LIVE REVIEW: Shihad @ Metro Theatre, Sydney

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Shihad, Young Lions, The Dead Love
Metro Theatre, Sydney
November 24th, 2018

Thirty years, damn… where did that time go. This writer recalls first seeing them open for The Angels in Auckland, New Zealand in 1990. Back then they were fresh-faced young lads, still in thrall to the thrash metal of Metallica and co and yet to embark on the ups and downs of their rock ’n’ roll career. Now of course they’re middle-aged statesman of Antipodean hard rock, a conduit between metal and melodic rock and most importantly, still performing as passionately and intensely as ever.

The Dead Love were up first, keeping things simple, rough and raw with their grunge punk that treads a nice line between unhinged rock and crossover melodic punk pop. At times their songs veered too close to catchy choruses of the anthemic hook kind but they know to ensure they keep enough throat shredding angst and anger in the mix to stop the songs sounding too cleaned up.

Young Lions on the other hand represent the worst of modern rock, when technology creeps in and bleaches out the rough edges and believable conviction in the music. In their frontman they have a singer who can certainly nail emo, hard rock and some cringeworthy rap moments but his self-belief was overcooked with over-the-top rock star moves and ventures into the audience. The music was generic alt-rock by numbers, Bono fronting Linkin Park, an Australian Idol facsimile of rock music.

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Shihad quite simply laid waste to what came before them. On a stage devoid of amplifiers and a sound that was blisteringly loud, heavy and perfectly balanced, they set about celebrating 30 years as a band with a set that began with Think You’re So Free from their most recent album FVEY and worked its way back, in chronological order to Factory from their debut Churn. 

It was a fascinating arc to experience as the four black-clad Kiwis accurately acknowledged their high-points and lesser successes. The General Electric (celebrating 20 years) supplied five songs, FVEY three, Shihad, Killjoy and Pacifier two apiece. The most commercial period spanned The General Electric and Pacifier albums and the near sold-out crowd were in full voice singing along to songs such as Comfort Me, Run and My Mind’s Sedate. As always Jon Toogood was the hype man and the tireless frontman, constantly inciting audience involvement with handclaps, sing-alongs, lit-up phones held aloft and unified jumping up and down. They’re all cliched rock moves but he does it well and all with his laconic, genial stage manner. 

As a band there are few that play tighter hard rock and honour the riff as diligently as Shihad, they’re a precision machine with a beating heart. In Toogood’s case, one that pumped blood in a stream down his arm as a result of frenetic guitar playing. Karl Kippenberger still works the stage, grinning at the audience like he’s bumping into old friends, Phil Knight is a study of six string wizardry while Tom Larkin is the glue and anchor that ties it all together. As they approached the tail end of the set things got darker with the magnificent thrum and throb of Deb’s Night Out, an absolutely brutal psych assault of You Again and the industrial tectonic riff of Factory from their debut album.

Shihad are essentially still doing what they’ve always done, entertaining their devoted fans with sensory overload at maximum volume. It’s fun, it’s life-affirming rock music and they’re still right at the top of their game, a claim that can be bestowed on very few bands after three decades of making music.

Chris Familton

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LIVE REVIEW: Peter Hook & The Light @ Metro Theatre

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Peter Hook & The Light @ Metro Theatre, Sydney, October 2nd 2017

Ten days after announcing a settlement with the rest of New Order concerning his use of various New Order and Joy Division assets on merchandising and in the promotion of shows by his new band, Peter Hook returned to Australia for a tour that honours the legacy of both acts, but for this particular show, primarily Joy Division.

Three sets and no support – no-one can accuse Hooky of shortchanging the fans or not putting on a totally professional show. They warmed up with a set of seven New Order songs. There  was little in the way of the hits, instead he went for album and EP deep cuts such as In A Lonely Place, Dreams Never End and Procession. It was a low key and somewhat tentative start that felt like a warmup for what was to come. By the time they hit Age Of Consent the band and audience had warmed to the occasion and the anticipation of Joy Division albums Closer and Unknown Pleasures, in full, was firmly established.

The Light were excellent at recreating the sound of Joy Division, the primitive synth the human/machine drumming of Stephen Morris and the dense guitar churn and simple melodic guitar lines. With two bassists in the band, Hooky had the freedom to play when he chose, clearly finding it easier to concentrate on the vocals without having to play at the same time. Vocally he nailed it, channeling Ian Curtis and his tone and intonations but adding a bit of Hooky rock bravado. Isolation, the dark and moody Heart and Soul and the even more desolate yet beautiful grandeur of The Eternal were particular highlights.

