Archive for July, 2018

Whiskey drink, vodka drink, larger drink, cider drink…
July 30, 2018

Climbing the stairs to the Forum’s cloakroom, I felt exhaustion set in. This had been a big week. Between Splendour In The Grass sideshows and Open House Melbourne, every night had been one with plans. It had seemed almost a blessing in disguise when Chromeo’s show was cancelled due to exhaustion. One night off in the week would probably be a good thing. The bad news for tonight’s acts was that getting me motivated at the tail end of Splendour Week could prove a difficult task.

Nothing But Thieves, with Psychedelic Porn Crumpets,
The Forum, Melbourne, July 29 2018

Luckily, the combination of the Forum’s trademark themed cocktails (tonight serving ‘Broken Machines’ and the superior ‘Trip Switch’ – ‘Honey Whiskey’ must have been too obvious) and the opening strains of the support was enough to revive some energy. Sounding like Supergrass creating a King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard tribute show, the group played an accessible kind of fuzz-rock through a fog on stage so thick the band looked like they’d been transported to a 1990s grunge video clip. Whilst quite a different kind of sound to the headliner, the pop-rock proved to be crowd-pleasing and a nice warm up for the main part of the night.

From the cloudy darkness on stage rang out what could have been a last minute sound check of the drum kit, but was suddenly realised as a prolonged opening to I Was Just A Kid. As the lights lifted with the chorus, we saw the band clad in matching black, with singer Conor Mason leaning slightly into the microphone, hopping a little as he sang.

Conor and the band proved to be versatile showmen live, moving from soulful wailing to unexpected, almost Queens Of The Stone Age-esque power riffs. With little to say between songs, we were teased instead with creepy interludes, the best of which seeped into a bubbly rendition of Particles. Whilst most of the set was played pitch-perfect, almost indistinguishable from a CD recording, highlights were when the band deviated and expanded upon the songs, like a particularly bass-heavy rendition of Trip Switch.

Only two albums into their career, what Nothing But Thieves brought to Melbourne was a lot of variety, seemlessly transitioning from ballads to rock, yet never leaving any band member awkwardly on the sidelines. However, the best moments were those when the band built dramatically, like in Broken Machine and especially Soda where even the Forum itself seemed to join the band, raising the lights to meet the song’s crescendo.

Nothing But Thieves have been good to this city, already making the long journey from the UK several times, but after a quality performance competing against a week of others, the audience were left already anticipating the next visit.

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Bulldoze it!
July 26, 2018

‘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.

FranzBanner

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.