LIVE REVIEW: Cosmic Psychos @ Bald Faced Stag

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Cosmic Psychos, Birdcloud, The Chats @ Bald Faced Stag, Sydney, April 6th 2018

Who said rock n roll is dead?

The top echelon may be uninspiring but down at ground level guitar rock is still brimming with passion, humour and free-spirited energy A sold out venue and mosh-pit ready crowd greeted young upstarts The Chats. Joining the Cosmic Psychos tour from the Sunshine Coast they were like a mini version of the headliners. The same relentless, urgent, pummel and strum that is part AC/DC, Cosmics and Straight Arrows complete with mullet, wraparound shades, a bucket hat and goofy facial expressions. There’s a cartoonish quality to their sound but the simple, unfettered documentation of their lives, the impression that they don’t take things too seriously and their energetic delivery made for an entertaining set. They call themselves shed rock; more like larrikin rock.

IMG_2532Birdcloud hail from Nashville TN and if anyone had concerns that two girls with a ukulele and acoustic guitar would struggle between two slabs of hard rock then they were quickly proven wrong. Jasmine Kaset and Makenzie Green came with sass and attitude, calling out the sound person for a shitty mix at the start of their set. Once they got rolling they showcased their Singles album with songs like Fuck You Cop, Vodkasodaburg and Washin’ My Big Ol’ Pussy. Things descended into hilarious chaos with The Chats joining them for a song, a flashed nipple, and the removal of pants for a strap-on harmonica solo. Part cabaret, 100% rock ’n’ roll.

Cosmic Psychos were onstage, ready to kick into things before the roadies had even finished soundchecking, such is their casual approach. Starting with the none-too-subtle double shot of Pub and Nice Day To Go To The Pub, the kids, young and old, set about creating a mosh-pit of careening bodies, cascading sweat and alcoholic grins. Sure there’s colloquial humour aplenty but the Cosmics have a well-honed sound with Ross Knight’s strangled bark and yell and his buzzsaw bass, Dean Muller’s precise and inventive drumming that looks way simpler than it is, and the well-rounded specimen that is John McKeering and his spiralling wah guitar solos and slashing chords. It’s simple music but delivered with primal muscle and a deft touch. A masterful blend of  The Stooges, Ramones and Motorhead. Dead Roo, Fuckwit City, Bitter Not Better, Lost Cause and Feeling Average were all standouts before the support acts stormed the stage and brought it all home with the glorious sing-along of David Lee Roth. After 34 years Cosmic Psychos are an undeniable rite of passage for Australian youth at the crossroads of punk, metal and hard rock. 

CHRIS FAMILTON

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LIVE REVIEW: Protomartyr @ Oxford Art Factory, Sydney

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PROTOMARTYR – photo by Chris Familton

Protomartyr, Mere Women, Angie @ Oxford At Factory, Sydney Australia. February 16th, 2018

The best gigs are the ones where the creative quality and intensity builds evenly, seemingly at a symbiotic pace with the gathering audience. Angie set the scene with a low key and hypnotic opening set. This was another iteration of her solo incarnation, now fleshed out with drummer and acoustic guitarist. Previously she’s played on her own (Steve Gunn support) and with a full band (Chain & The Gang support). This configuration felt the most suited to her drone infused piano compositions and haunting vocal intonements.

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ANGIE – photo by Chris Familton

Mere Women mixed a brand new song with tracks from last year’s Big Skies album and a glance back to their 2012 album with Amends. Intense and dramatic sum up the band, with each member locked into their own musical corner, sculpting their own personality and sound. Guitarist Flyn Mckinnirey cut physical shapes with his playing, coaxing out nagging riffs and coruscating wasteland distortion while Amy Wilson pleaded, remonstrated and chanted dark, gothic sounding lyrics over his guitar and the inventive rhythm section.

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MERE WOMEN – photo by Chris Familton

With tongue in cheek, Protomartyr had said in their interview with The Music that if they didn’t make it to Australia soon that’d be it for the band. With their future now thankfully intact they made sure the audience were well and truly satiated with a set of 18 songs, mostly taken from their last three albums.

Singer Joe Casey is an enigma on stage, looking like a dowdy small-town insurance salesman and sipping from cans of Coors beer he was the perfect irascible foil for the remarkably tight band around him. Drummer Alex Leonard studiously beat out a tapestry of inventive rhythms, Bassist Scott Davidson was in constant motion, bouncing on his toes while flurried fingers urged post-punk and dance grooves from his fretboard. Guitarist Greg Ahee, much like McKinnirey from Mere Women was masterly at shifting between catchy melancholic riffs and scorched-earth punk screes.

