Spiderbait’s 25th Anniversary Show…

February 27, 2016 - Leave a Response

The last time I saw Spiderbait play live, at the Corner Hotel in 2014, the gig had sounded worryingly like a goodbye.  It had been a typically excellent show, though a much different one to the usual slam through classic songs, with sentimental intermissions between favourites detailing stories of the songs’ histories and significance to the town.  So it was reassuring to see Spiderbait returning for a 25th anniversary string of shows.

Spiderbait,
160 Russell, February 26, 2016…

Oddly, I made my own support act almost 30 kilometres away from the gig, where a group called Midnight Collective were performing a set outside the Park Hotel in Werribee.  I enjoyed their low-slung guitars and Good Charlotte-style sound, if Good Charlotte performed film themes.  It was well suited to the still-daylight summer evening setting, though I’m sure the band would have enjoyed more movement in the crowd than that of the small children boogying whilst parents sat in the background enjoying an opportunity to drink wine in public.  That said, the group would be likely to garner a similar dance floor patronage from a pub’s worth of grown-ups.  I didn’t think there was any need for them to put themselves down between songs, since they sounded good.

A train ride later at Billboard, I thought the same thing when I walked in to first support IV League also apologising for their performance.  Although I arrived late to their set, what I heard lived up to the praise I’ve heard for the band.  It took me a moment to realise that when the next band came out, it wasn’t the singer from IV League fronting Tired Lion.  Lit only by the kind of alternating flashes commonly seen in 90s grunge videos to match their sound, it was hard to tell them apart at first.  It was interesting to hear samples leading from one song to another, keeping those who arrived early involved – it also seemed to keep applause rolling through the set.  This is a group who use the stage and get the most out of their instruments, weaving modern sentiment into a Splendora-flavoured set.

Billboard’s sunken lounge room was crowded by the time the house lights were replaced with the glow of the screen backing the stage.  Cheers welcomed vintage footage of Spiderbait and the opening buzz of last album’s It’s Beautiful.  I detected the work of bass-weilding Janet in the Japanese-themed highlight reel celebrating the band’s quarter-century.

The drum exhibition of another recent song, Straight Through The Sun, opened the set to appreciation, if not familiarity.  The appreciation continued, and was joined by enthusiastic singing from the front row, when Janet took to the microphone for the first time for the first time for an Outta My Head bounce-along.  This was shaping up to what would be a decidedly rock show.  Though this meant we didn’t get to hear many of the electronic highlights from Spiderbait’s catalogue, the song selection was still a lot of fun and came with some surprises.  Relics from the past that were exhibited included Scenester and Jesus, which made me wonder what kind of shows I’d missed during the band’s early touring days when I was too young to get into the pubs advertised in the streetpress.  Long time fans were truly rewarded by the setlist.

GreenBait

Spiderbait’s signature hits were as popular as ever, with songs like Ol’ Man Sam and an extended Calypso proving that the band have plenty of material to please a party crowd.  With the response these songs received, I’m always surprised to hear the band continuing to end on their cover of Black Betty.  Original material was much more memorable, and could have left a more lasting impression.

That said, this was a gig that did leave an impression.  Like their last tour, this one featured the band spending time talking with the audience again, this time not shy with their gratitude having reached the 25 year milestone, and telling stories of songs and their long career.  This isn’t usually my thing, but some of the anecdotes were nice insights, and it was especially delightful to see the band’s devoted hidden member recognised and brought on stage for hugs and applause – manager and kindly recipient of my brother’s fanboy desperate communiqués, Fiona Duncan.

Unlike their last tour, this didn’t feel like goodbye.  This was a band enjoying their history but proving they still have a lot of life left.

All Is Forgiven…

December 10, 2015 - Leave a Response

Before Sunday night, everything had been so obvious. The plot my immediate future would follow felt certain: Triple J would announce their Hottest 100 poll, and I would make a shortlist of my favourite songs of the year.  As always, it would be an extensive list that I’d whittle down to the regulation ten for my vote, and, for once, I had already decided upon which song I would highlight as my particular favourite, should the need arise for a tie-breaker.  I have had a place allocated for that honour for A$AP Rocky’s Holy Ghost almost since the first time I heard it.

Then Custard released a new album, and they launched it for Melbourne on Sunday.  And they changed everything.

Custard, with The Zebras,
The Toff In Town, Melbourne, December 6, 2015…

Powerful, rock drumming is all good and well, and certainly has its place and appeal, but from early on, this was going to be a night for the smooth, chilled out drummer.  Hitting with such power, as Darren Hanlon once said, that it makes other drummers cower is not the order of this evening.  This is a night for the humble rhythm-keeper making it look easy at the back of the stage.

The Zebras’ drummer set the scene, making keeping the beat look easy for the band’s sway-along pop.  It was an enjoyable collection of songs, well suited to a Sunday evening, but perhaps better suited to a Sunday evening on a roof-top bar in the summer air than as warm up for another band.

