Bulldoze it!

July 26, 2018 - Leave a Response

‘Just bulldoze it now!’ shouted a woman in the queue outside Festival Hall, a commentary on recent reports that young Mr Wren feels like getting out of the entertainment venue business and selling up, and the mixed feelings amongst music fans surrounding it. Tonight, Festival Hall’s doors were due to open at 7pm, and passers-by already struggled to weave through the dense crowds waiting to enter on Dudley Street. The process was long, delayed by security staff checking the identification of even the most obviously overage patrons attempting to access licensed areas, and by the policy this evening of thoroughly searching all handbags, even those more accurately described as small purses. By 7.45, it was my turn, and I eagerly clutched my ticket, my drivers license ready. Before I could hand it over though, I was pointed away, ordered to the cloak room: jackets, along with bags, also needed to go to the cloak room.

With an icy wind cutting through Melbourne on the night of what weather forecasters had been calling an ‘Arctic blast,’ the line of patrons clutching the jackets and bags deemed contraband is even more extensive than that to the venue itself.  Even bags and jackets being left in the cloak room were being searched.  It would be 8.30pm before I made it to the front of the line and the cloak room window.

MGMT and Franz Ferdinand,
Festival Hall, Melbourne, July 24, 2018…

The Splendour-sideshow double-headliner seemed an odd pairing when it was announced, though not an unwelcome one, with the only obvious link between MGMT and Franz Ferdinand being that both sing songs about someone named Michael. MGMT were first up, though with their scheduled start time of 8 o’clock, I had to settle for listening to Little Dark Age through the wall, my ear pressed to the cold Festy bricks.

Entering part way through an obviously crowd-pleasing Time To Pretend, the similarities between this band and the Flaming Lips dawned on me for the first time. Of course, it could have been an illusion created by the MS Paintbrush animated backdrop the band were playing against, or by the inflatable Little Dark Age mascot looming at stage right.

Inflatable MGMT mascot at Melbourne's Festival Hall concert 2018

For the remainder of the set, it was those Oracular Spectacular songs which drove the full house crowd wild, though they were the songs played stiffly and with the least enthusiasm by the band. By contrast, new songs Me and Michael and TSLAMP saw the key duo adding creative guitar and synth flourishes, and even the touring guitarist, who had been hiding at the back of the stage dressed in a red jumpsuit, seemed to burst to life. A cloaked figure who had been lurking ominously beneath the balloon creature, suddenly brandished a guitar, as if plucking it from mid air. On the other hand, singing one of the new album’s highlights, She Works Out Too Much, on an exercise bike seemed like a confusing in-joke which only distracted from the rest of the quality performance of newer material.

An extended rendition of Kids had the alcohol-drenched floors threatening to break under the force of the audience bouncing, and was complimented by a ravey interlude, and Congratulations served as a closing cool-down, though was sadly missed by many as the floor emptied of those who had apparently only wanted to hear charting singles.

During the intermission, the queues from outside were reformed for both bathrooms and bars, ensuring I partook in neither whilst the elaborate props were removed from the stage and replaced with a classic rock set up for Franz Ferdinand.

Franz Ferdinand at Festival Hall Melbourne 2018

Introducing the band with his iconic, signature drumming style, Paul Thompson opened The Dark of the Matinée, as the rest of the band sauntered before a backdrop of solid colours, a stark contrast to the elaborate staging of MGMT, appearing in silhouette like the old iPod commercials. Meanwhile, the nature of the audience had shifted in one song. I didn’t see anyone who had surrounded me at the front of the stage for MGMT, though some clearly remained, cutting shapes awkwardly as creative renditions of new songs like Always Ascending were teased and remixed live for us.

It was a set that drew heavily from both the early stages of Franz Ferdinand and the current record, with new live twists given to both sides of the spectrum. After Finally took on a disco flavour, we were treated to a slowed down, late-night version of Walk Away.  Alex Kapranos has grown into a formidable frontman, band uniforms a thing of the past, alternating between stalking the stage like Jarvis Cocker and enthusiastically slinging on a guitar from one song to the next. His energy rolled onto the audience, helping even those staying only to ensure value for money after paying for MGMT would join in for sing-alongs to singles like Do You Want To and Take Me Out.

