LIVE REVIEW: Joan As Police Woman @ Factory Theatre, Sydney (2019)

 

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Joan As Police Woman
Factory Theatre
9 October

As a venue, the Factory Theatre often lacks warmth and atmosphere but on this night Joan As Police Woman transformed it into a dreamy basement cabaret bar. There was no support act due to her playing two sets – another tip of the hat to the jazz bar scenario. It also gave the fans a chance to check out the fully laden merch desk between sets.

On a dimly-lit stage wreathed in smoke sat an upright piano, an electric guitar, amplifier, and a Roland Rhythm Arranger drum machine. Joan Wasser, resplendent in a disco-era jumpsuit, took a long, deep breath before easing into a gorgeous rendition of ‘To Be Lonely’. The reverence of the attentive audience was quickly broken with Wasser good-naturedly asking for the air-conditioning to be turned off as she shivered, stretched her hands and even dropped to the floor for some press-ups. A few songs later she took up an audience member’s offer to lend her jacket.

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It was clear that Wasser was in a playful and irreverent mood, exchanging banter with the audience before switching her attention back to her emotive jazz-tinged deep soul, R&B and folk inflected songs. Pretty much all the songs she played came from her recent anthology release Joanthology which cherry picks the highlights of the last decade of her solo career.

What quickly became evident from watching and listening to Wasser perform her songs, was the way she commands and steers the timing of, and space within her music. Sparse piano chords settled in unusual places, augmented by sweet melodic runs of notes. All the while her voice drifted and soared above the music, pushing and pulling via simple incantations one minute and delicate and intricate acrobatic flurries the next. Her more rhythmically dependent songs were given groove and depth via the drum machine and on her cover of Prince’s ‘Kiss’ she took the song further into coy and sensual territory. Other highlights included ‘Human Condition’, ‘Tell Me’, audience favourite ‘The Magic’ and the gentle ache of ‘The Ride’.

Joan As Police Woman has visited Australia a number of times now but this felt like the most relaxed, intimate and consummate show we’ve seen from her.

Chris Familton

LIVE REVIEW: Ride @ Enmore Theatre, Sydney 2019

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Ride @ Enmore Theatre, Sydney NSW Sept 6th 2019

It’s been a long time between drinks for Australian fans of English band Ride but the timing felt just right with the band re-established for a couple of years now and with two solid new albums under its belt.

It’s most likely that the members of openers Shiva & The Hazards were probably not even born when Ride first emerged from Oxford in 1988. Listening to their music with that in mind casts their sound in an interesting light given how in thrall they are to bands such as Verve, Oasis and The Stone Roses. Unfortunately they were given the demoralising support band treatment with flaccid lighting and a sound mix that imagined a rock band without bass guitar and a lead guitarist whose tone sounded like it was being transmitted through a portable AM radio. They persevered unperturbed and seemed to be enjoying the thrill of a big stage gig. A song of theirs such as recent single ‘Angkor Wat’ is a strong release in it’s recorded form, ticking all the boxes of psychedelic English indie rock albeit 20+ years past its heyday, but on the Enmore stage it all sounded too disconnected and lacking warmth and depth. That said there was generous applause from those early arrivals hugging the stage barrier.

Ride have always had the ability to sound both intimate and widescreen on their albums but in the live realm they’ve made the decision to focus firmly on the latter, employing colourful stadium lighting and maximum projection, mainly from Mark Gardener. You got the sense that the newer songs they played were written with that in mind. Big riffs, repeated and pushed out into the room with emphasis on dynamics over texture. Of those new ones the two that resonated most strongly were the Primal Scream’ish ‘Kiill Switch’ and ‘Future Love’, an absolute gem of a song, easily the equal of the best in their catalogue. Live, its jangling riffs and near perfect vocal harmonies lit up the room and provided relief from the more overwrought moments on the setlist.

Of course nearly everyone was there to hear songs that thrillingly illuminated a particular corner of their musical youth nearly 30 years ago. Songs from the seminal Nowhere album and its follow-up Going Blank Again. The dense and agile baggy noise of ‘Seagull’, the chiming perfection of ‘Vapour Trail’, the cascading heavy-lidded hypnotism of ‘Dreams Burn Down’ and the interstellar gospel psychedelia of ‘Polar Bear’ from their debut album all gloriously lived up to expectations, as did ‘Leave Them All Behind’ and the dystopian light-headedness of ‘Chrome Waves’ from Going Blank Again. ‘Twisterella’ from the same album was great to hear but it hasn’t aged as well as their other songs, sounding timestamped and with a whiff of nostalgia about it.