Back to Casey though, the star of the show in sound and vision, the perfect balance of belligerent ambivalence and intellectual dissertation. Barking out free-form wordplay one minute, nailing down repeated phrases like “Never gonna lose it” in the encore’s Why Does It Shake? He channelled the ghost of Mark E. Smith and the glorious disdain of David Yow but he’s uniquely his own poet and performer. For those that like their post-punk laced with danceability, wit and wisdom this was an impeccable example of just that.

CHRIS FAMILTON

LIVE REVIEW: Pissed Jeans @ OAF, Sydney 2017

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Pissed Jeans, BB & The Blips, L.A Suffocated @ Oxford Art Factory 6th Dec 2017

After the unfortunate dropout of the original support acts, relative unknowns La Suffocated and BB& The Blips stepped in to warm the crowd and set the scene for Pissed Jeans’ first show on Australian soil.

IMG_1177L.A Suffocated only played a handful of songs, with a low-key vibe from behind their table of electronic devices. The duo displayed a nice blend of modern rhythmic drive and nostalgia 80s synth sounds, brushed with a rough-edged and slightly industrial atmosphere. Vocals appeared on a couple of songs and showed potential to drag their instrumentals into fully fledged songs.

BB & The Blips took us into prime punk territory with a full band and one gear (fast) approach. The guitars were thin and nervy sounding around their drummer who was the binding glue for the band. Front-person BB was a dynamic and commanding presence, prowling, bouncing and shimmying front of stage. Her vocals provided the colour and spirit to the songs – all yelps, screams and exuberant sweet/sour melodies. Fun punk rock with a conscience.

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The enigma that is Pissed Jeans – are they serious or taking the piss, are they post-punk/metal/sludge rock? – sauntered on stage and kicked off an hour of wholly entertaining, brutal and hip-swinging heavy music. The answer to the aforementioned question is obviously ‘all of the above’. From their name to their lyrics and stage performance they both honour and deconstruct the myth and cliches of rock and hardcore music. As the band laid down malevolent riffs and tumbling, mangled and constantly shapeshifting rhythms, front-person Matt Korvette played the role of the rock star and anti-rock star, both posturing and showing disdain for convention. He tore -t-shirts, humped mic stands, used the stage curtain as a towel and feigned tears as they staggered and vicariously stumbled through their back catalogue, with a particular focus on their recent album Why Love Now. Moshing ensued, a stage invader ate concrete as he launched himself back into the parting audience and the band laid waste to a cover of Guns n Roses It’s So Easy that was more reverential than one might expect. That’s the glorious dichotomy of Pissed Jeans.

Chris Familton

LIVE REVIEW: Lambchop @ Factory Theatre, Sydney

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Lambchop, Antonia & The Lazy Susans, Jack R Reilly @ Factory Theatre, Marrickville, Oct 19th, 2017

Early arrivals were privy to opening sets from local acts Jack R Reilly and Antonia & The Lazy Susans. The former showed a fine line in intimate, emotionally open and vocally impressive singer/songwriter fare over sparse and haunting electric guitar. In contrast, Antonia & The Lazy Susans were a confusing choice to open for a band like Lambchop. They delivered emo/indie guitar pop with an overdose of angst. The songs were overwrought and simplistic in form, a total contrast to the act they preceded.

This was a stripped down version of Lambchop – a band who have always had a fluid lineup revolving around frontman Kurt Wagner. On this tour the configuration was bassist Matt Swanson, pianist Tony Crow and Wagner on guitar, laptop and vocal manipulations.

Opening with a trio of songs from last year’s Flotus album they established the sonic palette for the evening where bass-lines formed pulsing, smooth and febrile shapes over beds of digital beats and textural clicks, beeps and washes of sound. Crow’s piano was a revelation of cascading notes that fluttered and danced through melodic passages, light of touch but beautifully melancholic and immersive. Front and centre was Wagner, the conductor and storyteller with his reading light, vocal unit, laptop and guitar. Using autotune, delay, reverb and self-sampling effects he conjured up a playful and endlessly fascinating take on the role of the lead vocalist. Older songs such as The Decline of Country And Western Civilisation and 2B2 were recast in the Flotus mold without losing any of their grace and poetic weight – an example of how, even though this was a new iteration of Lambchop and quite a distance for their country soul origins, it was still uniquely identifiable as the same band.

