LIVE REVIEW: Ride @ Enmore Theatre, Sydney 2019

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Ride @ Enmore Theatre, Sydney NSW Sept 6th 2019

It’s been a long time between drinks for Australian fans of English band Ride but the timing felt just right with the band re-established for a couple of years now and with two solid new albums under its belt.

It’s most likely that the members of openers Shiva & The Hazards were probably not even born when Ride first emerged from Oxford in 1988. Listening to their music with that in mind casts their sound in an interesting light given how in thrall they are to bands such as Verve, Oasis and The Stone Roses. Unfortunately they were given the demoralising support band treatment with flaccid lighting and a sound mix that imagined a rock band without bass guitar and a lead guitarist whose tone sounded like it was being transmitted through a portable AM radio. They persevered unperturbed and seemed to be enjoying the thrill of a big stage gig. A song of theirs such as recent single ‘Angkor Wat’ is a strong release in it’s recorded form, ticking all the boxes of psychedelic English indie rock albeit 20+ years past its heyday, but on the Enmore stage it all sounded too disconnected and lacking warmth and depth. That said there was generous applause from those early arrivals hugging the stage barrier.

Ride have always had the ability to sound both intimate and widescreen on their albums but in the live realm they’ve made the decision to focus firmly on the latter, employing colourful stadium lighting and maximum projection, mainly from Mark Gardener. You got the sense that the newer songs they played were written with that in mind. Big riffs, repeated and pushed out into the room with emphasis on dynamics over texture. Of those new ones the two that resonated most strongly were the Primal Scream’ish ‘Kiill Switch’ and ‘Future Love’, an absolute gem of a song, easily the equal of the best in their catalogue. Live, its jangling riffs and near perfect vocal harmonies lit up the room and provided relief from the more overwrought moments on the setlist.

Of course nearly everyone was there to hear songs that thrillingly illuminated a particular corner of their musical youth nearly 30 years ago. Songs from the seminal Nowhere album and its follow-up Going Blank Again. The dense and agile baggy noise of ‘Seagull’, the chiming perfection of ‘Vapour Trail’, the cascading heavy-lidded hypnotism of ‘Dreams Burn Down’ and the interstellar gospel psychedelia of ‘Polar Bear’ from their debut album all gloriously lived up to expectations, as did ‘Leave Them All Behind’ and the dystopian light-headedness of ‘Chrome Waves’ from Going Blank Again. ‘Twisterella’ from the same album was great to hear but it hasn’t aged as well as their other songs, sounding timestamped and with a whiff of nostalgia about it.

As a band they were firing on all cylinders, tight and in the pocket. It was overwhelmingly evident that they’re the sum of their parts, even if Mark Gardener takes on the frontman role, clearly relishing his position as interlocutor for the band. Listen closely though and it quickly became clear how essential Andy Bell’s guitar playing is. Those riffs that define the golden moments in the songs, the twists and turns that add the colour and sheen that made Ride the great band they were (and still are). Steve Queralt (bass) and Loz Colbert are an underrated rhythm section too. The former with feet planted and rooted to the spot, playing it straight for the most part, occasionally delivering defining bass lines such as the central hook of ‘Seagull’. Colbert too is essential, the anchor and the engine in perpetual rhythm and motion.

Ride in 2019 are a band who have navigated the reunion process better than most. They’ve reignited the creative spark of their songwriting and recording and put together a show that pleases fans new and old. They remain vital and energised, and even though they at times overcooked the ‘rock show’ aspect of the gig, the songs and sounds they built their audience and acclaim on remain intact, and gloriously so.

Chris Familton

LIVE REVIEW: Johnny Marr, Flyying Colours @ Enmore Theatre, Sydney (21/07/15)

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Flyying Colours proved to be an excellent choice of support. Energy, texture and dynamics rule their dense shoegaze sound and it sounded satisfyingly full and propulsive as the venue slowly filled. The quartet’s physicality on stage matched that of their songs and though the sound mix wasn’t great they set the scene nicely for the main act.

Amid clouds of dry ice and beneath a backdrop that loudly proclaimed JOHNNY MARR, the diminutive guitarist, songwriter and now singer strode on-stage. Then things went a bit flat. A lack of volume, the sound person still fine-tuning the mix and song choice all played their part as Marr delivered his recent album’s title-track and The Smiths’ ‘Panic’. The latter should’ve brought the house down but something was missing. The slow start soon gathered momentum though and by the mid-set double of ‘New Town Velocity’ and ‘The Headmaster Ritual’ the connection between band and audience was complete. Marr is a curious on-stage mix of a loosely swaggering Keith Richards, glam rock guitar hero poses and pop star mannerisms. He knows how to work the crowd with simple gestures and well-timed quips and beneath a few well aimed barbs at the audience’s lust for Smiths songs over his solo material he seemed to revel in the seminal works of his back catalogue. The defining moment came with “A disco song from Manchester” – a re-working of Electronic’s Getting Away With It’, followed by the melancholic/euphoric sing-along of ‘There Is A Light That Never Goes Out’. Naturally he returned for an encore and took things into a dark throbbing realm with Depeche Mode’s ‘I Feel You’ and the closing gem of ‘How Soon Is Now’ that reminded everyone why he’s one of the finest guitarists of his generation who continues to write fine songs while still honouring those he built his career on.