Some of the high-profile fans moved to the back of the Toff as the front of the stage filled.  Before long, Dave McCormack appeared on the same stage where years before he had played one of the best $10 gigs, clad in a cowboy’s fanciest shirt, and introduced the band in which he became famous.  The show started slowly, with Orchids In Water, from the band’s new album.  It may have been a surprising choice for the band’s first club gig in over a decade, but this was to very much be a set that showcased new songs, rather than reminiscing on old.  This may be something which proved a disappointment for many in the room hoping to relive highlights from album past, but for at least myself – and, apparently, the bald man frantically moshing at the front of stage from before the band even arrived – the new songs would prove inspiration enough to rush to the merch table to snap up a copy the second the encore finished.

This impulse was cemented when the band went a little more upbeat and really started their show for the second song, We Are The Parents.  Despite having heard the song only a couple of times before during its feature stint on Double J, live it was one I could enjoy, and at least hum along to by the end.

Subsequent classics like Pack Yr Suitcases and Pinball Lez were crowd pleasers, but it was further new tracks that really impressed me.  The aforementioned super-fan went into crazy mode the second Dave’s brief lecture on the risks of utilising Melbourne’s parking garages for late-night purposes evolved into what I would later recognise as the spoken-word introduction to If You Would Like To.  It was the perfect song to very briefly tear up the floor to, and the fan certainly did just that.

The highlight of the gig was a three-song stint where Dave and Glenn Thompson traded places, with Glenn showcasing his new song Contemporary Art, and ending with Music Is Crap, which, while never a particular favourite of mine, wound up being fantastic live in the intimate setting.  Girls Like That, while eagerly anticipated, played a little too close to the recorded version for my liking, but was great to dance to again.  The sing-along Anatomically Correct made up for it, with Apartment leaving the packed house suitably reeling for more in the encore.  Upon returning to Pluto, Dave made clear to the appreciative floor that they would be closing on Caboolture Speed Lab.  Rather than retreating back-stage, the band stepped forward to spend some time mingling with the room.  As mentioned previously, I headed straight over to buy my copy of the new album.

Custard – Come Back, All Is Forgiven

Rather than picking up exactly where Custard left off all those years ago with Loverama, <i>Come Back, All Is Forgiven</i> seems to meet at the half-way point between old Custard records and the country flavours of some of the solo work undertaken by David McCormack during the 16 years between the two Custard records.  Just like a good Custard album, though, this one charts various different styles and themes during its course.

custard-come-back-all-is-forgiven

That country flavour melts into the bold and rhapsodic single We Are The Parents (Our Parents Warned Us About), and really sets the tone of the album.  It is when the band try to tackle almost arena-style heights that this album is at its finest.  The trend continues into album highlight and basis for the record’s title 1990’s.  Opening like a chilled out Blondie collaborating with Duran Duran, the road-trip sing-along feels like, rather than fading out after 4 and a half minutes, it could have comfortably continued for at least a few more verses.

The guitar tracks are out to prove Custard can still do straight-forward guitar rock with the finest, with clever songs like Contemporary Art and Queensland University.  It balances the creepy ballads and pop tracks well, and makes us hope we won’t be waiting so long to see another Custard record make its way to our shelves.

And now, after that late entry, I need to reconsider my Hottest 100 voting…

Released on cassette to streamed online…

November 11, 2015 - Leave a Response

I remember once hearing a commercial radio broadcast during which the announcers were putting a listener to air.  The listener had been the night before to the first of many concerts being performed by some pop star and sponsored by the station.  The caller described how fantastic she had found the concert.  ‘She sounded just like the CD!’ the caller reviewed excitedly.

I also remember thinking that describing the singer as sounding just like the CD as a positive thing was backwards, because if one wanted to hear something sounding like a CD, one could stay at home and listen to the stereo.

They Might Be Giants,
The Forum, Melbourne, November 7, 2015…

Looking over a full Forum, John Flansburgh commented ‘Wow, this place is nice,’ to laughter from the dense crowd.  He kept it going by continuing.  ‘I’m not kidding.  We’re used to playing in some dumps.’

The show had started early, and a steady stream of patrons was still filing into the back of the venue several songs into the first set (tonight’s proceedings stylishly divided by an intermission.)  This was justified by what would turn out to be an extensive setlist, of at least 30 songs (and that is considering Fingertips to be a single song!)  Cheers accompanied the revelation of the accordion for Particle Man, and a cover of Destiny’s Child’s Bills, Bills, Bills is well-received.  They made the most of their stage-time to include as many songs as possible from a career described tonight as spanning albums released on cassette to songs streamed online.  They played to a backdrop of a live feed of tonight’s performance projected upside down, with none of the theatrics or Muppets of their previous visit to Melbourne.  The pure rock setup suited the band and the venue, though a solo accordion backing for Istanbul (Not Constantinople) gave the few moshing in the front row a change to breathe before the frantic first set closer of Fingertips.

