LIVE REVIEW: The Tall Grass, Adam Gibson & The Ark-Ark Birds, Christine Jane

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The Tall Grass, Adam Gibson & The Ark-Ark Birds, Christine Jane Leadbelly, Newtown (May 6th, 2017)

This was a double album launch for The Tall Grass and Adam Gibson and they chose well to celebrate their new albums together. The songs and music of both bands deal in rich poetics and tangled and exultant musicality. Mood and emotion are strong components of their respective works.

Christine Jane and acoustic guitar accompaniment opened the evening with a set that got better as it progressed. Her voice proved to be a versatile instrument and her performance was assured, culminating in a wonderful and bluesy, jazz serenade.

Adam Gibson & The Ark-Ark Birds sound like a quintessentially Australian band, one that straddles communal indie pub rock sounds, evocative wide open desert plains storytelling and heady suburban poetry. The six-piece were augmented by the vocals of Alannah Russack and a fine guest piano turn from Jadey O’Regan. Gibson is the real focal point of the band though, his spoken word delivery, slightly awkward to fresh ears, quickly became a hypnotic tool, drawing in the audience with tales of sisters and stranded sharks, missing persons, torn apart towns and stilt walkers. Belanglo, Byron And The Road Between was completely captivating, the band sounding like the Bad Seeds soundtracking an ominous tale that was never going to have a happy ending.

Witnessing the two year gestation of The Tall Grass, the collaboration between Peter Fenton (Crow) and Jamie Hutchings (Bluebottle Kiss, Infinity Broke), has been a fascinating one. Beginning as an acoustic duo they seemed to be woodshedding skeletal songs on stage, finding their feet and the right blend of style and song. The release of Down The Unmarked Road was their first full-band show and the effect was akin to transforming a black and white photo into a full-sized colour print. Texture and depth was added and both artists were freed up to stretch out vocally and with their guitar playing. Little City was a highlight, its gently propulsive and coaxing rhythm and the pair’s melodic interplay sounding sublime. The Road Is Long contrasted with its rougher edges, and Tom Waits-ish clatter, Fenton and Hutchings opening their lungs, gritting their teeth and leaning into the song with real intent. An impressive realisation of a musical collaboration and clear mutual respect.

Chris Familton

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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: Belles Will Ring

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Belles Will Ring + Le Pie + The Wednesday Night @ Factory Floor, March 17th, 2017

Three shades of psychedelia ruled a wet and windy Sydney night as Belles Will Ring triumphantly returned after a five year absence from the stage.

The Wednesday Night recently released their debut LP and through shifting lineup changes have been refining their live show, becoming more nuanced and hypnotic in their sound. Based around Rob Young and Laura Murdoch, the five-piece know how to dig in and work a garage pop groove as expertly as they can psych-out on girl-group vocals and tranced repetition.

Le Pie took the girl-group aesthetic further with her 50s bubblegum look, bathed in pink from her dress to her Stratocaster guitar. From tentative beginnings their set got better and better and when Le Pie sang without her guitar the songs seemed to gain more focus and a stronger connectivity with the audience. Think gauzy, atmospheric psych-lite pop where Mazzy Star meets Dum Dum Girls.

Belles Will Ring seem like a band built on strong personal and musical connections. From the first song they locked in, exchanged self-knowing and happy smiles, lifting the mood of the Factory Floor into the realm of celebration and inspired uninhibited dancing. Aidan Roberts and Liam Judson sit at the core of the band and over the years they’ve honed a symbiotic musical relationship both as singers and guitarists, whether syncing their Byrdsian harmonies or playing riffs that counter and complement each other, almost as if they’re egging each other on to dig deeper and further afield on their instruments. The band are way more muscular and freewheeling on-stage. The songs revel in what sound like tangents but are cleverly composed and arranged space-rock freak-outs as they urge the songs onwards and upwards. The unabashed enthusiasm and energy of the band has been missed on the Sydney scene and their return shows that pop music can be raw, intelligent and layered while still remaining direct and uplifting. Let’s hope the Belles keep ringing.

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

LIVE REVIEW: Margaret Glaspy

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Margaret Glaspy + Slow Dancer @ Newtown Social Club, 6th March 2017

Slow Dancer had the task of warming the crowd and for the most part the Oh Mercy guitarist (Simon Okely) caught and maintained their attention with his brand of solo, soulful indie music. He has a fine line in emotive chords and a guitar sound like garage rock filtered through a slowed, stoned and hazy late-night filter. Lyrically his songs fell short though, resorting for the most part to tortured-love subject matter, and with one of those faux-soul voices (should we blame Bon Iver?) it all blended into a warm and sugary bowl of overdone, saved intermittently by his guitar playing.

Margaret Glaspy’s debut album is called Emotions and Math and that title works equally well as description of her live show. From the outset she sat the audience back on their heels with a band that sit right in the pocket – clever, subtle and intricate but never showy. The full impact from the opening notes of Love Like This came from her percussive, rhythmic guitar playing that swung from sweet, lowdown riffs to slashing, tension-laden and clanging chords. And then there’s that voice. It’s familiar in the vein of Liz Phair, Feist, Bjork, Joan Wasser and even the ancient-sounding folk of Karen Dalton, yet it is laced with contemporary influences like R&B. She has a raw, growling inflection that provides the emotion to the structured and faultlessly played math of her songs. Combine that with hushed sensual tones and some diva-worthy note runs and Glaspy was an endlessly fascinating singer, complementing her set with a brace of stunning covers of songs by Neil Young, Lauren Hill, Bjork and Lucinda Williams.

Watching and listening to Glaspy reminded me of those early days when Jeff Buckley began to make waves on the back of his undeniable natural talent as a singer, guitarist and songwriter. You could hear the craft but the raw emotion and barely-contained creativity was just as crucial. From the same streets of New York, Glaspy is surely about to make a similar artistic statement based on this performance.

Chris Familton

LIVE REVIEW: Big Thief

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Big Thief + Gabriella Cohen + Body Type @ Newtown Social Club, 1st March 2017

Three shades of emotive indie guitar music were on display this evening with Body Type the most conventional of them. The quartet boast three lead vocalists and a fine line in songs that ranged from swerving slacker rock in the vein of Courtney Barnett, to the dreamier climes of bands like Warpaint and Beach House.

She’s been on the radar as a hotly-tipped new talent for a while now and on this showing it’s hard to disagree with that. From the opening notes of a short set Gabriella Cohen came across like a modern day Karen Dalton, possessing one of those voices that sounds beyond her years. She seemed at one as a singer and a guitarist, delivering sparse blues laments before being joined by violinist/guitarist/singer Kate Dillon and concocting a sound that channelled Dirty Three, Kate Bush and Neil Young in an art-pop jam.

Another band that has been receiving a ton of critical acclaim of late, Big Thief wasted no time in locking into an onstage groove with the band leaning into each other and the songs, using eye contact to ensure they were playing into the heart of their songs. The star of the show was front-person Adrianne Lenker who often came across as fragile and emotionally raw and at other times strident and commanding. That creative duality is what made her (and the band’s) performance so compelling. From a lonesome and spine-tingling solo voice to the single unadulterated scream she unleashed late in the set, she was in full control.

With only one album under their belt it got a thorough airing with the single Masterpiece, Real Love and Parallels particular highlights. Lenker gave us a solo new song, freshly written on this Australian tour and they finished with another new one, this time with the full band, that featured some astoundingly dense and overflowing vocals.

Big Thief added a wider dynamic range to their songs in the live setting, elevating the songs that make up a great debut album into a brilliant live performance.

Chris Familton