LIVE REVIEW: No Age @ Oxford Art Factory, Sydney

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No Age

No Age, Bed Wettin’ Bad Boys, Arse, Basic Human
Oxford Art Factory
February 14th, 2019

Almost ten years to the day that No Age last played Sydney, at the 2009 Laneway Festival, the Los Angeles duo return on the back of their critically acclaimed album of last year, Snares Like A Haircut. 

A fine four-band lineup had been put together for the evening and all four local acts impressed. Basic Human kicked things off with their primitive punk rock, built on a relentless rhythm section and topped off with the endlessly pacing singer’s half-sung, mostly shouted vocals. They were catchy and a good balance of noise, attitude and humour, with each song introduced as “This is a love song”, given it was Valentine’s Day.

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ARSE

Arse have to be one of the best named bands to come out of Sydney in a long while and you kind of expected great things from them before they’d even played a note. Collared shirts, tight trousers, swagger and volume. The trio started with a gloriously mangled take on Advance Australia Fair before unleashing distorted bass, guitar sounds pulled from a metal album and minimal post-hardcore drumming. It was like Cosmic Psychos cutting all kinds of Jesus Lizard angles with the noise punk dial on 11. They topped it off with a Revolting Cocks’ish lurch and stagger through John Paul Young’s Love Is In The Air.

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Bed Wettin’ Bad Boys

Bed Wettin’ Bad Boys played a Surry Hills gig with No Age back on that 2009 tour and here they were again, essentially still doing the same thing but seeming much more comfortable in their musical skin as a band. The songs rolled and tumbled with less consternation and more flow. Plenty of tracks from their 2017 album Rot were played including the super catchy pop song Plastic Tears, Away and Expanded Horizons and on stage and with volume it showed how well they’ve shaped their Replacements meets melodic garage punk sound over two albums.

No Age still do what they’ve always done, from those early days at The Smell in LA to their latest album, they’ve always found inventive ways to dig noise and melody from the single construct of drums, a guitar and a couple of mics. They still seem a relaxed pair, chatting with the audience, exchanging jokes about old songs being new, unravelling the mystery of Vegemite and talking up the observed ease of living as a vegan in Sydney. 

Their dynamic is basic but with the subtle interplay of Randy Randall’s guitar effects, Dean Spunt’s punk breakbeats and other avant garde interjections like the experimental ambient typewriter chatter of Snares Like A Haircut, their songs rarely end up regressing into same-sameness. One quickly forgets they’re a two-piece when the full throttle wall of Dinosaur Jr sound bursts forth. It’s a clever blend of energy and inventiveness, equally directed at the mind and the feet of the audience and Randall seemed equally lost in a sea of hair and leg kicks as he wrestled all kinds of sounds from his guitar. When they dialled back the frenzy on the song Send Me they sounded like a lost Flying Nun band – beautifully wasted, wistful and melancholic.

Spunt and Randall left us with perhaps their finest song, Teen Creeps, with its Sonic Youth chug and shoegaze wash of guitar, a cathartic way to send the audience back out into the night, fully vibed on No Age’s dissonant sonic hypnosis.

Chris Familton

LIVE REVIEW: Protomartyr @ Oxford Art Factory, Sydney

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PROTOMARTYR – photo by Chris Familton

Protomartyr, Mere Women, Angie @ Oxford At Factory, Sydney Australia. February 16th, 2018

The best gigs are the ones where the creative quality and intensity builds evenly, seemingly at a symbiotic pace with the gathering audience. Angie set the scene with a low key and hypnotic opening set. This was another iteration of her solo incarnation, now fleshed out with drummer and acoustic guitarist. Previously she’s played on her own (Steve Gunn support) and with a full band (Chain & The Gang support). This configuration felt the most suited to her drone infused piano compositions and haunting vocal intonements.

