LIVE REVIEW: Margaret Glaspy

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Margaret Glaspy + Slow Dancer @ Newtown Social Club, 6th March 2017

Slow Dancer had the task of warming the crowd and for the most part the Oh Mercy guitarist (Simon Okely) caught and maintained their attention with his brand of solo, soulful indie music. He has a fine line in emotive chords and a guitar sound like garage rock filtered through a slowed, stoned and hazy late-night filter. Lyrically his songs fell short though, resorting for the most part to tortured-love subject matter, and with one of those faux-soul voices (should we blame Bon Iver?) it all blended into a warm and sugary bowl of overdone, saved intermittently by his guitar playing.

Margaret Glaspy’s debut album is called Emotions and Math and that title works equally well as description of her live show. From the outset she sat the audience back on their heels with a band that sit right in the pocket – clever, subtle and intricate but never showy. The full impact from the opening notes of Love Like This came from her percussive, rhythmic guitar playing that swung from sweet, lowdown riffs to slashing, tension-laden and clanging chords. And then there’s that voice. It’s familiar in the vein of Liz Phair, Feist, Bjork, Joan Wasser and even the ancient-sounding folk of Karen Dalton, yet it is laced with contemporary influences like R&B. She has a raw, growling inflection that provides the emotion to the structured and faultlessly played math of her songs. Combine that with hushed sensual tones and some diva-worthy note runs and Glaspy was an endlessly fascinating singer, complementing her set with a brace of stunning covers of songs by Neil Young, Lauren Hill, Bjork and Lucinda Williams.

Watching and listening to Glaspy reminded me of those early days when Jeff Buckley began to make waves on the back of his undeniable natural talent as a singer, guitarist and songwriter. You could hear the craft but the raw emotion and barely-contained creativity was just as crucial. From the same streets of New York, Glaspy is surely about to make a similar artistic statement based on this performance.

Chris Familton

LIVE REVIEW: Big Thief

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Big Thief + Gabriella Cohen + Body Type @ Newtown Social Club, 1st March 2017

Three shades of emotive indie guitar music were on display this evening with Body Type the most conventional of them. The quartet boast three lead vocalists and a fine line in songs that ranged from swerving slacker rock in the vein of Courtney Barnett, to the dreamier climes of bands like Warpaint and Beach House.

She’s been on the radar as a hotly-tipped new talent for a while now and on this showing it’s hard to disagree with that. From the opening notes of a short set Gabriella Cohen came across like a modern day Karen Dalton, possessing one of those voices that sounds beyond her years. She seemed at one as a singer and a guitarist, delivering sparse blues laments before being joined by violinist/guitarist/singer Kate Dillon and concocting a sound that channelled Dirty Three, Kate Bush and Neil Young in an art-pop jam.

Another band that has been receiving a ton of critical acclaim of late, Big Thief wasted no time in locking into an onstage groove with the band leaning into each other and the songs, using eye contact to ensure they were playing into the heart of their songs. The star of the show was front-person Adrianne Lenker who often came across as fragile and emotionally raw and at other times strident and commanding. That creative duality is what made her (and the band’s) performance so compelling. From a lonesome and spine-tingling solo voice to the single unadulterated scream she unleashed late in the set, she was in full control.

With only one album under their belt it got a thorough airing with the single Masterpiece, Real Love and Parallels particular highlights. Lenker gave us a solo new song, freshly written on this Australian tour and they finished with another new one, this time with the full band, that featured some astoundingly dense and overflowing vocals.

Big Thief added a wider dynamic range to their songs in the live setting, elevating the songs that make up a great debut album into a brilliant live performance.

Chris Familton

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

LIVE REVIEW: Eleanor Friedberger, Noire, Georgia Mulligan @ NSC, Sydney 16/06/16

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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: Moon Duo, Grinding Eyes, Glass Skies @ NSC, Sydney (10/12/15)

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MOON DUO

Opening this evening of psych rock was Glass Skies who whipped up a hard stoner/space rock barrage of riffs and grooves for the few early arrivals. The singer/guitarist overplayed his hand with teeth and behind-the-head solos but they nailed the ‘rock’ aspect of psychedelic music convincingly.

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GRINDING EYES (stage set up)

Grinding Eyes enhanced the tripped-out mood of the evening with a a sea of projected images flooding the band and stage as they dug out some dark and fine garage/drone nihilist rock sounds. Part Stooges, part Primal Scream, they possess a strong rhythm section led by drummer Cec Condon which allowed the guitar, Juno synth and Farfisa organ to carve out some visceral and hypnotic swirling melodies.

This tour sees Moon Duo touring Australia with their live drummer John Jeffrey for the first time and he made a real difference in adding a human element to the previous repetition and rigidity of their drum machine. With projections creating the effect of a swirling vortex the trio quickly laid down the template for the evening with their Krautrock meets Suicide rhythms, Ripley Johnson’s curling , hypnotic guitar phrasing and Sanae Yamada’s keyboards which provided the magical dreamy (and sometimes nightmarish) textures and melodies. To new ears it would have sounded like one extended set-piece but fans of their music know the subtleties and the reward of tension release when Moon Duo exit their long, head-nodding passages and hit rare and uplifting choruses. The songs from this year’s Shadow Of The Sun album stood out with their more precise and brighter sound. Wilding, Night Beat and Free The Skull sounded like T-Rex and Bo Diddley reconfigured into ghostly and psychedelic drone rock and a room full of closed eyes and trance-induced head nodding was testament to Moon Duo’s masterful use of endless simplicity in primal rock n roll.

