LIVE: The Panics, live at ANU Bar, Canberra (22-09-11)

Avalanche City opened the night, and I’m glad they made the trip from New Zealand. Their folkish hooks came coupled with instrumentation that felt both delicate at times, and very powerful at others. The rapid guitar picking jumped up from the tinkling additions of a glockenspiel and what seemed like a cross between a mandolin and a banjo (actually, according to Wikipedia it’s a “manjo” – you learn something new every day!). They were surprisingly good for a support act, and it was nice to start the night with a band that has not only a firm grasp of their sound, but also the talent to bring it across live. The only things I think their music and live show would benefit from is more explosive and giant moments. The potential to build them is there, they just need to take hold of it. But Avalanche City put on a great show, and are well worth checking out.

Next up were Georgia Fair. Known more widely as the band that wrote the song on that milk commercial, don’t be too quick to put them in a box (as great as “Picture Frames” is), because these guys have matured and developed since then. The softly-spoken folk numbers filled the bar, in-between guitar stabs and intricate backing melodies, and the band poured forth emotion, showing off both older tracks and newer unreleased ones.

Provided Georgia Fair don’t fall into the over-populated group of bands I call the “Boy And Bear niche”, they’ll have a great future ahead of them. With a sense of pace and melody, it would be interesting to see the band bring some bite into their sound, because I think it’s something they could definitely achieve well.

At any rate, Georgia Fair have a sense of style grounded in beautiful harmonies, and right now that’s more than enough to provide an entertaining set. The duo are preparing to release their full-length debut in about a month’s time, so make sure you look out for it!

There’s something quintessentially Australian about The Panics. From their modest yet enthusiastic stage presence, to their grandiose melodies, there’s something about them that screams out “geniune” and “down to earth”. It’s an attractive quality in musicians really, because no one enjoys going to a gig where the musicians’ ego crowds out the room. The fact that The Panics carry themselves in such a way does everything to reinforce the passion they have for their craft, and when you’re watching a passionate band perform, there isn’t much more you can ask for.

Running through a slew of older tracks, with a handful from their 2007 J-Award-winning album Cruel Guards, the band also introduced the polite crowd at ANU Bar to a few numbers from their latest release – Rain on the Humming Wire. That said, understandably “Don’t Fight It” received a very warm welcome, as did “Majesty” and “Get Us Home” (which was brought out for the encore).

As subdued as some of their songs are, the band’s energy and playing carried the performance. Jae Laffer’s very distinctive movements showed a man absorbed in the moment, and between the relaxed grooves and frenetic playing of the other members, the band didn’t drop a beat (from what I could tell).

It would’ve been particularly impressive to see them bring a brass player on tour for some of the instrumentation, in particular the melodies in “Don’t Fight It”. But I understand the logistics of these things make it often not worth the hassle, and the song didn’t suffer as a result which is the important thing.

The Panics put on a tight show, with impressive playing and a warming stage presence. It’s hard not to enjoy a band like this, especially when you have a perfect crowd. Their blend of alt-rock with slow-crawl country influences may not be entirely ground-breaking musical territory, but The Panics prove that when sometimes coupling a considerable amount of talent and dedication, a performance becomes less about challenging an audience and more about pulling them in – and that’s exactly what they do.

LIVE: The Living End, live at ANU Bar, Canberra (07-09-11)

There’s no doubt about it: The Living End still have it.

On Wednesday night I relived my first ever gig. Just over five years ago I saw The Living End at the Albury Wodonga Civic Centre – they were touring their then freshly pressed album State of Emergency. As a three-piece, their performance set the bar for years to come. It’s nice to see nothing’s changed.

King Cannons opened the night, blasting through the quickly growing crowd with their hard-edged catchy rock. Although their sound builds itself on pop hooks, don’t be fooled – these guys have got it in them to bring the house down. Although I rarely mention this aspect of a band, you’ll struggle to find a more consistently fashionable group – with black shirts, slick hair, and tattoos aplenty, they not only sounded great, but they looked the part.

Hunting Grounds filled the stage with their band, and it was interesting to see them swap instruments and roles over the course of their set. Without a doubt, their explosive rock really came to fruition with the final song – drums being smashed, a guitarist in the photo pit, a beaten up cymbal being thrown around, and some drumstick duelling all made it an amazing closer. Like King Cannons, they have live energy and talent – it’d be nice to see both bands go somewhere further in the future.

The Living End took to the stage, and surprisingly I didn’t break any ribs against the barrier in the “surge”. Well, it wasn’t so much a crowd surge as a gentle push. Not that I was complaining, but the crowd did take a little while to warm up.

Which got me thinking about the kind of band TLE are. The first songs were from their latest album, The Ending Is Just The Beginning Repeating, and don’t get me wrong – the reception for them was great, but it was still lukewarm relative to old favourites like “West End Riot” and “Roll On”.

“No kidding”, you’re thinking. “Generally people know a band’s older songs, of course there’s going to be a stronger reception.”

Well, that might seem logically right, but it’s not always true. There are plenty of bands that release a new album, get flogged by radio, and most will only know those songs. Everyone knows “White Noise” got one hell of a flogging. But despite that, TLE are still different. We had 99% of a room screaming along to tracks like “Prisoner of Society” and “All Torn Down”, both of which were released years and years ago.

