LIVE REVIEW: Power Trip @ Bald Faced Stag, Sydney

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Power Trip, Flaming Wrekage, Shackles
Bald Faced Stag, Leichhardt NSW, Australia
September 22nd, 2018

As legends of the thrash scene such as Slayer, play farewell tours, attention starts to shift to who will lead the next wave of metal. On the back of their acclaimed Nightmare Logic album, Power Trip are widely considered the reigning princes of a new breed of thrash. Accordingly it was no surprise to see sold out signs at their debut Sydney show.

Locals Flaming Wrekage took to the task of opening the evening with vigour and enthusiasm. They’ve been carving out a niche for close to decade now and that experience showed in the balance of pure thrash and more melodic leanings, as they shifted between the two effortlessly. 

Shackles took things into a different level with songs that barely hit two minutes. Played at a lower speed they’d probably be standard length but such is the intensity and top gear approach by the band, they literally hurtle through rapid-fire grind-core riffs with a drummer that was more machine precision than human metronome. The death/punk vocal approach was a blistered blast of a growl that would have been more effective if it had been better placed in the mix.

If the night had been stepping up in quality with each act, it took a quantum leap forward when Power Trip hit the stage. The clarity and tightness of their playing was on display from the opening pummelling chug and their high velocity intensity. Looking at the band you could pinpoint the various influences of their sound, the hardcore punk of vocalist Riley Gale, the classic metal hinted at by bassist Chris Whetzel’s Judas Priest t-shirt, the 80s thrash vibe of lead guitarist Blake Ibanez. You get all that and more when Power Trip lay waste to a stage and by song two they’d incited a circle pit behind the flailing limbs and stray boots of surfing punters. Crowd favourite Executioner’s Tax (Swing Of The Axe) got an early airing and was a high point of the night, Gale leaning out into the throng, grinning maniacally and leading the anthemic and macabre chorus before making an appeal for weed to help ease the pain of a rolled ankle the previous night in Brisbane.

Divine Apprehension, from their recent retrospective release, was pure thrash chug with wailing cyber solos. Rhythm guitarist Nicky Stewart eyed off the crowed with a menacing raised fist, bared teeth and theatrical intensity when he wasn’t laying down slabs of artillery riffs, the solid base between the rhythm section and Ibanez’s pyrotechnics. Returning for the encore and one final round of chaos, they pulled out Crossbreaker from their debut album before leaving the heaving masses satiated and promising to return to Australia sooner rather than later. Power Trip had prevailed, cementing themselves as the new bastions of hybridised metal.

 Chris Familton

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LIVE REVIEW: Jen Cloher, Tiny Ruins @ Red Rattler, Sydney

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Jen Cloher, Tiny Ruins
Red Rattler Theatre, Marrickville, NSW Australia
20th September, 2018

A sold out Sydney show is a great way to kick off a solo tour for Jen Cloher and as she revealed during her set, this was her first ever solo headline gig. A surprising event given the career Cloher’s established over the last dozen years.

Hollie Fullbrook is better known as the central figure in Tiny Ruins but tonight she was performing solo, still in the hazy midst of jet lag following a European tour. It made for a fascinating set as she played old favourites such as Chainmail Maker, Me At The Museum, You In The Wintergardens and Hurtling Through, alongside her new single How Much, her first on Cloher’s Milk! Records label. Blaming the jet lag she admitted feeling nervous and at one point had a lyrical memory failure but recovered gallantly. It was a chance to see an artist at a transitional point with a new album pending, on a new label, singing songs we’ve never heard, stripped back to their essence.

Jen Cloher fitted into the Marrickville warehouse aesthetic in her green mechanic overalls. She was “at work, playing her block of wood”. It was more than work of course, as evident in the emotion she displayed when introducing songs with stories from her life. There were memories of her Jim Morrison teenage obsession, stealing money from her parents to fuel her Galaga addiction while pretending to be an 11 year old boy called Jon, a beautiful tribute to her mother who that day had been posthumously honoured at Auckland University as part of the Suffrage 125 commemoration and more. The stories were laced with humour and honesty and gave the songs context and added depth. 

