Saturday, October 24, 2009


Monday, September 03, 2007 
The Espy

A proliferation of newspaper hats (and the occasional toffee apple) borne by excited and intoxicated Espy-goers gives away the fervent loyalty which Peter Combe can ignite in people; making for a truly odd and uplifting sight. It is no exaggeration to say this must be one of the biggest outpourings of quarter-life nostalgia that this city has ever seen; everyone is between 20 and 30. How much of that is a longing for relative pre-9/11 and pre-adolescent innocence and how much for the appeal of an inane singalong is hard to say at first, but as the night progresses it becomes clear that Combe has the songs, has the hooks and the sheer effortless charisma that leaves no mouth unturned, and any idea of sociological analysis laughed away.

First up, the sold out Gershwin Room is treated to an electrified and band-backed Bedroom Philosopher. Pulling out his most well-known songs Golden Gaytime, Megan The Vegan and of course, the JJJ hit I'm So Postmodern in a mid-set acoustic mode, he capitalises on the intense positivity in the room, and gets big cheers for his brief aside about a potential Oasis/Blur-style showdown between Peter Combe and The Wiggles; "Ah come on, everyone knows he's got the songs!". The band up the frivolity factor on songs like Folkstar and the Combe-referencing Generation ABC which noisys-up the excitable crowd, though it's clear who people are here to see.

The roar is deafening as Combe and his keyboard-playing sidekick the hilariously grumpy Phil Cunneen take to the stage; the front few rows especially act as if there could be no greater thrill than seeing a man in his early 50s launch into a totally note perfect rendition of Jack And The Beanstalk. It is uncanny how little Combe has changed since he was all over ABC of an afternoon; "Well, you all look a lot bigger than when I last saw you!" he jokes. The sheer unaffected charm of Combe and his complete joy in playing is infectious. From cyclical singalong lyrics like Rain's "The rain keeps tumbling down / And it's such a wonderful sound," (prompting Combe to, perhaps rather generously, say "you lot sound like the Melbourne Tabernacle Choir") to the seemingly ceaseless repetition of "You left your bag dad, in Baghdad," we're with him all the way. He's been playing this game for a long time and it shows. Toffee Apple, Saturday Night, Chish And Fips and Yellow Banana prompt the front half of the crowd into raptures and the other half into smiling nods and the odd call of "Do you know this one?" from one punter to another. Once he hits the closing sequence of Happy As Larry, Newspaper Mama, Spaghetti Bolognaise, Wash Your Face In Orange Juice and Tell Me The Ti-i-me Please the sheer passion and volume of the crowd is close to unbelievable, and even those who don't know the words are reduced to idiot grins and wild cheering. It seems nearly impossible that this man gently strumming his acoustic guitar and another playing the sounds you'd never think to use on a keyboard can prompt this response. Hilarious, in fact, that in treating us like kids, we respond like kids. When the screaming, stamping crowd brings him back out for a second encore (Juicy, Juicy Green Grass) it's a miracle he's allowed to leave the stage (as occurred at his Corner show in May). Whatever it is Peter Combe has stumbled into here, it's working and seems only to be growing.


Wednesday, August 29, 2007 

British seems to be full of new bands at the moment. Whatever beans it is that they're on, 747s give the impression they're jellybeans rather than the flatulent baked beans of their NME/Carling-sponsored "indie rock" contemporaries. Their name encapsulates singer Oisin Leech's recurring idea of 'moving forward' and is a reminder of their geographical links, each member being from a different country (Ireland, England, Italy and Germany). Formed through chance busking encounters in Naples and Dublin, 747s music is a mix of The Kinks storytelling rock with Supergrass's tight harmonies and seems to be pushing all the right buttons if support slots for The Strokes, The Raconteurs and Futureheads are anything to go by. Which, it seems, they are.

"The gigs have all been really, really good." Says Leech, currently taking a break from playing a pub gig in Omagh, Northern Ireland. "We've been writing and chilling out up here. Just been playing away and working towards the next album. The songs are getting better and more melodically stronger."

Though there does seem to be a huge bunch of imaginative and exciting British rock bands at the moment, Leech doesn't feel a part of any scene. "To be honest I'd never heard of The Young Knives and The 1990s until we played with them in the London Calling Festival in Amsterdam. They're both great, really interesting bands, but we never chose to be part of any music scene at all." Instead, he lights up at the suggestion a music-hall tradition to their music. "My grandmother grew up in an old music hall in Northern Ireland. She spent her whole life there, from a very early age her job was greeting the bands and all that type of thing, so maybe it's rubbed off on me. In tunes like Rain Kiss and Miles Away I think it's very apparent." Both tracks off last year's well-received Zampano album, the nature of performance links many of the songs, you can feel they're born from being played live, though the production (from Arctic Monkey's producer Mike Crossey) never lets them sound stage-bound.

Theatricality has always been interwoven in European music, and, given their multicultural background it's easy to see how 747s have developed this honest busking-honed tightness and fondness for telling stories. "I loved theatre directing in college, loved Checkov. It's nice to put a bit of theatre into the tunes." says Leech. The importance of the audience is something Leech clearly loves about music. "Busking and traveling is great because you get to really learn how to respect your audience, you quickly learn what tunes work and what tunes don't. You really learn how to move forward. The most important thing in music is the performer and the audience, everything else in between is secondary."

As a man who places so much importance in the lyrical and melodic sensibility of a song, Leech professes to being inspired by both inner optimism and by the world he set out to explore as a traveling busker years before. "You can find a lot of magic in everything around you, or you can sit around and find a lot of negativity. It's obviously important to be aware of everything that's going on in the world, but at the same time there is a lot of beauty and magic. We have our days where we're quite moany and negative, at the same time there is a lot of beauty out there. I suppose that comes across in our music, we don't try to go out of our way to be positive y'know, we're just trying to move forward and be aware of the problems in the world and at the same time...sink or swim."

Interview: Kat Frankie - Knives Out

Wednesday, August 29, 2007 

Berlin has been the catalyst for many great historical happenings, and seen the rebirth of more musicians and artists than almost any other city. So it is that a wayward youth departs from Sydney and finds herself, and much more besides, in the German capital. Several years later, this girl returns to the shores of her homeland, guitar and swag of quality tunes in tow. Collected together on an album she entitles Pocketknife, the defiant and strident Miss Kat Frankie is soon in town to play these songs, and if her last visit in January was anything to go by, it will be a compelling, venue transforming show.

She begins our conversation by replying to comments made by Inpress's own Clem Bastow who last month described her latest single Serves You Right For Using Violence as "a little too tempestuous...when the song begins at the crescendo, where have you got left to go after that?". "That's the whole point of the song." says Frankie, "I totally agree with Clem. I think it is tempestuous, it is over the top, it's supposed to punch you in the face from the beginning." Though inspired from a story, Frankie explains that Berlin has a role too. "There is a lot of tension from living in Berlin. You've got lazy days and really intense music; everyone parties pretty hard at night. It's a contradictory town, there is a lot of concrete and hard architecture but then the parks are leafy and green and filled with people. You can't help taking in what's around you."

Though it's her voice which has recently been inspiring a lot of purple prose from reviewers, songwriting is what has garnered Frankie the most attention. Winning two songwriting awards, including a 2005 Jaxter Award for Young Australian Songwriter for her first ever song (The Wrong Side of Midnight, featured on Pocketknife) only reinforced what seems like an inherent skill. "Usually when I have a thread of an idea I make a space for it, then put myself in that space and work out what is the feeling of this moment and that's what I try and convey. A bunch of songs on the album work on the punch-you-in-the-face-from-the-first-moment concept, then other songs like Treading Water and Boy Wolf are super low key. Songs to me are more about a concept than a musical style. It's about creating a space. You're either mucking around with a guitar line or a lyrical idea, or you just say to yourself: 'I want to write a song that is so intense it's the most passionate four and a half minutes of your life'. For me it's not just writing angry or sensitive music all the time, it's more 'I have this idea about a song', how do I explore that? How do I express that in the best, most concise way possible?".

The way Frankie expresses these ideas has certainly won her a legion of fans in Germany. "It's so easy to play in Germany. You can get a show anywhere in the country and just hop on a train. It's not a drama to organise like going from Sydney to Melbourne. Also, I'm seeing a lot of younger people coming to my shows now. It used to be mainly people in their early 30s, but now 16 and 17 year olds are coming and they yelling back every lyric to me and filming me with their mobile phones; it's like another planet, you can't control them!" she laughs. This success is only partly through featuring in Uli Schuppel's well-received documentary BerlinSong (due to be shown here in coming months), but mainly through live performance and word of mouth.

Her Melbourne show is the only one on her Australian tour that features a whole band. "Simon [Ayton] has moved back to Melbourne, he produced the album and is a fantastic percussionist. He actually made a new microphone for recording Pocketknife. We had a couple of mics on my voice and this weird thing hanging from the ceiling which just made everything sound amazing. I don't know how he did it, but I can hear it in my teeth." This echoes the subject matter in a rare and effective way and the raw effectiveness of the production is something that really stands out. "I haven't heard anything for a while that is confronting in a way that isn't trying to be clever or crafty. I just want it to be super raw and not give a fuck about attempting to restrain myself. That's why it has this intense sound. The Punishing Kiss by Ute Lemper, that's an album that really socks you in the guts."

