REVIEW: SUMMERTONES Festival Live

Dan Deacon, Beaches, High Places, Lawrence Arabia, Mark Barrage.
Oxford Art Factory
February 27th 2009

Mistletone had a big year in 2008 releasing a raft of indie albums from Beaches, High Places, El Guincho and Beach House. They’ve started off 2009 with a bang and should be commended for putting on the Summer Tones festival in Melbourne, Brisbane and Sydney,  which highlighted a nicely varied mix of the acts on their label.

Mark Barrage photo|chris familton
MARK BARRAGE photo|chris familton

Mark Barrage was the unlucky person who had to kick off the proceedings to a virtually empty venue. It didn’t seem to bother him too much as he tweaked and sequenced his way through his vocal and electronic one man show. His is an interesting approach as he established a bed of cold and generally sparse digital sounds before applying his sombre dark vocals over the top. It is a mix of the more electronic end of krautrock mingled with a post punk voice, hinting at Cabaret Voltaire or a more industrial New Order in their earliest post Joy Division days. Barrage ensured the rhythm remained central to each song as he swaggered around his musical setup, giving the clinical music an imperfect human quality which served it well.

Lawrence Arabia - photo|chris familton
LAWRENCE ARABIA - photo | chris familton

New Zealand’s Lawrence Arabia has a new album out and he was happy to introduce nearly every song they played and noted if it was on the newie Chant Darling. Backed by members of NZ band The Sneaks, renamed Broadsword, he injected the most indie pop of the evenings performances. Quirk vocals and immaculate harmonies stood out as highlights of an exceptionally tight and effortless sounding set. Song titles like ‘Auckland CBD pt 2’ were poetic takes on mundane places and like The Ruby Suns who mainman James Milne has been a member of, he knows how to write a simple pop song based on melody and a light musical touch. Many of the growing audience wouldn’t have heard of Lawrence Arabia but many seemed quite impressed.

HIGH PLACES - photo | chris familton
HIGH PLACES - photo | chris familton

High Places are yet another of those groups that incorporate live vocals over digital music (El Guincho, Ruby Suns, Barrage) but one thing they seemed to struggle with was how to project their songs strongly live. Each one blended into the next with the same similar percussive flavour from Robert Barber. The voice of Mary Pearson is a restrained instrument at the best of times and her sing song school girl incantations were begging to be louder in the mix, instead they bypassed everything and became a background nursery rhyme, not annoying but not contributing any great energy to the songs. Sandwiched between Lawrence Arabia and Beaches didn’t help their cause as there delicate tribal spells unfortunately felt like too much of a lull in the evening.

BEACHES photo | chris familton
BEACHES photo | chris familton

Beaches have had a busy summer with festival and solo gigs up and down the East Coast. Those shows have helped their songs to mature quickly in the live context and there is a drive and confidence that wasn’t as obvious in earlier performances. Playing songs from their fantastic debut Beaches album they worked the crowd into a mesmerized, swaying groove. Beaches have an ability to use their vocals to highlight and accentuate the rise and fall of the intensity of their songs. Their voices rarely take centre stage and when they do it is fairly irrelevant what they are saying. It is all in the mood and the way they lock the songs into mantra-like boogies. They’ve earned their support slot for Mogwai and the much deserved nomination for the 2009 Australian Music Prize.

DAN DEACON photo|chris familton
DAN DEACON photo|chris familton

Dan Deacon, musician or entertainer? That is the question I was left with after his headlining slot. Coming on a late (or early the next day) hour some of the crowd had dispersed but there were still a diehard mass there to partake in the Deacon madness. Wearing cutoff jeans and a Flintstones t-shirt he took his customary spot in the middle of the dancefloor and after a frustratingly long setup time he kicked things off with a couple of tracks from his forthcoming Bromst album. They revealed a density and restraint entering his music with less of the wacky Woody Woodpigeon vocals and a more mature electronic composition style. Before long the crowd interaction began and it culminated in a moving caterpillar of arched arms leading across the room, up the stairs and out onto Oxford St; leaving a few photographers and the more intoxicated punters who wondered where everyone had gone. A handful of tracks from Spiderman Of The Rings were played but it is clear why Deacon has said this is his last run of solo shows. The audience participation stunts do wear thin on the 2nd or 3rd time and there doesn’t seem to be anywhere to take the music, so the news that a full live band is his next incarnation is exciting to hear. His music is unique and standing back and just listening to it does deliver rewards but the talking point from the show would have been unfortunately focused more on the antics than the music.

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