Sunday, February 24, 2013

TWO FOR THE ROAD: An interview with Tim Finn

In Melbourne to play both the Between the Bays and Port Fairy Folk Festivals, TIM FINN fills ANDY HAZEL in on songwriting, success and siblings.

“Well, just because I was asked really,” explains Tim Finn, hesitantly, when asked what is bringing him to Australia. With 2011’s The View is Worth the Climb album and several New Zealand-based projects worked on in 2012, Finn is relishing the opportunity to play live free from the ‘record-release-promote’ circle. “There is something about doing a show in a beautiful space that’s really rewarding,” he says of the forthcoming shows and his extensive experience playing live with Crowded House. “We played outdoor shows like the Victorian Bushfire show and the Wave Relief tsunami appeal, Sydney Opera House - we’ve done all sorts of big things, but I’ll happily play to a hundred people, and I often do here in New Zealand. Sometimes those shows are the best ones.”

Veteran of massively successful 1970s-80s band Split Enz, sometime member of 1980-90s band Crowded House and more recently part of short-lived bands ALT and The Finn Brothers, Tim Finn is the handsome, affable, relaxed, intelligent troubadour you’d love to have as an uncle; the George Clooney of the Australasian music industry if you will. Fresh from releasing his fourth solo album, he has no qualms about playing a set full of classics, quite divorced from the music he’s making at the moment “I had an anthology released a few years ago, and I toured Australia and New Zealand, and played every song that people would recognise and it was great. When I play festivals, the songs I play tend to be the hits.” This separation between performer and composer is something he sits comfortably with. “When I perform, I’m interested in what’s the best thing for this crowd and how can we feel great and feel that uplift. But as soon as I leave the stage I’m wondering about this song that I’m working on and back in the world of writing again.”

It is in this world that Finn is happiest; working at his own pace, free of the pressure familiar to so many signed bands. “It just goes on, the song-writing part of it is endlessly fascinating, challenging and rewarding,” he says breezily. “I still love writing songs, though in a band it’s like all-for-one-and-one-for-all, every band wants to feel they’re connected to the other bands who have inspired them and achieve greatness for themselves. Now, my motivation is the pure aesthetic pursuit of a great song. When I go on stage it’s more what can I do for the crowd as people, maybe get them through a bad time and make them feel great for a while.”

Renown for his deft way with a pop song, Finn has written or co-written such classics as Weather With You, Fraction Too Much Friction, I Got You, Six Months in a Leaky Boat and the ode to Melbourne Four Seasons in One Day. “There is a fair bit of music that goes unrecorded,” he says of the process he works to these days. “Some demos are really good and better than the finished thing, other things come together in surprising ways in the studio.” His love for collaboration is something that has coloured his work in the past. From the supergroup of sorts ALT (with Irish songwriter Andy White and Hothouse Flowers’ front-man Liam Ó Maonlai) via Peter Gabriel on Gabriel’s Big Blue Ball album to his more recent works on his own album The Conversation, Finn’s selection process is constantly surprising. “Sometimes I’ll consciously seek someone out, sometimes it’s by chance,” he explains. “I like the idea of keeping it small and doing more than one thing with the collaborator rather than finding new people, but a lot of the collaborations I have are quite random.” 

One less random is his on-again-off-again work with sibling and founder of Crowded House Neil Finn. “Neil and I are brothers and we have family things that go on,” Finn says considering his words carefully.  “But when we work together it’s quite…formal. We go into a project in a structured way we don’t…share music. That sort of approach seems to work better for us; pulling a project together in a more defined environment. We have no plans to work together at the moment,” he says, anticipating my next question.
Since leaving Crowded House, Finn has released a string of acclaimed solo albums, all hits in his native New Zealand and examples of a writer finding no shortage of inspiration. “The last twelve years I’ve made four albums and really liked them all. I feel there’s a consistency of quality that is as good as anything I’ve ever done. The songs still trickle along and people come to them in their own time. Maybe one day people will rediscover them in a major way, I can’t ever predict what is going to happen. I’m still inspired and love what I do, but I don’t depend on commercial success.”

