LIVE REVIEW: My Disco @ Newtown Social Club

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My Disco, Marcus Whale, Hviske @ Newtown Social Club, 11 February 2017

Minimalism shaping grand emotion was the order of the night at NSC for My Disco’s last stop on their summer tour. From the headliners down through Marcus Whale and opening duo Hviske, there was a common thread of space, intensity and the blurring of technology and organic instrumentation to create dramatic musical pieces.

Hviske are Kusum Normoyle and Ivan Lisyak and they generated a densely rhythmic mix of techno and cold wave electronica that hit the occasional peak but for the most part settled into a rewarding mix of hard surface sounds and minor melodic excursions. Live, Normoyle’s vocals were the weak-point compared to the more layered and integrated sound on their recordings and she seemed unsettled and distracted, never fully immersing herself in the music.

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Marcus Whale

 

Marcus Whale’s solo work seems to go to another level every time I see him live. Flanked by two drummers with stripped down kits (tom, snare, ride cymbal) and performing over backing tracks Whale took us deep into his album Inland Sea, his voice urging, consoling and serenading the audience with conviction and passion. The closest comparison is Bjork’s more recent work crossed with avant hip hop and dark electronica. A compelling performance.

My Disco have progressively peeled back the layers of their sound with each new album, whilst simultaneously ratcheting up the tension and their avant garde leanings. They are still a band of guitar, bass and drums but they now sound like a raw machine, ominous and commanding with their instruments often bathed in as much silence as coruscating noise, relentless drones and repetition. King Sound set the scene with Liam Andrews intoning those two words like an android with a glitch in its system while guitarist Benjamin Andrews scattered shards of distortion across the audience at high volume. The heartbeat of the band is still Rohan Rebeiro who brings the most humanistic element to their music, he controls the machine with his blend of doom and jazz-tinged tribalism. Their intensity and commitment to their sonic aesthetic is what defines My Disco, from throwing in an overlong drum solo to the complete lack of audience interaction, they have their own musical eco-system which made their set feel like we were temporary visitors to their fascinating, hypnotic and shadowy world.

Chris Familton

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LIVE REVIEW: Dinosaur Jr

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Dinosaur Jr, Luluc @ Metro Theatre, Sydney 12.01.17

There had been some worrying moments leading up to the start of  Dinosaur Jr’s Australian tour, with news that visa issues for Lou Barlow had meant a delayed flight. It all got sorted but there was more drama to come.

img_8246Luluc had opening honours, as they have for a number of J Mascis solo shows in the USA. Minor technical issues dotted their set but didn’t detract from the duo’s near telepathic interplay. Some may have pegged them as a folky pair but they imbued their songs with just the right amount of grit, drone and frayed guitar sounds to take them closer to a band like Low. In front of a crowd eagerly awaiting the sonic might of Dinosaur Jr, they proved to be an entrancing support act.

As mentioned above, it was a relief to see the shaggy-haired Barlow saunter on-stage but worryingly Dinosaur Jr’s drummer Murph was nowhere to be seen, replaced by Kyle Spence of American band Harvey Milk and the onetime stickman for J Mascis’ The Fog. J Mascis ambled to the mic and mumbled “Your government wouldn’t let Murph into the country so we brought Kyle” *. The mood in the room shifted to unease but as soon as they launched into their first song it was clear the guy had the chops to nail the songs. From there it was down to business with a mix of the old and the new with last year’s Give A Glimpse Of What Yer Not album providing particular highlights in Goin Down and the monstrous Sabbath riffage of I Walk For Miles; showcasing the band’s ability to harness speed, melody and heaviness. Classic cuts peppered the set with The Wagon, Feel The Pain, Freak Scene and Start Choppin’ drawing the biggest crowd response with flailing limbs and nostalgic grins plastered across middle-aged faces. On opposite sides of the stage, Mascis and Barlow were split personalities in their physicality. Mascis the zen-like figure in the eye of a hurricane, extracting paint-pealing solos and buzzsaw chords while Barlow threshed about, a whirling dervish in perpetual motion in total harmony with the dense thrum of his bass. Drummer aside, this was exactly what we’ve come to expect from Dinosaur Jr and their unique brand of self-described “ear-bleeding country”.

Chris Familton

LIVE REVIEW: The Smiths Tribute @ Factory Theatre (24/09/16)

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The Salford Lads feat. Christine Jane

Covering another artist can be either be an exercise in slavish re-creation of their music, an attempt to replicate it as accurately as possible, or an insightful reinterpretation of their songs, adding a new shade, a new flavour to the music. This night was a tribute to The Smiths, in honour of the 30th anniversary of the band’s album The Queen Is Dead and we got both those approaches with differing results.

img_7019Early on Panic Syndrome added a goth-rock sense of drama with ‘Shoplifters of the World Unite’ being a standout in their set. It highlighted the scope of The Smiths catalogue from rockist anthems such as this, right through to the introspective and moodier moments that would follow. Another band that played it pretty close to the chest but with a real sense of energy and enthusiasm were Mr Blonde. They perhaps best nailed the celebratory aspect of the night.

JMS Harrison and Cabin Inn took the atmospheric approach with an extended keyboard intro of ‘Oscillate Wildly’ and Harrison nailing the lonesome melancholy of ‘Asleep’, one of the highlights of the evening. Sonically they worked interesting textures into the songs, putting their own stamp on the music.

The Maladies tackled one of The Smiths’ most famous songs in ‘This Charming Man’ with Dan Marando putting his devilish and theatrical take on the song, adding intensity and tension to it. That was ratcheted up a notch with ‘Sweet and Tender Hooligan’ before they introduced Lisa Caruso who transformed ‘I Know It’s Over’ into a beautiful and sultry Mazzy Star-styled torch-song , dialling into the core of Morrissey’s swooning and tragic romanticism.

It was up to The Salford Lads (feat. members of Charlie Horse, Died Pretty and Panic Syndrome) who provided excellent backing for singers Christine Jane and The Church’s Steve Kilbey. Opening with instrumental ‘The Draize Train’ they proved immediately that they had a handle on the taut rock and groove-based elements of The Smiths’ sound. Jane showed she knows how to work an audience, urging participation and bridging the gap between stage and audience, something that most other acts didn’t really do. Vocally she was a bit hit and miss, enthusiasm trumping her service to the songs as she sang ‘Bigmouth Strikes Again’ and ‘Boy With A Thorn In His Side’.

img_7018From then on the night took a turn into the weird and awkward world of Steve Kilbey and his mix of interpretive dance, yoga poses and stage messiah gesturing. It was as if he was in a rush to get it all out, missing lines, singing wrong lyrics, sacrificing singing for unbridled emotive vocal outpourings. It felt like a pending train-wreck and it was only the well-oiled band that kept their set on the tracks. ‘The Queen Is Dead’, b-side ‘Jeane’ and ‘How Soon Is Now’ were given widescreen guitar heavy treatment yet Kilbey went for the grandiose when he needed restraint and spent far too much time on cardio vs audio. The audience visibly thinned during the closing set and were left with a single encore of, bizarrely, a cover of the only non-Smiths song for the night – Gloria.

In all there were some fine performances with only the end of night detracting from the overall success of the evening. Perhaps next time one house band with guest players and singers may have better suited the tribute format.

Chris Familton

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

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