Chris Familton

LIVE REVIEW: Sunnyboys @ Enmore Theatre, Sydney (29.03.14)

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The Frowning Clouds played an opening set that would surely have won them a barrel of new fans with a sound rooted in 60s beat and garage rock. They’re only a young band with one album under their belt yet their air of self-assurance and equally self-deprecating nonchalance perfectly suited their melody-rich guitar pop. They were a near-perfect package both visually and sonically with the primitive and catchy hooks of ‘Shoe Suede Blues’ a particular highlight.

The Stems were contemporaries of Sunnyboys at their peak in the early ‘80s, making them a perfect act on the bill and no doubt evoking strong memories for many of the 40+ vintage crowd. They’re still a mighty strong band live with the added guitar work of Ash Naylor (Even). The riffs were both tough and shimmering as required with favourites like ‘Sad Girl’ and especially the chorused jangle of ‘At First Sight’ causing swaying and dancing throughout the theatre.

Sunnyboys entrance was prefaced by a short montage film of the band in the ‘80s and it was a wonderful introduction, creating emotion and context for the current reformation. Things got off to a shaky start with ‘As I Walk, probably due to the song being one of their lesser popular tracks and early nerves making their playing tentative. As soon as they segued into ‘Love To Rule’ they quickly hit their groove and went on to sustain it for over ninety minutes with single after single drawing cheers, raised arms and possibly tears for a few fans bathing in the musical memories of their formative years. The whole band was rock solid and reveling in the music as they surged through ‘Happy Man’, ‘What You Need’, ‘Let You Go’, ‘You Need A Friend’, ‘Show Me Some Discipline’, ‘Alone With You and more. Guitarist Richard Burgman was a kid in a candy store, bouncing and grinning throughout while Jeremy Oxley was cheeky, his playing full of spark and vigour. This was a triumphant night built partly on nostalgia but overwhelmingly on clever and emotionally-connective guitar pop songs.

Chris Familton

this review was first published in The Music

LIVE REVIEW: Alice in Chains, Down, Walking Papers @ Enmore Theatre, Sydney (25/03/14)

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1970598_10152256489576323_1837855079_nWalking Papers had a high curiosity factor, primarily for their members including Duff McKagan (G N’R) and drummer Barrett Martin (Screaming Trees, Mad Season) but with a fine opening set they showed they were the full band deal with singer/guitarist Jeff Angell working the mic stand, doing hat tricks and venturing into the audience for their final slice of dark psych-laden rock.

Down have been going for two decades and as such they are a well-oiled, mechanical beast of a band. Totally in sync with each other and led by the gonzo intensity of Phil Anselmo. He can still bellow and scream like a banshee between bashing his forehead with the mic and repeatedly calling for the crowd to put their arms in the air. The band were just as active but Anselmo led the way through a brutal set that culminated in road crew, entourage and Walking Papers members taking over their instruments for the final melee of a song.

Alice In Chains had a pretty high standard to follow but they nailed it completely. Bigger back-line, stadium lighting and a sound that was at gloriously crunchy and crystalline. They stated their case immediately with the opening pairing of Them Bones and Dam That River, instantly showing that they are well and truly beyond the ‘new singer’ syndrome with William DuVall nailing the songs faithfully yet also with his own personality. The rest of the set balanced the ‘classic hits’ with more recent material, barely allowing the momentum of the set to drop off. Rooster whipped up an immense sing-along while songs like Again showed how important rhythm and groove are to the sound of AIC. After 80 minutes they left the sweat-drenched and deafened Enmore audience with Would, possibly their finest song and the best possible way to round out a diverse and exceptional night of hard rock music.

Chris Familton

this review was first published in The Music

LIVE REVIEW: Public Image Ltd @ The Enmore Theatre, Sydney (10/04/13)

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by Chris Familton

With a sound comprised of vocals, guitar, bass and two keyboards Death Mattel swung wildly between urgent 90s electro pop and punk with impassioned, earnest vocals to a closing track that was easily the pick of the bunch. Its subtle snaking keyboard melody showed that an understated approach suits them best but they failed to ignite much response from the arriving crowd.