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ANGIE – photo by Chris Familton

Mere Women mixed a brand new song with tracks from last year’s Big Skies album and a glance back to their 2012 album with Amends. Intense and dramatic sum up the band, with each member locked into their own musical corner, sculpting their own personality and sound. Guitarist Flyn Mckinnirey cut physical shapes with his playing, coaxing out nagging riffs and coruscating wasteland distortion while Amy Wilson pleaded, remonstrated and chanted dark, gothic sounding lyrics over his guitar and the inventive rhythm section.

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MERE WOMEN – photo by Chris Familton

With tongue in cheek, Protomartyr had said in their interview with The Music that if they didn’t make it to Australia soon that’d be it for the band. With their future now thankfully intact they made sure the audience were well and truly satiated with a set of 18 songs, mostly taken from their last three albums.

Singer Joe Casey is an enigma on stage, looking like a dowdy small-town insurance salesman and sipping from cans of Coors beer he was the perfect irascible foil for the remarkably tight band around him. Drummer Alex Leonard studiously beat out a tapestry of inventive rhythms, Bassist Scott Davidson was in constant motion, bouncing on his toes while flurried fingers urged post-punk and dance grooves from his fretboard. Guitarist Greg Ahee, much like McKinnirey from Mere Women was masterly at shifting between catchy melancholic riffs and scorched-earth punk screes.

Back to Casey though, the star of the show in sound and vision, the perfect balance of belligerent ambivalence and intellectual dissertation. Barking out free-form wordplay one minute, nailing down repeated phrases like “Never gonna lose it” in the encore’s Why Does It Shake? He channelled the ghost of Mark E. Smith and the glorious disdain of David Yow but he’s uniquely his own poet and performer. For those that like their post-punk laced with danceability, wit and wisdom this was an impeccable example of just that.

CHRIS FAMILTON

LIVE REVIEW: Pissed Jeans @ OAF, Sydney 2017

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Pissed Jeans, BB & The Blips, L.A Suffocated @ Oxford Art Factory 6th Dec 2017

After the unfortunate dropout of the original support acts, relative unknowns La Suffocated and BB& The Blips stepped in to warm the crowd and set the scene for Pissed Jeans’ first show on Australian soil.

IMG_1177L.A Suffocated only played a handful of songs, with a low-key vibe from behind their table of electronic devices. The duo displayed a nice blend of modern rhythmic drive and nostalgia 80s synth sounds, brushed with a rough-edged and slightly industrial atmosphere. Vocals appeared on a couple of songs and showed potential to drag their instrumentals into fully fledged songs.

BB & The Blips took us into prime punk territory with a full band and one gear (fast) approach. The guitars were thin and nervy sounding around their drummer who was the binding glue for the band. Front-person BB was a dynamic and commanding presence, prowling, bouncing and shimmying front of stage. Her vocals provided the colour and spirit to the songs – all yelps, screams and exuberant sweet/sour melodies. Fun punk rock with a conscience.

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The enigma that is Pissed Jeans – are they serious or taking the piss, are they post-punk/metal/sludge rock? – sauntered on stage and kicked off an hour of wholly entertaining, brutal and hip-swinging heavy music. The answer to the aforementioned question is obviously ‘all of the above’. From their name to their lyrics and stage performance they both honour and deconstruct the myth and cliches of rock and hardcore music. As the band laid down malevolent riffs and tumbling, mangled and constantly shapeshifting rhythms, front-person Matt Korvette played the role of the rock star and anti-rock star, both posturing and showing disdain for convention. He tore -t-shirts, humped mic stands, used the stage curtain as a towel and feigned tears as they staggered and vicariously stumbled through their back catalogue, with a particular focus on their recent album Why Love Now. Moshing ensued, a stage invader ate concrete as he launched himself back into the parting audience and the band laid waste to a cover of Guns n Roses It’s So Easy that was more reverential than one might expect. That’s the glorious dichotomy of Pissed Jeans.