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After a powerful and extended closer of This Fire, the double headline nature of the show started to feel like a curse: the short sets had left so many more songs unplayed from each band. Franz Ferdinand had put on one of the live sets of the year, and MGMT had had their moments, but Festival Hall, at close to capacity, seemed unworthy of the performances. As much as it is a shame to see venues closing around town, maybe it is the right time for Festival Hall, since I was left wondering how the show might have been had it been at Margaret Court Arena instead.

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The Butterfly Effect at 21st Century Frankston 2018…

March 26, 2018 - Leave a Response

It was a busy day of events in Melbourne. The Download Festival was making its debut at the Showgrounds, and as much as Daniel Ricciardo might have enjoyed seeing some heavy music, he would probably have struggled to find an excuse to get out of the Grand Prix. Meanwhile, in Frankston, 21st Century was sold out had filled up early.

The Butterfly Effect, with Rival Fire and Osaka Punch,
Pier Live, Melbourne, March 24, 2018…

A large section of the audience seemed to have come out to see opener Osaka Punch, apparently alerady intoxicated and lining the front of the stage. Above them, on stage, the band appeared to have matched their audience’s intoxication, and were bounding around with what seemed like little thought. Silly antics ensued, but, when the band focused for some instrumental songs, they shone. Their closing instrumental, in particularly, literally stopped me in my tracks when I was about to give up on the performance. It would be good to see the band’s carry the dense, varied sound of that instrumental closer through a whole set.

Main support Rival Fire perhaps did not excited those who had come early for Osaka Punch, but played an impressive set. Launching into pop-rock that fit between the opener and headliner well, the frontman sounded at times like Ian Kenny and at others like Mike Sinoda, and along with the rest of the band, put a positive energy into their performance, leaping around the stage, gold chains swinging wildly.

Some people might have found it tacky, but Rival Fire played a self-referential introduction song that was a highlight of their set. The group’s best moments where those where the singer ducked away to play an instrument or series of instruments to loop samples into the tunes. The closer, Bad Man was catchy in a way that wouldn’t feel out of place at a Bon Jovi show.

Anticipation grew in the darkness after Rival Fire’s set ended, and people migrated from 21st Century’s bars down to get a closer view under the sometimes-rotating dancefloor. Tales were shared of previous experiences with The Butterfly Effect, and many joked about feeling much older. No one seemed to be mentioning those shows played with the new singer, though I didn’t remember if any had actually taken place. The last time The Butterfly Effect had played the venues on this tour, we’d still been in awe of the Final Conversation of Kings album, and the shows had been thick with the piped sounds of strings and orchestration. What would we be in for six years later?

Emerging from the thick smoke that had covered the stage, the band emerged from their long hiatus, appearing almost monochromatic with only backlighting, we were taken right back to the first album, opening with Perception Twin before going into even older, heavier territory. When the band had split, it was amidst reports of hostility and conflicting reasonings. Tonight, however, every member of the Butterfly Effect looked to be relishing the chance to interact with one another and their audience.

Clint Boge standing at the front of the stage.After the heavy opening, the move to songs from the more progressive later albums let the band really shine, Clint Boge sliding into the flamboyance he became known for, posing like Christ and leaning over the crowd beneath the stage. The gradual rise of Aisles Of White was a highlight of the night, with main set closer Worlds On Fire taking on raw a new life without the album’s production. Although the encore consists of only one song, an extended, rearranged rendition of Reach gives fans of all aspects of the band a high to leave on.

After such a stellar performance, we were left wondering how The Butterfly Effect had managed to go so long without performing. Watching them pour so much energy into their performance, sounding pitch-perfect yet lively, playing so naturally one could imagine the group suffering without their art. Hopefully, as promised on stage, this is more than a one-off nostalgia tour.