Surely this energy is powerful, but how do you stop it from seeming forced? "With the more passionate songs it can become difficult to perform those songs and to play them like it's the first time again and again, so I have to trick myself to recreate that moment again and again. Sometimes that can be difficult, but it's really important to me to perform these songs. Every time I play them they go through a process of renewal so in that respect they don't date." While this is a commendable gift, to do it in a genre where there are many other performers (girls with guitars are far from uncommon), to keep it so stripped back and generate a following in Europe clearly shows she can do this well.

In bringing her show to the Rob Roy, Frankie is keen to ensure that it is a venue that will let her interact with the audience. Given that it was once a strip bar, I assure her it is. "If I'm delivering songs that are passionate I want to be able to get in peoples faces and make them cry." she laughs. "Actually it's true, I'm quite proud if someone comes up to me after a gig and tells me they cried." Surprisingly then, her next album isn't going to be about child abuse, but her new flat. "It shudders," she explains. "Since the BerlinSong I've been writing more about architecture and travel, and away from angry white female." she jokes. "I have a new apartment and it shudders every now and then, like it has a chill, and you can't not be aware of your building. For me I become so aware of seeing these 120 year old buildings crumbling before my eyes that it's kind of affecting me at the moment." Well, she should be right at home at The Rob Roy then.

Interview: DOUG FIEGER - His Sharona

Friday, August 24, 2007 

My Sharona. Quite a song. Though not quite one-hit wonders, that song would drive you mad if you were the one who wrote it right? Every Rough Traders' rip-off, Simpsons piss-take and half-arsed metal cover? "Hey, it is what it is. I'm happy that I've had the success I've had because of it, it would be nice if people recognised the other songs, but it does what we wanted it to do and that is make people happy," so says songwriter, singer, guitarist and general all-round LA legend Doug Fieger. And when one of those people is George W. Bush? Fieger laughs at the fact that My Sharona featured on the iPod gifted to the American president by his daughters last Father's Day. "I have no control over who listens to it, I would have put some back-masking in if I could: 'Resign', 'No War' that kind of thing," he grins.

Currently in the country as part of Countdown Spectacular 2 ("hey, they're paying well and I only have to play one song!"), he's philosophical and realistic about his role in the rock world as only one who has seen incredible success and lived through years of substance abuse can be. "I'm proud of the music and the band are better players now than we've ever been. I don't think there is much of a role for The Knack or anybody really in rock and roll nowadays. People have so many distractions, pop music doesn't have the power and importance it once had. We've been together 30 years next year and, to be really honest, nobody cares!" he says laughing. "I'm proud of every record we've made and I have no regrets though. If we released My Sharona today I don't think there would be any success. Radio wouldn't play it and people wouldn't hear it. It's a very different world now, and I don't really keep up with it. People aren't making music for me anymore, I haven't heard anything that particularly knocks my socks off for a long time. Jet were the last band I liked that I heard."

Though still friends (after courtship, engagement and estrangement) with the inspiration of the song Sharona Alperin (now an LA real estate agent), Fieger's songs of the time are often associated with young love and personal experiences. "That was a conscious effort," he explains. "We were writing from the point of view of our remembered adolescent selves. We wanted to tell the story of our lives and start it at that place and move as we went along. Rather than start from the age we were, I was 25, Berton [Averre, guitarist and co-writer] was 24, we made a decision to begin there. The last two albums (Normal As The Next Guy and Re-Zoom) aren't like that. Those songs are written from a much more mature standpoint."

This focus on the adolescence must make the songs even more poignant for Fieger to sing given his battle with lung cancer that began three and a half years ago. Spreading to the brain after being given the all-clear, four tumours were successfully removed from his brain last year after eleven months of chemotherapy. "They still scan me every three months, I'm taking an oral chemotherapy drug and I feel great. I performed while I was undergoing chemo and I'm performing now. I'm a tough motherfucker. It's going to take a lot more than cancer to kill me. I mean, I've been a vegetarian for 17 years, I used to smoke heavily over 20 years ago, cancer doesn't make me look at life differently now, it just gives me greater compassion for people who suffer or have health problems." No sense of encroaching spirituality then? "Man, I've read about a lot of different disciplines and you can open a lot of different doors, but behind all of those doors is the same path."

Known in LA as being somewhat of a guru to others battling with substance and alcohol addiction, Fieger says his only tactic is sharing information. "I tell people what I did. I've been clean and sober for a long time now, coming on 25 years, and people are gonna do what they're gonna do. I don't know what other people find my experience to be, but when someone has shared their experience with you, you instantly have a means of helping them. It's another thing entirely to have a junkie or an alcoholic tell you what a doctor would. I make the connection." A musician who listed My Sharona as one of his favourite songs of all time called on Fieger's help to overcome his problems. "I was supposed to have talked to Kurt Cobain. He was a big Knack fan, and these friends of mine who knew him at the recovery house he went to lined up a meeting for us. Unfortunately he went AWOL before I could reach him, and a few weeks later he was gone."

This time round Fieger hopes to remember a little more than last time he was in Australia. "It was 1979 we were last there. I was imbibing heavily retrospect I guess I was gaining experience. I do remember playing Melbourne and Sydney and having a great time. We played Countdown and a few other shows. I remember it because Sharona had just hit number one in the States when we arrived."

It all comes back to Sharona. That Fieger can be so calm about pulling the song out night after night speaks volumes of a man at ease with life. Though Berton (who Doug refers to as "one of the most underrated and overlooked musicians of his generation") and he wrote it in 1978, that it can still - as with 1994 reissue with the film Reality Bites - jump through generations and fire people up within seconds of it's opening chords is a rare thing. Spectacular, in fact.


Monday, August 20, 2007 
The Prince of Wales

The Prince is filled to OH&S limit by dressed down 16 year-olds with fake ID and the vibe is up up up. Maximo Park seem to appeal to the suburban high school fraternity and the odd pasty-skinned Brit, none of whom have any qualms in letting you know of this appeal either. Ghostwood take to the stage with the sparkling sheen of Nowhere-era Ride fronted by a rougher Thom Yorke. Seeing yet another arty, well-heeled Sydney four-piece, signed before gig number 10, with an average body weight of under 50 kilos and obvious influences is a fairly rote and uninspiring experience, but they do carry the nu-shoegaze torch well. Though their entire set begs for a permanent camera-strobing effect there are fresh ideas in the case of songs Catface, new single Red Version and final frenetic burst Run. Unlikely to break any major ground but a decent new band pursuing an under-explored area of music.

Before the band kick off, British indie-rock hits get the crowd even more excited, and the literal launch into Girls Who Play Guitars fits in after The Fratellis beautifully. Instantly leaving preconceived ideas of their recorded versions in the dust, Maximo Park's songs explode like an avalanche from the stage. Paul Smith, bedecked in bowler hat, patent leather shoes, a 'There is Hope' t-shirt, and (thankfully) wireless mic, pinballs around the stage high-kicking the air sporting one manic expression after the other. All Over The Shop, Parisian Skies, new single Our Velocity and Postcard of A Painting follow, and it's by now that the crowd start to limber up and stop just singing along it's time for fists aloft and some jovial shoving. The next 45 minutes, (which include LIMASOL, Coast Is Always Changing - dedicated to "St Kilda Pier and that beach near it" and Graffiti) hype the crowd up to such a ridiculous degree that it must rank as one of the most one-more-song-like-this-and-I'll-wet-my-pants crowds The Prince has ever seen (and that's including last year's Go! Team gig). This level of adoration visibly surprises the band, prompting Smith to say "Since we started Maximo Park, I know that I have become literally a shadow of my former self, but you remind me why we do this. Thank you. This next song is called Apply Some Pressure." And again the crowd explode.

Behind this exuberance sits Tom English, a masterfully underplaying drummer from the Charlie Watt school of refined cool, the solid, often high-pitched bass of Archis Tiku who allows keyboardist Lucas Wooller (beginning each song, hands on keys, like a sprinter waiting for the pistol) to ricochet along with the songs, never missing a rhythm shift or fill. This infectious freshness is a welcome change from the 'just like the album' school of performance which seems to suffice for so many bands of late. That this band that have also cleared that 'tricky second album' hurdle better than most - tonight's crowd loving the new as much as the old - indicates no shortage of new ideas,all adds up to one thing. A cracking show.


Tuesday, August 14, 2007 
The Rob Roy

It surely isn't just the $8 cover charge that ensure so many folk turn out on a Monday night for a band playing two shows the following two days. Word had clearly got around the The Ruby Suns are worth catching, and with such great supports this was clearly a reason to miss Idol. This lineup was a perfectly pitched reminder that off-kilter pop comes in so many flavours that no one could have left unsatiated.

The lone rock wonder that is Popolice is on fine form tonight. Veering between MBV-via-Dunedin rock riffage with metronomic backing and a squealing, pedal-punching, jam-that-knob-to-10 noise-fest, the extremes only serve to sharpen the force of each. When he sings and pulls out melodic wonders such as Middle Ground and the set-closing glory of Going Nowhere you can be assured that Sgt. Marc's law is here to stay; more sprawling guitar mess barely held together but inspired melodies is barely enough.

