LIVE REVIEW: The Apartments @ The Famous Spiegeltent, Sydney Festival (24/01/16)

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This was a show that had a touch of ‘the artist returns’ about it due to Peter Milton Walsh’s rare live shows and that he is currently celebrating his first album in 18 years — No Song, No Spell, No Madrigal. The briefly one-time member of The Go-Betweens and the Laughing Clowns has carved out an intermittent yet critically acclaimed career as The Apartments and the Famous Spiegeltent proved to be the perfect venue to immerse oneself in the band’s emotive music.

With a band that included members of Knievel, Big Heavy Stuff and The Go-Betweens plus a drummer, pianist and horn player, Milton Walsh was able to conjure up a richly layered sound. You could hear the progression from his early jangly, indie pop songs — that melancholic 80s pop sound — to the songs on the new album that are built on a stronger soulful jazz-noir style where the bass guitar and drums shape the songs. In a musical sense, bands like Tindersticks, The Delines and Destroyer come to mind as comparisons.

Milton Walsh clearly enjoys a sense of the theatrical, from his Bad Seeds’ styled suit and sunglasses  to the melodramatic hand gestures and between-song stories that gave context to the songs and humour to amuse the audience. That same sense of artistic presentation mirrored his songs which detail breakups, loss, departure, love and regret. His ability to paint pictures of intimate moments with poetic clarity and then compose a chorus of only na-na-na’s is what positions his songs in the pop idiom. They are supremely catchy whilst retaining a depth of literary references and emotional gravitas.

Older songs like Mr. Somewhere, All You Wanted sounded sublime while the new album reinforced why it was so important that he released a new record. The title track opened the show and encapsulated all that followed over the next hour — the dark, majestic pop, aching, soaring vocal melodies and equally grand and eloquent music backing from The Apartments. Welcome back Peter Milton Walsh.

Chris Familton

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