Does this mean their albums are getting worse? No, of course not. But it shows that The Living End are one of the few contemporary Australian bands that have written songs that generations will consider “classics”. This is a band with longevity, who have paid their dues and toured relentlessly. This is a band who consistently draw all sorts of people to their gigs – from teenagers to adults who’re over 50. Plenty of bands can write decent hooks and memorable songs – only a rare few can write classics that stay with a generation for years upon years.

And only a rare few can play their songs so damn well! Chris Cheney commands the stage like a seasoned veteran, and his guitar is played so effortlessly it’s like another limb. Andy and Scott tear through their respective parts, and as proficient as the band is, you can’t deny the work they’re putting into the performance when they’re sweating all over the stage.

The Living End are not only skilled musicians, but skilled showmen – they all know how to present themselves on stage and get the most out of their music. This latest tour has seen another guitarist, Adrian, playing live, and he’s a welcome addition – he really does seem to flesh out the band’s sound.

There are few bands of this calibre. The Living End set the bar for music fans, inspire musicians, and are good at what they do – let’s hope they stick around for many years to come.

I didn’t take many photos. You can check out some nice ones over at FasterLouder though.

LIVE: The Panda Band, live at ANU Bar, Canberra (17-08-11)

Continuing my accidental streak of missing the opening support act, I didn’t catch Paryce’s set. Instead, Beth ‘N’ Ben (above) started the night for me with their brand of bluesy folk. It spread throughout the sparse onlooking crowd, and although there was a small turnout, it was offset by the band’s encouragement to get lost in the music – an offer which was all the encouragement most people needed to dance and cheer. It’s surprising how often a band’s attitude can affect the atmosphere of a gig, and the playful banter between a few members really proved to lighten the mood. Importantly, the band looked like they were having fun too.

Beth ‘N’ Ben don’t burden their music with cliched literary techniques, instead focusing more on simply telling a story. Unfortunately that’s where they seem to fall short. I feel like that writing style needs to be coupled with those special hooks that throw the song up in the air. That special moment that gets the whole crowd participating, almost anthemic in nature, and it just didn’t feel like there were many opportunities for that on Wednesday. They seem to be gradually nailing that musical niche they occupy, but it would bring so much more to their live show to see their song-writing grow with that in focus. That said, they were entertaining to watch, and let’s be honest, there aren’t many bands that sell g-strings and bibs as merchandise.

The Panda Band took the stage shortly afterwards, and I want to address an issue before I talk about their set.

I felt that in terms of acoustics or sound quality, their set suffered. Even standing as far back as possible due to the overbearing volume, it still felt uncomfortable, and although I should have remembered my earplugs, no band needs to be that loud. Whether it was the acoustics of ANU bar, or the sound set up, the band sounded clearer and more enjoyable when I blocked my ears. This was no fault of the band, but it did influence my enjoyment a bit.

Apart from that, I found their playing quite enjoyable, but their performance itself a little lacklustre. They looked a little bored, almost as if they didn’t want to be there, and although I can understand the disappointment with what was probably a smaller than expected turnout, it didn’t translate into a positive vibe. Rarely did lead singer and guitarist Damian Crosbie really let go and move around, and although their playing sounded quite solid, there does have to be an element of energy in a live performance.

That said, I felt their music did translate well live, and without the unfortunate sound issues it would’ve sounded even better. The combination of grandiose drumming patterns, which seemed to stay rhythmically interesting, and the band’s bright melodies, really had this sense of style about them. There’s no doubt about The Panda Band – they certainly know how to form their hooks into well-developed and mature songs, and if they can inject some more energy and atmosphere into their set, they’ll definitely be heading onto much bigger things.

The Panda Band are still touring around, and you can check out all of the dates over here.

LIVE: Regurgitator, live at ANU Bar, Canberra (14-08-11)

Disasteradio played before Regurgitator last night (I missed Super Best Friends as the very first support), and he was interesting to say the very least. The set was very energetic, and filled with nothing but passion for his music, which from what I could tell was made solely with a laptop, some synths, and maybe a sampler. He was leaping all over the stage while what can be described as this blindingly cheery, synth-orientated, dance music erupted out of the speakers. It was a very full on set, and for just one guy on stage, he managed to hold everyone’s attention, which is no mean feat. Ultimately I couldn’t fault his stage presence or playing, however the music didn’t seem to have the highs and lows I feel it needs to build up the tension properly. It just felt like one big sugar rush of dance, but it was entertaining at any rate.

Next up were Regurgitator, who certainly know how to work a crowd. Their playing was exceptional, and for a band that can write some songs with serious meaning, they seemed to come in just wanting to have a bit of fun. Which considering their style of music is a brilliant attitude to have, and in terms of atmosphere, it really paid off (plus the skeleton suits were really quite cool).

The band flicked between old favourites and newer material, pleasing older fans in the crowd, which in general seemed to respond quite well for a Sunday night! For anyone unfamiliar, Regurgitator seem to have this knack of crafting short, fun songs – whether they’re guitar-based or bring in a bit of synth, they always seem to have this brilliant groove to them that manages to get people moving.