American Idiot…

March 9, 2018 - Leave a Response

In the lobby, I suggested some upcoming productions that could go onto our list for future evenings in the theatre. I recommended Red Stitch’s Colder or Melancholia at the Malthouse. One of my companions commented that she does not like to feel depressed when she goes to the theatre.

American Idiot,
Comedy Theatre, Melbourne, March 8, 2018…

All over the darkened set, televisions flicker to life, displaying images of the reign of President Trump: this production will clearly have a new focus of rage from that beneath Green Day’s original American Idiot album, though throughout the show the production uses projections directly onto the set to carry the album’s message of televised political propaganda.

American Idiot cast, photo by Ken LeanforeThe stage adaptation of the story apparently beneath the American Idiot album expands upon the kind of bleak imagery of the Boulevard Of Broken Dreams video clip, but unlike the stylised video, plays it straight. There aren’t a lot of laughs in this show. Rebellious outcasts head from their ‘Make America Great Again’-cap wearing community with dreams of a new life in the city, only to be thwarted by drug addiction, unplanned pregnancy and the seduction of government propaganda.

Nevertheless, the cast and musicians perform the soundtrack well within a simple but effective set, and seeing the songs performed in this way feels a lot like a new, live take on the long form music video. It feels more devoted to its source than other jukebox musical tributes, like We Will Rock You, which can seem like commercial afterthoughts (though I’ve seen quality productions.) Green Day fans should appreciate the experience.

For others, the plot could prove too heavy to enjoy. The three main characters are hard to empathise with, whilst we are left to wonder about the exploits of their female counterparts in the meantime. It is a shame, because some of the talent in those roles shine – Phoebe Panaretos as ‘Whatsername’ in particular brought an unexpected take to Green Day’s music with her vocals reminiscent of Anastacia. Kaylah Attard was also impressive in the unfortunately fleeting role of the nurse, ‘Extraordinary Girl.’

Themes like those explored on stage in American Idiot aren’t new to musical theatre any more (the set and story are kind of reminiscent of Rent – there is even a scene where characters are filmed on stage and projected,) Green Day fans will enjoy being able to sing along and Sarah McLeod in the rotating role of ‘St Jimmy’ this evening elicited well-deserved cheers from the moment she appeared and stalked the stage menacingly. Those unfamiliar with the source material looking for a new musical to enjoy might leave feeling overwhelmed by the grim tone, though some of the big cast numbers like Jesus Of Suburbia are enjoyable, despite the tone.  Hopefully the next Green Day musical can draw inspiration from Warning and capture the punk rebellion with a brighter tone to capture both audiences.  Or maybe that is just wishful thinking…

Green Day’s American Idiot runs in Melbourne until March 11, then moves to QPAC Playhouse in Brisbane from April 13 to 21, and Darwin’s Entertainment Centre from May 4 to 6.

The Guero Tour…

March 1, 2018 - Leave a Response

Last time I saw Beck, it was with a very folksy backing band. It was a good show, but I was still reeling from Midnite Vultures, and have always been disappointed that I didn’t get to see Beck in weird-pop mode.

Beck, with Meg Mac,
Margaret Court Arena, Melbourne, February 28, 2018…

That strange arrangement that Margaret Court Arena seems to have whereby artists start performing mere moments after the time listed on the tickets for gates to open has come to pass once more this evening. It has meant that Meg Mac and her band performed for a much smaller audience than they might have if they had started once those arriving had had a chance to pass rigorous security measures, buy a drink, and settle in. It was a shame, because those dedicated few at the front of the stage and cheering from the stands enjoyed an excellent performance.

MegMacMeg and the band led them in a clap-along for Grandma’s Hands, a song which showed off not only Meg, but her sister’s skills on backing vocals.  Radio hits like Low Blows and Grace Gold were great to hear live, and the Like A Version cover of Tame Impala’s Let It Happen was the favourite of the audience. It was a good set that made a lot of people vow to catch a Meg Mac headline show, especially for those moments when her guitarists all trade their instruments for even more keyboards.

