LIVE REVIEW: Spoon

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Spoon + Mike Noga @ Metro Theatre

Sydney, Australia, March 23rd, 2017

Mike Noga has stepped things up and fleshed out his live show with a full band that at times featured a triple guitar approach. The transition from solo performer to band leader mean he’s lost a bit of that Dylan-esque raconteur vibe but one can see where he’s taking it – giving the songs from his 2016 album King a wider palette and greater dynamics. It also allowed him to focus more on singing and imbuing his performance with greater physicality. A bass amp problem threatened to derail things but the band adapted and recovered well.

Spoon had the Metro at near capacity as they sauntered onstage and went straight to songs from the new album Hot Thoughts. The title track and Do I Have To Talk You Into It welcomed a stronger focus on keyboards but also showed how well the band have brought them to the fore in their songs without any great change to the Spoon sound. Space is the key to what Britt Daniels and band do so well. The rhythm section of Jim Eno and Rob Pope are its backbone, whether that was a fractured and (dare I say) funky approach or near-Krautrock/post-punk, dark and driving grooves as the guitars chopped and tangled with retro synth sounds.

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Spoon are astute rock deconstructionists, there wasn’t a guitar solo to be found all night, instead it was all about texture and accents, a sort of musical equivalent to pop-art collage if you will. They’re clearly enjoying playing together as a band, jovial and knowing smiles were exchanged regularly, fingers were pointed in recognition of each other’s playing and they found that sweet spot between locking the songs in tight and still sounding free-flowing and completely organic.

Highlights came in the form of a rousing I Saw The Light, the pulsing shimmer and grind of WhisperI’lllistentohearit and I Turn My Camera On, with the crowd fully engaged in a united front of bobbing heads and sung words. Though the second half of the set lost some of the initial rush of energy and conviviality that hung in the air for the first half, they carried it home like returning heroes of the alt-pop variety.

Chris Familton

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LIVE REVIEW: PIXIES @ Hordern Pavilion, Sydney, 07.03.17

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Returning for their fourth post-reunion Australian tour, Pixies have a new weapon in their arsenal in the form of last year’s album Head Carrier which saw a balanced return to their classic sound with fresh songwriting and a renewed edge.

In support, The Murlocs fulfilled their obligations but a 40 minute opening slot of mid-paced bluesy garage-rock fell flat ahead of the headliners dynamic onslaught. The end of their set was more interesting with a fuller sound courtesy of frontman Ambrose Kenny-Smith adding a second guitar but it was too little too late.

Pixies’ defining approach to their current live show is one of economy. With four stick clicks they were straight into Gouge Away from their seminal Doolittle album and from then on there were zero words spoken to the audience, little interplay between band members and just song after song in rapid-fire procession with nary a lull between songs, bar a few guitar changes. The breadth of their catalogue was on full display as they roared through new songs from Head CarrierUm Chagga Lagga and Frank Black’s blistering throat shredder Baal’s Back particular highlights and easily the equal of the band’s older songs.

Four figures, all clad in black and fairly static in their movements, were like an immoveable core in the eye of a storm as strobe lights, smoke and the music created the shapes and sounds around them. Joey Santiago’s guitar was urgent, dissonant and cut through more than ever while drummer David Lovering led from the back, the heartbeat and conductor of the band. Paz Lenchantin is well and truly bedded in as a key member of Pixies 2.0, exuding both confidence and deference to the songs.

Here Comes Your Man, Gigantic, Bone Machine and La La Love You were glaring omissions from the setlist but it was hard to complain on the back of 30-odd songs that demonstrated what a gloriously weird and obtuse band Pixies are. Instilling a mass sing-along to Monkey Gone to Heaven, Where Is My Mind? and Hey and then realigning synapses with the 30 year old frantic dash of Isla de Encanta, the manic schizo-gallop of Vamos and the fractured surf-thrash of Broken Face. Disappearing in a wall of noise, smoke and white light, Pixies remain the perfect example of a re-formed band still creatively alive, committed to their songs and audience.

Chris Familton

LIVE REVIEW: My Disco @ Newtown Social Club

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My Disco, Marcus Whale, Hviske @ Newtown Social Club, 11 February 2017

Minimalism shaping grand emotion was the order of the night at NSC for My Disco’s last stop on their summer tour. From the headliners down through Marcus Whale and opening duo Hviske, there was a common thread of space, intensity and the blurring of technology and organic instrumentation to create dramatic musical pieces.