Unknown Pleasures, now something of an iconic symbol of post punk and the dystopian end of the 70s, sounded a lot better in that the songs are dynamically more fluid and intense. Hooky paced the stage, pulled low-slung bass moves and stared out across the audience, surprisingly making no comments between songs. It was a powerful rendering of a classic album with Shadowplay and Day Of The Lords as high-points. Returning for a brilliant three song encore of Atmosphere (dedicated to the tragedy in Las Vegas), Transmission and an exultant Love Will Tear us Apart before Hooky tore off his shirt, bowed to the crowd and strode off victorious.

Chris Familton

LIVE REVIEW: Spoon

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Spoon + Mike Noga @ Metro Theatre

Sydney, Australia, March 23rd, 2017

Mike Noga has stepped things up and fleshed out his live show with a full band that at times featured a triple guitar approach. The transition from solo performer to band leader mean he’s lost a bit of that Dylan-esque raconteur vibe but one can see where he’s taking it – giving the songs from his 2016 album King a wider palette and greater dynamics. It also allowed him to focus more on singing and imbuing his performance with greater physicality. A bass amp problem threatened to derail things but the band adapted and recovered well.

Spoon had the Metro at near capacity as they sauntered onstage and went straight to songs from the new album Hot Thoughts. The title track and Do I Have To Talk You Into It welcomed a stronger focus on keyboards but also showed how well the band have brought them to the fore in their songs without any great change to the Spoon sound. Space is the key to what Britt Daniels and band do so well. The rhythm section of Jim Eno and Rob Pope are its backbone, whether that was a fractured and (dare I say) funky approach or near-Krautrock/post-punk, dark and driving grooves as the guitars chopped and tangled with retro synth sounds.

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Spoon are astute rock deconstructionists, there wasn’t a guitar solo to be found all night, instead it was all about texture and accents, a sort of musical equivalent to pop-art collage if you will. They’re clearly enjoying playing together as a band, jovial and knowing smiles were exchanged regularly, fingers were pointed in recognition of each other’s playing and they found that sweet spot between locking the songs in tight and still sounding free-flowing and completely organic.

Highlights came in the form of a rousing I Saw The Light, the pulsing shimmer and grind of WhisperI’lllistentohearit and I Turn My Camera On, with the crowd fully engaged in a united front of bobbing heads and sung words. Though the second half of the set lost some of the initial rush of energy and conviviality that hung in the air for the first half, they carried it home like returning heroes of the alt-pop variety.

Chris Familton

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: Thurston Moore @ Metro Theatre

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Thurston Moore, Gold Class @ Metro Theatre, Sydney (05/12/15)

When you have half of Sonic Youth and My Bloody Valentine’s bassist on stage one would expect the venue to be fairly brimming with indie rock fans right? It was a surprise then, and somewhat disappointing, to be greeted with a curtained off and reduced capacity theatre that still only made it to two thirds capacity.

IMG_4124Gold Class were back after recently supporting The Fall at the venue and they again impressed with their considered, dramatic and artful post-punk. Dressed all in white, singer Adam Curley barked out his lyrics in a sonorous voice while staring down the arriving audience with a detached cool. All the while the jagged and propulsive rhythms and slash and churn guitar cut equally impressive shapes around him.

After some scene-setting ambient atmospherics Thurston Moore, Debbie Googe, Steve Shelley and James Sedwards lurched into the primitive grind of Forevermore, the opening track from last year’s The Next Day. That album got a strong airing but Moore also previewed a couple of songs from the band’s next album that was recorded back in May. In the encore he also turned back the clock to his first solo album Psychic Hearts with Ono Soul and the quiet/loud rawness of Pretty Bad. Moore was still the uncomfortable frontman between songs but as soon as the music begins he shifted into a trance-like mode, swaying, flailing or just standing with eyes closed, immersed in the chaos or tranquility of the music. Guitarist Sedwards was a wonderful foil and equally adept and conjuring a myriad of hypnotic avant garde and classic rock sounds from his instrument. Behind them, Shelley and Googe were essential to the grounding and forward movement of the songs, workmanlike yet possessing seemingly infinite variations on rhythm and groove. In the end the attendance numbers mattered little as the band played with intensity and passion for the enthralled and tuned-in audience.

Chris Familton

LIVE REVIEW: The Fall, Gold Class, Orion @ Metro Theatre (21/10/15)

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photo credit: Chris Familton

Post-punk was the order of the night and Orion lived up to the label by diving deep into effect-laden guitar, melodic bass and stentorian vocals; the hallmarks of bands such as Joy Division and The Cure. Backed by the cold repetition of a drum machine they impressed in their ability to conjure no-frills melancholic music that hit an emotional sweet spot as readily as it invited the dance floor.

With a debut album only just released and critical acclaim already flowing their way, Gold Class hit the stage looking the part of a band already carefully considering their visual image. With guitarists in matching black t-shirts, and frontman Adam Curley in buttoned up polo shirt and dress pants they seemed self-assured and projecting a ‘look’ but it was their music that had the greatest impact. Tense and dramatic, they channelled early New Order, The Smiths and shades of shoegaze to thrilling effect and an enthusiastic audience response.

