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

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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

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

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: 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:

 

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