The new-look Ramps take to the stage and it soon becomes clear that there is a general level of tightness, strength and calm that is new to the band. How much of this is down to brilliant new drummer Jon Tjhia (replacing Shultz AKA Captain Rad who is leaving for Perth several hours after this gig), and how much to a heavy rehearsal schedule, time will tell, but this is now an oddly effective beast. Sounding more Sonic Youth EP than Sister LP, surprising structures, tom-heavy drums and compellingly jagged arrangements grip attention and make a case for this band leaping from amusing oddity to hottest new thing in town; much the way Pikelet has gone from being bottom of a five-band bill to playing in London and headlining at The Toff within nine months. Aleks And The Ramps' new energy, more forceful, drier sound (particularly on the never-more-sinister and dancable They Recorded Everything We Said as well as several impressive new songs), and with their live show no less exciting - the flailing limbs of the band like a hurricane around the calm bass-playing of Janita - mark this band as complex, edgy, fun and totally unpredictable.

To a stage bedecked with glowing lights, the headlining Kiwi five-piece stride out and launch into the haunting yet catchy Beach Boys-esque Asleep In The Garden. With bouncing beats, shimmering guitars, glorious harmonies and a new rhythm every 30-odd seconds, The Ruby Suns are a wondrous thing to behold, particularly in a place so made-under as the 'new' look Rob Roy. Lead singer and guitarist Ryan McPhun (tonight adorned in an I Survived Hurricane Hugo t-shirt) leads his Ruby Suns through one psychedelic yacht-rock shenanigan after another and the smiles all round the room show his pop-friendly Animal Collective-vibe is working a treat. Older songs Criterion and Masai Mara sound audibly thinner next to new raucous barnstormers from their forthcoming Sea Lion album like Oh Mojave, Tane Mahuta and Sister Brother. With the sound almost mariachi in places, there is an unprecedented emphasis on rhythms that pulls the songs along wonderfully, and by the time autoharpist Gareth Shute leads them into the handclapping and percussion bonanza that is Oh Mojave, you can see the seeds being sown for the blossoming of audiences for future gigs.

Interview: FI CLAUS - Is Rad!

Friday, July 27, 2007 

One thing that Miss Claus has over other flowering trees in the thickly forested landscape of female folkie-types (besides some of the more impressive tresses to have fallen beyond a coquettishly angled chin) is her self-learned multi-instrumentality. While some may be content to strum and sing, Claus wrote, produced, played guitar, violin, cello, organ, glockenspiel and train whistle on her forthcoming album Bijoux. Odd name isn't it? "I just love the sound of that word, and the meaning of it. It's a bit full-on for me to call the songs gems, though I am really happy with them, so if I call them gems in another language, maybe I can get away with it!"

Before it's 2008 release, Claus has released the iTunes-only track Come Home which has already garnered flowery prose from reviewers and playlist-addition the country over. "It was more the novelty of releasing it on iTunes than anything else, and they featured it as a Single of the Week, which was cool. The next single will have other tracks on it, and that will be hard copy as well as on iTunes. It's a matter of getting it out there and building things up. I'm really excited about these songs, it just feels like the songwriting I've always been heading towards doing."

Does songwriting come easily? "Yeah I guess. Especially if I'm alone for a while. I tend to do a lot of it though I only really started when I was 21. Music has been there since the year dot, but I only picked up the guitar three years ago. In [previous band] Gorgeous, Emma did most of the guitar parts so I just did vocals and other instruments when they were needed."
Gorgeous is what she may be best known to Melbournians for, and their splitting up in 2006 may hold the record for most amicable parting of the ways the music world has ever seen. Was it all as pretty as the music? "Pretty much yeah, it was just a gradual process over about a year, we were both writing a alot more pop stuff. Gorgeous was always 50/50, but we had both written so much over the year or two we were together, it would have taken us 10 years to get it all out there. I have got two and a half albums of songs now."

Did you feel brave going solo? "Not to begin with! I was quite scared initially. I had always been a part of something that was bigger than me and it took a while before I finally had the guts to put my name on it. It is exciting to really have free range over the songs and turn them into what first I envision them to be." Being able to do that betrays a great affinity for communication, and the band Claus has constructed shows the great regard with which she is held in by musical peers. Pete Murray sings backing vocals on the album, his drummer Andy Sylvio does the same with Claus, and James O'Brien from The Boat People plays bass. Is their gelling all down to the fluid nature of the songs? "There is a funny kind of natural affinity between the three of us. We just had one weekend in Melbourne working out the parts, then a weekend in Brisbane recording them, so it really works."

Do you forsee yourself doing this forever? "Absolutely. It just keeps happening so you just keep doing it. Last year was an interrim year while I was getting stuff recorded so I was playing violins with other projects, and when you meet up with people and you perform together and it feels really right it's just so special and it really sinks in how you much you are doing the right thing and that you're on the right track. I just feel really compelled to do this."


East Brunswick Club

Rain canes the streets outside, but within the EBC another world, one where life and art merge in blood red and pitch black. No art-form left unwielded, The Red Paintings Animal Rebellion tour is as sincere as it's ringleader who is unquestionably on form and in command tonight.
Spazmoo entertain the enthusiastic Red Paintings fans who arrive early (many sporting their sweaters and an assumed dark elegance that some would describe using a word that rhymes with Fimo) with a sound that could only be described as incredibly grunge; a more riff-oriented Primus fronted by Eddie Vedder. An enthusiastic Jack (guitar-tech for the Red Paintings) inspires proceedings with a vibrant guest appearance but overall it's very samey and seems like a stepping stone for the talent within the band.

Battle Circus are an oddity both visually and sonically. As with Spazmoo it's more a case of linking double-kick underpinned riffs together to create a needlessly groove-less and complex 'song', or in this case 'journey'. Kiwi psychedelic metal is never going to be a huge genre but should you ever feel the need for some, these guys (and girl) have it covered. Most songs go for between five and ten minutes and psychedelic™ projections totally fail to distract from the mad ecstasy writ large across the face of keyboardist Yvonne Wu, and, like the trip they seem to be on, there are many great views but no chance to stay and enjoy them.

Lights out and a wolf slinks across the stage. So begins the multimedia orgy that is a Red Paintings show. Cactus-like trees populate the stage, blank canvases adorn the walls, wolf howls fill the air and finally the painted and kimono-clad band arrive with singer Trash McSweeney in the guise of Red Riding Hood. This outfit works, as cheers and screamed declarations of love replace wolf howls and the band dive into their new EP's title track Feed The Wolf. Dry ice billows, a ten-eyed stag stands in the front row and the band gather steam via a compelling rendition of Fall Of Rome during which Trash introduces the evening's artists who begin working on the canvases and the body of the wolf who is now revealed to be a girl painted black. A giant wristwatch hypnotises the audience as they go into The Streets Fell Into My Window, a light sabre burns for Dead Children, a man dressed as God casually reads from a Ladybird book of Noah's Ark, slipping in modern ecological references. The stage is littered with odd props, an animal (rabbit?) foetus in a jar, a toy mouse on it's side in a running wheel; it all makes for an intoxicating combination which the (largely teen and early-20s) crowd love.

Finishing the first sequence with a very RATM-style political rant called The Revolution Is Never Coming, there follows a costume change and possibly their best song, the mournful We Belong In The Sea which, regardless of opinion of the size of McSweeney's ego or methods of doing business (his funding the bands recordings by asking listeners for money seems to be a hot topic), is a great and affecting song. The show closes with a brief manic conga line and the thrill of The Chase which stops no one from baying for more. It seems this rebellion is picking up.

Interview: BUTCH VIG - Talking Trash

Thursday, July 12, 2007 

Partway through producing The Subways' forthcoming album, Butch Vig is in a chilled mood. Unwearied from fielding a plethora of interviewers attempting to elicit erudite observations about his band and their new best-of album, he is especially keen to talk instead about a recent benefit concert he organised for cancer-afflicted drummer and friend Wally Ingram. "It was the most challenging thing I've ever done, co-ordinating all these bands to be at the benefit. We had Crowded House, Sheryl Crow, George Clinton, Bonnie was great, we raised over $100 000."

Also headlining the bill was of course, his band Garbage. More renown for their sustained quality of albums and general mood of dark, smart, richly produced rock than throwaway hit singles, Garbage have always seemed more about making a mood than a hit. Vig himself says "my favourite Garbage songs are the darker, more sultry ones like Queer and the title track off our last album Bleed Like Me." Twelve years on from their debut, Garbage are still more about feel than hooks.

This compilation is likely to be a trip back in time for many fans, or even occasional listeners, and, given the way their infusive music all but sums up the late 90s with it's creeping paranoia and rich fusion of genres, it would be hard to not to be one of them. "I definitely see this album as being a summing up of what we've achieved so far. It really surprised me, looking back, to see that we really are a rock band; we've put out four albums in ten years and done over 1000 shows." Having said that, Vig also points out that they are less likely to tour Australia now than ever before ("next summer at the earliest" he says). Given the number of production jobs he has on the cards and singer Shirley Manson's preoccupation with her own album, it's unsurprising. Being together as a band has never necessarily meant being together in the same room with Garbage.

"Garbage was definitely begun as a side project to my production work, it was meant to be a fun thing with no real plans. Part of the success is definitely down to 'right place right time'. In the mid 90s, when we started, people were pretty sick of grunge, so when they heard something I was involved in that didn't sound grunge at all, that was more noir-ish and had hip-hop beats, I think people really got into it. It was also a case of great timing with the first album. I've always thought it caught the end of the CD buying generation; we sold five million copies of that. If we put it out now, I think we'd sell maybe one million and a whole lot of people would be downloading it. It's so much harder to put out an album now with people being so single-oriented. So many young bands I know will record one song and some B-sides, then go on tour."

