LIVE REVIEW: Earthless, The Shrine, Elysium Eternal @ The Hi-Fi, Sydney (04/01/14)

Earthless |photo by Chris Familton
Earthless | photo by Chris Familton

Japanese trio Elysium Eternal played to a sparsely populated Hi-Fi but they didn’t let that deter them from pulling out their raw and organic psych rock sound and stage moves. Now into their third decade their music hasn’t evolved greatly since the early 90s. Still essentially classic rock with stoner and doom elements thrown into the mix. They allowed dynamics to shape the songs rather than just bludgeoning the audience with rock stereotypes, even including a cover of a Flower Travellin’ Band song as a nod to the psych rock lineage they came from. In all it was good set though one that would have benefited from a smaller venue with more people and atmosphere.

The Shrine certainly shook things up, inspiring the more energetic and lubricated members of the audience to start a half-hearted circle pit. Launching headlong into each song with a brief and frantic introduction the trio harnessed the brattish elements of skate punk and enhanced it with both classic rock and heavy metal riffs and hair shaking attitude. The energy of their music was the most immediate attraction though when they halved the pace and dug out some grooves from the tumbling rock rubble they enhanced their appeal immeasurably. Their set ended disappointingly with their Lemmy-esque bassist losing power to his amp and resorting to joining the audience, who graciously and literally showered him in beer while the drummer and guitarist stretched and jammed out the song.

Earthless have built their reputation on epic live shows with 20 minute plus songs and endless psych rock soloing. The band didn’t disappoint though the bunch of punters who decided to ignore the musical intricacies and drunkenly throw themselves around until some were dragged out by security made for an annoying distraction. Guitarist Isaiah Mitchell, drummer Mario Rubalcaba and bassist Mike Eginton seemed oblivious to all that though, lost as they were in the job at hand. All three were essential to the epic sweep and grand dynamics on show across the two songs they played. Yep, two songs in an hour-long performance. Surprisingly there were few if any lulls in the music, such was their mastery and endurance as the rhythm section created their own shapeshifting sonic palette over which Mitchell conjured an endless array of spiraling solos and Hendrix-like chordal shapes. Riveting, absorbing and totally immersive, Earthless took psych rock taken to its logical and hypnotic extremes.

Chris Familton

this review was first published in The Music

LIVE REVIEW: Dappled Cities @ The Hi-Fi, Sydney (20/06/13)

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by Sarah Norman

Contrary to what was stated on their Facebook page, Dappled Cities’ co-lead singer and guitarist Dave Rennick was not, in point of fact, there to kiss the first 400 guests through the door. I know this for certain, as having seen this, I made damned sure that I was in the first 20 or so guests to arrive… (I have my reasons).

Now (rant alert) – it might be that the lack of heating in many Sydney live music venues reflects something of a tradeoff for the venue owners… (if people can’t take off their coats, then there is no need to have coat check facilities, for one thing) or it may simply be that people have a mental blank when it comes to planning for cold weather in Sydney; either way…. it does nothing for the ambiance of an evening.

So – while trying to forget my earlier disappointment at the lack of personal greeting, and ignore the frigid gale-force winds channeling through the open doors of the venue, I settled back into a dark corner (huddled against the biting cold), wishing that The Hi-Fi (somewhere I have previously enjoyed in warmer months) resembled less a big black empty box, and had some heating, or some comfy chairs, or anywhere to sit at all that wasn’t just the alarmingly sticky black concrete of the floor. Even the eerie green light from the thousand glow-sticks festooning walls and bodies (thoughtfully supplied by HTC in some bid to align their brand with the hip young Sydney music scene or whatever) couldn’t lift the chill from the room.

It was from this perspective I had my first taste of Ali Barter, first up as support. This Melbourne singer/songwriter has a polished stage presence; a clear, strong voice; and a more than adequately talented back-up band. In terms of style, Ali Barter definitely leans towards the indie folk-rock side of the fence and there are occasional traces of Father John Misty in a few songs (which is high praise indeed). Some wider variation in tempo might have made a respectably solid performance more memorable, however. By the end of the set, my attention has wandered back to obsessing about the cold and wondering whether it would be possible to get my beer micro-waved, thanks… (it works for sake, so why not?).

It feels pretty late by the time the next support, Elizabeth Rose, hits the stage (this is a midweek gig, after all). Now – I bet that on a smaller stage, in a smaller (warmer) venue, this girl would be awesome – but in this venue, it needed more. Elizabeth Rose is a talented pure-pop music writer/creator (although the style does jar somewhat against the previous support); but one small, slightly awkward-looking person bopping around behind a few keyboards (with no special lighting or backdrop or anything) feels more like something you’d see at a school dance. I find if I face away from the stage and pretend I am somewhere else, the music sounds about 10 times better. This is obviously not ideal in a live performance….

