LIVE: Dead Letter Circus, live at Zierholz UC, Canberra (24-05-12)

Dead Letter Circus

Dead Letter Circus were set to open Zierholz when they passed through Canberra late last year. Since that plan fell through and the venue hadn’t opened, it only seems fitting that they’re back to play the newly opened bar this time around on their Sleepwalker tour.

Melbourne band Twelve Foot Ninja kicked the night off at 8.30, for what was a respectably-sized crowd. With a strong reputation for explosive live performances, they didn’t disappoint. They also set themselves apart stylistically, with what could only be described as a mix between heavy, gritty prog, and funky guitar jams. Despite the crowd seeming a little lukewarm at the time, they did a great job of warming everyone up.

Texan’s Fair to Midland were up next, and they certainly threw themselves straight into things. Vocalist Darroh Sudderth flung himself across the stage, with his eccentric and entertaining stage presence holding the crowd’s attention through most of the set. Their music was grandiose in scale, and that translated well, but it felt like Sudderth’s vocal levels were all over the place. It also could have been the acoustics of the venue that affected their sound, but that said it’s a small complaint in comparison to the performance they gave. “Musical Chairs” and “Dance of the Manatee” sounded particularly great, and they proved themselves to be a band to keep a very close eye on.

Dead Letter Circus took to the stage, this time without guitarist Rob Maric. In his place was Clint Vincent of Australian band Melodyssey, who filled in superbly, nailing every delay-filled riff they brought out. They ran through plenty of fan favourites like “Reaction”, “Next In Line”, and “Disconnect and Apply”, and for the most part, it was a brilliant set list. Kim Benzie’s voice soared as usual, and bassist Stewart Hill took to the stage with such energy that it felt as if he was stealing the show on more than a few occasions. We got a drum solo from Luke Williams, and they also ran through their latest single, “Wake Up” – which sounded significantly more impressive live than it does recorded. It was slightly disappointing that they didn’t close the night with “This Is The Warning”, but when the rest of the set was so tight, it was hard to care too much.

Dead Letter Circus are consistently excellent live, and it’s rewarding them in more ways than one. With a solid fan-base and regular rotation on triple j, they’re showing everyone else just what it takes to succeed. Aspiring musicians: watch carefully, and learn how to captivate an audience. Dead Letter Circus have nailed it.

LIVE: Last Dinosaurs, live at Transit Bar, Canberra (22-04-12)

Last Dinosaurs

Sunday night saw Canberra’s Transit Bar stamp our wrists with dinosaurs as the long line of people filed in. It was a nice touch, and set the tone for a great night.

First up were Sydney’s The Griswolds. Their upbeat, shimmering guitar pop was certainly enjoyable, but it was only around the second half of their set that they started to demand the audience’s attention. Their set culminated not with their one and only single – “Mississippi” – but with the thundering and impressive track “Heart of the Lion”. A quick chat with the band revealed that it’ll be appearing on their forthcoming EP and will be their next single, and I think they’re definitely going to be a group to look out for. The only gripe I have with The Griswolds is that – as triple j’s Gemma Pike has pointed out before me – they delve into the whole African-tinged-pop niche. It’s not necessarily a bad thing. Bands like Fool’s Gold have absolutely nailed the sound, and on a local level, Jinja Safari have explored it extensively. The Griswolds just need to be careful they don’t pigeon-hole themselves there, that’s all.

Brisbane four-piece Millions took to the stage next, and it didn’t take much encouragement from them to get the crowd on their feet. Their charming rock isn’t in your face enough to be considered raw, but there was something about the lack of showy flourishes or effects – the simplicity of their sound – that was incredibly endearing. Their slower numbers felt slightly reminiscent of Arctic Monkeys’ more delicate tracks like “Riot Van” and “Only Ones Who Know” (that’s a good thing), without sounding derivative. It’s the structural solidarity of Millions’ music that makes it so attractive to the ear. They draw you in without any pretense, and their live show is very much the same. There aren’t many bands that can write in this style without getting dull, and I hope we get to hear much more from them in the future.

The crowd was well and truly packed in (for Transit, anyway) when Last Dinosaurs hit the stage.

They’ve skyrocketed in popularity since the release of their debut album, resulting in a place on the 2012 Splendour line-up, and it’s pretty easy to see why.

One of the highlights of their set was introduced as a slightly heavier number, but one that you can dance to. “I Can’t Help You”, the second track from their debut album In A Million Years, rattled throughout the bar, feeling much more dense and powerful than the poppy guitar licks we heard through the set. It was a welcome bit of variation, and as strong as they were, I can’t help but wish the set held a bit more of that in store. Notably though, they pulled out a rather special dual cover of Modjo’s “Lady (Hear Me Tonight)” and Spiller’s “Groovejet (If This Ain’t Love)” which sounded excellent.

Last Dinosaurs certainly sounded great in the small space they had. Their hooks were mechanically precise, and rang clear throughout the venue. Sean Caskey’s vocal melodies filled the bar, and gave everyone just enough space to audibly join in – most notably in closer “Zoom”, which was clearly the song most were familiar with.