Hviske are Kusum Normoyle and Ivan Lisyak and they generated a densely rhythmic mix of techno and cold wave electronica that hit the occasional peak but for the most part settled into a rewarding mix of hard surface sounds and minor melodic excursions. Live, Normoyle’s vocals were the weak-point compared to the more layered and integrated sound on their recordings and she seemed unsettled and distracted, never fully immersing herself in the music.

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Marcus Whale

 

Marcus Whale’s solo work seems to go to another level every time I see him live. Flanked by two drummers with stripped down kits (tom, snare, ride cymbal) and performing over backing tracks Whale took us deep into his album Inland Sea, his voice urging, consoling and serenading the audience with conviction and passion. The closest comparison is Bjork’s more recent work crossed with avant hip hop and dark electronica. A compelling performance.

My Disco have progressively peeled back the layers of their sound with each new album, whilst simultaneously ratcheting up the tension and their avant garde leanings. They are still a band of guitar, bass and drums but they now sound like a raw machine, ominous and commanding with their instruments often bathed in as much silence as coruscating noise, relentless drones and repetition. King Sound set the scene with Liam Andrews intoning those two words like an android with a glitch in its system while guitarist Benjamin Andrews scattered shards of distortion across the audience at high volume. The heartbeat of the band is still Rohan Rebeiro who brings the most humanistic element to their music, he controls the machine with his blend of doom and jazz-tinged tribalism. Their intensity and commitment to their sonic aesthetic is what defines My Disco, from throwing in an overlong drum solo to the complete lack of audience interaction, they have their own musical eco-system which made their set feel like we were temporary visitors to their fascinating, hypnotic and shadowy world.

Chris Familton

LIVE REVIEW: Dinosaur Jr

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Dinosaur Jr, Luluc @ Metro Theatre, Sydney 12.01.17

There had been some worrying moments leading up to the start of  Dinosaur Jr’s Australian tour, with news that visa issues for Lou Barlow had meant a delayed flight. It all got sorted but there was more drama to come.

img_8246Luluc had opening honours, as they have for a number of J Mascis solo shows in the USA. Minor technical issues dotted their set but didn’t detract from the duo’s near telepathic interplay. Some may have pegged them as a folky pair but they imbued their songs with just the right amount of grit, drone and frayed guitar sounds to take them closer to a band like Low. In front of a crowd eagerly awaiting the sonic might of Dinosaur Jr, they proved to be an entrancing support act.

As mentioned above, it was a relief to see the shaggy-haired Barlow saunter on-stage but worryingly Dinosaur Jr’s drummer Murph was nowhere to be seen, replaced by Kyle Spence of American band Harvey Milk and the onetime stickman for J Mascis’ The Fog. J Mascis ambled to the mic and mumbled “Your government wouldn’t let Murph into the country so we brought Kyle” *. The mood in the room shifted to unease but as soon as they launched into their first song it was clear the guy had the chops to nail the songs. From there it was down to business with a mix of the old and the new with last year’s Give A Glimpse Of What Yer Not album providing particular highlights in Goin Down and the monstrous Sabbath riffage of I Walk For Miles; showcasing the band’s ability to harness speed, melody and heaviness. Classic cuts peppered the set with The Wagon, Feel The Pain, Freak Scene and Start Choppin’ drawing the biggest crowd response with flailing limbs and nostalgic grins plastered across middle-aged faces. On opposite sides of the stage, Mascis and Barlow were split personalities in their physicality. Mascis the zen-like figure in the eye of a hurricane, extracting paint-pealing solos and buzzsaw chords while Barlow threshed about, a whirling dervish in perpetual motion in total harmony with the dense thrum of his bass. Drummer aside, this was exactly what we’ve come to expect from Dinosaur Jr and their unique brand of self-described “ear-bleeding country”.

Chris Familton

LIVE REVIEW: The Smiths Tribute @ Factory Theatre (24/09/16)

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The Salford Lads feat. Christine Jane

Covering another artist can be either be an exercise in slavish re-creation of their music, an attempt to replicate it as accurately as possible, or an insightful reinterpretation of their songs, adding a new shade, a new flavour to the music. This night was a tribute to The Smiths, in honour of the 30th anniversary of the band’s album The Queen Is Dead and we got both those approaches with differing results.

img_7019Early on Panic Syndrome added a goth-rock sense of drama with ‘Shoplifters of the World Unite’ being a standout in their set. It highlighted the scope of The Smiths catalogue from rockist anthems such as this, right through to the introspective and moodier moments that would follow. Another band that played it pretty close to the chest but with a real sense of energy and enthusiasm were Mr Blonde. They perhaps best nailed the celebratory aspect of the night.