As a band they were firing on all cylinders, tight and in the pocket. It was overwhelmingly evident that they’re the sum of their parts, even if Mark Gardener takes on the frontman role, clearly relishing his position as interlocutor for the band. Listen closely though and it quickly became clear how essential Andy Bell’s guitar playing is. Those riffs that define the golden moments in the songs, the twists and turns that add the colour and sheen that made Ride the great band they were (and still are). Steve Queralt (bass) and Loz Colbert are an underrated rhythm section too. The former with feet planted and rooted to the spot, playing it straight for the most part, occasionally delivering defining bass lines such as the central hook of ‘Seagull’. Colbert too is essential, the anchor and the engine in perpetual rhythm and motion.

Ride in 2019 are a band who have navigated the reunion process better than most. They’ve reignited the creative spark of their songwriting and recording and put together a show that pleases fans new and old. They remain vital and energised, and even though they at times overcooked the ‘rock show’ aspect of the gig, the songs and sounds they built their audience and acclaim on remain intact, and gloriously so.

Chris Familton

LIVE REVIEW: Beastwars @ Crowbar, Sydney

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Beastwars with Witchskull, Potion
Crowbar, Sydney
July 11th, 2019

Crowbar is quickly establishing itself as the home of Sydney’s metal and hard rock scene and tonight it hosted New Zealand’s finest metal band, Beastwars. They’ve just chalked up their first number one album, in the wake of breaking up, singer Matthew Hyde’s diagnosis and treatment of cancer, a reformation and the recording the devastating new album IV. In our review we described it as “a blistering, pummelling, cathartic battle cry of a record,” and the expectations were for a similarly brutal live performance.

Potion are a psych/stoner metal trio that know their way around mystical bedrock heavy riffing grooves. Song titles like ‘Dead Mountain’ give you an idea of the territory they inhabit. They do heavy and slow, fast and chugging with equal aplomb, getting the heads a shakin’ early.

Witchskull dialled back the clock to a more classic rock and metal sound. Sonically it was Ozzy fronting Motorhead with many of the songs pulled from their album of last year, Coven’s Will. A bassist that looked like a lumbering, menacing Rick Rubin and a guitarist/singer with the stature of Ronnie Dio owned the front of the stage, laying down tight, paint-peeling solos and rolling, monolithic bass lines. It was an impressive set that balanced and progressed old and newer styles as one.

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Beastwars are now four albums deep so they’ve got plenty to choose from when it comes to an hour-long setlist. They drew from all of their albums, giving a holistic overview of their churning, emotive and visceral metal and hard rock. What they do so well is channel everyone from The Melvins and Soundgarden through Kyuss and Neurosis and onto contemporaries such as Pallbearer. There’s an industrial sheen to their sound but at its core there’s a primitive and primal human howl.

C9F7B23D-7FB0-49AD-9350-E067D63C03ACFrontman Matthew Hyde is hard to take your eyes off. He’s in slow motion as he sways, conducts and conjures up spirits and demons with raised hands. He’s essentially in the eye of a sonic storm, that calm spot at the core, as the fury rages around him. All his energy, no doubt dented and damaged from everything he’s been through in recent times, is channeled through his lungs and larynx. Meditative, brooding, tension-building verses invariably open up like an arriving hurricane into choruses of lacerating, throat-shredding howls that scream desperation and vindication in equal amounts. Highlights of the set included ‘Mihi’, ‘Raise The Sword’, ‘Rivermen’ and more. At times some songs blended into a morass of sludge riffing and dense rhythms but the peaks were more plentiful than the valleys across their set. When the dynamics fell into place with the rock solid rhythm section and Clayton Anderson’s clinical yet full-blooded guitar playing, Hyde seemed to channel something otherworldly and intensely personal – and the power and impact was immense. 

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Beastwars proved they’re a band who know how to convert emotion into music with intensity and gravity, hitting the hearts and bodies of the generous crowd who bowed down before them.

Chris Familton

LIVE REVIEW: Herbie Hancock @ Sydney Opera House

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Herbie Hancock
Sydney Opera House, June 10th 2019

Herbie Hancock has been playing jazz onstage for nearly sixty years and even though this was his second show of the day in the Opera House’s Concert Hall, the septuagenarian seemed to have boundless energy as he took the audience through a spellbinding two hours of jazz fusion.