Luckily, by the time the lights dimmed, the floor had filled up a little more, although there were still large chunks of empty seats in the stands, and sections closed down into ‘intimate mode.’ But the stage was full – crowded with a variety of instruments including an elaborate drum kit, keyboards, and an upright piano, along with seven other band members, all of which Beck himself bounded confidently through, to launch right into Devil’s Haircut. With all hands on deck to recreate the different layers of sound in the song, the band didn’t get much of a break. This was not the Sea Change tour folk show. This was a show for moving.

BeckWith a backdrop of WinAmp Visualisations, Beck and his band tore through a high-energy set with a strong representation of songs from the current Colors album and also from Guero. The Guero songs in particular sounded incredible live. Also surprisingly very effective live were some of Beck’s frequent dalliances into hip-hop territory. Qué Onda Guero and especially new song Wow were unexpected set highlights that let both the audience and Beck himself exhibit their sly dance moves.

On the other hand, an acoustic solo section mid set might have been intended to provide a break, but felt somewhat at odds with the theme of the rest of the show. A couple of covers, followed by a silly local version of Debra did, at least, pave the way for the lone Sea Change offering, Lost Cause, which gradually brought us back to the pace of the rest of the show, to finish the main set on a high with E-Pro.

After a costume change, Beck brought his band back out to finish with with a well received Loser and an extended version of Where It’s At, interspersed with a chance for each one of the touring musicians to be properly introduced and to play a solo. In the end, it was an incredible weird-pop show. But I have still not heard Sexx Laws played live.

Je suis mort…

February 13, 2018 - Leave a Response

When I first started browsing the world of podcasts, I was surprised to quickly find something that seemed so tailored to my tastes: a series focused on community broadcasting, the paranormal and new music. It seemed like a niche combination.

Then the show came to Melbourne, and I walked into the lobby of the Comedy Theatre to see it filled with people who looked like me, only wearing costumes.

Welcome To Night Vale,
Comedy Theatre, Melbourne, February 10, 2018…

In the theatre, the lights dimmed and a hush fell across the audience – blue hair aplenty, and a scattering of lab coats for the occasion – and we saw a stage bare except for a few microphone stands. Applause rose as a woman strode confidently onto the stage, followed by admiration for her blue, sequined dress. As soon as she spoke, her voice was familiar. She didn’t need to identify herself as Meg Bashwiner, ‘the woman who reads the credits and the proverbs in Night Vale.’

Rather than launching straight into the show, Meg was to be the night’s MC, giving an introduction in trademark anachronistic Night Vale style. Pointing out the exits, she continued, ‘Presumably most of you entered through those doors. So in the case of an emergency, use the same method as you did to enter, only in reverse.’

For the stage format, rather than opening straight to the evening’s community radio show, the musical guest was introduced to begin. Erin McKeown bounded onto the stage and with only her voice and guitar created a sound as full as a whole band. Switching from rock guitar fuzz to moody blues – sometimes mid-tune – Erin had the audience singing and clapping along with her Norah Jones-ish vocals, a smile never far from her own face or that of the audience. Erin seemed to enjoy playing with the audience, inviting participation, and it looked like reflecting the spotlight onto key players in the crowd from the shine of her guitar.

Whilst the applause for Erin McKeown was honest and grateful, anticipation built as MC Meg returned to the stage, wasting no time in introducing Night Vale’s resident composer, Disparition, who set himself up at a desk with laptops and a mandolin, launching into a faster version of the theme song as the star of the show, Cecil Baldwin took up his microphone to, as always, welcome us to Night Vale. Cheers filled the theatre in equal parts for his iconic speech, dulcet tones, and flamboyant suit printed all over with anime eyes.  Considering the layered solo music produced by Disparition, he scored the live show flawlessly.

