour in style, but if she was tired from yet another sizeable national tour, it certainly didn’t show.
First up was Gold Coast producer DVNA, who played a fun, earnest and endearing set to a filling Foundry, while taking time to thank her audience for coming along. Among a swag of smooth tracks, ‘Girl on the Move’ stood out as a soulful, glistening pop gem.
Next came Miss Blanks, who dialled the sass up several hundredfold and truly got the party started in her typically brash and entertaining fashion. Between tracks the Brisbane rapper, and former Alice Ivy collaborator, was genuinely funny and self-deprecating, with set highlight ‘This Bitch’ bringing together everything good about her act: lyrical savviness, humour, profanity, and solid hip-hop chops.
This gig, however, was all about Alice Ivy. The Victorian producer and multi-instrumentalist was on top form from the get-go, as the audience increasingly let loose on a Friday night.
Switching between guitar, bass, electronics and more, she showed off her range across a swag of tracks from her debut album I’m Dreaming, but it was single ‘Close to You’ that we were here to witness in the flesh. The track, a poised and slick electronic pop number, went down a storm.
The good vibes increased with Alice Ivy thanking and expressing her love to everyone for coming, with fans returning the love many times over as the set came to a climax and a night of celebratory electronic pop came to a close with a sea of smiling faces spilling onto the street.
For a man with so many fingers in so many pies, it’s a wonder that Pharrell Williams can even spare the time to be touring Australia. Producer, musician, rapper, fashion designer; he has been called a man of many talents, and while I was aware of his ubiquitous presence across seemingly every corner of the music world in the last twelve months, I wasn’t yet convinced that he deserves the level of veneration in which he’s held by a fair percentage of the music-loving population. This gig would help me decide.
Initially to be held at the RNA Showgrounds Marquee, the show was moved to the far superior Riverstage due to huge early demand, and no doubt benefited as a result. The natural amphitheatre by the river is surely one of the best venues in Brisbane, and it’s a blessing for everyone involved that the dreaded Entertainment Centre had no part to play in the evening’s proceedings.
Nina Las Vegas took to the stage to warm up the crowd as the venue filled, and ran through an up-tempo set of party tunes before an audience still happy to stretch out on the grass with a beer in hand; it was only seven o’clock and most people had just finished work after all. “Oh my God, you’re alive!” she announced, to a fairly fuzzed-out bunch of gig-goers, before further trying to entice a bit of movement with “arms are good if you wanna say hi!” during a remix of Disclosure’s ‘When A Fire Starts To Burn’.
Baauer was up next with a request to “make some noise if you’re seeing Pharrell tonight,” as I realise that I’ve never actually heard a DJ say anything interesting between or during songs; the nature of their work relegates them to using inane sentences like “let’s go Brisbane!” or “are you ready?” and while it’ll probably work at a club gig, it mostly fell on deaf ears with this audience.
With a 10pm curfew firmly in place for every Riverstage gig, Pharrell had his work cut out to make his show worthwhile when he arrived on-stage at 9:15. With his DJ and pair of dancers in tow, he simply had to walk to the front of the stage and salute for this crowd to go wild and bawl his name. What followed can only be described as a lazy, half-hearted attempt at a performance, as he reeled off shortened versions of most of the more well-known songs he’s had a hand in, with a Ramones-esque urgency but lacking in the elbow grease, entertainment value and any semblance of realism. He’s got a fairly hectic schedule, so preserving a bit of energy is understandable, but gig-goers still want to get some value for money, you know what I mean?
Starting off with ‘One’ by Swedish House Mafia, Pharrell leaned over almost into his baying and slathering audience during ‘Drop It Like It’s Hot’ and an excerpt of ‘Hollaback Girl’, and he still had basically done nothing on stage. I found myself wondering what would happen if the audience didn’t immediately go crazy for him the second he appeared. What would he have in his performer’s arsenal that would win over a crowd who aren’t instantly impressed by a foolishly-chosen hat, a couple of gyrating girls and a – admittedly impressive – set of abs? Luckily for him it’s a question that doesn’t have to be asked, as somehow his reputation carries him through.