With just an acoustic guitar Cloher transformed her more rock-leaning recordings into solo reveries that never lost their spirit and energy. It emphasised her strength as a lyricist, allowing the words to cut through in the acoustic setting, riding her near endless array of sweet and melancholic melodies. Tracks such as Sensory Memory, Kamikaze Origami and Strong Woman from last year’s self-titled album drew cheers from the warm and enthusiastic crowd but we were also treated to some dips into the back catalogue with David Bowie Eyes, Needs, Mother’s Desk and Eden With My Eve. 

Fullbrook returned to the stage for the encore and the pair played a touching version of Save Me From What I Want, a song that Cloher recorded with Mia Dyson and Liz Stringer. It capped off a wonderfull night of music. Songs stripped back to their simple yet detailed beginnings as stories, carried on the strings of acoustic guitars.

Chris Familton

LIVE REVIEW: Gaz Coombes @ Oxford Art Factory, Sydney

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Gaz Coombes, Mitch King @ Oxford Art Factory, 13th Sept 2018

Solo tours from artists known almost exclusively for their work with bands are often approached with caution. Will they be able to replicate the spirit of their recordings and maintain the integrity of their songs with just their voice and a few instruments on stage? Some artists take the fully acoustic approach – “These are the stripped back, skeleton versions of my songs,” they say. Others create a new experience and approach the songs from different and fascinating angles. Gaz Coombes successfully took the latter option.

Up first, Mitch King serenaded the arriving punters with a set that showcased his technical ability as a guitarist and a voice that fits the template of the soulful, bluesy, easy-listening and surfer-friendly sounds that the likes of John Butler, Jack Johnson and Ben Harper have built careers on. The audience were drawn to King’s friendly demeanour and clear talent but it all sounded like we’ve heard it a million times before. It wasn’t helped by detours into Heartbreak Hotel and AC/DC’s Thunderstruck.

Gaz Coombes bounded onstage still looking younger than his years and with that cheeky street urchin grin intact. Many would have been there hoping to relive 90s memories with some Supergrass tracks but for that they’d need to wait until the very end of the hour-long set. This was all about Gaz Coombes the solo artist – now three albums deep into his post-Supergrass career. Much of his performance focused on the recent World’s Strongest Man album, his most textured and genre-mixing collection of soulful psychedelia to date, and its predecessor Matador. 

Drum loops, keyboards, effects units, acoustic and electric guitars were all at Coombes’ disposal and the newest songs in particular benefited from the palette of sounds on offer. Wounded Egos, Shit (I’ve Done It Again) and The Oaks highlighted the impressive range and quality of his voice with soaring falsetto and a strong soul-meets-Radiohead tone and texture to the songs. Deep Pockets was a Krautrock groove that spiralled into the stratosphere on the back of distorted guitar and the pneumatic insistency of its rhythm while Detroit was a strummed, heady rush of cascading melodies. 

Humble and grateful to the audience for turning up after a decade-long gap between tours, Coombes had the perfect encore up his sleeve with a dive into two songs from his old band’s songbook. Moving was soaring and euphoric before he left us with a song about “getting in trouble with the law” that drew a cheer from the crowd and communal singing as he tore through Caught By The Fuzz.  Coombes is on a creative run that’s hit 25 years and though it was built on the back of Supergrass he showed that he’s more than earned the respect and continued support of his fans through his solo career.

Chris Familton

LIVE REVIEW: Infinity Broke, The Tall Grass, Mark Moldre 13.07.18

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Infinity Broke, The Tall Grass, Mark Moldre @ Factory Floor, Sydney July 13th 2018

Tonight’s gig was a warm up and testing of the waters ahead of all three acts heading off on tour to France. The heavy lifting was firmly in the hands of Jamie Hutchings, drummer/guitarist Scott Hutchings and bassist Reuben Wills who played in all three bands, and though there was a degree of ironing out the creases and in some cases feeling out the songs, this was a night of diverse and engaging music.