TMBGforum

Themed cocktails were served by the Forum’s bar during intermission, before the band re-emerged on stage, excitingly backed by Akira Ifukube’s score to Godzilla, for no comprehensible reason other than style.  This set had us dancing from the beginning with up-tempo tunes New York City and Ana Ng back-to-back, and followed by the new song Let Me Tell You About My Operation, which could have explained the queues to buy the new record from the merchandise stand after the show.  And there are surely very few bands who can prompt applause by introducing a song as being about historical politics, especially so many miles from their own and that political system’s home, but the build up to James K. Polk did just that, and continued the theme of jumping around.

But it was when the band really mixed up the sound that they outshone even their own live performances.  Songs from pre-concert wishlists appeared, but mixed up on the scene to take on a new life.  Highlights were a pop-punk take of Man, It’s So Loud In Here, and a rhapsodic Robot Parade, complete with scat breakdowns and audience participation.  The set could be presented to establish a case that only should one try to see They Might Be Giants live, but that all music fans should check out live music more often, just for the chance to see favourite songs in a way they never expected.

What we saw from the cheap seats…

August 2, 2015 - Leave a Response

There was a photo that one of the music majors took for their cover story on Mark Ronson.  I guess it was after the hype and play of the Version days, around when Record Collection was due for release.  In it, Mark was putting on a scowl, but it was obvious that he was trying to hide the laughter lurking behind it.  He was holding a trumpet which he’d broken, presumably across his knee, with the headline printed along with his name a quote on how he doesn’t want to work with trumpets again.  It is ironic, because during this tour, Ronson was at his best when flanked by his horn section.

Mark Ronson,
Margaret Court Arena, Melbourne, July 29, 2015…

This was my first visit to Margaret Court Arena (as I hadn’t been able to attend the Wombat’s Splendour Sideshow the previous night due to an engagement next door) and it is certainly a venue with pros and cons.  As a smaller concert venue than its older brother Rod Laver, it brings a surprising warmth and illusion of intimacy to the arena setting.  Upon arrival, staff recommended that patrons use the facilities outside the arena in the Melbourne Park precinct to avoid prophesied queues inside, with vague signage seeing me exit the restrooms onto a tennis court.  Sadly, we are not in the midst of the Australian Open, so hilarity did not ensue this time.  Inside the arena, I was greeted immediately by a long queue that did indeed snake its way around the outskirts of the venue that surely, I thought, could not be for the bathrooms?  I followed the queue in the direction of my door to find it ended in what appeared to be the only bar for the evening.  Hopefully this was the result of venue management misjudging the audience’s thirst on this occasion and choosing to open only one bar, and that there are actually other dedicated beverage facilities hidden away somewhere, otherwise this would constitute an unforgivable design flaw.

On the other hand, the hungry were well-catered to, with an assortment of food options to rival even those of the Araneta Coliseum. Event staff paced the expansive bar queue, deceptively recommending patrons order drinks from one of the dining venues. (Deceptive, as many did not serve liquor, and those which did seemed to only stock the house beer.)  Once I’d foolishly conquered the bar queue, I found my way to what could be Melbourne’s best wheelchair concert viewing area.

Pond played as main support, and played it well, producing catchy electro-rock sounds not dissimilar to those of Midnight Juggernauts.  It was an exciting set, which enforced the intimate feeling of the arena, and put the group on my list of bands to see again.

During the intermission after Pond, and elaborate band-stand style prop was revealed on a stage distressingly otherwise bare of instrumentation, and the staff at the main bar advised patrons that the beer had sold out.  The show opened in strange and underwhelming fashion.  The house lights were dimmed, but instead of any action on stage, the PA was turned up to play a Tamsin West’s closing theme to Round The Twist to a darkened venue.  After a moment of awkward silence the fake band-stand lit up with bright white, while a pair of rappers I couldn’t identify bounded onto stage to rap over a video of Mystikal singing Feel Right.  The emergence of Mark Ronson himself, atop the centre pillar of the illuminated band-stand, was peculiarly overshadowed by the bold karaoke lyrics projected behind the animated dancing of Mystikal on screen.

MarkRonsonIt was when feature singers started emerging to the stage that the show really kicked off, with The Bamboos’ Ella Thompson impressing on vocal duties for Bang Bang Bang, the early sing-along remaining the night’s highlight, though closely followed by The View’s Kyle Falconer shyly reprising his Bike Song vocals.  Business Intl songs stole the show from the current album selection.  The show came to life when Mark took to the stage from behind the props to take up his guitar, and Mark himself looked to be particularly enjoying jamming with Kirin J. Callinan.  It was a shame – though not a surprise, and understandable – to have Valerie played with an empty stage and Amy Winehouse’s piped vocals instead of utilising one of the many guest singers (Daniel Merriweather was, after all, featured only briefly and might have changed up another of the Version covers.)

