LIVE REVIEW: Midnight Oil @ Sydney Domain

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The Great Circle Tour came full circle, back to the city where it all began seven months ago with a warm-up show at Marrickville Bowling Club. Since then, Midnight Oil have conquered the world once more, returning sounding better than ever and with an enviable and overflowing back catalogue of generation-defining songs.

AB Original went down a treat as the opening act, standing tall and delivering their message of pride, culture and politics. A live drummer and keyboardist gave their sound depth and an organic feel. Hands were waved in the air as the celebratory outdoor-gig vibe kicked in, but not at the expense of conveying the importance of Briggs and Trials’ messages.

Although still with a conscience slant, John Butler Trio have a much more subtle delivery. Their breezy, rhythm-driven sound and Butler’s exceptional guitar playing worked well as the calm before the headliners’ arrival. It also may have helped to mellow out the copious tinnie-sinking punters who seemed to be intent on reliving their youthful excesses.

With slogans and messages of human and environmental rights peppering the large screens, Midnight Oil emerged on the towering stage and, as was appropriate, began with Armistice Day, Peter Garrett singing from beneath a hood. With crystalline sound they accelerated into Read About It, the screams of recognition immediate from that opening cowbell/guitar. From there it was a faultless set, balanced in its mix of the earliest of songs including Section 5 (Bus To Bondi) through to the biggest of hits – Power And The Passion, Beds Are Burning, The Dead Heart, Forgotten Years. Drummer Rob Hirst was having a ball, his muscular drumming a musical celebration of the band’s spirit in itself, joining the band front of stage mid-set for US Forces and Kosciusko. Nothing was lost with Jim Moginie restricted to a chair after his Melbourne fall, his playing a revelation of guitar and keyboards, the ingredients that added post-punk, art-rock and psych twists and turns to the band’s sound. Put Down That Weapon was reshaped as a slow-burning number and the large screens gave a fascinating insight into his and the rest of the band’s playing. Garrett is still the star of the show, though, the mad marionette dancer relishing the large stage and exploring every inch like the seasoned pro he is. He also created an intimacy with the audience with his interactions and expositions.

Sure, there were the requisite and important social and political messages, preached to the mostly converted, but the overriding message was a celebration of the music, songs that soundtracked more than one generation and still burn strong with real heart and soul.

Chris Familton

Here’s our Spotify playlist of the songs played in the Midnight Oil set:

 

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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

ALBUM REVIEW: Jep And Dep – They’veBeenCalled

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This is album number two for Darren Cross (Gerling) and Jessica Cassar and it finds them expanding their monochromatic and ethereal world into darker corners where mystery slowly reveals itself and both hope and despair are around every slow bend.

Their debut was clearly a interpretation of folk music but here they use even more swooning strings, piano and billowing reverb to add a ghostly and dreamy warmth to the songs. The pair share lead vocals and counter each other with some wonderfully arranged harmonies that add to the haunting qualities of their music.

On ‘Poor Little Rich Kids’ Cassar’s voice hovers in the aether behind Cross’ closely mic’d vocal. Cassar’s performance on the exquisite ‘Cruel Moon’ is reminiscent of Portishead at their most organic. Her voice is high and keening, pastoral even, when combined with Cross’ finger-picked guitar. It’s one of those sweet-sounding songs that has a dark undercurrent flowing just beneath the surface. Elsewhere, ’Helpless City’ has an ominous quality, like Nick Cave warning of approaching doom from the Bang Bang Bar stage in David Lynch’s Twin Peaks.

From rich kids drowning to a captive’s lament, a city’s cultural decline to romance in jeopardy, there’s a gothic sheen to They’veBeenCalled that both soothes and unsettles. Throughout, melodies cascade like slow rain on a window pane and as the closer ‘This Is Not The End’  dissolves into gentle static, the overriding mood that lingers is one of beauty bruised but not vanquished.

Chris Familton

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

ALBUM REVIEW: The Tall Grass – Down The Unmarked Road

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Jamie Hutchings (Bluebottle Kiss, Infinity Broke) and Peter Fenton (Crow) have come together as The Tall Grass, which began as a live acoustic duo project before being expanded upon and sonically coloured in the studio with a wide-ranging band sound.

It’s still on the laid-back vibe though – wistful, poetic, and melancholic. The sound of their other bands is still evident, particularly Hutchings with his more distinct vocal stylings but it’s wholly a collaborative effort with the pair playing off each other with a melodic ebb and flow, tension and release.

Songs are expertly built on close harmonies and traded lines, guitars that weave in and out and springboard off each other amid melodic bass lines, field recordings and jazz-leaning drums and percussion. It all comes back to the songs though, and Moller, The Buyer Beware, The Two O’Clock and Little City in particular, match the best either has written in the past.

I keep mentioning the strength of songwriting and the interplay between the two musicians but it is the hallmark of a collaborative project when the creative lines between the artists are blurred, carry equal weight and ultimately the art is the sum of its parts. There’s a delicate tenderness to the music here, built on mutual respect and the willingness by both Hutchings and Fenton to explore the shadows and sunlit corners of emotion and experience.

Chris Familton

ALBUM REVIEW: Mere Women – Big Skies

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Album number three for this Sydney quartet (previously a trio). The addition of bass guitar adds another layer of rhythm and movement to their sound as they tackle the experiences of women over different generations via their dark and swirling post punk.