Butch Vig's position in the rock world today is a rare and authoritative one. Initially his work as a producer (overseeing breakthrough albums for Nirvana, Smashing Pumpkins, AFI and Sonic Youth's classic Dirty) overshadowed his songwriting and remixing nous, but in time all these talents have been brought to the fore by Garbage.

Growing up in Wisconsin (AKA 'America's Dairyland') Vig had a varied musical upbringing, and upon opening his studio in the state's capital Madison, found a world of sound to commit to tape. "I guess if I did live in New York or LA, I would have been part of a scene. In Madison I had everything coming into my studio: punk bands, rock bands, jazz ensembles, opera singers, everything."

This openness toward sound and style has lately seen Vig head into soundtrack work, something he says Garbage are interested in doing more of. One, a noir-type film being produced by the producers of 2006's Oscar-winning Crash sees him getting more electronic and experimental but still remaining 'Garbage-esque'. "It's so great to be working with a script, I love not having to think verse-chorus-verse-chorus."

Other members of the band have been busy too. Multi-instrumentalist Duke Erikson has been living in London where he is helping to assemble a BBC-sponsored compendium of folk and blues music along with an accompanying book. Guitarist Steve Marker has moved to Aspen, Colorado where he's taken up skiing, while Shirley Manson is finally putting paid to the rumours of her making a solo album by collaborating with Jack White, Scottish songwriting legend Paul Buchanan of The Blue Nile, film composer Dave Arnold and Billy Corgan, a project (naturally) produced by Vig.

Surprisingly, Garbage are not contemplating calling it a day. "I don't know what the future holds but I do feel like the album is only the end of one chapter. This new song Tell Me Where It Hurts really came together from us jamming on a Bacharach-style piece, and when the idea of the compilation came together we took it into the studio, added some guitars and made it into a Garbage song."

Ensuring that there is something for the fan who has everything, Absolute Garbage also comes in a special edition format with a homespun DVD, giving a very rare glimpse into the behind the scenes world of a band rarely without manifold image control. The bonus disc features an impressive list of remixers each taking a single and bending it to their own ends, something Vig is no stranger to himself.

How does he maintain his focus give the sheer number of projects he takes on? "I try to focus on the essence of what I'm doing. Shirley will say this too: I'm a perfectionist. I need total quality control over anything that is going out with my name on it. I'm obsessive to detail and not good at delegating." You can focus on the essence even while overlaying the 40th guitar track on a Smashing Pumpkins song? "Yeah. You can go in whatever direction you feel, and if you do that for a week and hit a dead end, well at least you tried. As long as you're staying true to the essence of what you're working on, it works - and I love working."

Indeed Vig's penchant for producing breakthrough albums appears to be continuing if the hype surrounding forthcoming albums by Against Me! and Jimmy Eat World are anything to go by, as if more proof were needed of his talent for getting the right sound from the right people at the right time.


Northcote Social Club

With an average audience age around 37 this was clearly a night for revisiting golden years of performer and and punter alike. There were, however, enough curious youngsters present to rightfully indicate that The Apartments are something for the ages as well as all ages. Kicking off the night by back-announcing the last track playing over the PA, Dave Graney did what he does best (in fact, quite possibly all he can do) which is play the lounge lizard; a master of style over substance who never un-cocks his hat. With an oddly congruous backing band made up of the ever-impressive Clare Moore, the pelvis-thrusting guitar of Stu Perreri (a man who simply canNOT leave the wah pedal alone for a minute), the classy keys of Mark Fitzgerald and subtly on-point bass of Stu Thomas, Graney leads them through a typically blase Let's Kill God Again. Before the chorus comes in for the fourth time you know what you're getting, and for the following half hour you get it. Various versions of a vaguely catchy title (Biker in Business Class, Bring Me My Liar, Crime And Underwear etc.) repeated beyond the point of tedium while Graney attempts to distract from the lack of ideas with sycophantically played two-note guitar licks and a natty suit complete with ocker bling. Too blithe to offend or be especially anything, the two 'classics' (You're Just To Hip Baby and Rock And Roll Is Where I Hide) show that if you dig anywhere for long enough you'll eventually find something of interest, but overall the chat was more rewarding, giving Graney a chance to shoot his mouth off in style - something he'll clearly never be short of.

Playing their first ever Melbourne gig ("we always meant to come here") The Apartments are a band many thought to be a British cult act of the early 80s (myself included) until last week. Knowing now that we can claim a songwriter like Peter Milton Walsh as our own is a truly wondrous gift it would be criminal to ignore. Featuring ex-Go Between John Willsteed, drummer Gene Maynard (who appears half the age of the others), trumpter Jeff Crawley, keyboardist George Bibikos and the slippery lead guitar of Eliot Fish they open with a quietly astonishing The Goodbye Train. The stride is hit and jaws drop to the brittle and cascading chorus of their 1986 Rough Trade single All You Wanted. Though the band is clearly fresh to playing live ("we're raggedy, we're not slick" Walsh states emphatically), there is a rawness that keeps things alive. Walsh's voice is held back in the mix and lyrics are often lost, but it's done in such a genuinely gripping way that ears keen to catch a lyric a la REM circa Murmur. Songs such as Something To Live For and Make It Count (written for but not recorded by Dusty Springfield) exalt in their unadorned glory while allowing you to see how he never quite made it to the levels he should have. Coming across like a less confident Joe Jackson, Walsh sings while standing on his toes and leaning over to reach the microphone cutting an distinctively awkward figure.

While songs often go on for longer than expected (and in fact often sound very much like each other given the near-identical instrumentation and lack of dynamics), they come across as dry shoegaze anthems driven with a bookish intelligence, never letting the feeling of compulsion slip.

His explanations behind songs are told in an unrehearsed and absorbing way, never outstaying his welcome. His way with words is a brilliant talent that there is no excuse for leaving a city waiting 30 years to hear. When Time Off editor Matt Connors claims that "arguably the greatest crime of neglect committed in Australian music" is the lack of attention given to this band, he's spot on. This gig is proof of that.


Cloud City, Brunswick

Tonight's show - being a benefit for the venue - is, for the most part, happily free of much of the 'it's just a benefit gig not a real gig' slackness that can mar nights like this. In fact, it's a furnace of artistic expression warming those that gather here in a black Brunswick backwater surrounded by cold darkness and pouring rain. Being a benefit for soundproofing, loudness is the order of the night.

Grey Skulls have little in common with the He-Man reference that may first spring to mind. Unless you're wondering what an audio collage of fights between he and Skeletor may sound like rammed through several distortion pedals and an array of processors until mutilated beyond recognition. Largely formless in structure, the Grey Skulls take improvisation away from any VCA art school discussion and bend it to the harsher mentalities of industrial minimalism. Robert pounds a guitar, another feedbacks behind him, Bonnie operates a board of pedals, effects and filters, and the sound is huge. Less rock than their more common guise as part of Grey Daturas, Grey Skulls seem more like an experimental side project but one inadverdantly done for the right reasons; if just one of these all-ages' minds is opened a little further, the job is done.

An announcement from one of Cloud City's organisers informs us that a 'fuckhead landlord' has given them a month to vacate, though the gigs already booked will go ahead. This incredibly unfortunate announcement only serves to rally the troops and pulls another killer performance from My Disco, masters of the deconstruction of deconstructed rock. Sounding something akin to a train crash that lasts for 45 minutes, their eight song set features much new and unnamed material, most of it instrumental and - if possible - even more machinistic and less human (though no less humane) than before. Opening track 001 pulvarises those not standing stoutly and though silence is used to great effect (particularly as it is filled with the pattering of rain when punters aren't going 'wooo'), nothing can compete with the sheer sternum-shaking muscle of Liam Andrews' (literally) metal bass or Rohan Rebiro's mighty reverse-stick drumming. Despite this, it's hard not to have your attention arrested by Ben Andrew's atonal guitar squalls. Hilariously, for a band so utterly tightly wound, Rohan is overheard saying to Ben "just make it up." That there is room for improvisation amongst a band so sharp is refreshing. With the fully-formed strength of Perfect Protection My Disco show what they are capable of when building a song, it's the shards of instrumentation that are pushed tonight, and they are just as compelling.

The Groundies, adorned variously in tracky dacks and a Goons Of Doom t-shirt, single-handedly bring the party atmosphere to tonight's show. Opening with An Eye For A Brow there are enough folk in the crowd singing along to know that the vibe is turning here, though audience numbers dwindle. The punters are fairly tame tonight, maybe that's what all ages shows are like now, but it turns out few can dance to My Disco and most are content just to watch Joe McGuigan bash his guitar and the band to bellow party anthem after anthem. Though a new song sees them pick up the pace for a bit, they are sounding (and looking) more mid-70s pub rock (which is an irredeemably shit thing to sound like) than ever before, which is a shame given the talent on board. But with by-the-numbers riffs and half-hearted 'La-De-Da-De-De' choruses it's a relief that the cops show up and they're given one song (predictably The Dark Side Of Dallas) before shutdown. This is when the death disco begins, the crowd thins out, and Khia takes it up another notch.