NightValeQuickly reminding us that we are cast tonight as regular listeners of his radio show, Cecil explains that it is the night of Night Vale’s annual ghost story competition. It is a script that lets us experience lots of Night Vale stories, and importantly, to hear from lots of our favourite characters. Symphony Sanders as a more playful than usual Tamika Flynn was a highlight. Bashwiner’s corporate spokes-haze Deb took the chance to have some fun with local brands.

Despite the reminders that we’re listening to the radio, the cast don’t forget their audience. During the regular horoscopes segment, Cecil answers the call of vocal members of the theatre. The Children’s Fun Fact Science Corner invites ‘listeners’ to use their smartphone to prove the existence of time travel. During a Community Calendar announcement, a suggestive mime act is interpreted to air as ‘Nuclear testing along Route 800.’

After a parade of citizens telling ghost stories ranging, as is common in Night Vale, from the tragic to hilarious, it is time for Cecil to bid ‘Goodnight, Night Vale. Good night.’ As the cast left after their curtain call, people could be heard still emotional after the story of a ghost cat. I wondered if seeing the actors on stage would change how I pictured the characters when I next listen to the podcast.

Canal Road…

January 12, 2018 - Leave a Response

Platform One was previously known for having long queues out the front shivering in the early hours and dressed in revealing clothing. I haven’t seen it like that in several years though.

AM//PM’s Pre-Unify Emo Night,
Platform One, Melbourne, January 11, 2018…

Billed as an old-fashioned punk club night featuring multiple rooms, Platform One seemed like an interesting venue for a rock show. I imagined impassioned scenes within the bunker-like brick walls as a band incited good-natured chaos on the floor below a stage raised only a couple of feet.

Black and white balloons printed with 'Glad to be sad.'Entering shortly before midnight, the first passage was notably almost deserted, with a DJ playing club staples like My Chemical Romance and The Used in earnest to a handful of girls dancing and raising their glasses in appreciation. It is immediately apparent that, whilst it is a picturesque and central venue, Platform One is less than suited to a rock night: the music of Earth Caller is bleeding through the stone wall and overwhelming the DJ set to the point that one needs to strain their ears in order to catch the words of Misery Business. But it does mean that ordering a drink from the bar – decorated tonight with black and white balloons reading ‘Glad to be sad’ – is a simple process.

Joining Earth Caller mid-way through their set, pools of slam dancing have opened sporadically but politely across the full floor of the band room. As a community mosh-pit should be, it is easy to move to the stage to see the frontman howling passionate verses before breaking into shout-along choruses, and swaying in time with the audience for stylishly played jams. The band are at their best when singing in harmony, particularly with the addition of a female vocalist (apparently a special guest, though I didn’t recognise her – perhaps someone from the Unify festival bill.)

Between You And Me at Platform One, MelbourneAfter only a short break, Between You And Me play melodic, sing-along rock. With all five members getting behind microphones, the band make a sound that has the audience moving, even though it seems few are familiar with the songs. The front man in particular bounds around the stage energetically, suitable for the lead in to a band like Hellions.

Dre FaivreMy previous Hellions live experience was elaborate, exhibiting the impressive Opera Oblivia backed by samples to add layers to the sound, taking their audience through all the dramatic peaks and troughs the band has to offer. Tonight was a much freer show, a straight rock show from the moment the band took the stage. Lead singer Dre Faivre gestured madly to the audience, who were pounding rhythmically in response. The energy doesn’t die down as the band power through a set mainly from Opera Oblivia and introducing new a brand new song or two. The view from beneath the stage mid-set is one of a tunnel packed with appreciative movement, and by the time the band close, the night could be considered a success.

For a rock show, Platform One was a hit – sort of creepy but comfortable, easy to move but not too big as to feel empty.  My initial prediction had come true in terms of the live space.  However, as a club night, it seemed less successful. As well as the aforementioned sound in other rooms, the crowd seemed to disperse once the bands had finished. Of course, many may have had a long drive ahead in the morning to Unify Festival, so maybe the launch party achieved its goal.

‘This next song is my favourite…’

January 6, 2018 - Leave a Response

I hadn’t seen the Mavis’s since their excellent show at the John Curtain Hotel in 2014, so I was excited to see them again, but as showtime drew closer and the stage remained bare, I started to get nervous.

