LIVE REVIEW: Gold Class + Straight Arrows + You Beauty @ Plan B, Sydney (26/08/16)

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GOLD CLASS

Red Bull continue their support of local music with this sponsored show curated by the good folk at I OH YOU. It was a super low door price and first in first served which ensured punters were queuing at the door early.

You Beauty had a false start to their set with guitar amp issues causing a minor delay before they returned to the cramped Plan B stage for thirty minutes of woozy, chiming guitar, tight pulsing bass-lines and Will Farrier’s quirky sports-chic frontman style. In the past they’ve sometimes seemed tentative and under-rehearsed but tonight they were in fine form as Farrier shimmied and darted around the stage, conducting regular sorties into the audience. They know how to hit a fine groove – part sleaze, part tongue-in-cheek and with tracks taken from both their albums they were consistently danceable.

Straight Arrows are all about intensity and lurching around the tipping point between reckless abandon and musicianship. Of course they nail it every time. From the ramalama Beatles on speed of Bad Temper, the warped psych shake of Mind Control to the ghoulish prowl of Haunted Out, they showed yet again that they hands down the finest exponents of garage rock in this country. Toward the end of their set a toilet paper fracas ensued amongst the churning bodies front of stage, adding to the chaotic nature of their performance.

img_6814Gold Class are now a band that sound more balanced – a clearer sum of their parts. In the past the focus has been mostly on singer Adam Curley with his distinctive stentorian voice. It’s been a year since their debut album was released and they’ve played a ton of shows, here and overseas. It shows too. Drummer Mark Hewitt was tension personified. Taut, insistent rhythms, jerky and propulsive while the bass surged and pulsed overhead. Guitarist Evan Purdy slashed out claustrophobic chords that sounded both submerged and like stargazing squalls. New songs were aired and they were tantalising prospects for the next album. It was a masterclass in intelligent and compelling post punk that capped off  a superb night of music.

Chris Familton

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LIVE REVIEW: Witch Hats, The Laurels, Terza Madre, Melbourne Cans @ Red Rattler Theatre, Sydney (19/08/16)

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Melbourne Cans made the trip up to Sydney with their soulful, shuffling and shaking sound. There was a lo-fi backbeat to their songs, somewhere between the 80s Postcard Records sound and a woollier Royal Headache. Keyboards took the songs out of straight strum and sing territory, adding a psychedelic feel which worked well.

Terza Madre have been gathering a slow buzz and reputation. They are hard to pin down – hard to fit on small stages too, with the 7-piece, black-attired outfit adding an additional vocalist and a trumpet player at times. The music was considered and emotive, occasionally showing hints of 70s prog as they sang Italian pop songs with an almost gothic drama. Their set got better as they settled in. There is little to compare them to on the current scene which is good thing.

The Laurels are a band who have been in a period of sonic transition in recent times. With an imminent new album they showcased some songs from it, some old ones and even one written the night before. Luke O’Farrell was surrounded by a bank of digital instruments to add to his already impressive guitar pedal-board. They were loud – the bass still propels their songs, and with more tools at their disposal their sound has loosened and allowed more rhythm and flow into their guitar revelries.

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Witch Hats took the stage late to a thinning yet still enthusiastic audience. On their new album they’ve added more nuance and melody yet it’s still a primal sound, with singer/guitarist Kris Buscombe holding court centre-stage while stick-figure bassist Ash Buscombe carried the bottom-end whilst constantly bouncing and lunging to and fro. Live, there was a bristling fervour to their new songs, more urgency and attack in the delivery and when they hit extended sections the dissonance and noise entered the fray as the guitars fragmented over the dark pummelling grooves of the rhythm section. Their set added credence to this writer’s belief that of the current crop of post-punk/alt-rock Australian bands, there are few that can match Witch Hats.