It can be a claustrophobic listen at times, the guitar acting like mesh and gauze with its washes of distortion and clanging reverb, while Amy Wilson sings in a stentorian manner, the obvious comparison being a tougher Siouxsie Sioux shapeshifting with the fluidity of Warpaint. Drive and Numb are two highpoint on a very strong album that manages to simultaneously sound sweeping and intimate.

Chris Familton

SONIC KICKS: The Singing Skies

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On the eve of the Vivid launch show for the new LP from The Singing Skies, the main creative figure behind the band, Kell Derrig-Hall, takes us on a tour of his record collection and a few of the albums that shaped his musical life.

Head In The Trees, Heart On The Ground (via Preservation Records) is Derrig-Hall’s second album and it’s quite the immersive, mesmerising and atmospheric listening experience – of which we’ve said:

“Evocative moods via a lush and swooning sonic palette afford Derrig-Hall the ability to paint stately and ornate folk songs of the English variety. Everything is considered and most of it is gently presented with strings, guitar, shuffling drums, soft bass and a warm dose of ambient reverb giving the songs a dreamy, pastoral quality.”

You can catch The Singing Skies launching their album live at Golden Age Cinema & Bar in Surry Hills, Sydney on Saturday June 3rd, in collaboration with Vivid Sydney.

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The first album you bought.

I bought Metallica’s Ride The Lightning and Guns N’ Roses’ The Spaghetti Incident on cassette from a mall near my house. The Guns N’ Roses tape was all covers which I didn’t realise at the time. I think there was a Cosmic Psychos cover on there which is pretty cool. I’m still a pretty big fan of Ride The Lightning when I’m in the right mood.

An album that soundtracked a relationship.

My partner Lia and I listened to a lot of Red Apple Falls by Smog early in our relationship. It’s a lovely record to sleep in and create your own world around.

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An album that inspired you to form a band.

Leonard Cohen’s Songs From A Room was a big influence on my songwriting and convinced me that writing songs that centred around lyrics and sincere sounding singing could be exciting. Lia and I formed an ambient noisey drone band called Moonmilk after spending a lot of time with Fripp and Eno’s No Pussyfooting.

An album that reminds you of your high school years.

The Clash – London Calling

I loved this album so much and I made tapes of the double album which gave it a lot of mileage on the bus to school. It really opened me up to a lot different ideas in music.

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An album you’d love to hear live and played in full.

John Cale – Paris 1919. 

This album is just so incredible. Imagine seeing those strings and oboes and wild arrangements. John Cale taking on a character that speaks to ghosts and travels around Europe being mystified by everything and poking fun at the aristocracy. Apparently he was very high and loose during the writing and recording but I think he could pull it off.

Your favourite album cover art.

King Crimson – The Court of the Crimson King

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A guilty pleasure album.

Bob Dylan – Empire Burlesque. 

This is not a celebrated Dylan album, but I think it’s pretty great. The arrangements are creating some sort of new wave/harmonica rock. There are some really great songs on it and he’s really belting it out with the backing singers. It doesn’t always go down well at a party though.

The last album I bought.

Weyes Blood – Front Row Seat To Earth

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The next album I want to buy.

Richard and Linda Thompson – Pour Down Like Silver

Alice Coltrane – The Ecstatic Music Of Alice Coltrane

Heat Wave – Heat Wave

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LIVE REVIEW: Underground Lovers

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Underground Lovers, Simon Holmes @ Leadbelly, Newtown, May 18th, 2017

With an excellent new album in tow, Underground Lovers finally made it back up the highway to Sydney after a few years absence. They’ve clearly retained and widened their audience too, with two sold out shows to celebrate the release of the new record.

Simon Holmes of The Hummingbirds had to battle the restless and chatty punters but he did so by virtue of some fine vocal melodies and the late-set addition of Adam (vocals) and Simon Gibson (drums) of the Ark-Ark Birds for a trio of their songs. A nice inclusion was a stripped back but still effortless and catchy version of the 1989 Hummingbirds single Blush.

Complete with a cache of psychedelic video projections, Underground Lovers put on a consummate, almost celebratory set. There was a false start with a miscued drum machine on the new song Unbearable but they laughed it off, with frontman Vincent Giarusso blaming nerves. From then on they never put a foot wrong, playing a big chunk of the new album Staring At You Staring At Me, intermingled with highlights from their back catalogue.

They’re a more muscular and propulsive band on stage than on record, the rhythm section locking into fluid and repetitive grooves that strayed into motorik Krautrock territory and down psych rock sonic rabbit holes. Melancholy permeates their music but the shared lead vocals between Giarusso and Philippa Nihill, the blend of Glenn Bennie’s guitar and the electronic elements ensured an all-encompassing sound that filled the room and was much dance-inducing as it was forlorn. Every Sign and The Rerun were two highlights from the new record – dark dance music akin to Primal Scream at their most rewarding junction of electronic and rock music. The biggest crowd response came with Dream It Down’s Las Vegas. A chanted sing-along ensued and when Giarusso hit the line “Lots of feathers, fluffy and pink, and cigarettes” an audience member responded with one. It was a weird sight seeing a cigarette inside a venue in 2017 but it was a fine moment at a gig where the mood of re-lived youth and fresh musical discovery was in the air.

Chris Familton