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Mark Moldre is in the mixing stage of his new album, the followup to 2013’s An Ear To The Earth, and he gave the audience a preview of what they can expect with a cluster of new songs that showed a noisier, looser and fuller band approach. His poetic phrasing and command of melody is still at the forefront of the songs but now they appear to have a stronger rhythmic focus and draw from a wider sphere of influences with folk, junk-shop blues and esoteric rock ’n’ roll all wrapped up together. Fever Dreams in particular stood out amid the new songs.

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Peter Fenton and Jamie Hutchings’ collaborative project The Tall Grass was fleshed out to a full band when they started touring their album and now with a new rhythm section of Scott Hutchings and Wills in place for this tour, they’ve taken it to a rawer sounding place without losing any of the melodic warmth in their harmonies and guitar interplay. A quiet and attentive crowd made for some awkward silences between songs and there were some minor equipment issues and a false start but it all made for a fascinating glimpse of the newly convened lineup taking its first live steps on the eve of international tour dates. Moller hung wistfully in the cold night air, The Road Is Long dug its heels in with firm intent and The Buyer Beware showcased the duo’s wonderfully interlaced vocals before they finished with an elegant take on Crow’s Halo.

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The third set of the night for Hutchings and co felt like a cathartic release of sorts. With Infinity Broke the magic lies in the group’s devotion to rhythm, both primal and detailed, as well as an embrace of noise, repetition and sharp edges. After the softer palette of acoustic guitars and poetic leanings, the physicality of Infinity Broke felt like aural assault at first. Then the senses adjusted, audience stances were steadied and heads began involuntarily nodding. The endurance and precision of drummer Jared Harrison was hugely impressive and he provided the glue and foundation for the music, allowing the bass to sit in the pocket and hang on for the ride and enabling the Hutchings bros to embrace their inner noisenik with flailing full body feedback, angular, dissonant riffing and bent-out-of-shape rock ’n’ roll. A couple of new songs piqued the interest of those hoping for a new album, before they wound the slightly rough around the edges but wholly entertaining evening to a close with the epic Krautrock weather bomb that was Monsoon.

Chris Familton

FRANCE DATES

  • 24th July @ Le Galion-Lorient – Infinity Broke + Mark Moldre + The Tall Grass
  • 25th July Place aux Artistes-Saint-Quay Portrieux – Mark Moldre + The Tall Grass
  • 26th July Folks Blues Birthday Party-Binic  – Escape-ism + Bench Press + Infinity Broke + Mark Moldre + The Tall Grass

27/28/29th July @ Binic Folks Blues Festival-Binic

  • 27th The Tall Grass + Infinity Broke
  • 28th Infinity Broke-Mark Moldre
  • 29th The Tall Grass-Mark Moldre

LIVE REVIEW: Cash Savage & The Last Drinks @ The Lansdowne, Sydney

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Cash Savage & The Last Drinks, Blake Scott, Roadhouses @ The Lansdowne, Sydney – 23rd June, 2018

With a new album Good Citizens on the horizon and a fresh new single out in the world, Cash Savage & The Last Drinks hit Sydney with a fine pair of opening acts in tow. 

Roadhouses also have new music freshly imparted to the universe and they played a typically strong set. Their sound suits the size of the Lansdowne live room with it’s compact stage and always spot-on sound. The trio showcased their new album, slowing heartbeats to the shimmering drowsy tempo of their music. They’re a band who know how to get the most out of well placed instrumentation, leaving notes hanging in the air. When they did get busier it was Cec Condon’s drums and James Bellesini’s bass that added subtle details. It was only the last minute of their set where the tempo increased into a Velvet Underground-esque accelerated strum.

