Monday, September 26, 2011

Live Review: TULLY ON TULLY, SLEEP DECADE


THE TOFF IN TOWN

The near-empty room fills rapidly once the sounds of Sleep Decade begin to fill the room, emanating from the four members like billowing clouds. Looped guitar textures, simple bass motifs and scattered drums drift out as songs form out of the air and at first seem barely held together. Sleep Decade are one of the most perfectly named bands going, once their ephemeral rock kicks into gear, you’re already seduced by its dazed beauty and the attention to detail of guitarist Casey Hartnett. Songs like First Leaves and People are OK finds a multitude of ways to make expansive, languid sounds fascinating, particularly the Pygmalion–evoking relentless guitar loops of the latter. News that the recording of the debut album was completed two days ago is heralded by a performance of the song Bicycle which has a sparse momentum that screams single. It’s another song that should surely appeal to other people raised on the sounds of Kid A.

Recently shifting their name from Tully and the Thief to Tully on Tully, curtains part to reveal a nervous-looking Tully (aka Natalie Foster) dressed in a baggy smock-like dress and with a wraparound braid already dancing on the spot awaiting the onset of opening song Blinded. There is no need for nervousness though; the crowd is onside from the first note and every song more warmly received than the last. Foster’s somnambulistic movements and wholly physical devotion to each word make her seem as if she’s giving more than any other performer, so convincing is her delivery. Words are broken, lingered on and resurrected; lyrics are cast like spells and the band act as a wonderfully intuitive whole. It’s riveting stuff, and utterly unlike anyone else. The musicianship of the four-piece band is more than proficient, Pete Corrigan’s deft keyboard work and the pealing chords from Gretsch-wielding guitarist Greg Rietwyk are especially impressive, and their meshing is well arranged with little doubling of chords and a refreshing lack of overplaying.

Songs swell and break with Foster riding the changes as if barely resisting some internal force. Close to Over is brilliant in its manic tumbling and tight brevity, and there’s no reason why with the right promotion the smart pop Organ Song shouldn’t top charts. Foster’s theatrical edge belies a knowing confidence, and it’s hard not to think that were a copy of their forthcoming album stuck to the cover of each Frankie magazine they’d never go hungry again. Is This Love? showcases Foster’s warmly expressive voice, an instrument that never needs to get sweet to win favour. The stunning single Hard to Breathe, whose launch tonight’s gig is in aid of, allows for more vocal twists and turns than usual which matches the subject perfectly. Lyrics sometimes lose their impact through repetition but that’s a minor gripe with the sheer charisma on stage, and the powerful rhythm section backing everything. Closing song No Problems There, finishes the set with a flourish and seals the deal that this is one band whose debut album is something to anticipate.

Live Review: RICHARD IN YOUR MIND, THE LAURELS, FISHING


GAOB RAB BUFFALO CLUB

A Richard in Your Mind gig is always a chance to sample some of Sydney’s more interesting bands in addition to a show by one of the country’s most underrated groups. It’s also many people’s first experience of this curiously named new venue, part private club part anonymous alleyway dive, whatever it is it’s old, strange and blessed with a great PA.

Drifting onstage and soon issuing forth warm tones and twisted beats, the duo of Fishing are a strange prospect. While making music driving down rainy motorways to, with mid-paced big beats and warm reverb-heavy chords and choral voices. Motifs linger and leave to be replaced by swells of reverb and what sounds like echoes of an old Kompakt compilation. It’s oddly emotive in parts, and ruthlessly in-your-face in others, at times the duo seem to surprise each other with their moves and closing with a mashup of TLC's Waterfalls/No Scrubs is a deft twist.

It’s safe to say that without the 1988-1991 output of My Bloody Valentine The Laurels wouldn’t exist, or would be a more interesting prospect if they did. As it is, a dearth of ideas is substituted for with copious effects and even more volume. Indiscernible lyrics and a seamless jagged wall of barely controlled noise can be beautiful; here it is tedious, swampy shoegaze. If there were something beautiful or profound in these songs, it would get lost, as much of the crowd did during their set.