Chris Familton

LIVE REVIEW: Kirin J Callinan @ Oxford Art Factory

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Kirin J Callinan, Spike Fuck, Hviske @ Oxford Art Factory, June 10th 2017

Sydney has produced a number of forward thinking songwriter/musicians in recent years who blend differing levels of theatricality into their performances. From Jack Ladder to Alex Cameron and Mossy, they all cultivate a persona and carefully consider an image as part of their creativity. Kirin J Callinan though, is out on his limb of kaleidoscopic eccentricity.

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Hviske were cruelly given low volume as the first act and it was a disservice for their industrial -tinged techno sound that requires an immersive sound for full effect. Augmented by the buried vocals of Kusum Normoyle which acted as another instrument rather than a lyrical tool, they showed enough (at low volume) to suggest they strike a nice balance between headphones and the dancefloor.

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Spike Fuck is another emerging enigma, from the challenging moniker to an ambiguous fashion sense, she sang over laptop backing tracks, peppering the songs with Alan Vega-styled whoops and an emotionally battered yet righteous blend of Las Vegas croon, country pastiche and melancholy-drenched synth music. There was plenty to like in her performance though adding a backing band would really allow her music to shine in the live sense.

One microphone, bathed in a sea of blue light. A static image delayed for minutes before a large brimmed, heavy-jacketed figure strode on-stage. The unmistakeable figure of Kirin J Callinan had arrived, taking the audience from the first and owning them until the final parting clang of heavily treated guitar.

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Callinan and band mixed it up, digging into both the Embracism and Bravado albums. Like Bowie taking his stage cues from Lindsay Kemp, Callinan has created a distinct stage manner of grand gestures, quirky dance moves and facial expressions that run the gamut from knowing sleaze to innocent glee.

Many of the new album tracks worked even better live, stripped off their production sheen and layers. My Moment was epic EDM, Callinan playing the build and drop to the hilt. Living Each Day was a perfect twee pop song, from the audience’s response S.A.D felt like a hit single, while Family Home showed at the heart of the pomp and primp it’s the strength of songwriting that holds everything up.

An audience member tore Callinan’s leather cod-piece from his person, exposing him literally and figuratively yet he embraced the moment and made the most of the opportunity to test and titillate his audience. This was a magnificent return home for Sydney’s singular pop provocateur.

Chris Familton

LIVE REVIEW: Car Seat Headrest

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Car Seat Headrest + Jarrow @ Oxford Art Factory, Sydney 26.01.17

There was a real ‘will they or won’t they?’ atmosphere rippling through the arriving throng of punters as Jarrow took the stage. The nervousness was due to Car Seat Headrest main guy Will Toledo posting on Facebook earlier in the day that he was was here and ready to play but the band were still winging their way to Australia from Hawaii (courtesy of flight delays) and only scheduled to arrive an hour before they were due on-stage.

As people made bets on the band vs solo probability, Melbourne’s Jarrow did an excellent job in their opening slot. There were shades of The Smiths and Mac DeMarco in their music with clever twists and turns, a malleable rhythm section and Dan Oke’s quirky, heart-on-sleeve lyrics. Playing songs from their 2016 album 2003 Dream they displayed a balance of humour, musicianship, loose-limbed abandon and intellectual adventurism. Clever guitar pop for both the mind and feet.

Not long after Jarrow departed the stage, four figures emerged from the shadows and began furtively setting up their equipment and tuning guitars. The band had made it and just in time. Presumably wired and slightly disorientated they quickly conducted a make-shift soundcheck before launching into their set proper with Vincent, one of the many standout tracks from last year’s breakout album Teens Of Denial. It quickly became apparent how much of a complete band they are, rather than just Toledo and some other guys. Vocals were shared – guitarist Ethan Ives even got a lead vocal in the closing Pixies cover of Motorway To Roswell. The rhythm section were superb at building the tension and collapsing it on a dime when required. The audience in the sold-out and packed to the gunnels OAF were in fine voice, nearly drowning out the band during Drunk Drivers/Killer Whales, exhorting the band on through the jet lag as they laid down their refreshing blend of Okkervil River/Strokes/Pixies influenced indie rock. It felt like a celebratory, if a little short, set. The icing on the cake and reward for the devoted fans of Toledo and his literate and confessional songs.