Interview: FUNERAL FOR A FRIEND - Their Funeral, His Trial

Matt Davies, frontman for Funeral For A Friend, is a man able to summon up a musical howl of anger within seconds of a soundcheck, while also being responsible for penning words that are seeing his band become a household name in their native Wales. That their latest album Tales Don't Tell Themselves debuted at number three in the UK signifies that their are well on their way. Davies describes their current UK tour as being "so far, so good", but gets very excited about the bands impending return here; "We're all itching to get back to Australia because we had such a great response when we were there last time. The kids were amazing, everybody was really supportive. It's one of the places we've played really, really great shows."

It seems Davies and co. are in the part of the record/release/promote cycle which sees them in the early stages of a daunting schedule, one that (for the third time) takes in the mega-huge Vans Warped tour. "The Warped tour is fun. Basically it's the opportunity for us to play for 30 minutes every day and to have a little bit of a summer vacation; the weather is a definite plus." Understandable given that they recorded the album in their rainy homeland of Wales.

"When we played it back in the studio for the first time there was a little worry in the back of my head: 'Jesus Christ how can we top this record?' But in the two years it takes to tour this album into the ground I think we'll have more ammunition to take into the studio next time that will trounce this."

Must be nerve-wracking releasing a new album with so many listening, especially one which is seeing them move from straight out post-hardcore guitar riffage to prominently using an orchestra and eschewing subject matter of a typically emo nature. "We were aware of the people waiting for this record, and at the end of the day we ignored it and decided to make the record we wanted to make. It was a strictly Funeral For A Friend wanting to be Funeral For A Friend."

The creation of their new album was presaged by several months of scrapped recording that resulted in the band "running into songs we'd already done before". "I think it was a brave move for us to make a record like this. We were feeling that we were going to possibly hit a brick wall and make an album where we weren't being totally true to ourselves. We had to figure out where we were as a band and that we just had to go for it really, and write with all our influences on the table and mix it all up and see where it went. Tales was the album that came out of that."

"The themes of the album for me were more an exploration of peoples fears and rationalisations and how for some strange reason we stress over and go crazy about the smallest, most insignificant things and ignore the more important problems in the world. Putting these ideas into a narrative really allowed me to explore characterisation, and the flow of narrative within musical structures was really interesting to concentrate on. That meant that I could focus on the emotion in the music and utalise the lyrical content against that to make the music a lot stronger."

And the future? "We might get more experimental or crazy with orchestra and shit. I've been listening to the soundtrack to the film The Fountain - it really touched me, and I really got into the musical element of that movie - I love the classical element mixed with the post-rock vibe. I'm really interested in seeing where we can develop and take those influences that are ever growing, into the next Funeral album." That, and some no doubt storming Australian gigs.


The Toff In Town

Though, as Mr. Grand Salvo himself, Paddy Mann says: "It's like playing a gig at a friend's house whose parents happen to be really rich," The Toff does showcase the tender sounds of both acts rather well. Grand Salvo's show sees Mann stay front and centre while guests wander on and off, contributing some softly malleted drums here (Oliver Mann), wonderfully subtle cello there (Jess Venebles) and stunning harmonies throughout the whole show (Zoe Rambles). Seeming to be a performer who is highly sensitive to the environment in which he plays, Mann is tonight treated with great respect by the venue and audience. This means songs such as In The Morning, Brave Like A Goose and Drifting, and songs that seem like they're called I Dreamed About My Home, I Know That I'll Be Here When You Come Home and Back To Your Sweet Side sound full-bodied and complete despite hanging together on the slenderest of threads as compositions. It's this tenuousness of these songs that can render them either soporific or stunning, and tonight it's the latter. There is little doubt Mann is an extraordinarily evocative songwriter, anyone who can take a word like 'quim' and make it work is clearly ploughing his own fruitful furrow, but just when though, will these cracking new songs be released?

Guy Blackman expounds upon his songs with a stellar team - all of whom are on top form tonight. Though Blackman is 'feeling very snotty I'll have you understand,' his voice is still as emotive and plaintive as ever. Being Missed takes us into his world of acute observations, private meditations, and wistful rejections all coloured with the lure of retreat. With a two month overseas tour with Geoff O'Connor (of The Crayon Fields, Sly Hats and seemingly several dozen backing bands, Blackman's included) and Jens Lekman (of private fantasies everywhere) beckoning, this show was an album launch of sorts. Though the product itself won't be available until October, this unfamiliarity is no sticking point, and many songs such as Act Like You Don't, Carlton North, Unsteady (featuring a lovely, reedy vocal turn from Venebles), the Pastels-ish funk of Gayle, and the perfectly judged closing cover of (Come Up And See Me) Make Me Smile hit the spot and show Blackman to be a man with more than just breathtaking honesty and a handsome profile going for him. Partway through this last song, midnight strikes and dual-performer Jess Venebles turns 20, or as Blackman says; "Jess, by the middle of this song, you will no longer be teenager." This is the man we're exporting, Australian tendency for unflinching honesty to the fore for maximum impact. Nice


East Brunswick Club

The sweet sounds of Laura Jean welcome us into the tightly mingling crowd (few of whom could be under 25) of comfortably dressed Brunswickians who warmly receive her lovely tunes. Ms. Jean and her ensemble closely resemble, to both the ear and eye, a Fairport Convention offshoot circa 1970; clarinet, viola, acoustic guitar, bass and percussion. Her songs more than rise to this comparison too, It's Supposed To Be Summer, Eve and the closing near-masterpiece Mikhail all support the hype in The Age claiming she is this year's rising star. The woodwind and string arrangements support and accentuate her often fantastical stories well and her voice rides the twists and turns of the songs in an unpretentiously homespun way. Though there may be dozens of women occupying similar sounds in this city, Laura Jean is staking her place, and the forthcoming Edenland album (some of which features tonight) should cement that.

Into a reception so warm as to send fire from applauding hands, Darren Hanlon strides upon the stage in coat and scarf, and instantly reassures people it was worth venturing out on this cold weeknight. "Cold enough for you? I'm from Queensland, it's like coming from Tatanooie to play a gig on the planet Hoth." After an engaging Cheat The Future it's back to a banjo for Pinball Millionaire and Falling Aeroplanes before the band (Portland, Oregon's Cory Gray on keys, Rolling Stone editor Simon Wooldrich on bass and 'vixen of the beat' Bree Van Reyk). Like a cleverer, more Australian, less pretentious, more genuine, funnier, sweeter, more talented and likable version of Ben Lee, Hanlon regales us with highly hilarious stories about pinball and over-zealous bar owners, the various band members and his good self interspersed with songs that a large portion of the crowd know word for word.

Mostly playing songs from Fingertips and Mountaintops his recent foray to a West Australian monastery has seen him give birth to tonight's highlight, a new song called Buy Me Presents. Other highlights are the immortal I Wish I Was Beautiful For You, The People Who Wave At Trains, Hold On and rollicking versions of Happiness Is Just A Chemical, Couch Surfing and his increasingly famous, if brief, cover of (Together In) Electric Dreams, which surely brings out a side to the song few new existed. Under much duress from the band, a few vocal punters elicit a Punk's Not Dead and there is not a frown to be found. It's surely only time till both tonight's performers break to the next level of national recognition.

Interview: THE RED PAINTINGS - Scarlet Fever

Trash McSweeney. He's not like other people. A man as phenomenally driven as he is talented, Trash is the singer/songwriter/guitarist/manager/set designer/promoter and underfed chef for The Red Paintings. He is also the mastermind of their forthcoming Animal Rebellion tour which sees giant papermache animals boarding a UFO ark in a tour of the nation's shopping malls. Confused? I'll let Trash explain:

"What the Animal Rebellion tour is about is saying: Humans are selfish. We rent this world, we don't own anything that we live on. I thought 'what is getting neglected the most here?' Humans are always thinking about them them them, they don't think about the animals - we neglect them in so many ways. Scientists are engineering animals these days; even KFC is getting three or four wings out of a chicken, so The Red Paintings are genetically engineering animals like a preying mantis with a rabbit and we're marching them into Noah's Ark which is a UFO. This time we can't return after the flood, it's too late - we're burning and scorching the world, the only way for the animals to exist is to get on a UFO and go to another planet. I think it's important to be talking about things like this because it really is serious. Maybe there is a time when we can't go back, maybe we're at that time already."

This kind of drive and individualism is a rare thing to behold, and in Trash's case, so pronounced as to contribute to a collapse and seizure three weeks ago. "I collapsed in the airport, I started turning blue and my manager freaked out and broke my jaw trying to give me mouth-to-mouth resuscitation. I woke up in hospital, went home and started playing this piano that was in my room that I'd never played before and wrote We Belong In The Sea which is on the CD."

These sort of extreme experiences seem to fuel The Red Paintings - "You've got to utilise what you've got. Everything is recycled - plastic, thoughts, feelings. There is so much wasted energy." The making of their new CD is another example: "When we got back from the Dresden Dolls tour we were $50-60 000 in debt; we got our gear stolen in Chicago and Adelaide. We came back and began dealing with labels and getting contracts from big management companies and I was like: 'I'm not gonna go this way, I can't do what you're asking me to do'. So I put a call out to fans around the world and all of a sudden we had enough money to finance the EP." The resulting EP Feed The Wolf, produced by New York IDM artist Tidy Kid, is already seeing their articulate art rock getting fawning reviews. Their music is characterised by relentless intensity, serrated guitars and lyrics.