The first we heard from The Fall was an incoherent volley of words over the PA. Mark E. Smith was announcing himself and band to the stage in his distinct and inimitable way. The heart of the band is the taut and muscular rhythm section and guitarist Pete Greenway who keep the songs in tight check while Smith gurned and barked his cut and paste lyrics, wandering the stage messing with amp settings and knocking over mic stands like an annoying kid – except he’s 58. Wife Eleni Poulou seemed to be having fun, with her Korg keyboard and assortment of coats and bags. From the twisted disco of Dedication Not Medication to the primitive rock of Bury Pts 1 & 3 and an ironic Smith-less encore of I’ve Been Duped, The Fall showed nothing has changed in the maddening and delightfully eccentric world of Mark E. Smith.

Chris Familton

LIVE REVIEW: Savages @ Metro Theatre, Sydney (05/02/14)

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Savages played an intense set that successfully blended theatricality with impressive musicality. All four musicians were completely in the pocket with their respective instruments. Drum sticks were raised high like axe handles, beating out tribal disco grooves that embraced primitive physicality and literate technical nuance. Bass player Ayse Hassan moved in perfect unison with her guitar and the notes she was drawing from it, whether they were droning, pulsing or cascading distortion coated flurries. Jenny Beth owned centre stage with her considered, robotic movements; intensity, concentration and attitude  fixed across her face. She gave the impression of being in full control of her voice, words and limbs until the extended final track which hit a groove and beat it into the ground repeatedly, each time gathering more nodding heads and lost-in-the-moment audience members who spent the show bathed in white and golden light. Gemma Thompson provided the sonic icing, cutting swathes of noise and discordant melodies from her guitar. She prowled between her amp and effect pedals, her instrument providing the menace and beautiful tension to the music of Savages. She Will, Husbands, Shut Up and an intoxicating cover of Suicide’s Dream Baby Dream were just some of the many highlights from an exceptionally good gig that showed post-punk and music delivered with emotion and precision can still be as vital and valid as it was thirty years ago.

Chris Familton

LIVE REVIEW: Killing Joke @ Metro Theatre, Sydney (08/06/13)

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by Chris Familton

Support acts can sometimes be a lottery. Will they be selected based on a musical similarity to the headliner or a subtle genre variation still with some stylistic connection to them? Will they be a band riding a current radio playlist/bloggers wave or a historical antecedent, forebears of the headliners who are possibly playing at their behest? In the case the band selected to open for Killing Joke were little known Graveyard Rockstars who looked like extras dragged up from a zombie flick with their ghoulish face and body paint that looked like a smeared mix of blood and dirt, regulation rockstar haircuts and black attire. Unfortunately their music didn’t match the diligent creativity of their look, coming off as second rate angst metal that pummeled with turgid verses and soaring melodic choruses. It was standard stuff and though they could all play and sing well it lacked spark and anything to raise it above the plethora of generic emotive hard rock.

Killing Joke on the other hand almost single handedly created industrial metal from the ashes of punk and the creative possibilities of post-punk. Over the decades they’ve evolved from jerky tribal art-pop, through dalliances with synthesizers and into the dark abyss of churning demonic rock music. Through dry ice the band emerged and boldly opened proceedings with one of their best known songs, the epic sweep of Requiem. It sounded gloriously widescreen with Jaz Coleman instantly locked into that piercing thousand yard stare and stance that gave the impression he was physically channeling a fair amount of the electricity that was in the room.

Billed as their singles tour, this meant that there was going to be hefty serving of songs which sat the highest in the ears of the public and from all corners of their thirty plus year career yet they did well to cover many bases and not just the obvious tracks. Early singles like Wardance showcased the primal, tribal side of their sound while the mid set highlight Eighties was a nod to the electronic dance influence on the band as the doom disco song sent waves of taut, shuddering energy through the crowd.

Guitarist Geordie Walker was the magician, weaving and coaxing those trademark chords and riffs from his guitar and seemingly never pausing to change instruments or indulge us in the finer details of tuning. His playing seemed effortless yet wholly visceral and on edge. Bassist Youth seemed, on the surface, to be having the most amount of fun, bouncing on his heels, grinning and digging notes deep out of the rhythms of the music. The conductor of all of this was of course Coleman who switched between ‘centre of the storm’ concentration and power and a shaking, dancing shaman; urging the masses to rise up and give themselves over to the music.

Pandemonium, Madness, Corporate Elect, European Super State and Pssyche were just some highlights among many and though the set started to feel a little more like hard work in the latter part this was still an impressive show of strength from a band who are still creating new music built on the central tenets of their sonic manifesto and delivering it onstage with intensity, energy and belief.