“Tonight I just wanna perform for you and show how much I appreciate you so much. I know they call this the land Down Under, but this is the land on top. I want the Martians to hear the Australian voices all the way to the moon. Australia, are you ready to make some motherfucking noise?” Planetary confusion aside, this request got a huge response before more shortened versions of ‘Hot In Herre’ and ‘Lapdance’ and a request for some “oestrogen on stage” saw six or seven enthusiastically gyrating girls take their moment in the limelight.
The only song to be played in full – and indeed be anything more than two minutes long – was new effort ‘Hunter’; a song “written from the woman’s perspective”, as we’re informed. Hearing a track in its entirety made for a pleasant change to the start-stop nature of the show up to this point, but unfortunately that feeling is quickly erased when the wince-inducing lyrics of ‘Blurred Lines’ appeared.
The obvious climax is ‘Get Lucky’, which got the biggest response of the night, before ‘Happy’ closed out the set as dancing breaks out across the entire venue, although the man himself is still fairly static and alone on a big stage. More rambled speeches about being so loud as to shake the moon or some such nonsense are made, but as I left the venue it was more a feeling of utter indifference than happiness that I felt; and I was certainly no closer to understanding the phenomenon that is Pharrell Williams’s popularity after this half-hearted and peculiar little evening of live music that was a runaway triumph for style over substance.
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.
It’s a deliciously warm summer evening in my hometown; the kind that makes it seem that the sun won’t ever go down. In Belfast for the first time in about five years; I’m arguing with a taxi driver as we do about seventy miles per hour along the carriageway. He foolishly but stubbornly reckons Blondie were the first band to release a rap record, while I’m certain ‘Rapper’s Delight’ at least came before, even if it wasn’t the first. And weren’t Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five knocking around before either of them? I’m not sure on that one, so decide to keep it in my back pocket in the event of this debate heating up.
A dismissive “nah,” is all he’s got when I repeatedly make my argument that 1979 demonstrably came before 1981, and that elements of rap have been seen throughout reggae, jazz, and other forms of music well before front-woman Debbie Harry was even thought of, and also who-fucking-cares-anyway-can’t-we-all-just-enjoy-the-fucking-tunes. So, it’s with this sense of infuriation that I arrive at the Waterfront Hall to catch the classic new-wave band, now in their thirty-ninth year. Cheers, cabbie.
Thankfully, Blondie are way too much of a class act to let a smartass taxi driver spoil the vibe. The 2500-seater venue is full to capacity, and although the age-range of the audience is generally in the ballpark of those old enough to have enjoyed the band in their heyday, the energy level and atmosphere are high and buzzing, in that order. With an act that is obviously honed to perfection, the sextet take to the stage exactly on time, with Harry stealing the limelight with her trademark platinum blonde hair and an interesting red catsuit type number. It’s only about halfway through opener ‘One Way Or Another’ that surely every member of this – by now bouncing – crowd is reminded of what an original, and classic band this is.
Harry, from the off, is immeasurably infectious, and at 68 has lost none of the sex appeal that was such a trademark of the band in the late ’70s and early ’80s. She is a front-woman who is never boring, always visually engaging, and still has the pipes to fill out a venue of this size. Maybe it was her years spent working as a Playboy bunny, or simply a naturally engaging personality that taught her the need to not simply stand, but to always have a stance. Look up the ‘Heart of Glass’ video for example, and she’s not just standing behind the mic, but she’s there, hand on hip, one knee pushed forward, gently swaying her hips in an almost hypnotic motion. She also knows when to take a back seat and let guitarist Chris Stein or drummer Clem Burke’s sounds come to the fore. Did I mention that word class, already? Or the fact she influenced just about every white female vocalist who came after her?