Hancock has always been one to evolve with the times and branch out from traditional be-bop jazz into soul, funk, classical and more. Tonight he was still sounding like he was channeling the future with a lineup of Lionel Loueke (electric guitar), James Genus (electric bass) and Vinnie Colaiuta (drums) and himself on piano, synth and keytar. At one point he introduced a song as one he wrote in the ‘70s and as the audience cheered he added – “2070, I’m ahead of my time!”.

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The focus of the set was firmly on songs he wrote as technology was changing and electronic music was becoming established and often taking the lead in jazz, funk and soul music. Actual Proof was a real highlight. Hard funk and ridiculously virtuosic soloing from the band, especially Colaiuta on drums. What made the band so impressive was their ability to work as a cohesive, fluid and rhythm-based unit and then pull things back to spotlight individual solos that never outstayed their welcome. These were some of the finest players in the world yet there was very little ego emanating from the stage. Hancock was flashing grins and kicking out his leg from beneath the piano, clearly revelling in the musical interaction with his band. As he introduced them he seemed genuinely and humbly in awe of their talents.

Hancock himself divided his time between his various instruments, pacing himself before going deep on a solo, notes near flying off the keys in a blur of fingers, whether it was light, dancing runs or heavy, slamming chordal accents. He remains a dazzling and inventive player, still taking his music to thrilling and otherworldly places.  For the most part the set was upbeat and constantly in motion. A comparatively quieter moment came with the soulful Come Running To Me featuring Hancock’s synth-manipulated vocal adding yet another element to their sound.

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Late set highlights came in the form of two of his masterpieces and most recognisable compositions in Cantaloupe Island, recorded in 1964, and the closing future funk encore of Chameleon, from his 1974 album Head Hunters. Hancock took centre-stage with his keytar, swapping solos with Loueke and at the age of 79, leaving the stage with an airborne jump to signal the final note as the audience rose to their feet in unison. 

This was no artist playing it safe at the tail-end of his career, this was a celebratory night of music and creative spirit par excellence, from a true innovator and legend of modern music.

Chris Familton

LIVE REVIEW: Khruangbin @ Metro Theatre, Sydney

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Khruangbin, Harvey Sutherland
Metro Theatre
14 March 14th, 2019

by Chris Familton

This was a night of very few voices given that both acts on the bill were primarily instrumental trios. It was the music that did the talking and it transformed the Metro into a wall-to-wall sea of bodies-in-motion and conjured up a celebratory vibe in the room.

Harvey Sutherland, the self-described funk-synthesist, was up from Melbourne to open the show and by the end of the first song he’d won over the audience with his blend of soul, funk, house, disco and of course the aforementioned funk. The rhythm section were quite astonishing in their fluidity and precision as they constantly found new ways to build rhythmic detail and dynamics into the music while Sutherland wove his cosmic keyboards into melodic dance floor excursions. It was an infectious set that brought to mind Steely Dan filtered through Jamiroquai.

Khruangbin have built their brand on a visual aesthetic that melds black, straight-fringed wigs with explosions of colour and choreographed stage moves delivered with a knowing half-smile and semi-detached cool. That was enhanced on stage with an excellent light show – simple, bold and dramatic utilising colour and shapes, much like the trio’s music, on this first of two sold out nights at the venue.

It quickly became clear that they’ve spend a lot of time and effort into structuring their sets so there is a balance of peaks and valleys, from the hard funk breakbeat of Maria También to the dreamy, sweet and soulful soft tones of Cómo Me Quieres. As a trio they balance each other out wonderfully. Laura Lee is often the most compelling focal point with her knee drops and hip swivels and constantly light-dancing bass-lines, while Mark Speer roams his side of the stage, also in endless motion as a player but with a kind of roving commission to explore all stylistic facets of his guitar, from psych rock solos to dub echoes and flurries of hyper-melodic Thai funk. Holding it all down and providing a framework for which to hang the songs on was drummer DJ Johnson, his playing channeling everything from hip hop breakbeats to James Brown and Portishead.

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Their breakthrough album Con Todo El Mundo provided a large portion of their set but there were also dips back into their debut The Universe Smiles Upon You, with White Gloves being a particular highlight and one of the only songs to feature all three on vocals. As the set progressed we got a strange interaction between Lee and a lonely looking green telephone which seemed kind of pointless and a successful attempt by Speer to get everyone in the room to introduce themselves to the person standing next to them.

