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


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


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

LIVE REVIEW: Radio Birdman @ The Factory Theatre, Sydney (03/06/16)


The On & Ons (including ex-members of Hoodoo Gurus and The Stems) set the scene for a night of riffs and power chords with a muscular power pop sound that brought to mind Big Star and Red Kross. They know how to mix strong melodies with rock n roll dynamics but their stage presence fell flat. Melbourne’s

Magic Bones took things up a notch with an injection of energy and youthful enthusiasm. They swapped instruments constantly which mirrored their split personality approach to their music. One minute it was ramalama garage rock, the next they were chooglin’ on some 70s rock with a twist of madcap psychedelia. Their set was too long but they made a strong impression on the Birdman fans.

Radio Birdman always suffered from comparisons to The Stooges and MC5 yet they dug a hole deep and varied enough to call it their own. The core duo of Rob Younger and Deniz Tek commanded the centre of the stage like prowling ex-communicated preachers. Younger with his Iggy meets Jagger jerks and twisted body shapes while Tek crouched over his black guitar wringing out threatening riffs and slashing call-to-arms chords. The rhythm section was a highly efficient spine allowing the limbs of Younger, Tek and the others to thrash and dance wildly. Do The Pop got an early airing while their most recent album Zeno Beach (2006) was best represented by the tumbling We’ve Come So Far (To Be Here Today). Amid the Birdman catalogue they threw in fantastic covers of Magazine’s Shot By Both Sides and an intriguing take on The Beatles’ Hey Bulldog, an example of how they were never just a gonzo proto-punk band. Their definitive anthem New Race was left until the stroke of midnight, the crowning glory of a night of nostalgic yet still fiercely alive and kicking rock ’n’ roll.

Chris Familton

LIVE REVIEW: Built To Spill @ Manning Bar, Sydney (10/03/16)

Built To Spill @ Manning Bar

This was a night for the guitars. Loud, textural and visceral six-string magic. Opener Ben Salter had a keyboardist in his live band who added some fine organ and synth sounds but the Gin Club head honcho showed that his solo material leans more towards rhythm-heavy, guitar-led rock songs. Not in a primitive sense though, Salter’s fine way with words and his voice, which only occasionally gets ragged and unhinged, ensure that the songs were the focus of an impressive set.

Ben Salter

Built To Spill flew under the 90s alt-rock radar. They were never part of the A-league of grunge but they were highly respected and gathered devoted fans around them, much like Modest Mouse. Doug Martsch, the band’s mastermind and sole consistent member, was held up as a guitar hero and creative lyricist with his distinctive high-register vocals. Now, with a new rhythm section in tow they finally returned to Australia and delivered a workmanlike but thoroughly on-point trip through their back catalogue with a particular spotlight on their recent album Untethered Moon. That record provided some of the set highlights with the songs Never be The Same and On The Way.

Martsch was completely unassuming as a frontman, with little interaction with the crowd, gazing out across them like he was still processing where he was. That is no criticism of the man for he delivered in spades with his slashing chords and quirky riffs and that thin, wavering and soaring voice (think J Mascis and Neil Young) that defines his sound. With three guitarists, the effect was a widescreen montage of spiralling classic rock solos, contrasting psych textures and melodies that made for a wonderfully warm and captivating sound. The real (and unexpected) treat in the encore was a cover of The Smiths’ How Soon Is Now that was surprisingly faithful to the original and showed that in a strange way there was a similar seam of off-kilter guitar creativity going on in both 80s Manchester and 90s Boise, Idaho.

Chris Familton


LIVE REVIEW: METZ, My Disco, Low Life @ OAF, Sydney (10/02/16)


Low Life ambled on stage and lurched into a 30 minute set of songs that swung from Black Flag punk to Bauhaus goth dirges, often within the same song. You got the feeling the songs could fall apart at any time yet the rhythm section was solid – allowing the guitars to dispatch primitive punk bar chords, heavily chorused textures and squalls of feedback. Low Life created a curious and often strangely captivating collision of sounds.

My Disco swung the pendulum about as far to the other side of the spectrum as possible. As their career has progressed, their music has evolved into a minimalist experiment in texture and impact. They stood silent and still for minutes before the first doom-laden explosion tested the PA’s limits. Notes were sparse and an avant-garde aesthetic was omnipresent through their set as the guitar sounded more like a modem in wood-chipper than a traditional distorted rock instrument. It was a dramatic and intense set that maintained the audience’s attention and did serve to build the musical tension in the room before Metz arrived to release it – but ultimately My Disco felt like the artful ugly duckling and a mismatch on this particular bill.

METZ came on like a dropped match in a fireworks factory after the stark austerity that preceded them. They’re a perfectly balanced trio, the sum strength of its punk rock parts. Over an hour they barely let up, with sweat-soaked shirts, fogged-up glasses and neck veins bulging. They unleashed wave after wave of primal military grade rhythms that were pummelling yet still with a measure of groove, that had the more energetic punters engaged in a loose-limbed middle ground between dancing and moshing. Spit You Out, Headache, a new song Eraser and so many others surged and thrashed like a mutant Nirvana, Jesus Lizard and Big Black hybrid. METZ laid sonic waste to the mid week malaise and renewed faith in the power of raw and passionate rock ’n’ roll.

Chris Familton


LIVE REVIEW: The Apartments @ The Famous Spiegeltent, Sydney Festival (24/01/16)


This was a show that had a touch of ‘the artist returns’ about it due to Peter Milton Walsh’s rare live shows and that he is currently celebrating his first album in 18 years — No Song, No Spell, No Madrigal. The briefly one-time member of The Go-Betweens and the Laughing Clowns has carved out an intermittent yet critically acclaimed career as The Apartments and the Famous Spiegeltent proved to be the perfect venue to immerse oneself in the band’s emotive music.

With a band that included members of Knievel, Big Heavy Stuff and The Go-Betweens plus a drummer, pianist and horn player, Milton Walsh was able to conjure up a richly layered sound. You could hear the progression from his early jangly, indie pop songs — that melancholic 80s pop sound — to the songs on the new album that are built on a stronger soulful jazz-noir style where the bass guitar and drums shape the songs. In a musical sense, bands like Tindersticks, The Delines and Destroyer come to mind as comparisons.

Milton Walsh clearly enjoys a sense of the theatrical, from his Bad Seeds’ styled suit and sunglasses  to the melodramatic hand gestures and between-song stories that gave context to the songs and humour to amuse the audience. That same sense of artistic presentation mirrored his songs which detail breakups, loss, departure, love and regret. His ability to paint pictures of intimate moments with poetic clarity and then compose a chorus of only na-na-na’s is what positions his songs in the pop idiom. They are supremely catchy whilst retaining a depth of literary references and emotional gravitas.

Older songs like Mr. Somewhere, All You Wanted sounded sublime while the new album reinforced why it was so important that he released a new record. The title track opened the show and encapsulated all that followed over the next hour — the dark, majestic pop, aching, soaring vocal melodies and equally grand and eloquent music backing from The Apartments. Welcome back Peter Milton Walsh.

Chris Familton