Success of a more personal and unexpected form has come to Finn through his time as a songwriter. “Music is great for healing and helping,” he explains. “I’ve had letters and comments over the years with people who have been open and honest about the way my songs have helped them. I suffered from anxiety attacks myself, and I wrote the [Split Enz] song Dirty Creature about that, which helped enormously. Other people have interpreted Dirty Creature as being about depression, something I’ve never suffered from. People say that it’s helped them and that’s an amazing feeling for a songwriter. I don’t think music has a public health service or responsibility - I think it’s better when music is free of any governmental or bureaucratic influence - but music is very important to people as years go by, and in ways you can’t predict. I realise that more and more as I get older and I never forget that.”

Whatever personal connection people bring to Finn’s songs, it’s clear that there are a lot of people with a lot of long-standing connections to his music, despite changes in the way people access it. “Record sales are not what they used to be and it’s so hard to compete for crowds these days,” he says, sounding tired. “I don’t go out with any huge expectations, but I did the Falls Festivals last summer and when I played songs like Six Month In A Leaky Boat or I See Red, they acted in the same excited way they did thirty years ago. There’s recognition there but it means something different now. It’s weird and I love it, but I never take that for granted.”

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

THE BREAKDOWN ON BREAKUP SONG, an interview with Greg Saunier of DEERHOOF

On the eve of the promotional tour for their 12th album Breakup Song, DEERHOOF drummer Greg Saunier defines a Jingletron and explains his joy at never having had a hit. 
Though he may be in town promoting his band’s latest album, Deerhoof drummer Greg Saunier can’t actually listen to it. “When you listen to nothing else for three months straight, trying to make sure that the snare is the right volume every time it’s hit and having scrutinised it to such an absurd degree, it’s hard to know what it sounds like,’ he laughs in a typically verbose and chuckle-laden outburst. ‘You have to wait for the dust to settle and get away from the chaos of making something and obsessing over it completely.”

Saunier and his bandmates have created what is possibly the most danceable album of Deerhoof’s lengthy career. With highlights that include the critically lauded LP Friend Opportunity, Sufjan Steven’s favourite album of all time The Runners Four, and their previous, tropicalia-influenced release Deerhoof vs Evil, Deerhoof have made a trademark of gleeful unpredictability. “Obviously, the danger of repeating yourself happens all the time with bands “he says carefully,” but it doesn’t happen with us. A band that has a big hit gets stuck in a trap; the fans want to hear the song and when it comes time for another record to get made, there is a machine that pushes them to make a record like that last one. If you do that you know you’re screwing yourself, you’re shooting the respect of your fans in the foot by becoming more conservative with your musical choices. In our case, there is no hit, no sound or melody or style so we’ve never been under any pressure to repeat ourselves. Our only pressure is to do new surprising things, unexpected things, something people wouldn’t expect you to do, something we wouldn’t expect ourselves to do,” he chuckles. “We have four songwriters in the band and, if anything, we’ve got more daring over the years. When we started the band we were more…grunge,” he says laughing loudly. “We were a heavy, noisy, rock band and we’d never have the nerve to say ‘I’ve got this orchestral ballad’, or ‘I’ve got this reggae song’, whereas now it feels like there’s almost a dare between the band and the audience to see what we can pull off.”

This freedom is something possible to embrace by every band starting out, but few other bands twelve albums, ten EPs and nineteen years into their career can boast of it. “We rarely think of adopting another musical genre, only in the vaguest terms,” he continues, “Breakup Song is more danceable, and dance music is the most vague genre you can think of. Yes we do have ideas of what we might want to do next, but when you’re first brainstorming and dreaming of these things you’re rarely thinking which section of the record store you want to colonise next. Its more about a way you want to feel when you’re making a song or a way you’d like to feel with an audience when you’re on stage playing. With Breakup Song, we’re more concerned with ‘does it feel fun, does it feel energetic, is it flirty, does it feel sassy or sociable?’”

