Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Live Review: DAN MANGAN

Northcote Social Club

In case you were wondering where Dan Mangan is from, tonight’s crowd has no hesitation in reminding you. This is one of the most excited and happily noisy audiences this venue has ever seen, and it could well be an O week show in Vancouver, so often do you hear shout outs to Canadian sporting teams (Go Canucks! Go Vancouver! Go Canadians!). The stage is littered with acoustic instruments, an electric bass and guitar, the crowd with happily drunk Canadians. As Mangan and his band walk out the place erupts with cheers that are soon drowned out by swells of feedback, bowed double bass and shimmering of cymbals that begin About As Helpful As You Can Get Without Being Any Help At All, the opening track from his most recent album Oh Fortune.

As the first of many heartfelt and vibrant indie-folk tunes finishes and is replaced with cheering, Mangan begins his banter that can only be described as even better than his excellent songs. ‘You have a very cool city. I went to Fitzroy, it was nice, I would reference some other areas we walked around…but I would pronounce them incorrectly' he deadpans between more friendly heckles. ‘Did you know Whistler is the 3rd largest Australian city?’ He continues. ‘And judging by the turnout tonight, Melbourne is Vancouver's third largest suburb’.  He and the band ease into Oh Fortune, then Leaves, Trees, Forest each of which foreground dynamic shifts, the roughshod playing of acoustic guitars, Mangan’s wailing vocals and smart, evocative lyrics. Feedback is barely controlled and at times instrumental passages resemble Godspeed You! Black Emperor with patches of chaos and frantic playing soon replaced by bucolic meditations.

As Sold kicks in, the crowd hollers, stamps, claps and sings with a rare fervour. “Sweet!” he smiles at us after the applause dies down. “We got nominated for some awards back in Canada,” he mutters to more cheers. “But the most exciting thing was that the host was William Shatner…fucking Nickelback,’ he grins. The amazing Road Regrets follows, with its huge chorus that any non-fans know only too well by the end. The equally catchy and driven Post War Blues, and Stand By Me-inspired ‘Rows of Houses’ follow, amidst discussion of wi-fives (online high-fives), the German equivalent ‘vi-fi’, and a brief acoustic interlude of Basket with its whistling solo from drummer Kenton Loewen, a song that actually causes quietness amongst the audience. The storming Some People follows and allows guitarist Gord Grdina to run rampant over his acoustic in a very un-folky way. Geo-Party aka Jeopardy with its every-line-a-question delivered with genuine angst and stellar playing all round sends the band off to a massive ovation.

The highlight of the night comes late, and the encore of his big Canadian hit Robots trumps even Road Regrets for its deafening crowd participation and overwhelming positivity. The final song So Much For Everyone sees the band somehow squeeze into the centre of the room and play acoustically, while the audience sings loud backing, closing what can only be described as wholly amazing and unforgettable set. But you could have guessed that because, since you're reading this, you're probably Canadian.


The Old Bar

To discover such a fascinating band playing for free at an inner city venue on a Tuesday night is something worth documenting, and when the songs begin to cause a pool of drool on the floor of the venue due to the number of dropped jaws, attention is due.

Kinch Kinski and the Strangers are a sporadically gigging local band who specialise in a strange mix of blues, jazz, pop, cabaret and crunchy rock all of which is interesting enough, but they have one crucially differentiating asset; Joseph Tafra. Tafra is a songwriter blessed with a quick wit, humility, timing, a vast vocabulary, and a proclivity for tackling that hardest of songwriting beasts to tame; the story-song.

The pacing and intonation of Tafra's vocal style is so free and open he almost strays into an ethereal lightness a la Van Morrison. Conversely, his subject matter is so gritty, humanistic and dark that we never leave the corporeal. As the first song Bar Open begins, a crowd is drawn in from the street and from the other rooms in the venue. Ostensibly, there is little to differentiate this band from hundreds of others, guitar, bass drums and a singer, that is, until the songs unfold and you realise something wholly unexpected and remarkably original is taking place.

