Live review: Kimbra + Exhibitionist – The Triffid, Brisbane – 16/7/18

“Very meaningful,” is how Kimbra Johnson coolly describes her first gig in Australia in four years about midway through the first stop on her Primal Heart tour at Brisbane’s The Triffid on Monday night.

Kimbra Brisbane The Triffid Primal Heart 2018

Yep, meaningful. Yep, four years. Yep, Monday night. It’s not the most obvious choice for a triumphant return to a country to which she has ample musical links, but that didn’t stop a large and enthusiastic crowd gathering to collectively fend off the winter bite and enjoy some top tuneage under the arched roof of one of Brisbane’s finest venues.

Exhibitionist – aka Brisbane’s Kirsty Tickle and band – set the tone with a half-hour set of sometimes smooth, sometimes brooding, sometimes dark pop. “Sorry, guys,” she smirks, as she introduces ‘Sally’s Song’ – written with Sally Seltmann with music industry misogyny firmly in the crosshairs. Meanwhile, French drummer Jonathan Boulet is grinning from ear to ear as he basks in Les Bleus’ recent World Cup triumph, before closer ‘Being a Woman’ is introduced as “a little bit aggressive”, and is widely appreciated for being exactly that.

Now for something a whole lotta meaningful. New Zealander Kimbra takes to the stage amid a cacophony of vibration and expectation, taking her position stage-centre with the assurance of someone who has appeared on many of the biggest stages worldwide in the last few years.

An early one-two of ‘The Good War’ and ‘Black Sky’ showcases the strength in depth on the Hamilton native’s third album as the singer strides across the stage surveying her domain, while singles ‘Human’ and ‘Like They Do on the TV’ get big responses from an audience finally starting to relax.

‘Settle Down’ keeps the mood high, before the sparse ‘Past Love’ breaks it all back down. After ‘Two Way Street’, Kimbra challenges her crowd to dance when ‘Sweet Relief’ brings the funk in spades. It’s a veritable musical smorgasboard with no obvious flaw or failing.

All in all, when you look past the electicism, seemingly effortless style, and retina-threatening lights, it’s the 28-year-old’s powerful, soaring voice that’s the star of the show. Who knows what sort of meaningful stuff Kimbra can come up with in the next four years?

For Scenestr

Record review: Wolf Alice – My Love Is Cool (2015, LP)

wolf alice my love is cool

It’s easy to tire of the endless run of identikit NME-endorsed monotone and monochrome oh-so-English toffboy quartets masquerading as the new Clash-via-Libertines for the 21st century. Palma Violets, the Vaccines, Peace et. al are bands whose style-over-substance approach and try-hard ramshackle do little to deter the feeling that each of their parents have probably never driven anything smaller than a Range Rover with a horsebox, and that Pete Doherty is somehow still revered despite having been irrelevant for over a decade.

London’s Wolf Alice skirt around the edges of being such a band, sometimes dipping their toe into the clichéd indie-rock no man’s land that has been the final stop before the knacker’s yard for many a rock-lite pretender, but thankfully their debut album has just enough guts and range to prevent it from being more than just another shade of beige in the guitar-rock rainbow. If they didn’t have singer-guitarist Ellie Rowsell – a Justine Frischmann for the selfie-stick generation – Wolf Alice would barely be worth mentioning; the 22 year-old frontwoman carries her trio of anonymous male bandmates with aplomb throughout My Love Is Cool.

The band’s earliest work was rooted in folk, and it shows as Rowsell engages her inner Sandy Denny on ‘Turn To Dust’ and ‘Swallowtail’ sees one of the lesser three do his best Nick Drake impression. The delicate noir of ‘Silk’ sets up single and belting rock banger ‘Giant Peach’ perfectly; it’s here the controlled vocal talents of the diminutive Rowsell are most impressive, and on ‘Fluffy’ she shows screamo isn’t beyond her. Filler ‘You’re A Germ’ will embarrass as the band mature, as will the forgettable ‘Freazy’, but it’s exactly how Wolf Alice find and settle on their sound on album two which will make or break the band.


Record review: Plague Vendor – Free To Eat (2014, LP)

plague vendor

California quartet Plague Vendor may come from the same town as Richard Nixon, but they’re anything but conservative. A combination of punk energy and twisted and downbeat lyrics, the band’s debut album is simultaneously arresting and exhausting. Opener and highlight ‘Black Sap Scriptures’ is a dark tale with vaguely mystical pretensions set to a mighty and crunching guitar riff, while second track ‘Breakdance On Broken Glass’ doesn’t let the frenetic pace let off. There is so much of the Dead Kennedys in what is going on here, that fans of the seminal punks will want to check these guys out, if they’re not too busy being angry at the world to do so. It’s always interesting when an album has a song with the same name as the band on it; it’s tempting to wonder whether the track contains the entire group’s musical manifesto. If that’s the case here, then Plague Vendor’s is to beat their instruments to within an inch of their lives while shouting out the letters of their name to a bass-line that’s nasty enough to burn your record collection and blame it on the cat. Elsewhere, ‘Finical Fatalist’ tells the touching tale of frantic singer Brandon Blaine driving his car off a cliff. On ‘Garden Lanterns’, Blaine proclaims he’s “God damn, done it again, found something better than a one-night stand,” revealing himself to be an angry punk with a soft centre. This is high-octane, sweaty and shouty punk that makes you want to work off some calories in an angry, pogo-ing fashion. Not for the faint-hearted. (Epitaph)