I feel Regurgitator encapsulate the kind of Australian band that’s been touring and making music for years, yet still only really gets half the recognition it deserves. Which is a shame, but it’s a testament to the passion they have for what they’re doing that they’re still out there, selling tickets for $30, and playing shows to whoever will come out and see them. They played for well over an hour, and although they didn’t bring out “Destroy This Town” or “Love and Paranoia” (two of my favourites), their set was nonetheless full of energy and it was infectious. Regurgitator have still got quite a few dates left on their Annual Sail tour, so if you can, go out and see them.

LIVE: Mind Over Matter, live at the ANU Bar, Canberra (07-04-11)

Coptic Soldier and Johnny Utah.

I Forget, Sorry! can be credited for really broadening my interest and faith in hip-hop. The Australian based collective create some brilliant, innovative music that deserves much more attention than it’s currently receiving. I’ve been a fan for quite a while, and recently I was lucky enough to catch a few of them live on Mind Over Matter’s Just Like Fireworks tour.

My friend and I arrived at the ANU Bar a bit before 7. The place didn’t look incredibly lively, but by the time the first supports took to the stage there were a few people wandering around. Unfortunately I think Illy playing a show the next night may have had a small effect on the turnout, but everyone looked like they enjoyed themselves throughout the night. Even if they’ve probably played to bigger crowds before.

If I’m blunt, I don’t remember a whole lot about some of the local supports. That’s not an insult to Canberra’s hip-hop scene (if there is one – I’m new here), it’s just they didn’t grab my attention and I was hanging out with a few mates. Although I do remember a duo called Domesticated Apes. Their songs got better towards the end of the night, although a few were hit and miss. Repeatedly saying “Sh*t C**ts” over and over didn’t do much for me to be honest.

I think it was about 9.30 or so before Coptic Soldier and Johnny Utah came on. To say the least, I was a little excited. Johnny Utah’s EP The Welcoming Party was a solid release, and I love Coptic’s acoustic stuff I’ve heard lately. At any rate, these guys have been a part of my hip-hop diet for almost a year now, and I was pumped to see them perform live. They did not disappoint.

Coptic Soldier and Johnny Utah (with Count Effectz DJ’ing)

That night was the first time Coptic and Johnny had performed live together, and I was incredibly impressed. The interplay between the two was great. Playing tracks they would normally perform individually, each knew the right moment to jump in and the right moment to hang back. As a result, the older songs sounded collaborative and fresh, but didn’t take anything away from the original.

The duo went through tracks from Johnny’s debut EP and Coptic’s The Sound of Wings. We even got to hear “I Hate Sleep” from The Sound of Wings 2, the acoustic release (which you should all buy by the way! – acoustic hip-hop sounds brilliant. I’ll have a review up soon). I was lucky enough to hear some of Johnny’s new songs too, which will hopefully feature on his debut album Handful of Gravel. They sounded brilliant, and I’m keen to hear the studio versions.

Coptic Soldier and Johnny Utah were a great support act, and despite the fact they didn’t have a live band like Mind Over Matter, they energy they put into the performance was amazing. Great songs performed by great musicians, with enough energy to get everyone pumped up. Count Effectz was DJ’ing for them and did a great job as well. Seeing these guys was a highlight of the night, and has only reinforced my belief that I Forget, Sorry! deserve more attention across Australia.

Mind Over Matter

Next up Mind Over Matter came on stage, and the crowd reacted incredibly well. I haven’t heard Just Like Fireworks yet, although I’ve heard good things about it. After seeing them live, I’m convinced I’ll enjoy it. The songs they played had amazing hooks and sing-a-long choruses (see “Be A Pirate”), and everyone really got into it.

The addition of a live band did the set wonders. Ernst Carter Jnr’s back-up vocals were amazing and added a whole new dimension to the songs. It really did sound great, and the live bass and drums gave the whole act more stage presence. Everyone had more to look at, and the way it all meshed together is a testament to their talents and preparation.

The general consensus from the media is that Mind Over Matter have really launched themselves into the Australian hip-hop scene with this album. Their live show reflects this in a way that you have to see to understand. I thought they were going to play longer, but I think noise restrictions came in or something. At any rate, they put on a great show, and for $10, I think everyone felt like they got more than their money’s worth.

Mind Over Matter

It’s a pity that brilliant artists like the ones that performed all night aren’t getting the recognition or airplay they deserve. I could go into a large rant about support of Australian musicians, but it’d detract from the review. Suffice to say, like Coptic and Johnny, Mind Over Matter put on an incredibly entertaining and engaging show. In my case, familiarity with the songs means that I personally enjoyed Coptic and Johnny a tiny bit more. In some cases familiarity can go a long way, but Mind Over Matter buck that trend. Despite the fact I knew only one or two songs they played, their show emphasised their talent as live artists, and these days that talent can be quite rare.

I Forget, Sorry! are a brilliant collective. Download the free mixtape I put together last year and give them a go.

Don’t forget to get over here and check out the rest of their dates. You should definitely head along.