Tafra's voice and lyrics are vibrant and expressive, the band rugged and deftly responsive to the twists and turns the lyrics take and the mood he pushes. Second song The Curse opens up like a wound with its heavy, chugging riff and Tafra’s impassioned yet measured vocals narrating the story of a beautiful woman, a city street and murder. ‘I found God on Johnston Street / and I left him there begging for change / The sound of rain in his ears’ he sings on Johnston St. The audience listens spellbound.

Few Australian songwriters write with Tafra’s verve and imagination; Gareth Liddiard, Glenn Richards and Laura Jean spring to mind, and like them, Tafra doesn't shy away from the art required to turn personal experiences into naked works of joy and wisdom. His lyrics betray a heavy bookshelf, but these allusions are not used to alienate, rather to draw from, as a glassblower would dye. Songs such as Dark Cloud and Blues, Blues Everywhere But No One Left to Sing allows his gravelly expressiveness to glow and the epic stretch of the latter song shows his skills as an arranger, the quality of Linden Lester’s deft basswork and the expressiveness of drummer Sam Johnston. Finishing with the ramshackle insanity of Bosch Blues – a song that reaches near Ute Lemper levels of emotional complexity - and Fireflies, a song described by Tafra as 'a jazz-pop punk number about existential horror' which elicits dancing from some audience members, the case is made for Kinch Kinski and the Strangers to be one of the true hidden gems in Australian music today.


There is no other band, on earth, like this one. Once renown for their costumes, synchronized dance routines, daft stage names and generally being a bit too wacky for most listeners, Aleks and the Ramps have done what few bands can manage, which is release the album of their career seven years into it.

Facts sees the band dial back the weirdness and focus on songs, hooks and sounds. Accessibility and consistency have never been overarching goals for this band but Facts has both in spades, though instead of using these qualities to increase their appeal and audience, it’s as if chasing fidelity and getting tuneful are tools in an ever-increasing arsenal of weapons a battle against mediocrity. The breakthrough triumph of Antique Limb from 2010’s brilliant Midnight Believer album was passed off in interviews as an accident by Aleks Bryant, but Facts makes him into a total liar.

There are few bands who could be seen to be ‘reining in the weirdness’ and open an album with the lyrics ‘I came dressed to depress / It was my first day of work at the Ministry of Excess’ (‘Crocodiles’), but the directness and visual-heavy style of Bryant’s lyrics are only the most overt of the many powers this band possess.

Over the last seven years The Ramps have been prolific, each release sounding brighter and punchier than the last, but this album sounds as if was born from a universe of its own, which, given the recent replacing of two members, is not entirely untrue. There are still the entwining lead guitar lines of Simon Connolly and warm melodies of Joe Foley’s bass to push you through the imaginative and unpredictable twists and turns, while new members Pascale Barbare’s (beats) and Sez Wilks’ (keyboards) contributions beautifully back Bryant's warm close breathy vocals. Bryant’s voice and the band’s production lends a sense of solemnity to the ridiculous images of advice he gives ('Another night filled with undergraduate dread / You sleep with a Super-soaker under your bed /And you pay someone to impart these little truths / That any old reflective surface should have told you / By now' – ‘In The Snow’), but unusually for such a large band, they sound best when each member has roughly equal input. The daft brilliance synth-pop of Bummer will probably always sound fresh and unlike any other band and inadvertently serves as a swansong for previous members Janita Foley and Jon Thija.

Despite the lead-off single Middle-Aged Unicorn on a Beach With Sunset and its fittingly ingenious video receiving play, live shows are always impressive and these songs with their carefree instrumentation and meticulous construction deserve and reward all the attention they get. Songs that take in walks in suburban parks, the Serengeti, outer galaxies, an interplanetary Dad and the Redmond Barry reading Room at Melbourne Uni are never going to come from another band, and for that we should be grateful for the sadness, sacrifices, imagination and sheer talent that combined to make Facts.  

Monday, February 20, 2012

Live Review: ROXETTE


The powerful association of music and memory has rarely been louder and more apparent than at the Rod Laver tonight. The mostly female, mostly 30+ audience exhibit a passion rarely seen at smaller gigs and it’s a big night out for a lot of the crowd.