Public Image Ltd have always been a polymorphic collective built around the charismatic John Lydon. The central tenets of their sound are the deconstructed elements of 70s England – reggae, dub, krautrock and the distilled attitude of punk. Boldly, Lydon and co opened with the wailing lung and drum workout Four Enclosed Walls and then Metal Box’s ten minute plus Albatross. Challenging perhaps for those there for the later ‘hits’ but it was a sublime exercise in how the elements listed above can coexist so perfectly as Lydon intoned “Sowing the seeds of discontent” with a theatrical malevolence. Last year’s album This is PiL contributed four songs and they were well chosen with One Drop and Deeper Water in particular filling the room and moving feet and heads. Familiarity for most came mid-set with 1989‘s Disappointed and from there the show took on a different and more interactive feeling with This Is Not A Love Song and the closest PiL got to sounding like the Sex Pistols on the caustic sneer of Public Image and Rise.

What made the show so damn good was the impressive state of Lydon’s voice, now a strong instrument of demonic operatics and something akin to Tuvan throat singing. With a band that were masters of fragmented noise, surging melody and deep and rolling dub Lydon was left to be the ringmaster, the self deprecating and comical evangelical preacher. It is a role he has built his career on and one that is defiantly and uniquely his.

this review was first published in The Drum Media, Sydney and online at themusic.com.au

LIVE REVIEW: Primal Scream @ Enmore Theatre, Sydney (05/12/12)

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by Chris Familton

The Delta Riggs were given the task of warming up the arriving punters and though there were only a handful present at the start of their set, by its conclusion there was a healthy contingent showing their appreciation for a committed and entertaining set. The Delta Riggs are a band that have studied their heroes with forensic precision – they sound like them, look like them, move like them and most importantly they effectively replicate them. It is impossible to not play spot the influences with their overt nods to the likes of The Black Crowes, Led Zeppelin and indeed Primal Scream. They do it well though and in a track called America they showed a different sound, nailing a great soul groove like The Afghan Whigs.

Primal Scream have visited a few times in recent years and without a new album to promote there was a chance that the show might lack focus. Thankfully those fears didn’t manifest themselves as they set about playing a well curated selection of songs from across their three decade career. Perhaps as a statement of contemporary relevance they opened with 2012, one of two new tracks they played from their forthcoming album. Musically speaking it was a solid if unspectacular start combining a groove-establishing mood with a typical Primals anthemic chorus delivered in Bobby Gillespie’s unmistakable slack-jawed drawl of a voice.

From there the set took diverse swings into the main sonic cornerstones of the band’s back catalogue with industrial menace of Swastika Eyes and Accelerator, the smiley-faced pill euphoria of the Screamadelica era and their often derided yet now essential forays into Stones/Faces swaggering rock. Songs from Screamadelica sounded the least convincing with the samples, piano chords and faux gospel pleadings of Movin’ On Up and Come Together very much locked into the sound of the early 90s. That isn’t to say the band were any less committed to those songs. Gillespie swayed, bounced and sashayed around the stage with that blank expression and thousand yard stare, intermittently engaging directly with the audience to urge them to sing along. Andrew Innes was resplendent in leather pants and a sparkling shirt, guarding his side of the stage with a touch of the Keith Richards about him while the rest of the band hit their marks. Brand new bassist Simone Butler looked nervous but her playing was a perfect mix of drive and groove that easily filled the Mani-sized hole in the band.

The highlights of the 90 minute set were a rousing rendition of Country Girl, the show closer Rocks and a devastating version of Shoot Speed/Kill Light. The latter was the perfect example of how Primal Scream explode genres and rearrange the shattered fragments into songs that sound definitively theirs. Its krautrock rhythms, narcotic blur, heavy mood and attention to sonic detail provided a feeling of lift-off to the show and it was only after that song that they really dropped their shoulders and began to sound as relaxed and revelatory as they can. This was Primal Scream celebrating their past and preparing for the future.

this review was first published on FasterLouder

LIVE REVIEW: My Morning Jacket @ Enmore Theatre, Sydney (03/04/12)

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by Chris Familton

My Morning Jacket did the early attendees a great service in bringing Dawes down to Australia with them and it was a real shame more people weren’t there to get a taste of their straightforward Americana that caught the ear with its plentiful use of space and some nice power pop dynamics. Fronted by Taylor Goldsmith, the band is definitely more than just a bunch of supporting musicians for the singer/guitarist. They add the essential bounce and swagger and quite beautiful vocal harmonies. In particular drummer Griffin Goldsmith showed he possesses a voice of equal quality to his wonderfully economical drumming. Dawes fulfilled their role as an opening act yet they also won over a bunch of new fans.