The Mavis’s, with Ben Ely and The Bambi Kills,
Northcote Social Club, Melbourne, January 5, 2018…

Although even after his set, some in attendance were still unsure of who Ben Ely was, there was enough vocal reminiscing about shows of the past being shared amongst the dense audience at the front of the stage that they surely cottoned on soon enough. Meanwhile, lights were being tested, and there was still nothing on stage. No instruments beyond a couple of microphones and a keyboard. A couple of years ago I had tickets to a budget show, billed as ‘The Mavis’s Matt and Beki,’ which had unfortunately been cancelled on the evening of the show. Would this be the make-up show for that? I’d come out looking forward to a full band show!

BekiMavissJan2018Lights flashed onto the previously blank screen before, and my concerns were addressed: Beki and Matt entered the stage alone to a surprising youthful applause from the middle aged audience, Matt carrying an acoustic guitar and Beki heading straight for the keyboard. Someone at the side of stage passed up a couple of electric guitars up to Matt who arranged them on a stand whilst Beki greeted the audience enthusiastically, though somehow, despite years of performance, seeming a little like a self conscious schoolgirl.

Despite the lack of the full band, the duo managed to create a vibrant show, before projections of geniune video content, not unlike those they danced before in some of their video clips. Beki was charming, introducing almost every song as ‘her favourite,’ leaving Matt struggling for comment after reminding her she’d already named her favourite. Playing over a combination of backing tracks, loops created live, and an electronic drums that Matt somehow managed to play with sticks he made materialise between guitar chords, the sound was a full one that had more than a few of the old attendees dancing like they were at a full band’s rock show.

BekiMattMavissJan2018

I’d been quick to judge the duo. Whilst it was less exciting to watch than previous full-band Mavis’s show, the songs were played well and with enough enthusiasm to pass into the audience and leave me heading to the open after-party a sweaty mess (though perhaps not as much as Matt himself:)

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One of those planes that lands on water… Yeah! You know what I’m talking about…

October 15, 2017 - Leave a Response

After an absence of around fifteen years, Custard arrived for an album launch gig in Melbourne a couple of years ago, and I wondered aloud, at the launch show for their new album last night, whether this might become a bi-yearly tradition.

‘That’s not a bad idea!’ said Glenn Thompson, overhearing me, and continuing, like a boy, asking his parents’ permission, ‘I’ll ask Dave if we can!’

Custard, with The Stress Of Leisure,
Northcote Social Club, Melbourne, October 14, 2017…

The Stress Of Leisure (who coincidentally supported ##Shonen Knife## a few weeks ago) had also come from Brisbane for the show. I generally like bands who wear uniforms, and found myself being drawn to the foot of the stage to watch The Streets Of Leisure play in their red scarves and t-shirts emblazoned with the word ‘product.’ Their songs made me think of how a Joy Division concept album about the internet would sound if they featured guest spots from the B-52s and Spod. The support slot was serving as an album lanch for this band too, though the lack of a merchandise table meant that I didn’t get to pick up their record. I would have based on the strength of the set.

It was right on 11pm when members of Custard carried their instruments onto the stage. David McCormack grabbed the microphone in what is now clearly his faux-awkward manner, and announced that it is very late to be starting a show. The predominantly older audience seem to laugh in agreement.

CustardNorthcoteThe last Custard show in Melbourne was heavy in new material, which, while I appreciated the preview of the new album, didn’t seem to excite a lot of the audience. This show proved to be much more of a ‘greatest hits’ set, opening with Hit Song, to an excited full house. But the highlights were hearing some of the songs from 2015’s Come Back, All Is Forgiven now that we’ve had a chance to get to know the songs. We Are The Parents and especially 1990’s were fun to revisit and hear again, though it would have been cool to have slotted in a quick If You Would Like To.

