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.

LIVE: Bon Iver, live at the Sydney Opera House, Sydney (11-03-12)

Bon Iver

As Bon Iver took to the stage, they were welcomed with rapturous applause – and deservedly so. For Emma, Forever Ago won across an initial horde of devoted fans, and their latest album, Bon Iver, Bon Iver, was received incredibly well – so much so that it won the band a Grammy. Bon Iver have gone from strength to strength, and the excitement in the air was palpable.

The band took no time in launching into the appropriate opener of “Perth”. The first notes rang sharply throughout the hall, and to be honest – it felt a bit strange. After being so accustomed to the softer nuances of these tracks on record, to hear them explode forth and completely fill the Opera House was something else entirely.

But – apart from the rare moment where it seemed slightly too loud – it worked. Really well.

The nine musicians on stage changed instruments on a regular basis, but none of them ever faltered or missed a step. Saxophones, violins, horns and even a trombone were all present, all contributing to the musical landscape that formed over the night. I was sceptical about needing two drum kits at first, but even they proved their worth, providing a powerful intensity when needed (not to mention those jaw-dropping off-beats!). Having so many people on stage could have gone badly for Bon Iver, but the expansive majesty that came with it paid off.

However one of the most impressive instruments was one of the most natural. Justin Vernon’s voice is a thing to behold. What really stands out is the emotive force behind it, that can shift everything in a single moment. Lines like “Oh and we done it, because it’s right,” from the achingly beautiful “Wash.” took on an entirely new life, being forced out of Vernon’s mouth in the most uncontrollably cathartic way possible. His falsetto was pristine and rang out, and to say we were in awe would’ve been an understatement.

Bon Iver

Midway through the set, a seat was brought out for Vernon, and a crew member adjusted his mic. “These guys put my underwear on in the morning too,” he joked, before beginning what was arguably one of the most anticipated songs of the night – “Skinny Love”.

I was concerned that the frail, tender nature of the song might be crushed under the weight of nine musicians. But hearing the band bellow “my, my, my” in unison with Vernon was one of the most warming and memorable moments of the night. It almost felt as if they took on our role as the audience – for if this were a festival set, there’s no doubt that each and every one of us would have been singing along. But “Skinny Love” wasn’t the only song to have noticeable differences.

A mighty saxophone solo from Colin Stetson segued into the beginning of “Blood Bank”, which took on a much more direct and assertive approach. The slow-burning, delicate love song from the EP of the same name was transformed into a stronger and much more driven piece.

Credit must be given to the band for managing to adapt so many songs, some ever so slightly, to a new environment. However that’s not to say that they’ve lost their initial charm. Those of you that fell in love with the alluring subtleties of For Emma, Forever Ago will still find that connection live, just in slightly different places. Dynamically the band know exactly when to draw back, and when to burst forth, and it’s this that allows everything to fall into place.

After performing works from across their three main releases (“Wash.” and a solo version of “re: Stacks” being definite highlights), Vernon asked the crowd to join him during the final song of the night – and while it seemed odd to have to request participation in a moment like this, it felt necessary at a venue like the Opera House. The audience seemed to have far too much reverence – for fellow concert-goers, for the venue, and for Bon Iver – to spontaneously sing at the top of their lungs (although it didn’t stop some from holding up their phones for long periods). Maybe that’s why their efforts sounded so reluctant. Nevertheless, “The Wolves (Act I and II)” sounded magnificent, with the crowd repeating “What might’ve been lost” over a monumental finish.

Everyone was quick to stand as all nine musicians lined the stage, and applause filled the hall. Collectively, the crowd’s response seemed not only thankful for the amazing set we’d just witnessed, but also demanding of more. My generation has grown up to expect encores – not to be pleasantly surprised by them – and there was no way Bon Iver were getting away without one.

After some time, the band returned and the applause instantly subsided as people sat down again in anticipation. They then launched into “Creature Fear”, which built up to an immense wall of dissonant sound. Much like “The Wolves (Act I and II)”, the huge release of energy felt like an apt place to end the set – but we were in for one last song. Thanking the crowd once more, the band began to close the night with the slow dusty brass of “For Emma” –  again, earning a standing ovation.

It’s more important than ever that I now refer to Bon Iver collectively as a band. No longer is it just Vernon at the helm of this ship. The addition of other musicians added another element to their second album, it certainly adds a welcome element to their live show – and I’d like to think that it’s a form of the band that will stick around, because it sounded nothing short of astounding.

To witness such intrinsically beautiful music performed in the Opera House was a privilege. And while Bon Iver may not believe that they’re magnificent – everyone at the Opera House on Sunday most certainly does.

~

Check out some of the great photos taken by Music at the House over here on Facebook.


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.

REVIEW: Georgia Fair – “All Through Winter”

Georgia Fair - All Through Winter

It’s been a while coming for Jordan Wilson and Ben Riley – the duo also known as Georgia Fair. Their debut album – All Through Winter – is due for release on the 21st of October, and it’s fair to say there’s been a few people waiting on it. Touring with The Panics, the band have been showing off their new work recently, but how does it sound recorded?