Before the band take to the stage we’re blasted with advertisements for upcoming Rod Laver shows and AM radio classics which only accentuate the fever pitch of nostalgia we’ve already worked ourselves into. A brief blackness is followed by a burst of UV light and everyone stands amidst deafening cheers as the five-piece backing band, then Marie Fredriksson and Per Gessle march on stage, wave and blast into the opening chords of Dressed For Success. Unsurprisingly, the crowd go nuts.

The duo dresses as if it was still 1990, and the sound has similarly changed little over time. Fredriksson is small and skinny in her tight black leather jeans, white jacket and iridescent bleached hair. Her voice is gritty, thin and impassioned; she looks like the survivor she is. Leaving the theatrics to Gessle and guitarist Christoffer Lundqvist, who strut across the front of the stage, hacking at their axes and amping the crowd, Frediksson’s voice is as powerful as ever and her appearance is magnetic despite seeming tired and a little lost.

As the band move into Sleeping in My Car and The Big L several things become apparent; Gessle is a seriously underrated writers of choruses and pop hooks, even if their lyrical content is questionable at times (You're hiding under a halo, your mouth is alive / Get out of my way! Get out of my sight! / I'm not attracted to go-go deeper tonight anyone?), secondly, guitar solos! Every song has at least one and they’re great fun; can’t think of the last big hit that had the confidence to let a guitar sing for more than 16 bars. And finally, isn’t memory a strange thing? Though many people are big enough fans to shell out $50 for a t-shirt, $20 for a program and/or Roxette beach ball, it’s a fair bet that most tickets are sold to people wanting to hear four or five songs, and yet it’s the lesser hits that trigger the bigger responses.

'It's been a while since our last show here,” smiles Gessle to loud cheers. “Last time we were here was January 1995. We'll play some songs from our newest album Charm School,” the cheering subsides. He pauses. “Just a few, but mainly tonight it will be your Roxette favourites,' we all cheer again. The audience sit impassively for the newer songs, though latest single She's Got Nothing On But the Radio gets a clap-along happening. It’s a great tune and had it been released anytime before 2000 it would have been a hit, nowadays it seems only Eastern and Central Europe likes this brand of sugary rock.

Songs are deployed with expert precision, just as they were written; the power ballads (It Must Have Been Love, Perfect Day, Listen To Your Heart), and the crowd-rousing rockers (Dangerous, How Do You Do, Fading Like a Flower and the it’s-so-good-we-have-to-save-it-for-the-encore obviousness of The Look). Every hit gets a big rock ending, every ballad sees several hundred lighters aloft and we love every moment of this strange, sparkly trip back to the 90s.

Thursday, February 16, 2012


The Toff in Town

To gently parting drapes, sporadic cheers and a smattering of applause Oliver Tank arrives on stage, a single tone lingering in the air. Soon, his heavily processed guitar and echoed vocals stretch over it mellifluously. Loops and samples don't repeat and build the way other delay-pedal-loving artists favour, rather they come and go with a slow-motion compositional intelligence. His Ben Gibbard/James Blake style of serious sweetness manifests as mantra-like lyrics whose meaning shifts as the music behind them swells, disappears and returns, fighting against glitchy beats and sparse deep bass - the structural repercussions of which often drown out the tones themselves. Lyrics like music is like air to me and I just want to help you breathe could act as a manifesto for tonight’s double-bill; the role of music in the life of Youth Lagoon has been well-documented and it seems Tank has a similar need for survivalist emotional expression. The songs themselves are an intoxicating and emotionally unfiltered blend of heavily processed signals and stark, pure intentions. Though most of his sounds are reused in different songs and his repeated bashful proclamations of love are amplified by looks of shy embarrassment at his own candidness that accompany the end of each song, it’s a safe bet that many of tonight’s skinny, immobile and reverent crowd are new converts.