By the time Dappled Cities finally come on stage, I have lost all feeling in at least 7 of my toes (they are too numb to count properly) and I am regretting my personal resolution to NEVER WEAR UGG BOOTS IN PUBLIC. So –while I have been looking forward to seeing these guys live for some weeks, at this point I just want them to hurry up and finish already, so I can go home… Nonetheless, this is definitely a band who know how to work a room. They may sometimes sound a lot like The Shins (which is not necessarily a bad thing, in any event); they may have a repertoire bursting with almost cheesy indie pop/rock tunes; but the simultaneously harmonious and camply operatic vocals (is it just me, or does anyone else find themselves singing Bohemian Rhapsody in their car on their way home from a D.C. gig?); their enthusiastic stage presence; and the feeling that even though they know we’re cold and covered in marketing flotsam, they really want us to have a good time (and you’ve gotta love a band that’s considerate like that) mean that these guys can capture the audience in a way that the support bands had no chance of doing. They covered a great range of songs, from The Night is Young At Heart to Fire Fire Fire and then Real Love off their recent Lake Air EP. Suddenly, the room seemed smaller and warmer, full of people dancing, and a happier place to be… Just in time to go home.

NB To The Hi-Fi… if you want people to be cosy and happy (and probably drink more) close the damned doors when the outdoor temperature drops below 10 degrees. Or crank up the heat. Just saying.

 

LIVE REVIEW: Dinosaur Jr, Redd Kross, Royal Headache @ The Hi-Fi, Sydney 16/03/13

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by Chris Familton

Royal Headache have scored a few international supports but this was the best fit by far as their melodic, hardcore inspired brand of music shares many traits with the night’s headliners. Their sound translated well to a larger stage and venue and the crowd response was enthusiastic. They dispatched each song with their usual taut rush and energy, deciding on the spot what they would play next and mixing things up between the now well trodden Honey Joy, Down the Lane and Psychotic Episode and newer tracks that suggest their sophomore album should be as good as their excellent debut.

Redd Kross were the odd ones out on the bill as they took showmanship to a new place with high kicks, pouting and preening stage moves and a real sense of genuine fun. They showcased a clutch of songs from the recent album Researching The Blues including the title track, single Stay Away From Downtown and Uglier with the McDonald brothers showing just how to marry garage rock, Kiss-styled glam rock and chiming Beatles-esque power pop harmonies. The biggest cheers came for the classic Jimmy’s Fantasy and the gonzo epic rock of set closer Crazy World. Redd Kross know how to entertain and they play the cliche game to the hilt but musically it is hard to resist.

Dinosaur Jr have toured here a bunch of times and you always know exactly what you’ll get from J Mascis, Lou Barlow and Murph. As per the script they gave us the highlights of the new record (Watch The Corners, Rude, Don’t Pretend You Didn’t Know) and some of their landmark moments from their extensive back catalogue. Sonically Mascis’ guitar sounded superb from the opening fuzz drenched chord but at times the mix seemed to drop away when he stepped back into one of his trademark solos leaving a gap in the middle of the sound. It was only a minor distraction though as the crowed lapped up perennial favourites like The Wagon, Out There, Feel The Pain, Just Like Heaven and Freak Scene. They even ventured back 31 years to play a song from Mascis and Barlow’s first band Deep Wound. It wasn’t their most thrillingly visceral show we’ve seen but Dinosaur Jr showed they remain an essential and relevant band, unique in the way the combine melody, energy and noise.

this review was first published in The Drum Media / themusic.com.au

LIVE REVIEW: Thurston Moore @ The Hi-Fi, Sydney (26/10/12)

by Chris Familton

Regardless of how straight Thurston Moore’s 2012 solo album sounds the sonic provocateur is always one step away from experimental music and the sculpting of sound rather than song. Though his set would prove to be more of the latter Moore balanced things with the support act, Marco Fusinato who is known as much for his art as his music. Armed with a guitar and a table of effects he set about filling the cavernous room with droning static and layered noise textures that ebbed and swelled with cloud-like grace. Music like Fusinato’s is both physical and cerebral stuff that requires an immersive environment and though there were attentive listeners it acted more as background music for beer and chatter.

Things got off to a rocky start with Moore needing three attempts at Lip due to his frustration with the sound and an inability to hear his guitar. Thankfully his annoyance didn’t affect the rest of the show as he and his new band Chelsea Light Moving settled into the set. Much of this year’s Demolished Thoughts record featured acoustic guitars so those songs that got aired took on a new electric light with the full band. The slow moody trails of Orchard Street were a wonderful contrast to the more visceral, jagged moments while Circulation is one the catchiest things Moore has written, certainly in his solo guise. The presence of the new band also meant we were treated to a bunch of new songs. Frank O’Hara Hit got the night back on track early with its repeating riffs that  evolved from quiet to loudwhile Burroughs was all knife-sharp tension and staggering rock n roll that harked back to Dirty-era Sonic Youth. Empires of Time was a tribute to Roky Erickson that was suitably imbued with spirit of crunching garage rock and was a great example of the balance between introspective and ecstatic rock the new band possesses. On the downside, The Hi-Fi was too big a venue, causing a sense of disconnect between band and audience. Oxford Art Factory, where Lee Ranaldo played to a similar sized crowd a week earlier would have been a better choice. That, and the the audience’s lack of familiarity with the newer songs made for a fairly low-key experience but still one with plenty of musical highlights.

this review was first published in Drum Media

LIVE REVIEW: Mastodon, Gojira, Kvelertak @ The Hi-Fi, Sydney (01/02/12)

written by Chris Familton

To get an idea of the current state of metal you’d be hard pressed to find a better club gig like this. Featuring three bands each representing a different strand of intelligent, hard and heavy guitar music the evening above all showed that there are many divergent threads to a genre that has without a doubt the most devotional of fans.