Record review: Band of Skulls – Himalayan (2014, LP)

Band of Skulls Himalayan

The argument over whether rock ‘n’ roll is or isn’t dead or dying is one that is regurgitated every couple of years, but thankfully groups like Band of Skulls prove it isn’t at all necessary to be desperately searching for the next saviour of the form. The English trio has been making straight-up rock with garage and blues hints since 2008, and shown a pleasing progression over the course of their three albums; from the fresh but scattered Baby Darling Doll Face Honey to the the harder, more polished Sweet Sour and now this third effort, which is also the first to be produced by Nick Launay (Arcade Fire, Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds). Radio-friendly singles ‘Asleep At The Wheel’ and ‘Nightmares’ stay rooted in familiar territory, while others tiptoe down unfamiliar alleyways, like the rockabilly-tinged ‘I Feel Like Ten Men, Nine Dead And One Dying’, darkly Gothic ‘Toreador’ and lighters-in-the-air anthem ‘You Are All That I Am Not’. Bassist Emma Richardson’s vocals on ‘Cold Sweat’ are grand and graceful enough to make the song come off like a Bond film theme, and she ultimately steals the show over the course of twelve songs. While there’s no stand-out killer of a track, it’s satisfying to know there are still bands like Band of Skulls making rock music and winning fans the old-fashioned way; by putting in the hard yards on tour and getting a little bit better with each release.

Record review: Van Morrison – Moondance: Expanded Edition (2013, Reissue)

Van Morrison

How do you describe a stone cold classic album like George Ivan Morrison’s Moondance? The answer is you don’t; it describes you. Using words on a document to discuss the ins and outs of a collection of tracks that absolutely embody the very fabric of music itself is like trying to make the wind blow or sun shine. There are so few albums that can arguably be put into a category above and beyond the normal “masterpiece” slot into a level of a kind of transcendental majesty, and Moondance – Morrison’s 1970 second solo album – is certainly one of them.

Ranked at 65th spot on Rolling Stone’s ‘500 Greatest Albums of All Time’, if that means anything at all, Moondance was recorded only a few short months after the release of another classic, Morrison’s brilliant debut Astral Weeks, near Woodstock in upstate New York. Its blending of R&B, folk, soul, rock and jazz; all wired through its intensely controlling writer’s Celtic, stream of consciousness style, makes for some seriously special results.

Opener ‘And It Stoned Me’ is a beautifully narrated tale from Morrison’s childhood and the best song here. In 1985 he said “I suppose I was about twelve years old. We used to go to a place called Ballystockart to fish. We stopped in the village on the way up to this place and I went to this little stone house, and there was an old man there with dark weather-beaten skin, and we asked him if he had any water. He gave us some water which he said he’d got from the stream. We drank some and everything seemed to stop for me. Time stood still. For five minutes everything was really quiet and I was in this ‘other dimension’. That’s what the song is about.” The perfectly-paced track is perfectly constructed so as to allow the listener to float alongside the young Van as he makes his way through that countryside day in Northern Ireland. The addition of a lightly tinkling piano solo and subtly twining saxophones, and Morrison’s fixation on the glass of water “carried from the mountain stream” all add to the overall effect of a near-perfect childhood memory.

The title track is next, and despite the instant change of style to a song with an unmistakable jazz swing, Morrison’s voice makes it a smooth transition. There’s even a flute over-dub behind the vocals that gives the track a lighter air to go with the walking bass line. Fourth track ‘Caravan’ is another bona fide classic. The song – playing on Morrison’s fixation with gypsies – features yet more wonderfully descriptive lyrics. “And the caravan is painted red and white; that means everyone’s staying overnight, ” he sings, although it has to be said that the live version on The Last Waltz with The Band is probably even better (later track ‘Brand New Day’ is said to be inspired by The Band also). ‘Into The Mystic’ again explores the idea of the ‘gypsy soul’ in ethereal fashion, and ‘These Dreams Of You’ has the trademark Morrison groove that makes his live performances so special. Closer ‘Glad Tidings’ is his warning about the music industry and the trappings of celebrity lifestyle; ideas that Morrison has stayed true to over forty years later.

In terms of extras for this expanded edition, it’s what surrounds the songs that is most intriguing. From Morrison making false starts on ‘Nobody Knows You When You’re Down And Out’ and getting crabby with his band, to snapshots of multiple takes of each song, and alternate takes that are just as good as the album versions; there’s plenty here to keep Van fans intrigued.

Forty-three years later and every song on Moondance still sounds bloody amazing. That’s why it’s a classic album.

Record review: The Vernons – Volume I (2013, EP)


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.