As the set progressed the players seemed to relax into their roles, particular Crow with his often hilarious quips, such as setting his phone to vibrate in his pocket at various moments during the show, to keep himself awake. It was certainly a show that traded on a minimalist sound that recalled Brian Eno but at the same time it embraced and reinterpreted various influences such as the textural and melodic inventiveness of Arthur Russell and the lush R&B of D’Angelo. In keeping with that they concluded with a uniquely Lambchop take on Prince’s When You Were Mine. This was post-modern soul music at its most compelling.

Chris Familton

LIVE REVIEW: Gold Class @ The Lansdowne, Sydney

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Gold Class + Flowertruck + Neighbourhood Void @ The Lansdowne, July 15th, 2017

It was great to arrive and see the newly re-opened Lansdowne hit the ground running with a busy downstairs bar and a band room that, as it filled, had a definite vibe and communal atmosphere. Youngsters Neighbourhood Void were the first to grace the low stage and they played a strong and impressive set, on the back of their recently released debut album. Raw enthusiasm, a direct line to Kurt Cobain and probably a love for Car Seat Headrest have shaped their quiet/loud, noisy/melodic sound but they own it and played it like their lives depended on it with a mix of gleeful abandon and desperation.

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Neighbourhood Void

Flowertruck have garnered praise and gained momentum over the last couple of years and that experience was evident in their tight and consummate performance. Some songs still drift by while others like recent single Dying To Hear and older song I Wanna Be With You, stick like glue. Frontman Charles Rushforth’s over-emoting can still grate at times but there’s no denying the strength of his voice and the band’s ability to deliver rousing indie pop to a receptive audience.

Gold Class have stepped up a notch with this sold out show, fans baying for them to take the stage and the rapturous, bouncing mosh pit reception they received. Their live sound is even more brittle and visceral than their recordings, the uniformity and minimalism of their sound enhanced even more. They almost had a monochrome palette of sound with a grinding industrial post-punk bass, slashing, dissonant guitar and in new drummer Logan Gibson they have a human metronome tying it all together with tension and propulsion. New songs were aired – including the excellent new single Twist In The Dark that highlighted how much darker and intense the new songs are getting when held against older songs like Michael. Singer Adam Curley seems more at home on stage, still aloof and slightly detached but willing to go all in when the song demands it. His glorious bellowing, austere voice is a commanding instrument, perfectly matched by the rest of the band. Gold Class were a band on the cusp of great things. Album number two has all the hallmarks of the group achieving them.

Chris Familton

LIVE REVIEW: Kirin J Callinan @ Oxford Art Factory

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Kirin J Callinan, Spike Fuck, Hviske @ Oxford Art Factory, June 10th 2017

Sydney has produced a number of forward thinking songwriter/musicians in recent years who blend differing levels of theatricality into their performances. From Jack Ladder to Alex Cameron and Mossy, they all cultivate a persona and carefully consider an image as part of their creativity. Kirin J Callinan though, is out on his limb of kaleidoscopic eccentricity.

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Hviske were cruelly given low volume as the first act and it was a disservice for their industrial -tinged techno sound that requires an immersive sound for full effect. Augmented by the buried vocals of Kusum Normoyle which acted as another instrument rather than a lyrical tool, they showed enough (at low volume) to suggest they strike a nice balance between headphones and the dancefloor.

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Spike Fuck is another emerging enigma, from the challenging moniker to an ambiguous fashion sense, she sang over laptop backing tracks, peppering the songs with Alan Vega-styled whoops and an emotionally battered yet righteous blend of Las Vegas croon, country pastiche and melancholy-drenched synth music. There was plenty to like in her performance though adding a backing band would really allow her music to shine in the live sense.

One microphone, bathed in a sea of blue light. A static image delayed for minutes before a large brimmed, heavy-jacketed figure strode on-stage. The unmistakeable figure of Kirin J Callinan had arrived, taking the audience from the first and owning them until the final parting clang of heavily treated guitar.

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Callinan and band mixed it up, digging into both the Embracism and Bravado albums. Like Bowie taking his stage cues from Lindsay Kemp, Callinan has created a distinct stage manner of grand gestures, quirky dance moves and facial expressions that run the gamut from knowing sleaze to innocent glee.

Many of the new album tracks worked even better live, stripped off their production sheen and layers. My Moment was epic EDM, Callinan playing the build and drop to the hilt. Living Each Day was a perfect twee pop song, from the audience’s response S.A.D felt like a hit single, while Family Home showed at the heart of the pomp and primp it’s the strength of songwriting that holds everything up.

An audience member tore Callinan’s leather cod-piece from his person, exposing him literally and figuratively yet he embraced the moment and made the most of the opportunity to test and titillate his audience. This was a magnificent return home for Sydney’s singular pop provocateur.

Chris Familton

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

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