LIVE REVIEW: Joan As Police Woman @ Factory Theatre, Sydney (2019)

 

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Joan As Police Woman
Factory Theatre
9 October

As a venue, the Factory Theatre often lacks warmth and atmosphere but on this night Joan As Police Woman transformed it into a dreamy basement cabaret bar. There was no support act due to her playing two sets – another tip of the hat to the jazz bar scenario. It also gave the fans a chance to check out the fully laden merch desk between sets.

On a dimly-lit stage wreathed in smoke sat an upright piano, an electric guitar, amplifier, and a Roland Rhythm Arranger drum machine. Joan Wasser, resplendent in a disco-era jumpsuit, took a long, deep breath before easing into a gorgeous rendition of ‘To Be Lonely’. The reverence of the attentive audience was quickly broken with Wasser good-naturedly asking for the air-conditioning to be turned off as she shivered, stretched her hands and even dropped to the floor for some press-ups. A few songs later she took up an audience member’s offer to lend her jacket.

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It was clear that Wasser was in a playful and irreverent mood, exchanging banter with the audience before switching her attention back to her emotive jazz-tinged deep soul, R&B and folk inflected songs. Pretty much all the songs she played came from her recent anthology release Joanthology which cherry picks the highlights of the last decade of her solo career.

What quickly became evident from watching and listening to Wasser perform her songs, was the way she commands and steers the timing of, and space within her music. Sparse piano chords settled in unusual places, augmented by sweet melodic runs of notes. All the while her voice drifted and soared above the music, pushing and pulling via simple incantations one minute and delicate and intricate acrobatic flurries the next. Her more rhythmically dependent songs were given groove and depth via the drum machine and on her cover of Prince’s ‘Kiss’ she took the song further into coy and sensual territory. Other highlights included ‘Human Condition’, ‘Tell Me’, audience favourite ‘The Magic’ and the gentle ache of ‘The Ride’.

Joan As Police Woman has visited Australia a number of times now but this felt like the most relaxed, intimate and consummate show we’ve seen from her.

Chris Familton

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

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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