THE TOFF IN TOWN
For a band that seems to have existed with minimal publicity – yet about to depart on their second European tour - Houlette do a fantastic job of packing out a venue. The mood tonight is one of celebration yet it doesn’t seem like 300 friends have shown up, rather a mix of Melbourne’s hip and curious and a lot of people who’ve heard Bless Bless, the CD being launched tonight.
Producer of aforementioned CD Nick Huggins begins the show with his trademark sparse poetry, spoken over warm rolling threads of guitar. Huggins reducing the potential of his songs to their most skeletal, nothing more than two or three plucked notes and a picture to describe. Though he performs with no accentuation of rhythm, he’s a Buddy Holly of the inner Melbourne nighttime. Closer Choose What You Love is particularly affecting.
The Ukeladies show they need no Dan Kelly or anyone else’s hand on their tiller as they attire themselves in complementary dresses, flowers in their hair, immaculate harmonies and a nice line in Pacific-themed balladry. One ukulele and a huge accordion is all they need to silence the room. Having more in common with C.W Stoneking than any indie band, The Ukeladies show what little it takes to make an impression when your ideas are this successfully rendered. When Captain Manas joins them for Eat All Night the crowd are ecstatic.
Curtains part to a projection of an Icelandic mountain range, keening violins and ethereal harmonies. The breathy vocals of singer Felicity Cripps are a thing of wonder. Though bound to alienate some listeners with her initial Teutonic po-faced earnest efforts (later dispelled wonderfully by some beatboxing and banter), the audience are captivated. Part Kate Bush confidence and physicality, part Ute Lemper boldness and often tempered by a fragility and tenderness reminiscent of Vashti Bunyan, Cripps is a hypnotic presence. New song Japanese Tattoos, Longttime, current radio single Tee Vee and beautiful encore Corduroy suggest that when the band (featuring ex-Underground Lovers drummer Derek Yuen) are firing and Cripps gets to cut loose, the band are unbeatable. Vocal interjections from guitarist Liam Linley are welcome additions and violinist Cecelia Dowling is a great asset. A band bound to appeal to any Europhile and whose début album heralds great things.