The talking, texting and drinking amongst the crowd – now at a stifling capacity - is transformed into a near-deafening cheer as the curtain parts again, this time to the sight of two shy yet focused guys staring at a guitar and electric piano respectively. With Bobby, taken from his album The Year of Hibernation (as are all of tonight’s songs), Youth Lagoon aka Trevor Powers, sets about casting a spell from which we are only sporadically released. His strange, strained voice pierces the air above our heads, pushing us into silence, and allow the tones of his piano, sparse percussion and the crisp sound of Logan Hyde’s white Jaguar to fill his songs. Cannons follows, as does a brief awkward interlude of conversation about the beauty of Melbourne, the unfortunately heavy shirt he bought from Lost and Found and how this is his first ever show overseas; all things guaranteed to make us even fonder of him. Versions of Montana and Posters show just how well considered the live interpretations of these songs have been. Hyde’s brittle and unaffected sound offsets the heavy processed warmth of Powers’ voice and the presence of his synthesized sounds, all of which replace the organic techniques and atmospheric production of his album. There is something unsettling about the sweet lullabye-esque tones of the electric piano and synthesized glockenspiel played boldly and loudly.
Cheers emerge from the crowd at the opening bars of 17, which has people dancing as much as a sold-out Toff will allow, even when there is no beat. The set-closing July sees the most energetic playing of the night, and it’s a version that leaves us ecstatic. Still, it takes a lot of cheering to bring him out for an encore of Daydream and its cathartic singalong vocalizations send home a very satisfied crowd.

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

IN THE STILL OF THE HYPE: An interview with Trevor Powers aka Youth Lagoon

YOUTH LAGOON aka Trevor Powers talks anxiety, adulation and the creation of a critically acclaimed, partially therapeutic album recorded in a garage. ANDY HAZEL leans in a little closer.

“I still find it strange answering questions about my mind,” Trevor Powers says quietly down the line from his home in Boise, Idaho, snowfall almost audible in the background. “You do start to get used to it after a while. But, it’s strange to me mainly because I don’t know how to explain things, I’m better at singing than talking.” While he may doubt his ability with words, emails from empathetic fans around the world attest to the power of his lyrics. His gentle warmth and quiet enthusiasm throughout the interview seem slightly at odds with the fragile lost soul haunting the songs of his album The Year of Hibernation.

Most performers draw a line between writing music for personal reasons and seeking an audience for it, dividing what they feel comfortable expressing from what is off limits. For Powers, a singer who strongly identifies with the often overwhelming honesty of songwriter Daniel Johnston, drawing that line is a curious prospect. “I don’t know if I have decided yet!” he says laughing loudly. “I write songs about what I feel and ideas I want to express, I don’t really think about what I can or cannot say or should and shouldn’t say; I’m just writing. I haven’t been analysing it that much, not until someone asks me about it anyway,” he says with an audible grin.

Previously a student at Boise State University who wrote and recorded music in his spare time, in 2010 Powers was forced to choose between continuing to pay for counselling sessions that had been helping him to manage his chronic anxiety, or to record an album. Recorded over a bitter winter, The Year of Hibernation is the luxuriously woolly yet discomfortingly tight result.

“When I write, part of what is going on stems from personal experiences, but also from analysing what’s going on around me, and I’d say that process is partially therapeutic.” Though the album revels in its own intimate beauty, rich with poetic snapshots of times and places, Powers is still unsure whether the album was ‘successful’ in helping him deal with the issues that prompted its creation. “I think so, but I still have a weird mind,” he says with another, slightly defensive, laugh. “It's always therapeutic dealing with things, growing and learning, but I don’t think you put something on paper and it’s dealt with just like that. You’re constantly learning and growing and you just get better, or wiser, about managing," he pauses in contemplation. "Being busy helps. It helps to keep my mind on other things, when you’re put in different circumstances, you have different anxieties,” he says cautiously. “It’s always one of those things you’re dealing with, but a lot of people don’t talk about it so much, I actually think it’s really common, but isn’t spoken about very often.”

With intentions this raw and uniquely rendered, it's perhaps unsurprising his music has had similarly beneficial effects on other people dealing with anxiety, though he’s hesitant to take on the role of teacher or success story. “People do write to me and say: ‘I’ve heard you write stuff about anxiety and dealing with your mind’, but really people’s minds are structured so differently, it comes down to that person figuring out their own way. I don’t know how much help I can be directly, but I’m really glad that my music meant something to them.”