These DJ shows are always a tricky thing to enliven, but Mark Ronson ended up doing well after a shaky start, though shouldn’t be afraid to feature more live instrumentation, because those moments were when this trip to Melbourne really shone.  After pronouncing his excitement at playing his first arena show tonight, it would seem he can pull it off, though I’ve no doubt he won’t have any problem returning to clubs either.

McNormal and chips…

August 1, 2015 - One Response

Once I’d checked my bag and coat in at Rod Laver Arena’s efficient cloakroom, strangers immediately started commenting on my t-shirt.  At first I merely gave them a non-committal thanks, for I have lots of nice t-shirts bearing cartoon motifs which prompt my grandmother to ask ‘When are you going to start dressing like an adult?’  When I started fielding questions about if the shirt was from one of this evening’s merchandise stands or from a previous tour, I was confused:  I’d worn my old Blur t-shirts into the ground several years ago.  A check reminded me that I was wearing my Dan Potthast merch, and I realised that passers-by were answering the question of ‘Dan Who?‘ with ‘Dan Abnormal.’

Blur, with Jamie T.,
Rod Laver Arena, Melbourne, July 28, 2015…

I have heard a lot about the evening’s opening act Jamie T., but I don’t think I’d ever actually heard his songs.  I recalled comparisons to Arctic Monkeys at around the time that Arctic Monkeys were promoting their new sound and Alex Turner’s new classic rock hairstyle.  Jamie T. seemed to have a small yet extremely dedicated segment of supporters in attendance, bopping wildly and cheering loudly to tunes which seemed familiar to me, though not immediately recognisable.  It was a set which inspired me to listen out for more from the artist, but not to rush out to the record shop yet.

I also caught myself swinging along with those enthusiastic Jamie T. fans during his set, prompting a woman in the audience nearby to shout ‘Dickhead alert!’ at me at the end of the final song, too loudly considering her proximity to me.  I asked her what she meant, and she responded ‘Have you heard of personal space?  You’re right inside of mine, cunt!’

I had bopped to the music, but hadn’t actually shifted position in the general admission section, and suggested to her that she had, in fact, moved towards me, as was common practice at concerts.  She turned to her tall male companion, and spat at him ‘This is why I said I hate standing at concerts.  I used to enjoy going to concerts till I started going out with you.  Now we are always standing and meeting idiots like this!‘ she gestured to me.

I asked why she came to the show since she had no interest in it.  ‘Obviously because my boyfriend likes Blur!’ she answered, as though that contained the explanation of why she was wilfully enduring an apparently painful experience.

Her continued rambling was drowned out by applause and an introductory compilation of icecream truck classics, in keeping with The Magic Whip theme, as the house lights dimmed.  Damon Albarn bounded onto the stage, his band-mates offering waves, and then icecream truck chimes shifted into opener Go Out.  This set the scene for what was clearly The Magic Whip tour, with at least half of the latest album’s songs getting a play this evening.  Though being fantastic live translations from an excellent album (the aforementioned opener and Pyongyang particular highlights of the set,) the new material didn’t excite the majority of the audience as much as old favourites like Girls And Boys and Parklife (an unexpected inclusion, and a good live experience, despite being the song I usually skip on the CD.)

My concerns regarding the ability of a band who fit perfectly onto the modest temporary stage of Monash University’s Chisholm Hall on their last visit to fully utilise the arena setting were quickly allayed by the inclusion of a brass section and small choir – put to task during the crowd-pleasing sing-along Tender.  Damon’s forays through the general admission audience all the way into the stalls during Trimm Trabb may have been overdoing the arena thing, but it seemed to delight those in the cheap seats.  Meanwhile, songs played straight from the long gap between Blur’s visits were fantastic to finally hear live: 13‘s Coffee and TV was a hit with the crowd, whilst Think Tank‘s Out Of Timeproved a highlight of the entire night.

Blur MelbourneThe set as a whole felt more refined, less punky, than the Blur of the past, with even the anticipated drop during Beetlebum given an almost Calypso makeover tonight (a divisive moment) but there was still plenty of time to jump around – Stereotypes and Song 2 had the room jumping.  Meanwhile, the latter prompted the girlfriend from earlier in the night to complain anew that ‘There’s nothing left for them to play now!  They can’t possibly stay on for much longer, can they?  I mean, what are they going to do for the encore now?’

After being caught in an apparently spontaneous chant from Tender in lieu of the dreaded ‘One more song!’ after the main set ended, the group returned and answered the girlfriend’s question with the epic and surprisingly effective closer The Universal, a fine tune to show off not only that Blur have still got it, but also a showcase for their extended band’s touring vocal and horn section.

