LIVE REVIEW: Midnight Oil @ Sydney Domain

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The Great Circle Tour came full circle, back to the city where it all began seven months ago with a warm-up show at Marrickville Bowling Club. Since then, Midnight Oil have conquered the world once more, returning sounding better than ever and with an enviable and overflowing back catalogue of generation-defining songs.

AB Original went down a treat as the opening act, standing tall and delivering their message of pride, culture and politics. A live drummer and keyboardist gave their sound depth and an organic feel. Hands were waved in the air as the celebratory outdoor-gig vibe kicked in, but not at the expense of conveying the importance of Briggs and Trials’ messages.

Although still with a conscience slant, John Butler Trio have a much more subtle delivery. Their breezy, rhythm-driven sound and Butler’s exceptional guitar playing worked well as the calm before the headliners’ arrival. It also may have helped to mellow out the copious tinnie-sinking punters who seemed to be intent on reliving their youthful excesses.

With slogans and messages of human and environmental rights peppering the large screens, Midnight Oil emerged on the towering stage and, as was appropriate, began with Armistice Day, Peter Garrett singing from beneath a hood. With crystalline sound they accelerated into Read About It, the screams of recognition immediate from that opening cowbell/guitar. From there it was a faultless set, balanced in its mix of the earliest of songs including Section 5 (Bus To Bondi) through to the biggest of hits – Power And The Passion, Beds Are Burning, The Dead Heart, Forgotten Years. Drummer Rob Hirst was having a ball, his muscular drumming a musical celebration of the band’s spirit in itself, joining the band front of stage mid-set for US Forces and Kosciusko. Nothing was lost with Jim Moginie restricted to a chair after his Melbourne fall, his playing a revelation of guitar and keyboards, the ingredients that added post-punk, art-rock and psych twists and turns to the band’s sound. Put Down That Weapon was reshaped as a slow-burning number and the large screens gave a fascinating insight into his and the rest of the band’s playing. Garrett is still the star of the show, though, the mad marionette dancer relishing the large stage and exploring every inch like the seasoned pro he is. He also created an intimacy with the audience with his interactions and expositions.

Sure, there were the requisite and important social and political messages, preached to the mostly converted, but the overriding message was a celebration of the music, songs that soundtracked more than one generation and still burn strong with real heart and soul.

Chris Familton

Here’s our Spotify playlist of the songs played in the Midnight Oil set:

 

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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: Peter Hook & The Light @ Metro Theatre

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Peter Hook & The Light @ Metro Theatre, Sydney, October 2nd 2017

Ten days after announcing a settlement with the rest of New Order concerning his use of various New Order and Joy Division assets on merchandising and in the promotion of shows by his new band, Peter Hook returned to Australia for a tour that honours the legacy of both acts, but for this particular show, primarily Joy Division.

Three sets and no support – no-one can accuse Hooky of shortchanging the fans or not putting on a totally professional show. They warmed up with a set of seven New Order songs. There  was little in the way of the hits, instead he went for album and EP deep cuts such as In A Lonely Place, Dreams Never End and Procession. It was a low key and somewhat tentative start that felt like a warmup for what was to come. By the time they hit Age Of Consent the band and audience had warmed to the occasion and the anticipation of Joy Division albums Closer and Unknown Pleasures, in full, was firmly established.

The Light were excellent at recreating the sound of Joy Division, the primitive synth the human/machine drumming of Stephen Morris and the dense guitar churn and simple melodic guitar lines. With two bassists in the band, Hooky had the freedom to play when he chose, clearly finding it easier to concentrate on the vocals without having to play at the same time. Vocally he nailed it, channeling Ian Curtis and his tone and intonations but adding a bit of Hooky rock bravado. Isolation, the dark and moody Heart and Soul and the even more desolate yet beautiful grandeur of The Eternal were particular highlights.