This was also a night to check out the just opened Hi-Fi venue (formerly the Forum) and there was still the smell of paint and fresh adhesive in the air. The place has been almost gutted and remodeled and it is an impressive large square space that retains the vertigo wraparound balcony but now feels like a much larger stage and floorspace. The place was full, almost uncomfortably so and with the overwhelming majority of the audience choosing to stay downstairs due to the limited sight lines from the balcony it was packed wall to wall.

Kvelertak opened proceedings with their viking metal that takes in punk and hardcore influences, pumps them full of testosterone and adrenalin and spits them back out at the audience. The stage was awash with windmilling arms, neck-breaking headbanging and in frontman Erlend Hjelvik they have a singer who prowls the stage like a less gothic and more crazy-eyed Glenn Danzig. The sound guy didn’t do them any favours early but aside from too much drums in the mix (as always) things settled down, the crowd warmed to the moshing task and the band proved themselves worthy of their peers on the bill. They unleashed their single Mjød late in the set and it stood out with a less metal and more hardcore approach. The rumbling rhythm and Hjelvik’s guttural exhortations was a set highlight and showed that a certain amount of raw energy and rough sonics serves them well and  sets them aside from the likes of the band that followed them.

Gojira haven’t released an album in four years but there were still a legion of fans in attendance to experience the clinical onslaught of France’s finest metal band. From the first guitar notes and pummeling drums it was clear Gojira are in a league of their own when it comes to precision metal that combined the power of a sledgehammer with the finest intricacies of brain surgery. It felt machine-like at times – of the sci-fi cyborg kind – but the happy demeanor of the band and the intensity of their delivery convinced you these were humans at work. The Heaviest Matter of the Universe set the template for machine-gun kick drums, brutal stop/start riffage and vocals that finely balanced singing and demonic cookie monster growls. The drumming of Mario Duplantier was at times mind boggling, a dizzying mix of speed and precision that anchored their sound and led the way. He even left his kit mid-set to prowl the stage demanding more reaction from the audience which was swiftly returned with interest. Finishing with Toxic Garbage Island they departed the stage to a chant of GO-JI-RA from an audience whose love for the band had been satiated or new fans floored by the metal mastery of Gojira.

Another long wait followed before Mastodon had their chance to grace the stage and there was added tension with the announcement that there were some major power problems going on but they were going to try and play and see what would happen. As it turned out everything was fine, electricity was in abundance and was handled with both brutality and dexterity by one of the leading exponents of thinking person’s metal. A tip for punters attending gigs at The Hi-Fi is to avoid the upstairs area if you are at all concerned about experiencing the best sound. The bottom end of the sonic assault was all but absent while down at sea level the bass kicked like a mule in your chest cavity and the guitar bit and chewed with carnivorous intent.

The moment the band truly took the audience in the palm of their hand was during Megalodon where the song hits warp drive, the guitars head skyward and the audience’s heads nodded furiously in unison. From there on it was Mastodon’s night and they rolled out a pretty wide selection of tracks from their back catalogue while showcasing roughly half of last year’s The Hunter. The double dose of that album’s Thickening and Blasteroid showed they can incorporate almost pop melodies into their songs (in the case of the latter) and some swaying rhythms and psych swirl on Thickening. The best of The Hunter though came with Curl of the Burl and its massive chorus and audience sing along.

Brent Hinds was rendered fairly immobile with a moon boot protecting a leg injury while guitarist Bill Keliher is of the head down, keep playing variety so it was left to bassist Troy Sanders to make the personal connection with the crowd. He constantly urged the crowd to show their appreciation while forming his own personal circle pit on stage. All the while he locked down bass-lines that were the equal of his six stringed bandmates and lifted the songs into the stratosphere with his bloodlust vocals.

It was a wonderfully paced set that allowed the momentum to peak with the prog leaning Crack The Skye, the pure metal chug of Iron Tusk and the spiraling guitar work of Blood And Thunder. Anyone demanding an encore after that would have to be a true fan if they couldn’t leave there and then feeling fully rewarded. There was one encore and ironically it was the least Mastodon of songs, Creature Lives, with its Jane’s Addiction meets Ultravox sound, yet it felt wholly appropriate as an example of a band still at their creative peak both in terms of challenging songwriting and live performance. Metal doesn’t get more complete than Mastodon.

this review was first published on FasterLouder