Playing his music live is something Powers has only recently considered. “For the most part I went into recording the album with the mindset of making exactly what I wanted to, without thinking about how I’d play it live. Once it was done I was like ‘now what? How do I make it happen?’” he pauses. “It was a big process for about four months as far as getting everything together and figuring things out. Like how to use my beat machine and make all the beats happen away from me on stage. I have one person playing with me live, Logan [Hyde] who does the guitar, so with just two people on stage we have to figure out ways to do things. It has a different feel than the album because that was made in such a specific environment.”

Fortunately, Powers finds that revisiting the songs so often doesn’t lessen their emotional impact, an impact that many live reviews find compelling. “That’s the only way I know how to play,” he says. “Music to me takes me back to certain places and events. As for when a show starts, it’s almost impossible for me not to think about when it was written and what was going on, it’s just as emotional if not more so. Playing them over and over, reliving that over and over, I don’t mind that. I don’t know why,” he pauses, “maybe it’s just because I really enjoy it but then…man I don’t know if there is even an answer to that question!” he laughs again.

Despite writing the album alone, and having spent very little time by himself since the glowing reviews arrived and incessant touring began, Powers has found inspiration to write a new batch of songs in his constantly shifting environment, “I’m just always writing and working on ideas. I can’t say if it’s more personal than what I’ve done, but the songs definitely act as time capsules. All my music is like that, especially now that I’m going on tour and working on songs in hotel rooms, they come across in a totally different way than if I’m writing at home, and these are times I want to remember.”

One environment that is a constant for him is his hometown of Boise, a place he mentions at every opportunity and the importance of which is underlined by a tattoo of Idaho on his arm, next to the words ‘Be still’. “I think Idaho is one of the most underrated places in the world,” he says keenly. “The other night I went for a drive into the mountains and…they’re always amazing to me. Some of the Sawtooth Mountains and parts of Idaho National Park are so beautiful, it’s very much a part of who I am.” Here’s hoping he doesn’t lose this connection anytime soon.

Sunday, February 5, 2012

ONLY HUMAN: An interview with Michael Rother

With fond memories of his last trip to Australia, Michael Rother, once of the massively influential bands Neu!, Kraftwerk and Harmonia, looks back on a life as a founding father of Krautrock.

It’s difficult to understate the impact of musical developments in early to mid-1970s Germany. Tim Barr’s book From Dusseldorf to the Future (with Love) works on the premise that Kraftwerk’s impact on modern music rivals that of the Beatles, a claim yet to be seriously challenged. Virtually all electronic music you hear as well as whatever constitutes art-rock and math-rock these days, can be traced back to music created by a small group of men intent on building their own German identity and a new culture.

Integral to this movement, yet more reclusive than the front-men of Kraftwerk, a band in which he briefly played, is Michael Rother, returning to Australia to play highlights from his long career. This time however, he has enlisted Dieter Moebius (of Harmonia and Cluster) and Hans Lampe to interpret the songs of Neu!, Harmonia and his solo work.

“Oh Mt Buller!” he says brightly of Harmonia’s rapturously received set at 2009’s All Tomorrow’s Parties festival, of his last time in Australia. “We’ve never played anywhere like that before or since. It was incredible. I saw photos people took of us on stage; it was like we were playing in the clouds! It was a glorious experience. That was Harmonia, now it’s a different situation,” he says of his new eponymous project. “It’s my selection of music as opposed to playing only songs by Harmonia. That concert was three years ago, shortly afterwards [Hans-Joachim] Roedelius decided he didn’t want to continue. I was surprised by that, so I began new collaborations, including this new one I’m bringing to Australia.”

With technology playing such an important role in the development and progression of electronic music, its influence on Rother is surprisingly small. “Certain aspects of technology change, but to be honest it’s about the same music. Hallogallo [the band Rother formed with Steve Shelley of Sonic Youth, Ben Curtis of School of Seven Bells and Tall Firs’ Aaron Mullan] was also my project. It was formed to play my selection of Neu! and Harmonia songs, and some of my solo work. Each time there are other musicians involved, the angle changes and that’s really interesting to see,” he says with palpable excitement before continuing. “If you look at a track like Hallogallo [a signature tune of Neu!’s], that’s something near the centre of everything. I’ll explain; the idea of creating interesting improved sounds and prepared music together doesn’t often occur along with the idea of the ‘fast forward movement’ of Hallogallo. It is so strange that Hallgallo in a few weeks is 40 years old,” he laughs. “Maybe I’m too lazy to move on, but this kind of drone and repetition and freedom to fly like an arrow straight to the horizon I feel in the music…that still fascinates me, that’s what I experience when I play it and it makes it a lot of fun.”