With their current tour featuring the welcome addition of Alyx from Ky├╝ on vocals and keyboard, Richard welcomes us with a “Hey man, thanks for coming out…even though we're inside,” before blowing our minds with their take on whatever passes for psychedelic pop these days. Richard in Your Mind explode preconceptions as easily as bassist Brent explodes a bottle of champagne during one of the albums finer moments Maybe When the Sun Goes Down. This is a concert of rare ambition and warmth. Take the Sun Away is folk-fuelled bliss, Birds recreates the journey to a Hawaiian beach as a three-minute pop song, while the mourning harmonica of Tear Filled Ocean is our return. Closing with blistering versions of their glorious I Will and a wholly worthy cover of Please Please Me, it feels the show can’t be bettered, but, just to prove me wrong Candelabra from 2010’s fantastic My Volcano leaves no need for an encore.

Friday, September 23, 2011

Live Review: SEBADOH, ADAM HARDING & FRIENDS


The Corner Hotel

Any gig that begins with the support band’s drummer escaping Houdini-style from a straightjacket suspended above the stage and doesn’t steal thunder from the headliners is going to be a) different and b) good. Dane Certificate, drummer and escapologist moves from the straightjacket to the drums and the unholy noise of Adam Harding & Friends erupts gloriously. Thrashing the hell out of his kit as Harding and Steve Patrick send slices of distortion through the air like a chainsaw through ice, Harding’s baritone guitar takes a beating as he recreates the sound of a Tumbleweed EP being played very loudly on a dying cassette player. Lou Barlow joins for last song Redrum and concludes a perfectly chosen support set.

“A show of hands…how many were here last night?” asks Barlow keenly surveying us. “Not many of you…damn, I was hoping to slack off,” he grins. Slack is a perfect word to describe tonight’s set, beset with lost capos and plectrums, a busted snare drum and copious rambling banter to cover for it. It’s perfect. Sebadoh shouldn’t be tight and unfussy, and we get a set that contrasts gloriously with the previous night’s bracing rush through the past. Bursting to life with Too Pure, Barlow’s voice evokes a warm rush of familiarity like a welcome phone call from a long lost friend. On Fire follows and highlights his piercing guitar tones; as if he borrowed it from Neil Young and couldn’t change the settings. Ocean and Skull become instant highlights and gradually the nearly sold-out venue unfolds their arms and moves from calmly appreciative to excited and not afraid to heckle. On the Rebound and Magnet Coil immolate brightly as songs follow in short bursts of fury as Barlow and bassist Jason Loewenstein (who still looks 25) swap instruments and Loewenstein’s fiercer fodder and dirtier guitar gets drummer Bob D’Amico even more unhinged.

'Lets get this Monday night momentum going' he drawls ironically before launching like Evil Knievel into S. Soup, with its ‘crazy people are right on’ hook, causing D’Amico to break his snare. The ensuing 10-minute gap allows Barlow to wax lyrical about his love for Eddy Current ("it's Brendan's birthday today y'know"), Klimt ('"you should definitely go see the Vienna exhibition, it's great") and his hatred of Americana ("fucking middle class white guys plucking on banjos, is there even such a thing as Australiana? God I hope not."). Part way through Not Too Amused D’Amico returns and the set reawakens. Careful, Sister, Dreams and a bitter Drama Mine punctuate a set full of highlights before Willing to Wait and a story of its near inclusion in Friends closes what must rate as one of the gigs of the year; all 32 songs of it.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Live Review: ALEX AND THE RAMPS, WITCH HATS, PASCAL BARBARE & TEETH

PHOENIX PUBLIC HOUSE

As important as the onset of an Alex and the Ramps residency is, it’s fair to say that the venue is as much on show as the band tonight. This is the first gig to be held here since the pub/restaurant/venue opened quietly in late August, and given the layout, quality of the PA and people behind it, it’s safe to say there’ll be plenty more.

First up though, is the showcasing of the newest addition to the headline act, drummer Pascal Barbare. Recent replacement of longtime Ramp Jon Thjia, he pedals his own brand of indie rock weirdness with his band Pascal Barbare & Teeth. Which is ironic, as teeth is what this music could use. Loose harmonies coast on swelling and lulling anthemic indie rock, laden with ‘la la la’s and noodling Gretsches. It’s innocuous enough, but with the talent present, and several moments where the careful use of dynamics and control of textures come together, it seems better will come. Judging by the quality of Barbare’s solo work, the potential is definitely there.