The Whitlams at the Corner…

October 16, 2014 - Leave a Response

Klaus Kaperberg was losing his cool.  Perhaps he’d started playing the slots as a form of relief, but that feeling had long progressed to something like frustration.  In the pub, Tim Freedman called an accusatory question regarding the newly-installed poker machines ringing aside the stage over to Angus in the bar, not knowing the turmoil that existed between father and son regarding the installation of said machines.  But that was an episode of Love Is A Four Letter Word.

The Whitlams,
The Corner Hotel, October 10, 2014…

I realised that it was the first time I’d experienced The Whitlams in that kind of environment on Friday – the intimate, pub gig – after seeing them in different kinds of environments over the course of their career: in a park, at a festival, at a university party.  I remembered those early-2000s television extras in Angus’s pub when the opening strains of Blow Up The Pokies rang out from the stage and felt like how they must have felt at seeing Tim Freedman up close.

Before that, though, I was treated to the debut performance of a group called Voix D’Or.  The cute singer introduced her songs with what seemed a practised shyness from beneath the brim of a wide hat.  The group sounded like how deadstar might have if they’d co-written their songs with Chris Isaak – something they seemed to acknowledge with stylishly simple cover of Wicked Game.

TheWhitlams

After a few years of the laid-back Tim Freedman solo shows, it was good to see him back on stage with his old band (albeit as the only original member) playing a selection from the full range of genres the group have dwelt in.  It was surprising to hear Tim refer to songs dating back as far as 1989, so there was no shortage of material in the set which deliberately spanned the band’s lengthy career.  With that in mind, the inclusion of a cover of Nilsson’s Everybody’s Talkin’, however worthy it might have been, seemed frustrating when so many Whitlams favourites were left unplayed – I still yearn to hear Chunky, Chunky Air Guitar live.

On the other hand, songs like Charlie No. 1 and No. 3 sounded rejuvenated with the traditional band backing, and She Makes Hamburgers and especially set highlight Louis Burdett had the pub moving, and it was like being in a scene from Love Is A Four Letter word and in 2001, but without the drama and subconscious interludes.

Hens Party Hard…

November 5, 2013 - Leave a Response

The room was filled with women in their late-twenties and early-thirties, over-dressed for the venue and showing the early signs of the influence of preparatory drinks on one’s balance in high-heels.  They giggle like they’re much younger as, in small packs, they approach members of the male minority.  Melbourne’s Palace, formerly the Metro, has seen a lot of different crowds pass through it, but tonight it looked like the scene of the world’s largest hens party.

Five,
Palace Theatre, Melbourne, November 4, 2013

‘Nice shirt,’ said a member of one of the aforementioned packs whilst I was ordering at the bar.  Behind her, a clan of onlookers were whispering ‘Omigod, omigod! She’s doing it!’ and giggling, and I remembered that I’d worn an Andrew WK t-shirt (the one with the blood.)  ‘Do you like Five?’

I told her that I do, and she cast an eye back to her laughing cronies before proclaiming, ‘They’re, like, my favourite band ever!  Are they your favourite band ever too?’

I conceded that whilst I like Five, I couldn’t claim them as my favourite band ever, though did respond with a rant on the virtues of Invincible.

‘Yeah…’ the girl said.  ‘Who is Invincible?’

That was my first introduction to the weird, weird audience of the evening.  Many of the members alleged to have been queuing outside since the early afternoon and were complaining that, had they been notified earlier of the venue’s apparently overly-sticky floors, would have planned their footwear for the evening accordingly.  My next was hearing their unfavourable reviews of opener Frank Dixon, whom I had missed, but think is the guy who played that Toorak Girl song that was being linked around on MySpace a few months ago.  Peculiarly, the DJs playing before and after him had also received billing, and they had a warm response from the crowd.  So warm, in fact, that camera-phones were whipped out to capture the DJ spinning favourite pop-hits of the late 90s and early 2000s.  In the lull between the applause remaining after Mambo No. 5 and the next song, I overheard the comment, ‘I love that song.  It was so sad when he died last week.’  It took me a moment to figure out that the commentator was confusing Lou Bega with Lou Reed.

The applause eventually died down as the last of DJ’s equipment was moved away, leaving a spartan stage in the lead-up to the headliners’ arrival.  It was an ominous sign.  These backing-track pop shows don’t usually fare well in my reviews – Eiffel 65 and N-Trance was the last show like this I saw, and ended up being ranked 2012’s worst show.  My concerns seem to be unique, however, as the audience proclaimed their excitement as Five emerged onto the stage.  The remaining four members of the band, now somewhat inappropriately named, except when compared with the likes of Ben Folds Five, look to be pleased with the turn-out:  this was the second of two sold-out Melbourne shows, a feat that it could be argued the band might have struggled to achieve during the height of their fame in 1998 and -9 when the group were constantly charting, albeit behind peers like N*Sync and Backstreet Boys.FiveMetro
Along with the applause was the return of the sea of camera-phone screens, which isn’t too unusual.  What was unusual, however, was that a majority of these screens remained firmly in position for the remainder of the show as many fans of this genre appear satisfied to watch through a 4-inch screen.