New songs like In The Grand Scheme Of Things and You Always Knew take cues from the alt-country flavour of Dave McCormack’s solo albums, though without the creepiness of The Truth About Love. Those people who used the new song 2000 Woman as their break to visit the bar might have regretted it, as they missed one of the rockier and catchier new songs of the set.

It was initially disappointing when Dave and Glenn swapped places for the Glenn Thompson-led section of the evening to hear him announce to the band ‘We won’t play Warren Road. No one will want to hear that.’ The substitute song, Contemporary Art, made up for the disappointment, with Glenn playful as he exhibited one of the highlights from the previous album. Pascal, from Stress Of Leisure was reintroduced to the stage to provide the retro-pop key backing to have us shaking it up to the catchy ‘I want my Communism back!’ chant of the new Police Cars.

DannDaveMcCormackAfter leaving the stage a few times – apparently to fix guitar issues – Matthew Strong was explained as ‘quitting the band… again…’ whilst Dave experimented with ‘all the vocal effects.’ A crowd-pleasing final part of the set covered hits, with an encore ending with Ringo, a surprisingly effective closer which had the floor moving.

Hopefully after the impressive set, the hint to the band will become a fact, and we’ll continue to get a new album and tour every couple of years.

A propensity for verbosity…

May 22, 2017 - One Response

With Opera Oblivia, Hellions released one of the finest albums of 2016. Full of orchestral as well as vocal flourishes, the album tackles complex musical territory. Similarly, if one pays attention to the lyrics, some heavy themes can be discerned: the challenges of maintaining artistic integrity against the expectations of commercialism, overcoming self-doubt, scandals within the Catholic church.

A brilliant album, incorrectly nominated for an Aria award for ‘Best Heavy Album,’ when it would have been more worthy of the overall ‘Best Album’ category, but how would it translate to the live stage?

Hellions, with Endless Heights and The Brave,
Corner Hotel, Melbourne, May 20, 2017…

I’d very much hoped to pick up a CD or perhaps a record from the merch stand after the show, but browsing before the support band, decided against buying anything auditory on the grounds that Hellions had taken the unconventional, if novel, step of selling their album in my least favourite music format – cassette. Luckily, my disappointment in not purchasing music was allayed by The Brave taking the stage.

An admirable audience moved from bar to stage to listen to the pleasantly mid-2000s punk club vibe that The Brave had brought. Combining that kind of jerky everyone-hit-now sound made famous by Slipknot with skillfully placed melodies, The Brave have enough talent to set themselves apart from the raft of similar bands. Their set demonstrated a broad aural range that put their album on my ‘to do’ list.

Whilst the venue wasn’t full yet, a lot of the audience appeared to have arrived early specifically to see Endless Heights. It was perhaps surprising, since they took a more straight-forward approach to rock music. The band performed with a playfulness and enthusiasm often lacking when seeing this type of music played live, where hardened stares usually prevail. With layers of driving guitar, these were songs for swaying, and though not well-matched to the sound of the headliner, still earned a much deserved warm reception from the crowd, though no louder than when Sam from Ocean Grove was invited to help for a song.

‘Are you going to be okay?’ asked a guy who moved next to me after the Corner curtains were closed for the headliners to set up. ‘It’s going to get pretty intense down here!’

Once the curtains were opened, any doubt about Opera Oblivia being unsuitable for the stage melted away through the gradual build – in both sound and stage lighting, which brightened with the music – to the final sing-along chorus of album, and set, opener 24.

Through the applause for the opener, the guy from earlier leaned in to shout in my ear. ‘Are you sure you want to stay here?’ he asked me. I asked what he meant. ‘It might get rough from here on in. I thought, at your age, you might not be able to take it.’

That was a first for me, but, I suppose, something I will have to deal with more frequently. Luckily, I’m experienced at this hellionsCornersort of thing, so moved closer to the stage, as a predictably heavier song followed. Nightliner Rhapsody exhibited Hellions’ incredible range, driving the audience from thrashing wildly, to swaying in unison, to a melodic mosh, all within the one song. It was a theme set to continue through the set, with the band clearly enjoying themselves as much as the audience, and particularly lead singer Dre Faivre, who never stopped bounding smiling around the stage.