Chris Familton

LIVE REVIEW: Julia Holter, Marcus Whale @ NSC, Sydney (09/12/15)

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IMG_4209This was a night for a light to be shone on the more distant edges of pop music, where obtuse angles and bold and wilder imaginations take flight. Marcus Whale had emailed Julia Holter requesting a support slot and his wish was granted. Holter and local label Mistletone’s trust was more than rewarded with a riveting opening set that took militant drums, a caustic electronic backdrop and Whale’s soulful, effect-laden voice into territory that artists like Bjork and Zola Jesus inhabit.

Julia Holter’s year has culminated in her appearing at or near the top of many respected end-of-year lists which will no doubt see her cache and audience sizes increase in 2016. That made this show feel like we were witnessing an artist on the cusp of being elevated to the next level of music industry exposure. After a tentative start adjusting equipment and a music stand Holter steadied herself and began an 80 minute set that started with a measured and almost rigid feel and ended in a rousing avant-jazz trip complete with wordless incantations and splintering melodies and rhythms. In the interim Holter showcased this year’s Have You In My Wilderness album with the light-stepping Silhouette a particular highlight as well as musically compatible selections from her earlier albums. Holter has slowly become more confident on-stage since her earlier Australian visits, this time chatting, laughing and making wry song introductions that gave the more avant garde songs glimpses of context. Though the first half of the set too often displayed the conservatorium roots of its composer, the second 40 minutes became richer, more resonant and full-blooded as the mood lightened and the musicians began to sweat and loosen their shoulders. Holter’s recorded music is progressive and avant-pop music but her live set effectively added another layer of personality and approachability to her unique and otherworldly songs.

Chris Familton

LIVE REVIEW: Twerps, The Garbage & The Flowers, Orion @ Newtown Social Club, Sydney (08/05/15)

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Orion had opening honours on the first of Twerps’ two sold out nights and things weren’t looking promising after half an hour of vague attempts at tuning a guitar before a note was played. Once they got things sorted they proved to be an intriguing take on 80s goth music circa Joy Division and The Cure, establishing desolate yet danceable dark grooves.

The Garbage & The Flowers formed in Wellington, NZ in the late 80s before relocating to Sydney in the late 90s but those unfamiliar with the band would have been excused for thinking they had formed a week before this gig, such was their primitive, ramshackle approach to their songs and covers of Flying Burrito Brothers, the Byrds and Van Morrison. The influence of fellow jangly lo-fi bands like The Clean and The Bats was apparent and though they had a loose charm it was hard to relax and be transported by the songs when distracted by the feeling that it could all collapse at any moment.

Twerps took the stage to a full room and with Marty Frawley’s self-diagnosis of the early stages of laryngitis they launched into a consummate hour long set. They too are a band with strong sonic links to the Kiwi underground via their jangly, pastoral feel and the vocal approach of Frawley and Jules McFarlane – who brought to mind Denise Roughan of The 3Ds. It was also her guitar playing that more often than not provided the melodic focal point with hyper-catchy and economical chiming riffs. This year’s Range Anxiety album provided the high-points with I Don’t Mind, Back To You and Shoulders before they departed to the melancholic strains of Who Are You which echoed on as punters continued to hum and sing it as they dispersed into the night.

Chris Familton

this review was first published in The Music

LIVE REVIEW: The Phoenix Foundation, Eden Mulholland @ Newtown Social Club, Sydney (17/04/15)

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The Phoenix Foundation​ were quite superb last night at Newtown Social Club​ in Sydney. I’ve only seen them once before and now, years later, they have a pretty hefty back catalogue to draw from across their 90 min show.

In support Eden Mullholland showcased his warped pop sensibilities across jagged guitars, pulsing synth and with an impressive vocal range. Quirky indie pop capable of causing both a cerebral and physical reaction.

They played a cross-section from most of their releases plus a couple of previews of songs pegged for their next record. Those tracks continue their deft blend of psych pop, melancholic indie rock and the polymorphic propulsion of krautrock and forward thinking and detailed electronica. With a rhythm section that often sounded way more complex than a drummer, bassist and percussionist, they stretched and smeared pop nuggets into widescreen, freewheeling space rock like a futuristic Grateful Dead.

’40 Years’ was a highpoint and crowd favourite but only one of many highlights that also included ‘Black Mould’, ‘Buffalo’, ‘Damn The River’ and ‘Bob Lennon John Dylan’.

On the contemporary musical landscape Twerps and The War On Drugs may be bands of the moment but The Phoenix Foundation were bending ears in a similar fashion long before them. Blistering musicianship, affable stage manner and songs that took on a life of their own through the exceptional Newtown Social Club PA made for transportive experience.

Chris Familton