Witch Hats too, play a relatively subdued set, possibly due to their recent single launch, described as ‘loud as fuck’ by the band. Playing most of new album Pleasure Syndrome, the songs are oddly mid-tempo and lyrics almost discernible. Now into their sixth year, a cynical intelligence seems to have subsumed the biting humour and bludgeoning danger that came with a Witch Hats show; it's as if they've thought before acting for the first time. Musically tighter than ever before, the band are still able to shift the tone of a song in a moment, that they choose not to is slightly frustrating and probably makes more sense on record. Ash Buscombe’s bass sound has an intensity that even Albini would leave alone, and it punches fiercely against the dour garage rock. The lack of stinging malevolence, once bottled, set alight and flung into the face of a Pony 2AM crowd, is a difficult thing to replace. Songs like Sessa still channel it, but it seems something else is on their minds now. Perhaps the venue is too shiny and a messy warehouse party would bring it back.

For anyone who hasn’t seen Aleks and the Ramps for more than a few months, matching expectations with their new lineup is initially disorienting. With 2/5ths of the band replaced since their phenomenal Midnight Believer album, and the role of each member so vital to the output, it’s a tough move they’ve had to make. Fortunately, the quality of songwriting is maintaining its upward trajectory and it is this, as well as Aleks' and Extreme Wheeze’s guitar theatrics, Flying Diamonds’ banter, new member Whistling Nancy’s random anecdotes and the sheer talent present that wins over the sizeable and curiously heavily-bearded crowd.

“So, what do you think of the Phoenix?” asks Aleks, three songs in. “It's a pretty nice place, I got some yummy food, it's got a good vibe,” he says to murmurs of concurrence. Their set is loaded with new material and songs In the Snow for the Time Being, Pray Tell and Crocodile all manage the astonishing job of not being flattened by the brilliance of earlier singles Antique Limb and Bummer (‘a song about doing a brief stint in jail for ordering a Taser online and not realizing you couldn’t bring them into the country’). The audience, a mixture of the curious, the local and friends, respond warmly and react with glee to the dual guitar-behind-the-head solos and the band’s propensity for ending a song suddenly. It’s rare to see a band manage such a shift in members and still deliver such a cohesive and exciting set. Tonight’s show, along with the forthcoming album provides another reason to get happy about the forthcoming summer.

Live Review: ARCHITECTURE IN HELSINKI, CUT OFF YOUR HANDS, GEOFF O’CONNOR

THE FORUM

The night begins with a bewitching performance from perfectly chosen support Geoff O’Connor. Another artist in the process of losing the lazy labels that beset his brilliant earlier work, O’Connor seems more at ease than ever, inhabiting a strange world of sensuality, electronica and lightly breathed but deeply resonant paeans to the power of allusion. It’s heady stuff, and his subtlety is unfortunately swallowed up in the rapidly filling room.

If O’Connor encourages us to lean in a little closer, then Cut Off Your Hands blast us to the back of the venue with their ambition, copious guitar pedals and impassioned vocals. Sounding like a cross between BRMC and JAMC, COYH are massively successful at what they do, and its unfortunate the chatting couples and steadily drinking friends don’t notice the slicing riffs of guitarist Jonathan Lee and McCullough-esque pleas of singer Nick Johnston. Highlighting their recent release Hollow, songs like You Should Do Better, All it Takes and Hollowed Out are rallying cries that the combination of reverb and cavernous venue render indecipherable, though intentions are loud and clear.  

Bathed in blue fluorescent tubes, dry ice and in front of a massive reproduction of their album cover’s exploding droplet, the quiet, amiable people of Architecture in Helsinki, metaphorically march on stage and scream ‘LET’S GO BACK TO 1984 FUCKERS!’ We gladly follow. 

Using warm and intimate sounds as they’ve always done, the icy control and volume with which they deploy them is their greatest asset. The weightless pop of Moment Bends harks back to cultural references the crowd are largely (and in some cases thankfully) oblivious to. This means edgier singles like Hold Music, Escapee and That Beep render the crowd as noisily engaged as one of the nearby footy games, even album tracks like Everything’s Blue and I Know Deep Down get mobiles-in-the-air and dudes-on-shoulders responses.


Occasional synchronised dance moves, clumsy RAWK!! guitar solos and introductions like ‘this song is about living here in a kind of random way…maybe you can pick up on the vibe,’ show that their sense of humour is more pronounced than ever. Twice mentioning how humbling it is to be playing The Forum, AiH never have to try to win us over. Closing with Heart it Races, Do the Whirlwind an unrecognised It’5 and blistering Contact High, the show is a testament to how, over a period of 10 years, you can shift not only your sound but also your fanbase whilst remaining totally true to your ethos; from inner Melbourne concerns and crowds, to outer if you like.