JMS Harrison and Cabin Inn took the atmospheric approach with an extended keyboard intro of ‘Oscillate Wildly’ and Harrison nailing the lonesome melancholy of ‘Asleep’, one of the highlights of the evening. Sonically they worked interesting textures into the songs, putting their own stamp on the music.

The Maladies tackled one of The Smiths’ most famous songs in ‘This Charming Man’ with Dan Marando putting his devilish and theatrical take on the song, adding intensity and tension to it. That was ratcheted up a notch with ‘Sweet and Tender Hooligan’ before they introduced Lisa Caruso who transformed ‘I Know It’s Over’ into a beautiful and sultry Mazzy Star-styled torch-song , dialling into the core of Morrissey’s swooning and tragic romanticism.

It was up to The Salford Lads (feat. members of Charlie Horse, Died Pretty and Panic Syndrome) who provided excellent backing for singers Christine Jane and The Church’s Steve Kilbey. Opening with instrumental ‘The Draize Train’ they proved immediately that they had a handle on the taut rock and groove-based elements of The Smiths’ sound. Jane showed she knows how to work an audience, urging participation and bridging the gap between stage and audience, something that most other acts didn’t really do. Vocally she was a bit hit and miss, enthusiasm trumping her service to the songs as she sang ‘Bigmouth Strikes Again’ and ‘Boy With A Thorn In His Side’.

img_7018From then on the night took a turn into the weird and awkward world of Steve Kilbey and his mix of interpretive dance, yoga poses and stage messiah gesturing. It was as if he was in a rush to get it all out, missing lines, singing wrong lyrics, sacrificing singing for unbridled emotive vocal outpourings. It felt like a pending train-wreck and it was only the well-oiled band that kept their set on the tracks. ‘The Queen Is Dead’, b-side ‘Jeane’ and ‘How Soon Is Now’ were given widescreen guitar heavy treatment yet Kilbey went for the grandiose when he needed restraint and spent far too much time on cardio vs audio. The audience visibly thinned during the closing set and were left with a single encore of, bizarrely, a cover of the only non-Smiths song for the night – Gloria.

In all there were some fine performances with only the end of night detracting from the overall success of the evening. Perhaps next time one house band with guest players and singers may have better suited the tribute format.

Chris Familton

LIVE REVIEW: Gold Class + Straight Arrows + You Beauty @ Plan B, Sydney (26/08/16)

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GOLD CLASS

Red Bull continue their support of local music with this sponsored show curated by the good folk at I OH YOU. It was a super low door price and first in first served which ensured punters were queuing at the door early.

You Beauty had a false start to their set with guitar amp issues causing a minor delay before they returned to the cramped Plan B stage for thirty minutes of woozy, chiming guitar, tight pulsing bass-lines and Will Farrier’s quirky sports-chic frontman style. In the past they’ve sometimes seemed tentative and under-rehearsed but tonight they were in fine form as Farrier shimmied and darted around the stage, conducting regular sorties into the audience. They know how to hit a fine groove – part sleaze, part tongue-in-cheek and with tracks taken from both their albums they were consistently danceable.

Straight Arrows are all about intensity and lurching around the tipping point between reckless abandon and musicianship. Of course they nail it every time. From the ramalama Beatles on speed of Bad Temper, the warped psych shake of Mind Control to the ghoulish prowl of Haunted Out, they showed yet again that they hands down the finest exponents of garage rock in this country. Toward the end of their set a toilet paper fracas ensued amongst the churning bodies front of stage, adding to the chaotic nature of their performance.

img_6814Gold Class are now a band that sound more balanced – a clearer sum of their parts. In the past the focus has been mostly on singer Adam Curley with his distinctive stentorian voice. It’s been a year since their debut album was released and they’ve played a ton of shows, here and overseas. It shows too. Drummer Mark Hewitt was tension personified. Taut, insistent rhythms, jerky and propulsive while the bass surged and pulsed overhead. Guitarist Evan Purdy slashed out claustrophobic chords that sounded both submerged and like stargazing squalls. New songs were aired and they were tantalising prospects for the next album. It was a masterclass in intelligent and compelling post punk that capped off  a superb night of music.

Chris Familton