The gloriously arranged strings are a product of another dramatic episode whereby a collapse in a supermarket several years ago saw Trash regain consciousness with synethesia (the involuntary triggering of colours when hearing sound) which has since influenced all the music he makes and hears. So what can punters expect to see and hear at their forthcoming Melbourne show? "We're going to build a forest in that venue, there will be moons over the stage and everything. The music, the public happenings and the art; it's a unit, like the Dada movement. That's what the radio doesn't understand, they think we're all about gimmicks - we're an installation band, we're not just a fucking rock band. I feel so blessed with all the negatives - I wouldn't have come up with Animal Rebellion if all the circumstances that happened in the last year of my life hadn't happened. Blessed." Trash McSweeney. Not like other people.

Interview: GRAND ATLANTIC - Making Waves

Sunday, June 17, 2007 

With Brisbane currently seeming to challenge Melbourne as THE music city of this great brown land, that the latest hype from there is a band more in common with the articulate psych-pop of The Zombies and the epic rock of Muse than Wolf-anything should set eyebrows even further aloft. Grand Atlantic, would, as their name suggests not be too interested in understatement, though beneath the ISC songwriting awards and burgeoning press hyperbole accompanying their brand new This Is Grand Atlantic release, there beats four very human hearts in the form of Phil Usher (Guitar / Vocals), Nigel Smith (Guitar), Sean Bower (Bass) and Scott Mullane (Drums), the former of whom is currently wresting with stage (and not industry) props for their Brisbane album launch; building a giant letter G and an A to be exact. 'I have these crazy ideas then I feel I like I have to go through with them, they'll have light bulbs and glitter on them'.

This launch also sees the addition of a timpani player, brass, and string quartet which gives you some ideas of the canvas which Grand Atlantic work. Melbourne shows will see the songs stripped back somewhat, which will go some way to proving these songs of Usher's are as strong as judging panels say.
"Winning the awards hasn't really changed anything, I mean it [the ISC] is quite a prestigious competition and the judges are amazing, but like most competitions it's a bit of a wank. There are so many people out there doing music you do anything you can to get noticed, and I'm pouring my living self into what I'm doing and I want people to hear it. We're not the best band in the world, or the best looking guys in the world but we're doing our best, and when you see other things out there that you deem to be not as good as what you're doing then you think: 'Fuck it, I deserve to be heard as well'. In the industry I think people do take notice of the awards, but bands you play with and listeners don't give a shit. I mean, if you can't rock then what does it matter?"

Where great songs come from is a timeless question that few have the answer to, Usher though, has his own theories. "Man, I'm obsessed! I think that songwriting is like trying to tickle yourself. When I try to write a song I'm trying to send shivers down my spine. Ultimately you're trying to please yourself first, because to be honest I want to write music that I'm proud of. I usually do a demo of the song, play it to the guys and then we start from scratch again."

This is where that canvas comes in. Grand Atlantic's production brings to life the '60s influences wrapped up with a modern sound' which describes their debut CD This Is Grand Atlantic and has been turning heads since last year's lauded EP Smoke And Mirrors.
"There were no rules when it came to the studio. Even if the ideas sounded crazy we wanted to try it. When we were recording we were always thinking 'how can we best serve the song?'. We were able to take our time because our drummer Scott ran the studio we used, even though we had to work around other projects we could go back and re-record things until they were right so it took longer than we wanted it to but we're really proud of the results. It comes back to what I was saying about being obsessed with the songs. I don't sit down to write a rock song, you go with where the inspiration comes and if you can fit a variety of songs within a framework - which I think we've done - then it's a wonderful thing."

Live Review: SLOAN

Monday, June 11, 2007 
The Corner

Following The Pictures support slot (which coaxes a concise and dispassionate review from Ben Butler - 'Teh Pictures suxor'), several minutes of football terrace chanting of the headliner's name elicits an eager bunch of Nova Scotians from stage left, raring to play the last gig of their Australian tour. Straight away energy levels are sky high and the three-song-no-break introduction of Flying High Again, Who Taught You To Live Like That? and Ill Placed Trust assure us that tonight will belong to them alone. The three-part harmonies are spot on, rhythms rock solid and the guitars have the right amount of punk and pop to not be pop punk but injected with energy and melody. Sloan seem to have quietly built a solid fanbase here and it is quite incredible to see the number of nodding heads mouthing words, hands aloft and even a Nova Scotian flag showing the passion for this rarely-mentioned band. That most seem to be in their early 30s indicates perhaps the late 90s were Sloan's heyday and maybe there are just a few songs bringing the punter out, though tonight shows the quality of their songwriting hasn't dropped and many songs come from last year's 29-song Never Hear The End Of It album.

Given that each member is a songwriter, personalities soon become pronounced; bassist Chris Murphy likes to write songs in which he can throw a high kick (All Used Up), Jay Ferguson is a master of melody and orchestrating harmonies (Who Taught You To Live Like That?), Patrick Pentland loves to squeeze in a metal solo (Losing California) and drummer Andy Scott writes, sings and plays guitar the way he drums, with truckloads of energy and volume (I Can't Sleep). It's tracks like the double-shot from 1998's Navy Blues album Money City Maniacs and C'mon C'mon (We're Gonna Get It Started) or I Hate My Generation where all these elements get to shine and they really prove their stuff. It's these songs that rouse the audience the most and have proved that nine years hasn't dulled them one bit. Murphy and Pentland have the unintentionally hilarious habit of pushing their glasses up their nose whenever playing an open string or holding a note during their guitar solo respectively, and it is this sort of (probably Nova Scotian) lack of pretentiousness that works so well with their songs, which more involve you than sweep you away. Judging by Sloan's new material, they're not toying with a winning formula, an example being the closing song for their new album and the gig, Another Way I Could Do It which allows Murphy to act the showman again, something he loves as much as the crowd does. After more football-type chanting, the encore sees The Wellingtons' Kate Goldby join the band for a tender rendition of I Can Feel It which precedes into a scorching singalong closer of If It Feels Good, Do It. Sloan are all about the songs and the showmanship and tonight had both in spades.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009


Monday, June 04, 2007 

"I have a hard time explaining the type of music we play; acoustic, folk, jazz; 'world music' is not seen as quite so dismissive in Europe," laughs vocalist extraordinaire Zulya Kamalova, speaking from the road during a tour of regional Victoria, her first with her infant daughter. "This tour has been really well received, but there's not a lot of time for sleep." she says, her voice still sparkling. Making music her life has seen Zulya play everywhere from Stawell to Siberia. "It's very different to playing in Russia where I add more of the Tartar songs. I don't want to be seen as a representative of traditional Tartar music though, I used to be more that person who would, you know 'take traditional Tartar music and do whatever with it' but now it's more of a band thing." Well known in Tartarstan, she says her music garners mixed responses. "Some people there don't really get me. They want me to be this pop star who's trying to get on Eurovision you know, that's how they see overseas success. Since we get invited to play these festivals there I guess they see me as being this representative of Tartar to the world, but it's more about my experiences and the band's music now."

Though sometimes unfairly dismissed as 'circus' or 'gypsy' music by the inattentive casual listener, most who stumble across (music this unusual is something few actively search for) this band are amazed firstly at the wonder that is the voice of Zulya, and that this music can originate here and now in Melbourne. Adding a very necessary and desirable cultural edge to the Australian music scene, Zulya, a native here for over 15 years, has been steadily and unceremoniously forging a place for herself, and recently her accompanying Children Of The Revolution.

"I have felt outside of the Australian music scene of course, but once I arrived here it did seem to be a place I could make music and find an audience; that early music feels like it was by someone entirely different now. In the beginning it was more an expression of my culture, now I've got this wonderful band and 3 Nights is more an expression of us than me. The band (Andrew Tanner - double bass and jews harp, Justin Marshall - percussion and drums, Lucas Michailidis - guitar and Anthony Schulz - accordion) have been a fixture for several years now. "Sometimes they need to be kept in check," she laughs, "particularly on songs they write, but we have a sound now and everyone knows where they fit in to that." This sound sees them as fluid and able to translate as vast a range of feeling as Zulya's voice. The CD was mainly recorded live, and live the band really shine.

"We used to get an older, more 'ABC' crowd," she laughs. "But lately there have been a lot more young people coming to the shows." For escapist reasons perhaps? "Well I never thought of it that. I guess since I listen to a lot of music in other languages I don't feel transported to their country, but I do love the way that I will put all of these feelings into a song and tell a story and someone gets something totally different out of it."

With 3 Nights following it's predecessor into the European World Music Top 10 this week, there is clearly a broad audience for whatever sort of music it is that Zulya And The Children Of The Revolution play. Expect that audience to expand at this Saturday's CD launch.