Looking back at the music Rother has to choose from when constructing a set, his recollections are tainted by the surprising rejection that Harmonia experienced, unusual for a band considered a Krautrock supergroup. “In the 1970s most people hated Harmonia,” he says slowly. “It was a complete commercial disaster. I loved Harmonia as much as Neu! but the reaction was quite different. It took our audience 25 years to catch up with that sound. My first solo album came out after the failure of Harmonia, and it sold 100,000 copies, and I thought, ‘why do they like me but not Harmonia?’ But, really, I am in a position to create it, others are in a position to judge it. It does make me happy that so long after there was anger and rejection for that music, people all around the world are enjoying it.”

Among those who found particular resonance with Rother’s various projects are some of the finest bands of the late 1980s and early 1990s. “It’s very hard now, to imagine that I had no clue what was happening to my music, but it’s true. That bands like Sonic Youth, The Fall and Stereolab and later on Radiohead were listening to it, and another ten years before I found out. Of course, since the ideas of our music are better known - I don’t think we can say we’ve become a household name – but you have a lot of musicians doing strange electronic sounds nowadays, in a way twisting our sounds and ideas.” He pauses. “Myself, ever since I’ve started writing music I started not listening to other musicians and focused on my own to create something as distant as possible from other people’s ideas. Nowadays this can be Bach or abstract music or folk music, but I can’t listen to music all day long. I’m not like people like John Frusciante,” he says of his time working with the Red Hot Chilli Peppers’ guitarist. “It was awkward working with him because he’s an enthusiast - completely different to me - he listens to music all day long.” 

Rother says that inspiration comes from experience, not other creative works, in particular, specific environments, something his music is renown for inspiring in other people. “I love in the countryside. That was where Harmonia lived and worked in the 70s and I guess it has an effect on my thinking and feelings about life. It is inspiring in an abstract way, but now I’m in Hamburg, in the city, the combination of both worlds is what I know these days. The vibration of the city and the quietness when you can hear birds in the distance… it’s the depth of the ambience that fascinates me. It has an effect on my soul, my feeling about life. There are filters before music comes out, of course these feelings run through many filters. I don’t even know the path of inspiration and I don’t want to know what leads to which effect.” That Rother can talk at length about inspiration and seems to barely touch on the actual music he makes is indicative of his method.

“In the 70s, when Neu tried to recreate the albums on stage, it was impossible. People thought we had all this amazing gear - I only had a guitar, a fuzzbox, a delay and a wah-wah pedal! Everyone thought we were the new thing, and there was this great technology behind it. People thought that if I played live to a backing track or pre-prepared music I’d written, then somehow I was lying. So the perception has really changed. I always said that it was about the human and how they use the equipment, not what they use. Of course, I enjoy the possibilities of sound creation and the machines that are available today and make it possible to play live, but the human being is more in the centre of my focus” And for that, we should be grateful.

Saturday, February 4, 2012

Live Review: AUSTRA

Northcote Social Club

Despite a plethora of excellent options elsewhere in Melbourne tonight, the Social Club is packed to near capacity with a convivial and attentive crowd for the Canadian electro pop sextet. The crowd itself seems to consist almost entirely of couples, many of who are, as a nearby punter notes, 'from the Isle of Lesbos'. Electro dub plays loudly over the PA as the crowd chat, poke their phones, and drink. Soon enough, an androgynous keyboardist, a drummer and a bassist march out and begin the moody introduction to The Choke, a highlight of their album Feel it Break. Soon after, the three singers/dancers appear, each adorned with glittering gold necklaces and gauzy clothes that suit their flowing dance moves, which take a Bollywood/Dance of the Seven Veils influence and drive it into the ground throughout their short set. Hilariously, and possibly intentionally, every band member looks like they walked off a Frankie shoot except for bassist Dorian Wolf, sullen in jeans and a white t-shirt, like he wandered over from 303 to do the gig for a six-pack.