The lack of instrumentation turned out to be no problem, with the band sufficiently filling in the vocal-blanks left by the absent J, and ensuring constant on-stage action by relishing in recreating the synchronised dance moves from their video clips.  It was the dance tunes that proved to be the evening’s highlights, with Everybody Get Up, When The Lights Go Out and stalker-pop anthem Don’t Wanna Let You Go being stand-outs.  Sneaking in their cover of We Will Rock You early set a clap-along in motion which momentarily dislodged some of the camera screens, but only briefly.  Whilst the customary ballads were there to ensure all the singles were covered, they drew a lull in interest from the audience, aside from when the theatrical hints of homoeroticism between band members produced the odd squeal through the audience.  Connessuirs of Five’s catalogue might have been hoping for an encore of the signature hidden ‘Track 55′ songs, like the band’s ode to Inspector Gadget, but (despite my screamed requests and the glares of disapproval from those surrounding me,) they were not forthcoming.

For a smaller-than-usual group of guys alone on stage without instruments, the remainder of Five put on a good show to an unusual audience, many of whom left commenting on a fine pop show and the venue’s lack of cigarettes for sale.  The band proved that they are still, true to their albums’ sentiments, an authority on being back, getting down, and not going away.

They Might Be Giants at the Corner…

May 5, 2013 - One Response

If not for They Might Be Giants, I wouldn’t have been as successful as I was on television’s Who Wants To Be A Millionaire? in the United States.  It was in a glass-floored studio in California in 2001 when the gameshow’s host let a smug smile slip across her face when she asked ‘Who was the eleventh president of the United States?’ and seemed a little taken aback when some Australian up-start answered correctly, before even being presented with a series of multiple choice answers.

Coincidentally, on the same day that I was fulfilling that particular ambition, I was missing the chance to realise another at home: to see They Might Be Giants live, as their Hi-Fi shows took place while I was out of town.

They Might Be Giants,
Corner Hotel, Melbourne, May 2, 2013…

With this being the first of the shows of the tour to go on sale, and consequently the first to sell out, the Corner was set up in ‘Big mode’ tonight, with the second stage set up for the support act – complete with a theremin front and centre –  and the band room filling quickly after the doors opened.  It was close to a full house when support act Pluto Jonze and his band took to the stage, backed by a vintage television sitting precariously atop stacked crates and displaying various clips and lyrics in synch with his tunes.

It was an impressive support slot which inspired me to look further into the band.  Pluto Jonze seems like a talented multi-instrumentalist, though the aforementioned theramin did seem to be used only for novelty purposes.  Everyone is familiar with their radio single with the Fitter Happier-style Paranoid Android verses, but the rest of the setlist consisted of immediately catchy tunes which sounded a lot like how Hot Chip might if they decided to go for a rockier sound.

The main stage was pleasantly filled with instruments – keyboard, bass clarinet… – as the house lights dimmed to a subdued blue and the five members of They Might Be Giants took the stage, with the infamous Johns doing so to enormous applause.  Opening with something new, it was when the band launched into We’re The Replacements that the crowd were really brought on board, and that excitement remained, particularly when John L strapped himself into the clarinet or his ‘Main Squeeze’ accordian for songs like Meet James Ensor and Dr Worm.

The first of many accomplished guitar solos by Dan Miller – generously celebrated this evening – teased towards any of several song possibilities.  It temptingly drifted in the direction of a rocked-out version of Robot Parade or Istanbul (Not Constantinople), but was actually a distraction whilst the Johns disappeared from the main stage, replaced on the support stage by The Avatars Of They, a puppet band who offered underhanded thanks to the ‘grandpas’ playing as their opening act, before ranting about local politics and performing a Tom Waits-style tune.

After the set by the Avatars, the Johns returned to the stage for favourites like S.E.X.X.Y., Ana Ng and a new song about Dr Tesla (nicely balancing out the group’s apparent pro-Edison slant) before another energetic solo for the real Istanbul which was so powerful it saw Dan break several guitar strings.  The group were called back for two encores, culminating in a sing-along She’s An Angel.

For a band with thirty years of experience and sixteen albums, there was always going to be a whole clump of songs from my wishlist that were missed out live.  On the other hand, this was a show that featured not only some of my favourite songs, but a whole bunch of other things I like, like puppets, robots, and an accordian.

Manual Jackhammer…

April 24, 2013 - Leave a Response

Just as Freddy Krueger is said to be the son of a hundred maniacs, Circa Survive seemed like a band incepted from roots in various different other bands.  I’d only ever heard of the band before their support slot at the Metro on Sunday, though I had heard a certain faction of the audience describing tonight’s’ proceedings as a ‘double headliner.’