Chris Familton

LIVE REVIEW: Peter Garrett & The Alter Egos @ Factory Theatre, Sydney (12/08/16)

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As far as icons go in rock ’n’ roll, Peter Garrett is one of the most distinctive. That inconceivably long-limbed physique, pronounced cheekbones and pale, bald head. The jerky, flailing movements and that authoritative bark and howl. With an extended absence from the live stage the audience could be forgiven for forgetting how commanding a stage presence the man has, until he strides out and completely owns the room’s attention for the entire length of the show.

Ahead of that entrance, WA’s Abbe May (also an Alter Egos member) played a set that covered her rock and blues past and previewed tracks from her forthcoming Bitchcraft album, with it’s decidedly 90s R&B sound. As a reference point she covered Ginuwine’s Pony plus a beautifully stripped back take on the Rolling Stones’ Gimme Shelter. At times it was a tad too funk-rock but there’s no denying May’s singing and songwriting abilities and her sense of musical adventure.

IMG_6650In the Alter Egos, Peter Garrett has assembled a stellar band, perfectly balanced between rock chops, session player solidity and a vibe of relaxed enjoyment. Jet’s Mark Wilson was superb on bass, Peter Luscombe’s drumming never missed a beat and keyboardist Rosa Morgan impressed with her playing and vocals. The real joy though was seeing Martin Rotsey of Midnight Oil bouncing and lurching beside Garrett, a wry smile often sneaking out as the band locked in and rode the rhythms and melodies.

They’ve already announced that the Oils will return next year so that lessened the pressure for Garrett and co to play to nostalgia. Instead it was a showcase of his recent solo album A Version Of Now, with Homecoming (including two of his daughters on backing vocals), Great White Shark and It Still Matters the standouts. From there Garrett, who’s voice sounds better than ever, took great pleasure in honouring some of Australia’s finest songwriters with covers of the Divinyls’ Back To The Wall, Skyhooks’ Ego and Kev Carmody. Of course they couldn’t leave the crowd without a Oils song or two. Early in the set we were treated to the thrilling speed riffing of Section 5 (Bus To Bondi) but the real treat came during the penultimate encore with the previously seated audience rushing the stage, chanting the opening strains of the (here’s that word again) iconic Dead Heart. It was a truly celebratory moment to complete a night that marked another turning point in Garrett’s life, before the big show begins in earnest in 2017.

Chris Familton

LIVE REVIEW: Shihad @ The Factory Theatre, Sydney (15/07/16)

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Shihad have been investing a lot of time in revisiting their back catalogue in recent years with reissues, tours of their best albums and greatest hits shows. That threatened to cement their place as a band built on past glories until the brutal and re-energised FVEY album came out in 2014. This night, though focused on celebrating their self-titled yet commonly known as The Fish album, served to reinforce the band’s history and their intense and still beating collective rock ’n’ roll heart and spirit.

The Vanns played to a near empty room yet they still played with youthful exuberance, matching skilful chops with a bluesy hard rock sensibility that was an attractive collision between Kings of Leon and Hendrix. They know their pop smarts and know how to match them with earthy hard rock.

Adelaide trio Grenadiers were a harder beast to pin down. One minute they were pounding at the door with post-hardcore intensity and aggression, the next they were decidedly mid-90s alternative rock and punk, channeling everyone from The Bronx to QOTSA. Energy-wise they lifted the temperature in the room but in terms of memorable hooks and songs they were left in the shadows when the headliner hit the stage.

Nothing much changes with a Shihad live show. Frontman Jon Toogood is still the limbs-askew crowd-rousing vibe merchant. He was constantly calling for the audience to bounce up and down, clap along and SCREAM! Behind him, the band bristled like a pre-match cage fighter, on their toes as they played their four favourite songs from their self-titled (Fish) album. The songs showed the balance between melody and riffs they were searching for in the mid 90s and those best examples proved they were on the right track. From there it was a trip through the rest of their back catalogue with the conspicuous absence of anything from the three albums between 2005-2010. The General Electric is still an undeniably monstrous rock song but it was the latter part of the night that cemented it as a superb show. Four songs from their excellent FVEY album before an encore of Factory (at the Factory of course) and the sledgehammer You Again. At their best Shihad are a brutal marriage of metallic swagger and bittersweet melodicism and they’re very much still alive and kicking in 2016.

