Darren Cross opened the evening with a fine set of songs that showed the extent to which he has mastered the art of gothic country song. He wove narratives around characters and situations with both emotional resonance and clever wordplay and it never felt hokey or contrived in that most American of genres. His voice, as the years have passed, has taken on real character and depth with a slightly worn quality giving his songs that lived-in sound. Combined with some wonderful guitar playing and compositional pacing it made for the kind of set that enabled the listener to immerse themselves in the music rather than just observing from a distance. Cross played new songs and some from his EP of last year (Hit the Quit, Crystal and Copper) and the small audience listened attentively once he shut down the talkers early in his set.
Golden Blonde shifted gears with their electronic, twin percussive set-up. A trio, they built up a nice, detailed set of songs that wandered between indietronica and more abstract beat-driven workouts. If it lacked anything it was that it felt a little soulless at times. The clinical nature of the drumming and synthetic washes of digital static, pads and textural guitar playing made for a cerebrally rewarding performance but it needed a little more emotional investment in the song category to lift Golden Blonde from interesting to compelling.
When I first arrived in Sydney in the late ‘90s I shifted from a fertile music scene in Auckland, New Zealand into the new and generally unfamiliar cultural landscape of Sydney. Street press and local radio were my guides, leading me to places like The Hopetoun, Landsdowne, and Annandale hotels where I quickly found the sound that at the time was inspirational, communal, at times visceral and generally as good, if not often better, than the similar bands I was listening to from overseas. Bluebottle Kiss were the first that I came across and the one band that really blew me away with their ability to play tender, woozy guitar songs and then collapse or explode into avant post-punk rock maelstroms. They hit me in the head and in the heart, ticking all the boxes of noise, melody, art and emotion. Over the years through unblemished albums, changing line-ups and into hiatus the heart and soul, and principal songwriter has always been Jamie Hutchings. He of course just kept doing what he did best, writing, recording, performing, experimenting with and evolving his craft. Releasing the results as solo albums and gigging by himself and with a collective of family and friends.
Now with his new band Infinity Broke it feels like things have come full circle. Not back to BBK as such but holistically in that the sound of the band incorporates Hutchings’ music from all angles from the sweat-drenched, guitar heroics to the moody atmospherics yet still built around the idea of poetic songwriting. BBK drummer Jared Harrison is back in the fold alongside Scott Hutchings and bassist Reuben Wills and the quartet set about showcasing their new album River Mirrors, an album built on krautrock inspired repetition, Sonic Youth dissonance, Bitches Brew’s dark corners and in one particular song a mad and brilliant fusion of Elvis Costello, Motown and Northern Soul. All four played to their strengths with the dual percussion setup constantly inventive and never overwhelming the music. Wills’ bass playing was rock solid and contributed some great melodic and rhythmic surprises that served to counter and complement Hutchings guitar work. Now back playing his battered and beloved Jazzmaster, Hutchings relished the opportunity to stretch out with his playing. It sounded fragile, gloriously demented, tension-laden and openly deconstructed, often within the same song. From the single Swing A Kitten to the closing reconstructed (Infinity Broken?) version of BBK’s Let The Termites Eat Our Riches (Revenge Is Slow, 2002) it was a richly detailed and wholly absorbing performance that showed the rewards on offer for musicians who constantly seek to refine and expand their music, without discounting their past, and who have the ability and creativity to execute with style and substance.