Coheed and Cambria, with Circa Survive,
Palace Theatre, Melbourne, April 21, 2013…

I detected shades of Placebo, The Eagles, Smashing Pumpkins, Iron Maiden and Kaiser Cheifs, amongst other apparent auditory influences.  It was a combination that seemed to work well together, and it certainly seemed to be keeping the ‘double headliner’ crowd immediately in front of the stage happy, with significant trickles of satisfaction seeping back through the rest of the crowd.  The lead singer flounced enthusiastically around the stage through their handful of sprawling songs, leaving me wanting to find out more.

It was clear as the lights dimmed that, despite the thoughts of the Circa Survive die-hards, Coheed and Cambria were the real headliners of the night.  It had not been a sell out, although the Metro looked crowded as everyone vied for prime position (luckily an easy prospect at such a fine venue.)  Still, there was a lot staked on the bands’ performance.  Coheed is a band that have in the past given us cancellations, shows tarnished by bad audiences, but also albums rich with production featuring dynamic effects and broad instrumentation.  How well would that translate to the stage?  Would it need to be toned down?  It was a little concerning to see, just prior to the band’s emergence, a stage populated by the rock basics – guitars and drum kits – but no sign of the sing section or piano that makes their albums complete.

Opening in anthemic style with No World For Tomorrow, the enthusiastic delivery and receptive audience went a long way towards making up for the elements not present from recordings.  The rest was made up by a DJ delivering suitably science-fiction interludes and introductions to the remaining songs.  It’s an impressive set, though focused on more recent material, and also, perhaps oddly for a band with a varied collection of slow and more progressive tunes, focused entirely on heavier material.  A cool down sway with wedding favourite (presumably) Wake Up would not have felt out of place.

Nevertheless, the show didn’t disappoint, and a Coheed and Cambria headline show more than made up for the hit and miss affair of Coheed and Cambria in festival-mode, and their associated audience.

Not Drowning, Soundwaving…

March 5, 2013 - Leave a Response

Cinnamon Lip,
You’re headed for a breakdown.
Cinnamon Lip – Pollyanna

Before almost every festival I’ve been to, I’ve heard on the news that PAD sniffer dogs will be ‘out in force,’ and I’ve usually been disappointed when I get to the festival and don’t see any.

So I was understandably excited when I disembarked from the Soundwave Special to see the station lined with police officers with blonde, brunette and black police labradors.  I headed towards them for a closer look, and delighted in their wagging tails – it is good to see them enjoying their work.  I’d smiled as I passed several dogs before I became entangled in the leash of a small black dog which seemed to be enthusiastically trying to get past me.  I stepped back with a mind to getting out of the dog’s way and letting it continue its duty unobstructed, and fell into the awaiting arms of a policeman.  He turned me to face a further two officers wearing white, and asked if I’d mind stepping towards them.

‘The reason you’ve been sent to us,’ started the male officer, who I noticed was wearing blue rubber gloves in conjunction with his white police polo shirt, matching the attire of his female colleague. ‘Is because the dog has indicated that you may be carring an illegal substance on your person.’

I was obviously surprised, and couldn’t think of anything I might have ever carried that could be classed as an illegal substance, let alone on that particular morning after I’d performed a meticulous stocktake on my usual array of pocket and wallet contents in order to make my traversion from one stage to the next as efficient as possible.  This at least made unpacking all of my possesions at the officers’ request quick and easy, though I found it difficult to answer their questions without saying something which might get the dog into trouble.  Questions like ‘Are you carrying anything you shouldn’t be?’ were easy enough to answer without thought, but others involving descriptions of how highly trained the dog is, and how it is rarely wrong were more difficult to respond to without making what sounded like accusations.  I acknowledged that the dogs were all undoubtedly good at their jobs, and pointed out that few people admire dogs in the workforce more than I do, but suggested that, in this case, this particular dog must have been mistaken.

Soundwave,
Flemington Racecourse, Melbourne, March 1, 2013

By the time I was released from police custody (without incident, obviously,) Billy Talent were concluding their set on one of the middle-sized stages, which were notably surrounded this year by the kind of barrier that normally prove little more than a nuisance at the major stages.  Luckily the barriers didn’t get in the way too much, and I was able to make it to the adjoining stage to hear a fun-filled set by Flogging Molly, which had the audience dancing, though my comment that I prefer the music of the Mountains Goats seemed to fall on deaf, confused ears.  Flogging Molly were the first of the old guard playing on the minor stages who would be the festival’s saving grace.

After a previous Soundwave cancellation, Sum 41 made it to the stage immediately after Flogging Molly for a set which was on par with the band’s usual standards.  Whilst that is a high standard, they didn’t bring a lot that was new for those who have seen the band play before, and continued with their usual insistance that they were ‘bringing the metal’ to the stage.  Oddly, the audience became very fashion conscious, even bitchy, when fans were invited on stage with the band.  ‘Oh my God!‘ cried one girl. ‘He’s just gone on stage… wearing a Blink 182 t-shirt!’