Starting with the slow-burning “Times Fly”, the album kicks off with a strong start. “Blind” brings out intense, rolling drums, and “Where You Been?” is the perfect first single from the release.

Georgia Fair weave these beautiful vocal harmonies into folk music that goes beyond the whole cutesy idea of finger-picking some guitar chords. With lush strings and deep guitar, the songs sound mature and layered. It’s a much fuller sound, and it’s all the more interesting because of it. The best bit: the production is beautiful and sounds just as it should.

What it lacks for the most part, are stand out hooks. All Through Winter is rewarding when it has your attention, but rarely does the album grab it naturally. “Blind” and “Simple Man” both seem to take it up a notch, and so do a couple of others, but nothing really jumps out. Aside from that, too often do Wilson’s vocals feel under-stated. He has an amazing voice, and when really pushed out during some choruses, it explodes, sounding stronger than ever. Unfortunately, too often it feels restrained.

Maybe this album isn’t for me. When cherry-picking tracks for analysis, everything positive I’ve said stands – beautiful folk harmonies alongside a matured sense of song-writing – and it’s consistent in this sense too! But as an album, the release can’t sustain my interest. I feel I’d enjoy it more as an EP. Chances are, that’s more a reflection on my personal tastes.

Whether or not you listen to this as an album or not, if you dig great melodic folk music, you should have a listen. Georgia Fair have made leaps and bounds in many ways, and while I don’t think they’ve found their feet just yet, they’re getting pretty damn close.

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: Joelistics, live at Transit Bar, Canberra (18-08-11)

Joelistics began his set talking to a room of seated people, but within 10 minutes it was a completely different story. The Melbournian artist opened with a didactic spoken-word rap – no beats, no music – called “I Am By Virtue”, and it was then that everyone in the room knew it was going to be a special gig. Not only because of his clear verses, or the confidence he displayed as he took to the stage, but because of the content covered and the meaning behind his rhymes. Joelistics is an artist who not only thinks, but makes his audience think too, and it was warming to see the small crowd at Transit Bar recognise and appreciate such a rare performer.

Rhythmically his flow was nothing short of the mark, and it was with practiced hands that he took the mic and filled the small room with his thoughts. “Glorious Feeling” and “Days”, from Joelistics latest release Voyager, lit the room up with excitement, but that’s not to say the rest of his set didn’t either. We were lucky enough to be treated to an old TZU track, and a cover of a cover – Joelistics covering TZU’s cover of You Am I’s “Heavy Heart”. To see Joel Ma bring out an acoustic guitar and sing to us all in such an intimate setting not only displayed his broad musical talent, but changed the pace of his set. It threw things around a bit, and often that can be a good thing.

It would be unfair to say Joelistics sounded like his recordings – he sounded better. Even standing right next to the speaker, it sounded brilliant in the tiny bar, which can be attributed to Ishu, who not only filled a support slot but played the role of sound guy as well. The improvisation from Joelistics and DJ Soup added an extra element of anticipation that soaked into the audience. After bringing out some special items for the set, no one really knew what to expect, but our patience was rewarded by what I’m fairly certain was some truly inspiring freestyling.

It was warming to see Joelistics standing on the edge of the stage, smiling out at the few people who had turned out to see him play. His performance cemented him as one of the most talented hip-hop artists we have. Clear verses, strong rhythms, and a deserved confidence with the mic: Joelistics gave us not only a strong performance, but something to think about as we left Transit to brave Canberra’s cold.

LIVE: The Streetlight Parade, live at The Phoenix, Canberra (04-08-11)

Two gigs in as many nights? I know, I need to slow down right.

Last night I adventured down to The Phoenix in Canberra with some friends who were keen to catch The Streetlight Parade (I caught the end of the previous band, and missed Crash The Curb afterwards). They were on second and were met with rapturous applause and a few screams (well, it was rapturous compared to the size of the room alright? It’s a small club). Their welcome was well deserved, because they certainly put on a great little show.

I can’t fault them for not jumping around there or seeming energetic, ’cause the stage there looks pretty restricting, but they definitely looked like they were enjoying themselves. Their style of rock was filled with lots of catchy guitar hooks and giant choruses, and they really know how to write a good melody or two. Imagine these light, quick guitar fills that really flesh out the songs and hold it all together. Keeping it simple, it’s memorable, joyful indie rock at it’s best. And it was so good that the crowd kept them up there for an encore – an encore of a song they’d already performed. No one cared though, because the song was cool as hell, and the band clearly were having fun. That kind of attitude is infectious when it comes to performing.

I’m looking forward to seeing these guys move up and up in the Canberra scene, and hopefully make it bigger as well. They seem to have the song-writing skills to get there.

Grab some of their free music over here.