Daring moments followed, with the instrumental and sample-laden outro of the heavy He Without Sin being a surprisingly effective inclusion, a feat that even the likes of Fightstar might struggle with in a live environment. The main set ended with Thresher, with the band thankfully returning for an encore which nicely bookended the album tour theme with Quality of Life and 25.

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It isn’t often that a metal show sees the audience shouting words like ‘axiom’ and ‘cognitive dissonance’ at the stage, but Hellions made their complex and beautifully produced works brilliant in a live setting. The best album of last year could become one of the highlight shows of this year.

Trainspotting Live…

April 1, 2017 - Leave a Response

An addendum to the conditions of booking my tickets arrived via email on the day of the performance.  Like a film screening late at night on SBS in the 1990s, it boldly warned of nudity, coarse language, violence, sex, drug use and smoking contained within, as well as haze and strobe effects.

Less usually, it continued to warn ‘Please don’t wear your best clothing!’  It made me recall the scene with the bedsheets, and hope I wouldn’t be too close to what had been billed as an ‘immersive production’ of Trainspotting.

Trainspotting Live,
Fortyfive Downstairs, Melbourne, March 30, 2017…

When the live production of Trainspotting was first announced, a large pool of colleagues had expressed interest in attending, but the final group who made it to Fortyfive Downstairs was much smaller, with most citing concerns about high expectations when comparing the play to the novel or film version.  As a fan of both, I was excited to see another interpretation of the story.  In the lead up, I was surprised to learn that it was actually the play, originally performed shortly after the release of the novel, which inspired the film.

The production began in the lobby: once passing through the box office, tickets were exchanged for glow sticks, the lobby converted to a graffiti-laden laneway where bass beats pounded through the ‘warehouse’ we shuffled towards.  Each time the mix sank into the next banger, cheers rang out from both inside the warehouse and within the ranks of the patrons outside.  Rather than entering to take seats, we fell into a smokey, darkened room – a 1990s rave in full swing.  Immediately, cast members with thick Scottish accents accosted us, dancing clumps of patrons towards different sections of the space.  Certain traits of the characters began to become evident:  It must have been Begbie, sneering at the rave hits playing and snatching cans of beer from patron’s hands.  Was that Sick Boy, giggling with a pair of young female patrons he had effortlessly slotted himself between?  It was an impressive opening to the show, which built upon the immersion advertised which was to carry through the show – to varying degrees of success.

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After playing the immersive nature of the production for laughs – and perhaps to get the audience used to the experience – familiar scenes started to unfold.  The infamous bedsheets scene was close to the opening, and just as unfortunate as I’d expected for those patrons in the midst of it, but just as tragically hilarious as one familiar with the novel or film might expect for everyone else.  On the other hand, scenes of domestic violence and drug-use took on a harrowing quality when viewed from within the scene as the audience were.

It was a peculiar choice, then, after drawing the audience into a feeling of powerless intimacy with the characters and their tragedies to include surreal, dream-like scenes and lengthy monologues which tended to break that rapport.  After the first act, it became difficult to switch between the two ‘modes’ of the production, and hearing characters give voice to what we could already see acted out on stage only tended to lessen the impact.

Still, it was a production that had moments that worked perfectly, and were literally worth writing home about.  As much as I tried to detach myself from my love of the film and book, I couldn’t help but await moments from each – some which I loved the interpretation of, some which I thought could have benefited from being played differently, and some which I was surprised were absent.  But, as in my discussion in the lead up, it was most interesting to see what playwright Harry Gibson took from Irvine Welsh’s text, even those choices which were surprising.  Although Trainspotting Live was at times uncomfortable, and not for the reasons intended, when it gets its tone right it excels and should be experienced for those moments.

Trainspotting Live is playing at Fortyfive Downstairs in Melbourne until April 13, and at Brisbane Powerhouse from April 19 to 22.