Second song Hate Crime finds the audience more vocal and allows the three distinctive singers to really impress with their arrangements. Lose It follows and begins to reveal a songwriting formula to which Austra adhere very closely; a heavy synth line accentuated by bass opens, drums enter followed by the stunning vocals of lead singer Katie Stelmanis. A chorus follows, and here are the harmonies from twin singers Sari and Romy Lightman who return for the later choruses and refrains. It’s a good formula and one that has worked well for many bands before, but it also renders many of the songs indistinguishable and, besides, Ladytron did exactly the same thing, with dynamics, a sense of humour and original vintage synths 12 years ago. That’s not to say Austra aren’t engaging or don’t know how to make electronic pulses sexy and danceable. Songs like radio hit Darken Her Horse, Beat and the Pulse and Spellwork are excellent electronic pop songs and the combined power of the three voices and arpeggiated synth bass is undeniable, as is the quality of the live sound; a band has rarely sounded better here.

Though the between-song conversation is minimal, and there is little of the dancing that this music would justify in other environments, the crowd is on side throughout. So it’s some surprise that after just 40 minutes, Stelmanis announces their last song. A brief two-song encore follows, and they close with the wonderful Identity in what has to be one of the pithiest gigs of recent times.

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Live Review: OFWGKTA

The Hi-Fi Bar

The mood of the (heavily male and entirely young) queue snaking down Swanston Street is 'stoked!' Few acts have been more hyped with less commercially available material as Odd Future Wolf Gang Kill Them All. Already legendarily divisive, if head honcho Tyler, The Creator had a dollar for every irate blog post, expletive laden defensive YouTube comment and carefully considered opinion piece, he could buy Apple. But as tonight’s show proves, they're not the North Korea of bands they’re made out to be (attention seeking outsiders who regularly hint at serious danger but rarely deliver). They’re crowd-hyping party guys who use every inch of the stage and know how to put on a show.

With no support act, pre-show entertainment comes in the form of several hundred people occasionally cheering and squealing as one of the OFWGKTA collective walk across the stage. Members wander through crowd and stand around, just chillin’ though looking as though they have somewhere to be. As showtime approaches, cheers are replaced by chants of ‘WOLF. GANG. WOLF. GANG’ and fears of a small turnout (hinted at by the show’s move from the Palace and the $70 tickets) are dispelled by a sold out crowd who can’t wait to lose their shit.

The lights drop, and DJ/producer Syd tha Kid detonates her metallic beats, as various members begin shouting from offstage; messing with the rising tension. Suddenly Domo Genesis, Mike G and LeftBrain storm the stage with haka-style moves and blistering raps, barely discernable due to the force of their speech. Soon chaos reigns as the whole crew arrives and begins blasting their way through Transylvania, Forest Green and Tron Cat, each more manic than the last. “Melbourne, I fucked with Fitzroy skate park today,” says Tyler. “I fucking love that place. And motherfucking Pancake Parlour”. “How many people here smoke weed?” asks LeftBrain. “Please, share with us if you have some,” Soon enough several members line the side of the edge of the stage smoking while others exhort us to 'do it like yr retarded!’ and refer to us (affectionately) as niggers, as the beats to French kicks in driving the crowd even crazier than the next high points of the set, Tyler’s Orange Juice, and Mike G’s time to shine, King.

They grab their crotch, pop their eyes, throw water on us and treat the stage like a rumpus room. Their delivery is so physical that songs flirt with musical theatre. Unsurprisingly, Tyler can barely begin their best-known song Yonkers due to the volume of the audience’s participation; even he seems surprised. Hodgy Beats takes the lead on the mighty Sandwitches, before the inane Radical and its screamed outro: ‘kill people / burn shit / fuck school’ that we holler back at ear bursting levels.

Yes there is ceaseless misogyny and glorification of extreme sexualized violence every time OFWGKTA open their mouths, but when the energy is this positive, the crowd this amped and the beast and songs this clever…that’s entertainment. Whether you think it should be or not, you can bet OFWGKTA don’t give a fuck.