On my first trek to the main stages, I discovered one of this year’s Soundwave Festival’s main flaws: the discrete change of venue from the Royal Melbourne Showgrounds to Flemington Racecourse prime, best remembered as the venue that Big Day Out sucked at from 2009 onwards, was laid out in such a way that the two main stages, traditionally interconnected, were this year spread far apart, with a different, limited access barrier for each.  With drawcard acts like Blink 182 and Metallica set to play these stages, the barriers were sure to fill quickly, with no access to view (or even hear) one stage from the other, and viewing limited without the advantage of the remains of the grandstand at the Showgrounds.  I arrived for Blink 182 to a disorganised throng of dense crowd, however my years of festival experience allowed me to slip towards the front of the stage without too much obstruction, despite security contractors’ advice that the barrier section was full.  This was true – much like last year’s Soundwave, it did feel a little over-crowded in front of the stage, begging the question of the value of these BDO-style barriers at all.  If nothing else, the layout prevented me from enjoying any of the tail end of A Perfect Circle‘s set from the other main stage.

My brother famously said that the only good thing about Blink 182 is their drummer.  Whilst his comment is at the extreme end of the scale, he isn’t alone amongst Blink fans and their admiration for the drumming styles of Travis Barker.  In the moments before the band’s afternoon set, the murmur through the crowd was doubtful of how the stand-in, Brooks from Bad Religion, would perform.  For most, these doubts were quashed as soon as the frantic solo introduction to Feeling This was played to perfection.  For the others, who stoicly persisted that ‘It just isn’t the same without Travis,’ I am sure it was merely a matter of principal.  It was a set heavy in material from the most recent albums Neighborhoods and the self titled record, which was surprising but not a disappointment, with those albums featuring, in my opinion, the band’s best material.  Of course, the set also covered all of the hits and favourites from earlier albums too, and whilst the songs driven by Tom sounded great, Mark seemed to be struggling in the vocal department, perhaps driving some of their song choices (or, more importantly, the choice of songs to be omitted.)

Once again, I caught the end of a band’s set on my way to seeing another.  This time it was Cypress Hill, who I was disappointed not to have been able to have seen more of, due to their clash with Blink 182.  It sounded like I’d missed a good set, ending well, if predictably, on a rendition of Rock Superstar which would have been better without the pauses in the song to allow for audience participation.


The end of their set left me perfectly positioned to enjoy Garbage, who put on the best performance of the day.  Shirley Manson stormed onto the stage, clad all in black, broken only by a different colour of polish on each fingernail, and, as well as performing to the audience, seemed to be putting on a show for her band-mates too, climbing on Butch Vig’s drum kit to pose for his photos at one point.  Shirley embodies her songs in the same way that Nick Cave does, taking on the persona of each to keep even the most casual of fan engaged for the whole show, stalking around the stage, snarling songs like Why Don’t You Love Me? as though to the unseen lover to which the song is dedicated.  The whole set had the audience singing and swaying along, and was a nice change when compared to some of the past crush-along audiences of Soundwaves past.

Festival headliners Metallica had, by this time, commenced their fairly unprecedented two-and-a-half hour festival set, so I took a look through the vast mass of spectators during my dinner break.  They sounded okay, but that was about it.  There wasn’t anything particularly engaging, but perhaps that was because I was so far away.  Later, during the end of Paramore‘s set, I realised that despite the band’s popularity and alleged commercial radio appeal, I don’t really know any of their songs.

Paramore’s crowd cleared quickly once The Offspring took to the stage, backed by a simple, yet impressive lighting set up:  The Offspring skull logo hung behind the group, with dancing lights projected onto it in different colours, to create the impression of the band being backed sometimes by flames, sometimes waves in water, and sometimes weirdly coloured slime.  It was surprising to see a strong audience reaction to a lot of the more recent songs, but, as expected, the real highlight is always seeing the middle-aged band rocking through songs about how tough it is being a kid, Noodles with a cigarette hanging from his lips even as he shredded through solos. As always, Want You Bad was a set highlight. Despite appearing this year on a smaller stage than at their last Soundwave appearance in 2008 when they’d headlined the show, the Offspring still put on an enjoyable show.

Leaving the venue, in impressively efficient fashion, Metallica could still be heard droning beyond the advertised 10pm noise cut-off time, with announcements at the train station repeatedly talking over them to request that the implausibly named ‘Delta White, please meet your friends at the city-end of the platform.’  Whilst the usual string of cancellations and last-minute changes have come to be a staple of the Soundwave festival, this year was also hindered by the ugliness of the venue, unlikely stage layout and poor sound for the headliners.  With the high price tag, I am again left to say that it would need to be a good line-up for me to consider Soundwave again, but good line-ups are something that Soundwave are known for.

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