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Blake Scott is travelling the solo route while his band The Peep Tempel are on hiatus. You get the sense he is finding it a therapeutic experience – getting to scratch his musical itch on stage, yet there  are also cracks in his stoicism, particularly in his between-song comments that suggest he’d rather have the full band on stage with him. There’s a real appreciation for his guitar playing that takes it’s own exploratory trip through his songs, independent of, yet also fully complementing his words and melodies. Warmly received by the audience, he’s a hard songwriter to pigeonhole and one gets the sense that’s exactly how he likes it.

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Cash Savage has firmly established herself on the strength of her songwriting and live performances, and with The Last Drinks behind her you’d be hard pressed to find a more exhilarating and heart swelling live band in this country. Their set was perfectly paced, beginning slow and moody, all their power in the restraint of their playing. Slowly, song by song they opened their shoulders and loosened their hips, fully immersing themselves in the cathartic aspect of playing the songs. Savage  possesses one of the most commanding thousand yard stares, her eyes fixed on the back wall of the venue, occasionally scanning and momentarily locking eyes with various punters. The new single Better Than That was resplendent in its warm pulse and glow, referencing the marriage equality events of last year. Other new songs sounded equally impressive but the strength of familiarity meant that crowd favourites such as Rat-A-Tat-Tat, the lurching Let Go and a version of Run With The Dogs that teased and teased before lifting off with sonic gusto. There’s a tension in the music that Savage clearly knows is crucial to protect. The more she holds onto that, the more powerful the effect when it’s released, and as evidenced by the moving mass of bodies and satiated grins, the greater the experience for both band and audience.

Chris Familton

LIVE REVIEW: Augie March @ The Lansdowne, Sydney

Augie March, Ro @ The Lansdowne, Sydney 26th May 2018

Augie March’s recently released Bootikins album has found the group in fine form, balancing the art and the emotion of their music to resounding effect. It shows on stage too  a band in union and musical communion, relaxed and confident and bathing in the warm glow of fandom from the Lansdowne audience.

Earlier in the evening, Sydney singer/songwriter Ro (aka Rowena Wise). Solo with electric guitar, she captivated the swelling crowd with songs that sat between ornate folk and melancholic indie. They inhabit that sweet spot between ambitious writing and the awareness of the power of simple ear-catching melody. The music of Courtney Marie Andrews came to mind when listening to Ro’s impressive set.

IMG_3125Opening with The Hole In Your Roof, Augie March immediately set the sonic tone for the evening. A crystalline sound mix with Glenn Richards’ voice front and centre and the band musically in simpatico with each other. In years gone by, Richards’ live performances have sometimes been frustrating and distracting but tonight he was at the top of his game. His voice has never sounded better, negotiating screes of words and cascading choirboy melodies, and he had a warm, self-deprecating and hilarious line in banter, often with drummer David Williams, between songs. The rest of the band got about their business, whether it was the freight train rhythm and roll of This Train Will Be Taking No Passengers, delicate musical backdrops such as The Slant (featuring Ro on violin) or gentle hymnal sounds of The Night Is A Blackbird. Augmented by a brass trio, they created a huge ocean swell of sound when required, surging choruses that recalled similar aspirations of The Saints. Bootikins material fared exceptionally well with When I Am Old and Bitter Clingerzz particular standouts. Their command of dynamics mean they can transition from a bristling rock sound to sublime intimacy at a moment’s notice.

They know that a show would be incomplete without a couple of songs in particular and they did them justice, inciting audience accompaniment on the iconic One Crowded Hour and the beauty of There Is No Such Place. Each time Augie March reemerge with a new album there are murmurs that it might be the last, but on the strength of the spirit and music on display tonight they would do well to banish any such thoughts and keep bathing in the creative glow they appear to be currently relishing.

Chris Familton

LIVE REVIEW: Jamie Hutchings @ The Newsagency, Sydney

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Jamie Hutchings, Sophie Hutchings

The Newsagency, Sydney 

April 27th 2018

It was a family affair at the Sydney album launch for Jamie Hutchings new solo album Bedsit. Sophie Hutchings, an acclaimed musician in her own right, opened the evening with a mesmerising set of solo piano. She’s released three full length albums on the local Preservation label and on stage she translated her hypnotic, subtle style to The Newsagency’s baby grand piano. Notes fluttered and danced like lattice and filigree and there seemed to be a constant dynamic interaction between soft, melodic prettiness and omnipresent melancholic undertones. With an attentive seated audience the effect was transfixing.