Chris Familton

LIVE REVIEW: Swervedriver @ Factory Theatre, Sydney 25/06/16

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Guitars, amps, effects pedals and volume were the order of the night for Swervedriver’s return to Australian shores. Local rock ’n’ roll fringe dwellers The Holy Soul were the best of the support acts with a raw, brittle and at times brilliantly inventive set. They showed once more why they are the city’s best kept secret with their fusion of Pere Ubu, Television, The Gun Club and Can.

Grinding Eyes look like a band who worship at the altar of BRMC, The Cult, The Black Angels etc. With a psychedelic video backdrop and plenty of dry ice they hit some compelling rhythmic grooves but it all felt too much like style over substance in terms of their songs. A band to watch nonetheless.

Sounds Like Sunset, like The Holy Soul, are inner west live perennials and their short set showcased their five-piece wall of sound approach. High volume gave their songs an eye of the hurricane feel with Dave Challinor’s sleepy, melodic vocals drifting above the thunderous squalls and providing the perfect segue to the headliner.

Swervedriver have managed the transition from reunited touring act to a fully functioning band with the release of last year’s I Wasn’t Born To Lose You. Opening with Autodidact, that album’s first track, they immediately showed that the newer songs have earned the right to sit amongst such iconic songs as Rave Down, Son Of Mustang Ford and Last Train To Satansville. The band, featuring their newest recruit in bassist Mickey Quinn (Supergrass), included half of their most recent album and though the songs were more nuanced and less visceral than the band’s 90s output and the attention of the audience ebbed and flowed through the night, they showed they still possess the key elements of their sound – inventiveness and propulsion. Adam Franklin remains a man of few words though he did make a joke at the expense of “the worst fucking band” Guns N Roses and made a sly and topical reference to their homeland as an insular island nation. This was their best Sydney show of their three since 2011.

 Chris Familton

LIVE REVIEW: Eleanor Friedberger, Noire, Georgia Mulligan @ NSC, Sydney 16/06/16

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Almost until the moment the headliner stepped on-stage this threatened to be one of those gigs where punters just don’t turn up – for an artist with a relatively established fanbase and on her first solo tour with a band. Thankfully Eleanor Friedberger’s fans crept out of the woodwork at the last minute and, though the venue was only half full, they were a warm and receptive audience.

The late rush did mean that both support acts played to each other, a small coterie of friends and some early arrivals. Georgia Mulligan was playing her first show with a band and it was a fine set with a balanced addition of drums and bass to her smoky, slow-burning songs which always seem to sit right in the pocket and showcased her singular and emotive voice. Noire took things in a postmodern indie pop direction. You can hear shades of Beach House and The xx bathed in a dreamy wash of reverb. They showed a fine range of guitar riffs amid the mostly mid-paced songs but unfortunately the vocals were mixed way to low to really get a handle on Noire as songwriters.

Eleanor Friedberger is now three albums deep in her solo career and that gave her set a rewarding mix of old and new songs plus a Cate Le Bon cover. Between professing her love for Sydney and recalling a week-long bicycle adventure around the city on a previous visit, she delivered song after song with her trademark on-point and quirky turns of phrase, breezy strumming and the occasional jagged interlude. Because I Asked You, Girl With The Curly Hair were two highlights form the recently released New View, as were My Mistakes and I Knew from earlier albums. With her trademark shaggy fringe, worn jeans and a striped shirt she cut a striking figure, somewhere between understated rock star and beat poet – which pretty much sums up her music. It was in intimate performance that reinforced the notion that simplicity in music is sometimes the most effective way to present ones songs and connect with an audience.

Chris Familton