Before the encore the entertainment factor peaked with a medley that saw seamless transitions between songs by Ol’ Dirty Bastard, A Tribe Called Quest, Chris Isaak’s Wicked Game, and culminating in the crowd joining in on the chorus to Spandau Ballet’s True (via PM Dawn). 

What the trio showed was their ability to translate their music from the intimacy of their recordings to the live stage, where they balanced nuance with deep grooves, hypnotic and sensual rhythms, humour and exceptional musicianship.

LIVE REVIEW: No Age @ Oxford Art Factory, Sydney

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No Age

No Age, Bed Wettin’ Bad Boys, Arse, Basic Human
Oxford Art Factory
February 14th, 2019

Almost ten years to the day that No Age last played Sydney, at the 2009 Laneway Festival, the Los Angeles duo return on the back of their critically acclaimed album of last year, Snares Like A Haircut. 

A fine four-band lineup had been put together for the evening and all four local acts impressed. Basic Human kicked things off with their primitive punk rock, built on a relentless rhythm section and topped off with the endlessly pacing singer’s half-sung, mostly shouted vocals. They were catchy and a good balance of noise, attitude and humour, with each song introduced as “This is a love song”, given it was Valentine’s Day.

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ARSE

Arse have to be one of the best named bands to come out of Sydney in a long while and you kind of expected great things from them before they’d even played a note. Collared shirts, tight trousers, swagger and volume. The trio started with a gloriously mangled take on Advance Australia Fair before unleashing distorted bass, guitar sounds pulled from a metal album and minimal post-hardcore drumming. It was like Cosmic Psychos cutting all kinds of Jesus Lizard angles with the noise punk dial on 11. They topped it off with a Revolting Cocks’ish lurch and stagger through John Paul Young’s Love Is In The Air.

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Bed Wettin’ Bad Boys

Bed Wettin’ Bad Boys played a Surry Hills gig with No Age back on that 2009 tour and here they were again, essentially still doing the same thing but seeming much more comfortable in their musical skin as a band. The songs rolled and tumbled with less consternation and more flow. Plenty of tracks from their 2017 album Rot were played including the super catchy pop song Plastic Tears, Away and Expanded Horizons and on stage and with volume it showed how well they’ve shaped their Replacements meets melodic garage punk sound over two albums.

No Age still do what they’ve always done, from those early days at The Smell in LA to their latest album, they’ve always found inventive ways to dig noise and melody from the single construct of drums, a guitar and a couple of mics. They still seem a relaxed pair, chatting with the audience, exchanging jokes about old songs being new, unravelling the mystery of Vegemite and talking up the observed ease of living as a vegan in Sydney. 

Their dynamic is basic but with the subtle interplay of Randy Randall’s guitar effects, Dean Spunt’s punk breakbeats and other avant garde interjections like the experimental ambient typewriter chatter of Snares Like A Haircut, their songs rarely end up regressing into same-sameness. One quickly forgets they’re a two-piece when the full throttle wall of Dinosaur Jr sound bursts forth. It’s a clever blend of energy and inventiveness, equally directed at the mind and the feet of the audience and Randall seemed equally lost in a sea of hair and leg kicks as he wrestled all kinds of sounds from his guitar. When they dialled back the frenzy on the song Send Me they sounded like a lost Flying Nun band – beautifully wasted, wistful and melancholic.

Spunt and Randall left us with perhaps their finest song, Teen Creeps, with its Sonic Youth chug and shoegaze wash of guitar, a cathartic way to send the audience back out into the night, fully vibed on No Age’s dissonant sonic hypnosis.

Chris Familton

LIVE REVIEW: Shihad @ Metro Theatre, Sydney

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Shihad, Young Lions, The Dead Love
Metro Theatre, Sydney
November 24th, 2018

Thirty years, damn… where did that time go. This writer recalls first seeing them open for The Angels in Auckland, New Zealand in 1990. Back then they were fresh-faced young lads, still in thrall to the thrash metal of Metallica and co and yet to embark on the ups and downs of their rock ’n’ roll career. Now of course they’re middle-aged statesman of Antipodean hard rock, a conduit between metal and melodic rock and most importantly, still performing as passionately and intensely as ever.

The Dead Love were up first, keeping things simple, rough and raw with their grunge punk that treads a nice line between unhinged rock and crossover melodic punk pop. At times their songs veered too close to catchy choruses of the anthemic hook kind but they know to ensure they keep enough throat shredding angst and anger in the mix to stop the songs sounding too cleaned up.