CD Review: THE RAYLENES - Let The Wild Rumpus Start (Half A Cow)

Monday, June 04, 2007 

The barely contained thrill within a track like Fallen Down off The Raylenes' debut album is something you rarely stumble across; that dry vocal and pitch-perfect melody, tumbling drums and mad descending rush from the guitars, all over in two and a half minutes - gold. That this discovery is from a little known but up and coming local band only adds to the excitement. The Raylenes live somewhere between 60s London, 80s Dunedin and right now, so these transmissions, under the title Let The Wild Rumpus Start, should be only increasing the profile of these cats. As befits an album named after a quote from Maurice Sendak, there is a playfulness and hint of vast imagination at work here. Songs like airplay-friendly Something Monsterous and the Withnail-referencing Never Play The Dane give away their influences but these are melded together in such a fun and carefree way (yet with spot-on arrangements and harmonies that could never be accidental) you can hardly believe that it's still got the garage band backing that got your attention in the first place.

Dave Rogers described The Raylenes as "soul music for the over-educated" and, in the spirit of much of the New Zealand scene that 4/5ths of the band hail from, there were probably tens of thousands of cumulative rainy days indoors that fostered the aforementioned imagination and daydreams that are realised with this release. It's no surprise that Half A Cow snapped these guys up and they should be thrilled with this opening effort. John Palmer's wordsmithery - with characters such as frustrated thespian Hilary "six years on where is she now? / she works the calls but just inbound" from Never Play The Dane as effective as any Murdoch creation. The clincher being the way the soundscape of the music reinforces the story being told in a clever yet obvious way. Priceless drumming from Jamie Power urge the tracks forward (must have been hard for The Brunettes to replace him) and really comes into it's own on songs like Fallen Down and Getting Young. Mexico let's co-vocalist Katie Jacobs and Palmer play with the Nancy and Lee comparisons to great effect. There are many influences you can spot, and none detract from the way they've been assembled and arranged which is with an wholly original hand (and crystalline production), ensuring the result doesn't disappoint.


Monday, June 04, 2007 
Wesley Anne

All of tonight's performers are known for their punchlines more than their guitar lines, so it was intriguing that the lineup sees a gradual shift away from comedic acousticary to well-written songs that just happen to be funny. Without exception, each performer's newer songs were an improvement on an already impressive repetoire and there is nothing quite like a song as an extension of a performer's personality to get people involved. Tonight shows a start in comedy can lead to on-stage confidence that conventional musicians often lack.

A warmly bucolic Wesley Anne is full of ruddy-cheeked Northcote-types who divide their attention between each other and the stage, upon which the exceedingly handsome Matt Kelly plays his first gig standing. His short, daft and poignant (sometimes alternately, often simultaneously) songs are helped immeasurably by his wonderful voice and disarming manner that let you forgive his under-rehearsal. Whether musing on the blood pressure of a giraffe or slipping a lyric like 'If I've got anything left to give you, it's this and it's yours' into a song entitled You Shook Me All Afternoon, Kelly does prove to have a keen ear for relationship dynamics, many examples of which involve revered girls, faulting boys and alcohol. It's these songs which pack a bigger punch and it will be interesting to see where his path takes him.

Soon enough the totally engaging and bafflingly cool Josh Earl is regaling us with 'font humour' and a truckload of fantastic new songs. Stupid Jokes sees him siding with his girlfriend about his unfortunate habit of joking about things that upset her, The Dali Museum indicates a move away from going for laughs and brings out Earl's knack for relevant irreverent details, while a venue-hushing new song What Ifs, is nothing short of flooring in it's accuracy of phrase, rendered all the more powerful for coming between the jaunty and hilarious Fitted Sheets and Julian Nation-referencing Indie Anne.

After the languid pace of Earl, The shoeless and emerald-shirted Bedroom Philosopher AKA Justin Heazelwood comes across like a hurricane of inspiration and witticisms. Flailing at his guitar with scant regard for mic technique Heazelwood occasionally extends his songs into the physical comedy realm (Medium Ted, perfect example) and gets big laughs. It's lucky for us that his musical chops are strong enough for him to leave behind the go-for-the-gags hilarity and move into the more observational folk rock as proved by songs like What Am I Supposed To Be Doing, For The Love I Have for You and The Happiest Boy. The revelation of the evening is his resurrection of his first ever song, an instrumental called Angel Skin that would have John Butler wide-eyed. The final two songs I'm So Postmodern and I'm So Over Girls both implode into farcical improvisations which end with him crawling backward off stage in an ultimate exhibition of regressive infantilism. Thankfully the laugh factor and songwriting skills see the therapeutic effects extend to the audience and judging by this show, his forthcoming album will be a corker.

DISCLAIMER: Andy Hazel is a sometime musical associate of The Bedroom Philosopher.


Monday, June 04, 2007 
Northcote Social Club

The Falls, fronted by a rhythm guitarist Simon Rudston-Brown (usually preoccupied with backing Missy Higgins) tonight welcomes early-comers to a classier than usual No So. Two singers, two guitarists, faultless harmonies and tasty lead guitar work are the hallmark of The Falls and though their songs are competent enough, it's a tough crowd to be impressing tonight. Despite their arena-ready deafening volume, a factor that actually works against the intimacy of the songs, there is a noticeable absence of people around the merch desk mailing list following their set. Perhaps songs like [It's Not What You Know It's] Who You Know leave people cold. Closing Please however, is a glorious song in any setting. Very Sydney and very unlikely to be in an opening slot by the year's end.

Following a crowd swell come Mercy May. Already signed to Inertia, there has been steady hype about this band and within the brief soundcheck it's clear why. Frontman Dan's voice stops conversations and turns heads. The only thing biting harder than the cold outside tonight is the sheer amount of treble coming from the stage. Lead-guitarist Chris's lines and that Lennon-impersonates-Lydon helium-fueled alto clean out any sundry earwax and impresses in a way that four static guys in their early 20s dressing like Tom Waits doesn't. Once your attention has been wrested and song follows song, it's hard to remain intrigued. By-the-numbers riff-based blues bashing is nothing new, and much of the material is frankly tedious. Songs like You Got Me and Now Now Now indicate there are ideas and these will doubtless bloom with time, but for now, showmanship is what we've come to see.

The nice-coat-and-sculptured-hair crowd are out in force tonight, and when roadies bring out glasses of scotch on the rocks for the band, there is no doubting classiness is order of the evening. Even with this prelude, jaws fall at the arrival of the band. Looking like renegades from Slytherin; black waistcoats, new-romantic shirts, and wearing expressions of keen disinterest, Levi's backing band Woman are a thing of wonder; to say nothing of Levi himself. Like a cross between Kenny Loggins and Jack Sparrow and dressed like The Karate Kid, he is the most shameless showman to grace a stage in this town for a long time, and, he has the tunes to back it up. Kicking off with Sugar Assault Me Now the band instantly lock into their trademark taut grooves; Bo Diddley via Neu. Song titles are irrelevant (by here are some if you want them: Pick Me Up Uppercut, Blue Honey, LA Morning Light, A Style Called Chicken) as everything is a variation on 'Groove In E Major', and like Jerry Lee Lewis said about Bo Diddley (who's titular song gets an a sample amidst LA Morning Light): "If he ever gets outta the chord of E, he might be dangerous". Their music is however, incredibly exciting, as is the way their three-minute thrill rides on record get stretched to eight minutes of tightly-leashed workout. Though the same five notes are used for every guitar solo, it's the excitement of Levi as a performer and the stylish force of the band that make the show work, and ensures no one leaves disappointed.

REASSESSING THE CLASSICS: Sgt. Peppers Lonely Hearts Club Band - The Beatles

Monday, May 28, 2007

Each issue Tog CD reviewer Andy Hazel will take a look at a so-called 'classic' album and, with the benefit of hindsight, draw your attention to some overlooked aspects. This issue, it's The Beatles 'Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band'...

Ah. "The best". According to most modern rock historians this is the greatest album ever released (give or take the odd Pet Sounds, Dark Side Of The Moon, or, if last year's BBC poll is to be believed, Oasis's Definitely Maybe). Genre-redefining, archetypal, seminal, analysed to death and hyped to maniacal lengths by fans and writers; anybody who wonders where modern rock begins is told to start here. Sgt. Peppers has been long-heralded as the last example of the band working like a team, as the pinnacle of The Beatles' musical talents, song-writing abilities and the last example of unclouded communication between the members. It's the supreme model of analogue recording by pioneering producer / genius / fifth member George Martin and an album still mined by bands claiming to be representative of today's youth - if you want to be a musical success, start studying here. This is it, the first and best 'concept album' and the greatest collection of songs ever committed to vinyl or etched into disc, end of story.


This overblown testament to pomposity and slackly-edited grandiosity is a mockery of music and self-indulgence almost without exception. With George Martin at your side, a record label kowtowing to any whim, tens of millions of people agreeing with every grunt and suggestion you make and Abbey Road at your disposal, how could you blow it? Even The Beatles themselves realised how far up their own arses they had crawled by going back to basics for their following, untitled and infinitely superior album (later called The White Album). Take, for example, the ridiculously egotistical cover in which they place themselves amongst and ahead of Albert Einstein, Aldous Huxley, Karlheinz Stockhausen and Marlon Brando in some visual assessment of the 20th Century they had to be talked into doing (McCartney preferring an acid-drenched picture by Dutch art collective The Fool). It wasn't for nothing that one of their manager's last requests was "brown paper bags for Seargent Peppers".

