REVIEW: AUGIE MARCH @ Metro Theatre, Sydney (17/07/09)

AugieReviewed for LiveGuide.

The Watch Me Set My Strange Sun You Bloody Choir tour is billed as a bit of a retrospective look at the work to date of Augie March and it serves as a closing chapter on the first volume of the band’s career. As singer Glenn Richards announced towards the end of their set, this is the last tour for a few years as the band spends some time apart to pursue other projects before re-convening with fresh ideas and motivation. Something akin to flogging a dead horse is what Richards seemed to be alluding to.

Supporting Augie March on the tour is Gareth Liddiard and Dan Luscombe from The Drones. Performing as a duo, they couldn’t really be classified as acoustic due to Luscombe’s electric guitar playing on some songs. They were stripped down and devoid of a rhythm section and Liddiard’s slashing electric guitar but the howling intensity and drama still remained.

Featuring songs from most of their records, ‘Cold And Sober’, ‘Shark Fin Blues’, ‘Jezebel’ and ‘Your Acting’s Like The End Of The World’ were all highlights and it was impressive how Liddiard could still deliver the songs with neck bulging venom and not overpower the more minimal instrumentation. Luscombe switched between guitars and some sublime piano touches that added yet another layer to the sound of the songs.

Their set showed that whether they are raging with electricity or framing the songs in less abrasive sounds, it is the lyrics and quality of songwriting that remains strong and true. The Drones in any form are still the best Australian band recording and performing at the moment.

Augie March have risen to inhabit an interesting position. They straddle the nerdy indie world, the more mainstream audience of Triple J and outwardly they project an image and sound that commercial radio and television like because it is relatively harmless. As a result it was a mixed audience of Sydney’s indie musical contemporaries, and that cross section of fans.

Early on they stepped back to their first album Sunset Studies to play ‘The Hole In Your Roof’ with its rising melodies and strong Jeff Buckley influence. Near the end of the show they brought things first circle by returning to the same album for ‘There Is No Such Place’, one of their most beautiful songs with its simple acoustic feel and lullaby shuffle.

The rest of their set took in all four of their records and showed the full scope of their songwriting and styles. They have always excelled at the slow pretty songs that have made them so popular, but under the surface there is a darker subtext to Richards writing and the desire for the band to stretch out and incorporate other elements.

The best example of that darker side was the final track ‘Clockwork’ which saw them stretch out and flex their musical muscles on the long and grinding penultimate track from Moo You Bloody Choir. The sound grew with bassist Ed Ammendola driving the song deeper and deeper while looking like he was wrestling his instrument.

The presence of a horn section was both a blessing and a curse and it was surprising how many songs they played on, a good half if not two thirds of the set. On some songs it added a great Dexys Midnight Runners vibe and energy but at other times they seemed superfluous to the music. Almost as if they feel that a horn section is a pre-requisite at this point of their career.

Glenn Richards still remains the focus of the band so it will be interesting to see what he does next in terms of solo projects. Live he is notorious for swerving between moments of mistakes and patches of brilliance and at The Metro he provided both. His voice strained on some notes and there were lyrical memory lapses as well as microphone and guitar frustrations. Perhaps due to the pending hiatus he seemed to brush those minor problems aside and didn’t let them affect the overall performance.

So Augie March say goodbye, for now at least. This gig showed their many personalities and one hopes that next time round they will ditch the horn section, return to the core sound of the band and focus on serving the songs and building that swirling sound around Richards voice with even darker beauty.

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