Young Lions on the other hand represent the worst of modern rock, when technology creeps in and bleaches out the rough edges and believable conviction in the music. In their frontman they have a singer who can certainly nail emo, hard rock and some cringeworthy rap moments but his self-belief was overcooked with over-the-top rock star moves and ventures into the audience. The music was generic alt-rock by numbers, Bono fronting Linkin Park, an Australian Idol facsimile of rock music.

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Shihad quite simply laid waste to what came before them. On a stage devoid of amplifiers and a sound that was blisteringly loud, heavy and perfectly balanced, they set about celebrating 30 years as a band with a set that began with Think You’re So Free from their most recent album FVEY and worked its way back, in chronological order to Factory from their debut Churn. 

It was a fascinating arc to experience as the four black-clad Kiwis accurately acknowledged their high-points and lesser successes. The General Electric (celebrating 20 years) supplied five songs, FVEY three, Shihad, Killjoy and Pacifier two apiece. The most commercial period spanned The General Electric and Pacifier albums and the near sold-out crowd were in full voice singing along to songs such as Comfort Me, Run and My Mind’s Sedate. As always Jon Toogood was the hype man and the tireless frontman, constantly inciting audience involvement with handclaps, sing-alongs, lit-up phones held aloft and unified jumping up and down. They’re all cliched rock moves but he does it well and all with his laconic, genial stage manner. 

As a band there are few that play tighter hard rock and honour the riff as diligently as Shihad, they’re a precision machine with a beating heart. In Toogood’s case, one that pumped blood in a stream down his arm as a result of frenetic guitar playing. Karl Kippenberger still works the stage, grinning at the audience like he’s bumping into old friends, Phil Knight is a study of six string wizardry while Tom Larkin is the glue and anchor that ties it all together. As they approached the tail end of the set things got darker with the magnificent thrum and throb of Deb’s Night Out, an absolutely brutal psych assault of You Again and the industrial tectonic riff of Factory from their debut album.

Shihad are essentially still doing what they’ve always done, entertaining their devoted fans with sensory overload at maximum volume. It’s fun, it’s life-affirming rock music and they’re still right at the top of their game, a claim that can be bestowed on very few bands after three decades of making music.

Chris Familton

LIVE REVIEW: The Goon Sax @ Petersham Bowling Club, Sydney

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The Goon Sax, Gregor, Married Man
Petersham Bowling Club
23 November 23rd, 2018

As The Goon Sax made a hurried dash from Newcastle after their flight from Brisbane to Sydney was curtailed, Married Man opened the evening of outside guitar pop music with a set that showcased the songs and voice of Sarafina Pea. Vocal effects were employed to songs that took in dream pop and post punk. It was blurred music with jagged edges courtesy of the rhythm section and in Pea, a voice that rises above the music quite impressively.

Gregor was up from Melbourne and like the headliners he too was celebrating his recently released album Silver Drop. If Married Man used the standard rock n roll components then Gregor (in duo format) delved further into the world of deconstructed pop songs by utilising a drum machine, endlessly inventive bass playing, washes of sound and deadpan vocals with filter-free diary-entry lyrics. It was a fascinating mix that took a few songs to adjust to but across a full set it all made total sense as sad confessional songs to dance to.

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The Goon Sax should probably have been playing a larger venue with a proper sound system, given that the show was sold out and the sound was under par. It was no fault of the sound-person but the drums weren’t mic’d and with drummer Riley Jones’ often light touch they lacked impact in the rhythmically driven songs. The bass was shortchanged as well, leaving the songs sounding a bit hollow and missing depth. All that aside, the band dug in and tore through a set that drew mostly from the new album We’re Not Talking but dipped into their debut, the super catchy Sweaty Hands a particular highlight. Sleep EZ, Make Time 4 Love and the Jones-sung Strange Light all stood out. 

As a band they clearly have the songs and have developed into a fascinating triptych of quirky and slightly awkward individuals (think Talking Heads) but the gnawing feeling still remains that Louis Forster needs to take the lead on more songs. There was a noticeable lift, clarity and drive in the songs that he helmed and the audience responded as a result. Jones’ vocal cameos were also a welcome addition to the set. In all this was a good show, not the best they’ve played in Sydney but good enough to warrant the acclaim and growing fanbase The Goon Sax continue to receive. 

Chris Familton