Assuming Last Dinosaurs keep up the hard work, and tour solidly, I think they’ve got a very bright future ahead of them. As strong as their music is, the defining factor in their success will be whether they keep themselves on their toes and move around. But for now, this is a very young, talented band, that know how to put on a show – and a damn good one at that.

NEWS/TOUR: Groovin’ The Moo loses Chiddy Bang, gains Ball Park Music

Ball Park Music

Groovin’ The Moo – one of Australia’s most successful, friendly, and fun all-ages festivals – recently lost American hip-hop duo Chiddy Bang to promotional duties in the US. Ball Park Music, Australia’s slightly quirky and heart-warmingly sincere indie six-piece, have taken their place – and based on my own tastes, it’s a bit of a plus.

With Bendigo’s allocation of online tickets already sold out (and the tickets through local outlets being limited), you’d be advised to grab your tickets soon – no matter where you’re planning to attend.

As usual, it’s an incredibly solid line-up. I’m still freaking out at the thought of seeing Dallas Green singing across the University of Canberra Meadows. We’ll get to see:

360, Adrian Lux (SWE), Andrew W.K One-Man-Party Tour (USA), Ball Park Music, Beni, Big Scary, Bluejuice, City and Colour (CAN), Digitalism (GER), The Getaway Plan, Gold Fields, Hermitude, Hilltop Hoods, Kaiser Chiefs (UK), Kimbra, The Maccabees (UK), Matt Corby, Muscles, Mutemath (USA), Naysayer & Gilsun, Parkway Drive, Public Enemy (USA), Purple Sneakers DJs, San Cisco, Wavves (USA) with more local and triple j unearthed artists to be announced!

Groovin’ The Moo will be dropping by Bendigo (May 5), Townsville (May 6), Maitland (May 12), Canberra (May 13), and Bunbury (May 19). Jump over here for tickets and all of the finer details.

LIVE: Celadore, live at The Phoenix, Canberra (17-11-11)

Beginning a few minutes after we arrived, The Streetlight Parade – a local Canberran band – seemed to have improved since last I saw them. The band appeared to enjoy themselves much more with their newfound confidence, and it showed throughout their set. Full of gigantic pop hooks and bright riffs, they proved themselves to once again be a burgeoning local force, playing a very entertaining set.

Celadore took to the stage soon afterwards. The trio pushed their expansive sound across the small pub, filling every corner with their assaulting and melodic rock. Raw and emotive, yet still refined and to the point, Celadore played song after song that seemed to explode forth from the small stage. Pop hooks seemed to permeate their songs, catching in not only their occasional simplicity, but also their execution.

With a keen sense for dynamics and emotive fluctuations, the band’s set felt varied and it seemed to keep people interested – as did the personal stage banter. Being only familiar with single “Distance is a Gun”, I couldn’t sing along to too many songs on the night (although this was remedied by the fact I bought both of their EPs afterwards). But Celadore managed to put on a fun show for the people paying attention, and when there was no cover charge to get in, what more can you ask for? A free night of great rock music!

Celadore have plenty of potential in the Australian scene – the only issue will be crafting that one amazing single that catches on everywhere. Once they find that magic number, or that avenue to really launch them, you might end up hearing a lot more from these guys.

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 Bedroom Philosopher, live at Transit Bar, Canberra (28-08-11)

Like an elephant running rampant through a tennis court, The Bedroom Philosopher demands your attention – because, like that image he’s quite funny, but also because you just aren’t sure what the hell is going to happen next.

Walking into the room with a guitar, he provided some dramatic music for two guys playing pool (incidentally the guy missed his shot). He then began snapping his fingers and strumming along, before pulling a shaker out of his mouth. Then pulling a party whistle out of his mouth, he proceeded to play it as well. It set the mood for a set filled with the sorts of antics most artists either look down upon, or are too scared to try themselves, and that’s really what sets him apart as both a comedian and a musician.

What’s particularly astounding is Justin Heazlewood’s unique brand of absurdist humour. In terms of jokes, anything goes, and any number of toes are guaranteed to be trodden on. Belconnen Labor Club, University of Canberra, and the crowd’s attempts at clapping along were all on the agenda for the night, and it was great to see everyone take it in good humour.

It was unfortunate that I failed to pick up a lot of what he was singing, and the lyrical talent I know he has failed to translate on the night. Maybe it was my position off to the side, but it felt like a lot of it was mumbled. Fortunately when you go to see The Bedroom Philosopher, you get a great deal more in a gig.

His mash-up of hits “I’m So Post Modern” and “Northcote (So Hungover)” was particularly well done, as was his impromptu rant and song aimed at the guy sitting with his back to him. When said bar patron decided to join Mr Heazlewood on stage I did worry a little, but it turned out he just wanted to stand up there with him. There may have been a hug involved, I can’t quite remember.

When it all boils down to it, The Bedroom Philosopher is both quick-witted and insightful, and as catchy as his songs are, what puts him above similar artists is how amusing and unpredictable his performance is. The sort of rare self-deprecating humour in his act is something that can only be off-set by the reading of a touching poem about depression on a packet of Cheerios (which he also offered to the audience).

The Bedroom Philosopher is not only mesmerising, but in a way that other acts most definitely are not. Without pushing his point, you can take what you want from his art – but no matter how you see it, you’ll definitely be entertained.