Chris Familton

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

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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: Mercury Rev @ OAF

MERCURY REV, JAMES DELA CRUZ (DJ SET) @ Oxford Art Factory, 07 December 2015

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Eschewing the usual opening band, the warm-up honours went to James Dela Cruz (The Avalanches) who played an eclectic hour long DJ set that stretched from Neil Young to warm techno flows and some fine turntablism skills.

FEPX1684Mercury Rev hold a fairly unique position in music with their fantastical, dramatic sound that hits both the extremes of shoegaze and the fragile beauty of Catskill Mountains Americana. This was quite possibly the smallest venue the band have played in Australia so it was a chance for fans to experience them in full flight in relatively intimate surrounds. From a sea of dry ice pierced by dreamy washes of blue light emerged Jonathan Donahue, Grasshopper and their bassist, drummer and keyboardist/flautist. What followed was the full Mercury Rev experience that was in no way downsized or compromised for the club venue. Their recently released album The Light In You got a fair showing in the setlist but they know that their audience peaked with the seminal Deserters Songs album. Early fans were treated to Frittering from Yerself Is Steam (1991) but it was tracks from the aforementioned album that drew the biggest cheers from the enthusiastic crowd. Holes, Goddess On A Hiway and Opus 40 were exquisite in their delivery with Donahue commanding the centre of the stage with conductor flourishes and grand gestures like a magician conjuring up some dramatic illusion. Opus 40 rounded out the main set with an extended and accelerated surge into sheets of distortion with a sonic dizziness that seemed to spin the room on its axis.

Mercury Rev were art rock in dazzling glory, almost too grandiose for the small setting but they never overcooked it. The mystery in their music had the audience immersing themselves in its dark romance while at the same time trying to figure out just how they create such an ornate and wonderful sound from their standard rock band format.

Chris Familton

LIVE REVIEW: Forest Swords, Cassius Select @ Oxford Art Factory, Sydney (16.03.15)

photo by Sophie Jarry
photo by Sophie Jarry

Even though it was a Sunday night, I had expected that this would be a pretty popular gig, so I was surprised to see the dividing curtains drawn across the room at the Oxford Art Factory, and by the slightly hushed and cavernous feeling that I got as we walked in, regardless of the fact that the place is essentially a shoe-box (said with love, OAF). Cassius Select had already started when I arrived, and my German friend, who is probably more used to the nightclubs of Berlin, commented that the sound quality was a bit lacking. It occurred to me that this was the exact reason for the curtains – a kind of dampener for the hollow, echo-y sounds of a PA system that is on default for a room that is usually crowded full of soft, sound-absorbing bodies.  Plus it makes the room look slightly less empty.  Cassius Select as support was convincing nonetheless, demonstrating an onstage presence and production quality that should warrant them developing a pretty respectable following of their own.

The interesting thing was, though, that once Forest Swords started, the whole room disappeared, minutes slipped into seconds. They were utterly mesmerising, entrancing – and even NOT wasted, I could not, if my life depended on it, describe a single other person in the room, in terms of age, gender, or manifest interest – they all just vanished.  I even managed to almost forget my hot date, for a moment. Forest Swords just draws your attention; soft reggae dub rhythms behind industrial-edged, percussive melodies (suddenly the name makes a kind of sense – it is soft and lush, and sharp and hard all at once). They were also faster, easier to dance to (sway to) than I would have expected, based on what I have heard on their albums; and the promised HD projections – repetitive, anachronous strands of pearls and chain lengths swaying in the background, occasionally interrupted by GIFs of 1920’s femme fatales – were somehow neither distracting nor extraneous. They sort of worked – not quite in the background, not quite the star of the show.  It seemed like a short set, and I was genuinely surprised by how late it was when it finished.  Sometimes you can be surprised and transported, even by a performance you have high expectations of, even sober on a Sunday night.

Sarah Norman