Newer songs mix with old dependables, with ‘Hanging on the Telephone’, ‘A Rose By Any Name’, and ‘The Tide Is High’ following in quick succession, with the Waterfront audience now looking like unwilling participants in a mass epileptic fit in a retirement village, before Harry announces “there’s something here that’s big, wet, and wild: Mr. Chris Stein on the guitar!” Oh Debbie, you’re a tease and you know it.
A couple of unannounced new tracks are fired off to a relatively muted response, as token youngster Tommy Kessler engages in some impressive axe shredding, with the predictable result of several hundred middle-aged women now hanging on his every move, and the scene being set nicely for the biggest cheer of the night, which comes during the first few notes of ‘Atomic’.
Closer ‘Heart of Glass’ is perhaps Blondie’s best-known song, and at the time of writing was considered to be nothing more than another album track by the band, hence its position tucked three-quarters of the way down the track-list of Parallel Lines. Clem Burke proves himself to still be a hard-hitting drum machine during the final tracks, as the Belfast crowd loses its collective marbles, and Harry and co. strut off-stage for a towel down and a cold drink.
An energetic encore featuring new song ‘Take Me In The Night’, ‘Call Me’, a cover of Frankie Goes to Hollywood’s ‘Relax’, and finale ‘Dreaming’ brings a fine night of entertainment to a close, and the band leave the stage for the last time to the sounds of near-deafening appreciation.
For those seeing the band for the first time, it’s a glorious moment, and for those seeing them for a second or maybe third time, it’s probably even more so. While the hits get the biggest response, this is a band with plenty of mileage remaining, and with new songs being written constantly, they aren’t happy to rely on their past. While songs like ‘Atomic’ probably won’t ever be bettered, it’s exciting to think that Blondie are going to give it a damn good try.
Our Band Could Be Your Life #3: The Rock Edition is part of a regular showcase put on by Brisbane music warlords Footstomp Music, in order to get local bands on a stage. Tonight, we will be treated to four of the finest and most hard-working rock bands from Brisbane: Snakes and Daggers, The Grand Scheme, The Strums, and headliners The Mercy Beat, who are here to launch their new single ‘Fishbowl’ in the spacious, beer-y environment of Fortitude Valley’s The Tempo Hotel.
A small but dedicated has gathered in front of the stage as openers Snakes and Daggers get the show on the road with some quality hard rock. Named Guns ‘N’ Roses-style after singer Dick Dagger and guitarist James Snake, the band run through a short but sweet set of high-octane rock riffage, with Snake putting out the most energy as he gets amongst the audience for his solo.
Next up is The Grand Scheme, who should have played in this venue a few months ago, but were kicked off bonehead Bam Margera’s bill in contentious circumstances. Opening with ‘Kings of Youth’, the quartet play a tight set of hard rock with plenty of scream-y vocals and dual guitars. ‘Kink Kink’ is introduced as “the first song we ever wrote” and another is described as “going out to all the sexy beasts.”
Following The Grand Scheme is The Strums, who have been slogging away on pub and support circuits around Brisbane for some time now, and they provide the best set of the night so far. With a shout of “How ya doin’, alright?” and the words “love is rad” painted on his guitar, frontman Jai Sparks leads the widely-grinning quartet through a set of upbeat rock and punk tunes, including the catchy ‘Passive Smoke’ and call and response of ‘Fuck Yeah’.
And so, to our headliners for this evening: The Mercy Beat. The Brisbane rock trio are here to launch their single ‘Fishbowl’, and it appears in second slot in the set after opener ‘The Mercy Blues’, and gives The Tempo audience probably the best riffs of the night. Without pausing to introduce their songs or address the audience, the band rock through an hour-long set of top-notch rock ‘n’ roll and punk tracks, including ‘No Crown’, ‘Eagle Throws Goat Off Cliff’, and ‘Born Yesterday’ from their How To Shampoo A Yak album in a thunderous climax to the evening.
All in all, Footstomp have put together a damn good show tonight, and getting four kick-ass rock bands for $10 entry is a pretty good deal. While each of these bands deserved a bigger crowd this evening, it’s great to see people out supporting local acts and for them to be promoted in this way. Here’s hoping for many more nights like this.