Jamie Hutchings has always searched for new ways to present and extrapolate his songs. From the spirited rock of Bluebottle Kiss to the wilder and darker Infinity Broke, the constant recognisable core is always Hutchings’ songs. Bedsit and this tour gave fans the chance to absorb those songs in the raw, unfettered by electricity and volume. With acoustic guitar in hand and accompanied on nearly all songs by bassist Reuben Wills and Sophie adding beautiful piano on a handful, the mood Hutchings created was decidedly laid-back, with a warm conviviality in the air.

Opening with Bedsit tracks Second Winter and Judas Is A Girl, we were again reminded of Hutchings’ unique way around a melody – never taking the easy way, dancing and wrestling with the notes and transitioning from spoken word to falsetto and gnarled, strained vowels with ease. December Park was an early highlight of the new material, as was Here Comes The Frost, a song that could’ve easily inhabited any of the Bluebottle Kiss albums. Speaking of that band, we were treated to a brace of their songs, including Last Playboy In Town, Everything Begins And Ends At Exactly The Right Time and The Weight Of The Sea. 

Now possessing an enviable and near faultless body of work, Hutchings continues to explore creative and intellectual songwriting but never at the expense of spirit and verve. Those qualities were on full display on The Newsagency stage on this autumn night. 

Chris Familton

LIVE REVIEW: John Garcia @ Factory Theatre, Sydney

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John Garcia, Peter Black @ Factory Theatre, Sydney Australia, April 21st, 2018

I doubt whether many alternative rock fans in the early 90s would have envisaged that the singers of Kyuss and The Hard-Ons would be doing a small-sized solo acoustic show in the year 2018. Noise and electricity have always been crucial elements of John Garcia and Blackie’s calling card sounds so it was both a revelation and a relief that they both pulled it off so well.

IMG_2674Peter Black has been playing solo shows for years now and it’s quite a different sound to his band outings. Predominately made up of finger-picked acoustic guitar and a high register voice, his set was low-key yet quite engaging once one became used to his style. His melodies danced and twisted into fascinating shapes, never settling on any one note for more than a millisecond. Both Neutral Milk Hotel and Graeme Jefferies’ The Cakekitchen came to mind as Black dug into his four-album catalogue for a very good opening set.

With the stage set and various bottles of spirits and an ice bucket in place, John Garcia and guitarist Ehren Groban set about creating an atmosphere that was both intimate and intense. There was plenty of chat from both singer and guitarist with Garcia thanking the audience repeatedly and talking about the songs and their transition from electric to acoustic forms and admissions of pre-gig nerves. The second he opened his voice to sing you knew you were in the presence of one of the great rock vocalists. He possesses a power and control that Kyuss fans already knew he had but shorn of the electric sludge and sonic density of that music his singing was even more impressive. From a sweet whisper to gritted teeth and searing howls his range and precision was visceral and perfectly executed.

From solo material to the iconic Kyuss songs such as Green Machine, Space Cadet and El Rodeo (complete with thunderous audience sing-a-long) and Hermano’s Kentucky he showed that he wasn’t just about the ‘hits’ and then filler. The whole set was strong right across the board. Credit must also go to Groban who was never weighed down by the history of Kyuss. He nailed the rhythmic intensity of the songs and added impressive filigrees of classical, Spanish and blues guitar with not much more than a loop pedal. Garcia complemented the music with shakers and tambourine that, in his hands, sounded like a malevolent rattlesnake. The passion for the songs the brotherly camaraderie and the relief and satisfaction of a job exceedingly well done were the rewarding features of an excellent night of heavy acoustic rock.

Chris Familton