Unknown Pleasures, now something of an iconic symbol of post punk and the dystopian end of the 70s, sounded a lot better in that the songs are dynamically more fluid and intense. Hooky paced the stage, pulled low-slung bass moves and stared out across the audience, surprisingly making no comments between songs. It was a powerful rendering of a classic album with Shadowplay and Day Of The Lords as high-points. Returning for a brilliant three song encore of Atmosphere (dedicated to the tragedy in Las Vegas), Transmission and an exultant Love Will Tear us Apart before Hooky tore off his shirt, bowed to the crowd and strode off victorious.

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: Cash Savage & The Last Drinks

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Cash Savage & The Last Drinks, Mere Women, Jep and Dep @ The Factory Floor, Sydney (26.05.17)

Jep and Dep are on the downhill run to the release of their second LP, due for release in August, making this a chance to hear a brace of new tracks alongside songs from their debut Word Got Out. As is their fascinating dynamic, the duo exchanged barbed witty comments with each other and the audience before dovetailing into stark and dark folk songs framed by Darren Cross’ fine acoustic fingerpicking and Jessica Cassar’s high and lonesome voice which hung in the air with melancholic poise.

Mere Women are a band who’ve slowly built a strong reputation in the last few years with their three albums that showcase their engaging post-punk sound. Live they delivered and in some cases exceeded expectations. Front-person Amy Wilson is the human conduit into their jagged, coruscating sound where the drums stopped, started and tumbled, the bass provided the heartbeat and Flyn McKinnirey’s guitar created washes of sound and urgent collisions of effect-laden notes. It was a big and intense sound but one that was wholly the sum of its impressive parts.

Cash Savage is still riding high on the critical success of last year’s album One Of Us and based on this performance the songs have become even more vibrant and dynamic than when the band first toured them upon the album’s release. There was a relaxed intensity that permeated the set, the songs surging on with an ebb and flow and the band enjoying the sonic ride in their slipstream. Savage is still the focal point, that resolute stare across the audience, the clenching of teeth, stalking of the stage and slow-mo ducking and weaving like a boxer coyly sizing up their opponent. There was both a menace and euphoria to her voice as The Last Drinks traveled the length of One Of Us, drawing power and passion from Run With The Dogs, Rat-a-Tat-Tat and the album’s title track, just three highlights among many. A faultless performance from one of this country’s finest.

Chris Familton

LIVE REVIEW: Underground Lovers

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Underground Lovers, Simon Holmes @ Leadbelly, Newtown, May 18th, 2017

With an excellent new album in tow, Underground Lovers finally made it back up the highway to Sydney after a few years absence. They’ve clearly retained and widened their audience too, with two sold out shows to celebrate the release of the new record.

Simon Holmes of The Hummingbirds had to battle the restless and chatty punters but he did so by virtue of some fine vocal melodies and the late-set addition of Adam (vocals) and Simon Gibson (drums) of the Ark-Ark Birds for a trio of their songs. A nice inclusion was a stripped back but still effortless and catchy version of the 1989 Hummingbirds single Blush.

Complete with a cache of psychedelic video projections, Underground Lovers put on a consummate, almost celebratory set. There was a false start with a miscued drum machine on the new song Unbearable but they laughed it off, with frontman Vincent Giarusso blaming nerves. From then on they never put a foot wrong, playing a big chunk of the new album Staring At You Staring At Me, intermingled with highlights from their back catalogue.

They’re a more muscular and propulsive band on stage than on record, the rhythm section locking into fluid and repetitive grooves that strayed into motorik Krautrock territory and down psych rock sonic rabbit holes. Melancholy permeates their music but the shared lead vocals between Giarusso and Philippa Nihill, the blend of Glenn Bennie’s guitar and the electronic elements ensured an all-encompassing sound that filled the room and was much dance-inducing as it was forlorn. Every Sign and The Rerun were two highlights from the new record – dark dance music akin to Primal Scream at their most rewarding junction of electronic and rock music. The biggest crowd response came with Dream It Down’s Las Vegas. A chanted sing-along ensued and when Giarusso hit the line “Lots of feathers, fluffy and pink, and cigarettes” an audience member responded with one. It was a weird sight seeing a cigarette inside a venue in 2017 but it was a fine moment at a gig where the mood of re-lived youth and fresh musical discovery was in the air.

Chris Familton

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