With any My Morning Jacket show you know the key word is going to be ‘epic’ for they are a band that don’t rock up, play ten songs and leave the stage. Their catalogue has expanded to include all manner of styles and highlights so it was inevitable we would get a 2 hour plus performance taking in all of the band’s career twists and turns. Victory Dance, the opening track on last year’s Circuital was the perfect opener, setting the scene with Jim James’ be-coated figure lurching around the stage with an an audio unit for triggering sounds hanging from his neck. He looked like some digital hobo preaching the end of the world while the band worked their way into the song. With it’s swirling dark electronics and psychedelic guitar it set the template for  the twenty odd songs that would follow, showcasing the real diversity in MMJ’s sound.

Over half of Circuital was played, with nearly all of those songs working as well as the usual suspects in the band’s live sets. The album’s title track was initially widescreen, moody and sparse before bursting into life with lights flooding the Enmore and the crowd responding with similar enthusiasm. Outta My System sounded even more in debt to The Beach Boys than on record while Wonderful (The Way I Feel) was the perfect vehicle for experiencing that soaring pure tone of James’ that can both melt hearts and elevate spirits.

James is in many ways the consummate frontman. He spoke little between songs yet he knows when to engage with the crowd via a lean over the front of the stage, a gesture or a comical draping of a towel or jacket over his head – which he did on a number of occasions. He also isn’t too precious in that he can lose himself in the music and when the band really hit their straps on songs like Off The Record, Lay Low and the epic groove of Holdin’ On To Black Metal James became a whirling dervish, spinning, bouncing and flailing his hair while still nailing those spiraling solos.

As well as MMJ do large scale epic songs that change mood and build atmosphere they nailed their less adventurous yet perfectly formed songs with just as much impact. Wordless Chorus was melodic heaven, dripping with deep soul and James doing his best Michael Jackson shuffles and whoops. I Will Sing You Songs felt like a distant lullaby as you approach deep sleep while Golden remains one of their real gems that sounded like a timeless classic ringing out through the cavernous theatre.

Though the crowd was smaller than expected they more than made up for a lack of numbers with their enthusiasm and the screams and applause that met each familiar song. MMJ showed they were hellbent on giving their fans an expansive and near flawless performance full of soaring melodies, good humour and exceptional playing that always seems to carry an emotional weight of sincerity.

this review was first published on FasterLouder

LIVE REVIEW: Whole Lotta Love @ Enmore Theatre, Sydney 15/09/11

written by Chris Familton

Tribute and cover bands should always be approached with caution. Too often they fall into the trap of imitation and pastiche and attract an audience who are prepared to settle for the next best thing rather than seeking out great original music. Whole Lotta Love did a lot to dispel this preconception by presenting itself as a celebration of one of the most iconic rock bands of the last century with impressive results.

This was certainly no band of players knocking out covers, instead it was a fully fledged professional production that integrated video, lights and for the most part a well constructed setlist across nearly 3 hours of music. Over the years as the annual show has grown the main orchestrator and lead guitarist has been Joseph Calderazzo and he showed why he is so good at these types of events. His playing shadowed that of Jimmy Page with near perfect replication, whether it was soaring solos, effect-heavy textures or folk and pseudo-classical acoustic playing. He also clearly knows where to draw the line in terms of overkill and pomposity with even the epic Kashmir kept in check.

Guest vocalists were what kept the show interesting with The Tea Party’s Jeff Martin an absolute standout both in voice and on guitar. His voice is in many ways the opposite to Robert Plant’s, much more in the vein of Jim Morrison with his deep bellowing sound. Martin even made a cheeky reference to that comparison that has always followed him by throwing in a few lines from The Doors’ LA Woman. Other singers like Noiseworks’ Steve Balbi also showed some humour with a teasing snatch of their hit Touch. It was Balbi who also stepped the farthest from the rock god persona of Plant with his waistcoat and bowler hat more suited to a Tim Burton film. With eccentric stage moves and a devastatingly good voice he was another of the highlights. Of the two female vocalists it was Zkye who best captured the bluesy roots of everything Led Zeppelin created. She showed sass and a coy sensuality as she glided between sweet singing and thunderous soulful howls. A star in the making for sure if she can find her niche with her original music.

In terms of the songs it was pretty much as one would expect ranging from acoustic tracks through to the riff monsters like Moby Dick, The Ocean, Rock n Roll and Black Dog. If there was any weakness to the show it was the moments when energy levels waned in slower songs and longer solos crept in. That plus an audience who rose from their seats at Jeff Martin’s command and then promptly sat down at the end of the song meant that the atmosphere was excited but certainly not rapturous. Overall though, a whole lotta love was had by band and audience that was deservedly bordering on devotional.

this review was first published in The Drum Media.