The spacious atmosphere concocted by Sydney-based Ernest Ellis, a five, (usually six)-piece is a strange place to find a wafting saxophone. It’s even stranger to have all aversions to said instrument happily vanish. Confident to the point of cocky – a quality rare in a young band – singer and songwriter Roland (Ernest) Ellis is a discomfiting, galvanising frontman with a rich expressive voice and swooping range. Nephew of Dirty Bad Seed Warren, Ellis sings and thrums his guitar with eyes closed, occasionally waking to stare transfixed and sing as if narrating events we can’t see. The gathering crowd approves of the two-chord swells, Ellis’s howling over near silence and the band’s emphatic refrains that make them sound a publicist away from Cloud Control-style adulation.
Scuppering any chance for a break in the front bar due to their instantly captivating tunes, Roller One settle into a comfortable bluegrass swagger and barely shift a gear for their set. Singer and guitarist Fergus McAlpin has a Bill Callahan-like oak-aged quality to his voice, and a gawky toothy grin like the Simpsons’ Cletus that he beams between songs. In partially unbuttoned shirts, the trio (all from the equally mesmeric Silver City Highway) satisfyingly close their set with the subtle urgings of Jasmine Breeze and the somnambulistic splendour of Pornography.
With the venue now full to bursting, red curtains part and Okkervil River explode to life, with a set full of emphatic and articulate rock. It Was My Season, On a Balcony, Pink Slips, Where the Spirit Left Us are the highlights of a breathless batch of opening salvos; no middle eights, no gaps, no banter, no letup. For twenty minutes it’s Okkervil River giving us the first side of their most recent album The Silver Gymnasium.
Sounding like a less pretentious Arcade Fire, singer Will Sheff explodes with the energy of a young Springsteen. The Valley and ‘a happy song about suicide with a portion of plagiarism’ John Allyn Smith Sails are mid-set high points, with the multi-instrumentalism of Lauren Gurgiolo a boon to both.
Playing through a broken string to give us a searing take on Kansas City and a fist-pumping version of Our Life is not a Movie Or Maybe seem not to tire the band, but does end the set with the crowd grinning at each other. Sheff returns for a show-stopping solo A Girl in Port and A Stone, which seem to suck the breath of everyone in the room before sending us out into the White Night.