Let's look at the music. A Day In The Life ("one of the most ambitious, influential, and groundbreaking works in music history" according to biographer Allen W. Pollack) is sub-Larkin free-form poetry and it's "genius" is an idea any idiot who's been stoned in India could have come up with: "I know," *inhales* "Let's get, orchestra right, *exhales* and just get them to go mad for a bit, then...then, right...*inhales* we get some grand pianos and five guys to play E-major at the same time!" *exhales* "That would be like...totally amazing." *falls into fit of giggles*.
The only thing The Beatles have over that guy is the tenacity, money, and leverage to actually DO it. Not only that, but then record themselves saying "there will never be another" backwards and putting it on the run-out groove of the record. Man, Lennon is probably still laughing at how we all fell for it.

She's Leaving Home aside, misogyny lingers through this album in a way only The Troggs and The Stones can match. Lovely Rita is a Carry-On ode to a working woman who may or may not be up for some hot threesome action after dinner; "I got the bill, Rita paid it / Took her home, I nearly made it / Sitting on the sofa with a sister or two...give us a wink and make me think of you" is clearly some harmless fun, and her character not worth developing any further. Only four woman make it to the album cover of 70-odd people (Diana Dors, Marilyn Monroe, Shirley Temple and Mae West - hardly inspirational feminist material) and it's not until now, when harp player Sheila Bromberg is used, that we see a female involved with a Beatles record at all. With girls such a regular subject and even previously used for point-of-view songs, it's ironic. the irony too of Lennon expecting us to believe "Every summer we can rent a cottage in the Isle Of Wight - if it's not too dear / We shall scrimp and save", seems to have been lost on people at the time.

What the Beatles fans were given was one giant fabrication of blinding colours and "more is more" theory. Only She's Leaving Home and Harrison's much-maligned Within You And Without You are in possession of any humanity or warmth. The rest is, at best, an exercise in excess and trickery, and at worst, an act of thinly-disguised disdain for an audience who would shortly be given a more obvious picture of the bollocks of John Lennon on the cover of the Two Virgins album.
This was the first album to be termed a 'concept album' (i.e: the album is unified by a theme, in this case playing the part of a club band), no singles (making any listener have to purchase the album if they liked a song), and marks the beginning of bands avoiding contact with their audience and making music for a loftier intent than several minutes of fun. One of Sgt. Peppers' more notable achievements is to almost single-handedly be responsible for legitimising unbridled egotism in artists, patronising and expensive 'event' performances and gargantuan recording budgets that effectively ruined popular music for the following decade, until punk grabbed it by it's over-sized lapels and brought it back to earth with a Glasgow kiss.
While it's true the Beatles couldn't be blamed for who followed through the door they opened, they can be seen as the instigators of record companies handing over huge amounts of money to artists and (more often than not) managers using arguments along the lines of "well the Beatles needed 129 days and 10 times the usual budget to make a number one record, so do we." The nadir of 1970s self-indulgence was, in fact, a misguided reinterpretation of this album in film and soundtrack form featuring The Bee Gees, Peter Frampton and, mysteriously, George Martin. This was, deservedly, an unmitigated flop.

What it did entail was an army of musicians seeing it for what it was and going back to the grassroots. The Band, country music and folk all experienced a resurgence, and many great albums were brought to people's attention once they tired of empty psychedelia or formed part of the masses who 'just said no'.
Finally, the record industry as we know it - the multi-armed conglomerate record label - was born with their Apple Corps company, set up by them and much-sued manager Allen Klein in the wake of Sgt. Peppers' success. Even now there are still arguments over to how to more exploit us listeners when this album eventually becomes available for download. No, really, thanks guys.

Next month, Radiohead's OK Computer.


Monday, May 28, 2007 

Not too many people have had 35 years in the heady world of rock and roll and survived with as many brain cells intact as Todd Hunter. Founding member of Dragon (these days made up of singer Mark Williams, guitarist Bruce Reid, drummer Pete Drummond and Todd back on bass and vocals), he's a man who's done everything from write the soundtrack to Heartbreak High, 1990's APRA Song Of The Year Age Of Reason as well as AM radio staples. Hunter is a remarkably warm-hearted gent who has outlasted more than his fair share of untimely deaths and label changes. This week also sees him playing Melbourne for the first time in a decade.

"We've been getting such a great reaction from the crowds so far on this tour, we've just finished a theatre tour of New Zealand and people were just so into it, it was wonderful" he says of this new acoustic approach; another incarnation of Dragon and one that certainly isn't out to replace his vocalist brother Marc who died in 1998. Supporting the album Sunshine To Rain which reinterprets classic Dragon songs, Hunter clearly doesn't see this as an excuse to relive old memories. "We came to these songs as if we'd never heard them before. We've worked hard to avoid the whole nostalgia thing so we wouldn't end up hating ourselves. If you want a life in music in Australia you have to reinvent every five years. If you can keep a beginners mind, you never lose that spark." I suggest it's this attitude that has allowed Hunter's career to be something that could be likened to a constant comeback given the trials he's faced, "I guess you're right," he laughs, "it does seem like that. There were just so many deaths and tragedies, it kept me on the straight and in a way I'm back where I started now, it's all about the music once again. No one gives a fuck about Dragon and that brings complete freedom." Does this make him miss Marc more, I wonder, "I left the band in the mid nineties. If Marc hadn't become ill the band would have kept going and by now I would have re-joined. So here I am. Instead of Marc being in the car or on stage, somehow he's everywhere now."

Hunter left Dragon in 1995 to work on soundtracks, during which time he thought "to hell with Dragon, it's all meaningless crap" in a healthy, cleansing way it seems. It was after this he was able to see the band and the songs afresh. "A lot of the earlier more melodic songs were written by Paul (Hewson, ex-keyboard player), so it was nice to strip them back, and being a producer means that I have to be so analytical about music, so it's great to be just playing the bass and singing again."

Consistent evolution. Sounds tricky. "I never had a 'music should be...' attitude, so I've been able to weather a lot of changes, even during the crazy times," like the time in 1978 they were supporting Johnny Winters in Austin, Texas and Marc shouted "all Texans are faggots" say? He laughs"yeah that was crazy, we were terrified at the time," the Johnny Winters Band were taking bets as to who in the audience was going to shoot Marc first, "It was all a bit intense." How does that compare to now? "I'm loving playing these little venues and hearing new stuff along the way. There are so many great bands and projects around now - my son is a DJ and I'm hearing the greatest stuff through him. I'm loving The Ghosts and Howling Bells at the moment." Maybe he'd be up for someone remixing the new Dragon song Find My Way Home? "Sure! I'd be up for that. I love the thing of recording new songs and sticking them on our website." Start taking notes would-be's, this is longevity in action.


Monday, May 28, 2007 
The Hi-Fi Bar

To a rapidly filling and largely disinterested Hi-Fi Bar, New Estate play a typically blazing and impassioned set. One of the few bands who can make mistakes sound spot on, it's a minor act of justice that sees them garner a surely highly contested support slot for CYHSY's east coast tour dates. Playing half of their new album Is It Real? New Estate have technical problems that briefly hold things up, and - despite a static performance - the momentum of the songs more than made up for it. Eschewing future classics like Out Of Control for currently overlooked gems like the glorious Herge and throbbing menace of Last Train To Belgrave, there is more than an off-kilter falsetto linking this band and the headliners and hopefully the overexcited CYHSY fans noticed these jagged guitar-set heartfelt paenes to suburban living and sharehouse etiquette.

The large red LED clock sitting stage right ticks over to 10PM, at precisely this moment is the arrival of our favourite American nerds and a squealing sea of smiling, clear-skinned bookish youth greet them and carries over the opening bars of Some Loud Thunder a perfect you-know-what-you're-getting-and-here-it-is opening track.
Looking as if five undergraduate chemisty students fell over in an op shop bargain bin, CYHSY seem for the most part as if they actually are conducting a chemistry experiment. So precisely are the songs played out, and to the second is their set timed, that we could be excused for thinking we were lab mice. It falls to the hyperactive keyboard/guitar/percussion-ist Robbie Guertin (wearing an Architecture in Helsinki t-shirt) to inject some "yeah!" into the clapping hands with his ecstatic face and frequent buoyancy. Singer Alec Ounsworth, quite clearly the ringleader here, and more talkative than reputation would suggest (frequently telling us this is the first time they've made it to Australia as if reminding himself) resembles a punked-up Rodriguez with his frantically strummed steel-string guitar, lack of eye contact with the audience, blues riffing between each song and wary pacing of the stage. Despite a surprisingly poor sound mix the crowd love every second, Over And Over Again, Satan Said Dance and Gimme Some Salt fill out the first part of the set and indicate a reliance on their first album over their more complex and harder-to-replicate-live second album. This is great news for the hyped-up crowd and every song is greeted with gales of cheers. Though In This Home On Ice is excitingly rousing, the highlight is, predictably enough, The Skin Of My Yellow Country Teeth, eliciting possibly the gentlest moshing the Hi-Fi has ever seen, a piercing garble of a chorus singalong and even a wry smile from the frantically pacing Ounsworth as he peels off the killer two-note guitar hook.

Even a three minute technical hitch doesn't stop the gig from being one hour to the minute, preceding a five minute break and a 25 minute encore - oh those geeks. Coming back with the the sea shanty megaphone-aided Clap Your Hands people can't keep from smiling and joyous cheer fills the room, though not the stage it seems. Heavy Metal is the closing frantic burst of indie-rock that is bestowed upon us, and despite calls for more, the lads clearly have some sort of meta-analysis to formulate and further refining to do.