The Workers Club, 15/02/13
Despite starting nearly an hour later than advertised, there are still more people on stage than the audience by the time Dumb Blonde kick off their idiosyncratic set. Actually Sydney’s Kite Club playing a secret gig, Dumb Blonde are immediately arresting for a number of reasons. Opening song I'm Aligned bursts into light, full of jangling, stinging guitars, a surging rhythm section and above the galvanising falsetto of guitarist, singer and really very smart blonde Nicholas Futcher. The band's deft way with melodies is roughly balanced by an almost aggressive power pop, though they look more in thrall to the Stones than Big Star (who they, at times, suggest). Futcher's keening wail draws lingering punters who thinly populate the room. Sounding as if Jonsi was raised in Geelong and fronting XTC, his sometimes-wayward vocal reach is affecting rather than atonal. Climbing and Hold On Me are crackling pieces of 80s pop. Closing song My Love suddenly fills the room with dancing couples, and underlines what a revelation they are.
Milk Teddy, another five-piece making resolutely 80s-infused guitar pop, is on equally top form. Curious, twisting guitar melodies anchor their breezy, shouty pop, giving them an intriguingly forceful energy with any sense of seriousness countered by hilarious internal banter. Singer Thomas Mendelovits' voice sounds as though it’s battling isolation with every stretching lyric and hollow echoed vocal, verses coming between breaks of spiraling guitars and light brisk beats; it’s a strangely dour instrument. The final songs XTC and Sparks – reminiscent of British band Arctic Circle - are fine encapsulations of this contrast. Mendelovits' charm and the musicianship of the instrument-swapping members fuel their take on low-fi pop, making it a cut above.
From the ashes of Philadelphia Grand Jury, bassist and vocalist Simon Berckelman's latest incarnation, Feelings have a tight line in stripped back pop punk. Bracing, but almost too sparse at times, the songs lack guts despite being full of momentum. Berckelman's charisma almost lets them get away with it, but far too many songs sound a lot, but not exactly like, songs you know. City Hall rips off its melody from Summer Cats wholesale, and Going to The Casino Tomorrow Night and I Want to Chill But I Can't Relax are, like many of their songs, little more than some decent riffs, underused musicianship, and an unexplored repeated title. Between-song chat is a triggered sample of pre-recorded talking which is a wry trick, but too often the golem of tedious pub rock lumbers through their sets. This, however, doesn't stop the gig from being a joyous event with a now-packed room fuelling the fire. The hot-stepping disco of Don't Be Mean to Me underlines this overt energy and positivity but also the songs’ inherent emptiness. Simplicity and shallowness can be a virtue in some people's hands, but not these, or not yet. Granted, they're not aiming for anything higher than ‘good times’, so in that sense the show is a success, but they could be so much more.