Deerhoof have done everything from ‘become’ The Rolling Stones in an updated version of Sympathy For The Devil, been invited by David Bowie to play at his Highline Festival, toured with Radiohead, composed a soundtrack for Justin Theroux’s film Dedication and become part of The Plastic Ono Band. Despite these brushes with fame, they are, essentially, four people painstakingly constructing meticulously written and tightly played songs over laptops, something Saunier feels is reflected on the cover of Breakup Song, a picture of a garbage truck.

“The cover photo was something [singer] Satomi [Matsuzaki] took on her telephone really late coming home from a mixing session. It was 3AM and there was a garbage truck in front of her house. At the time we were trying to finish the record - all four of us were working nonstop - somebody was at the computer trying to come up with a mix, improve a melody or add some overdub to something. We had been talking a lot about an idea we had called a Jingletron, which is a music party machine that has lights and makes a lot of noise, if you set it up it would make an instant party,” he guffaws loudly. “In her delirium she thought this was a Jingletron; under the truck a bunch of people were having a huge dance party and this truck managed to bring that and it would secretly move around town and cause these instant parties to erupt wherever it went,” Saunier says rendering himself speechless with laughter. Along with an example of a Jingletron, the band’s website features a half hour video made to accompany Breakup Song in which Matsuzaki and Saunier are seen chasing garbage trucks around Brooklyn. “Garbage trucks aren’t the most notable things in life,” he says calming, “but after we put it on the cover and made the video now every time I see one it’s exciting. I’m like ‘check the lights on that one! It’s a bit red but orange too, it’s twinkling! It’s like some magic character has been brought to life or something’.

Live, this manic energy and constant inventiveness fuels the Deerhoof show, and, naturally, not every audience can keep up, something that doesn’t bother Saunier. ”The audience might have wildly different reactions at the same time, not just: ‘I liked it’ and ‘I didn’t like it’,” he says, warming to the subject. “We have devoted fans who come to every show they can, and we some extreme haters. Often amongst those fans, people like it for totally different reasons. Some people like to dance or shout and sing along, other times people are getting very quiet and listening intently to every detail like we’re classical music. Some people like the noise and the intensity of it and other people think it’s cute and they like how melodic it is; they find it very sweet. Other people find it violent. I find the people who detest it the most come to love us later. I’ve had that reaction to music many times myself, “he explains, describing the sense of adventure that fuels their seemingly never-ending output and the openness that many of their fans bring to their shows. “It’s the process of figuring out why to like it or how to like, and this makes you like it more; you have to fight for it and I like this process a lot.” Game on.

Thursday, February 14, 2013


Hamer Hall, Southbank, Melbourne
‘It’s lovely to be in a room like this, all together with each other,” says Real Estate singer and guitarist Martin Courtney gently, in a way that sets the scene for the careful subtleties tonight’s music will expound. Songs about floating on inner tubes and ‘careless lifestyles’ were written to be played on days like today and heard in rooms like this one. Tonight’s show is almost like watching an album, the sound is so immaculate, the band’s playing so precise, and the music so sharp. It’s rare to see restraint so consistently used in music but both of tonight’s bands are experts at it. Beach Comber, Out of Tune, Green Aisles and It’s Real all sound like they’re presented to us on velvet, their instrumental sections full of chiming guitars and entwining melodies, like a less adventurous Feelies. Closing with the trance-like rock of All the Same and its protracted, slowing conclusion, the five-piece and their most gentle of surf-rock leave the stage with broad smiles, as the audience move to mingle in the well-upholstered halls outside.

As Kings of Convenience take to the stage, bringing the crowd to its feet and sending reviewers to online thesauri in an effort to find synonyms for ‘lovely’, the grinning faces of Erlend Øye and Eirik Glambek Bøe exude confidence and instantly make everyone glad they came. Opening with the pin-drop hush of My Ship Isn’t Pretty, Bøe’s nylon string thrumming is so delicate, their voices so warm and accents so strong they could provide Portlandia with a season’s worth of new material. Second to Numb, Love is no Big Truth and their early classic I Don’t Know What I Can Save You From highlight their harmonies before they reveal the real reason Real Estate were chosen as supports: ‘They are from Bergen, New Jersey,’ explains Øye slowly, ‘we are from Bergen, Norway. We thought we should find out what destiny was trying to tell us.’ 24/25 and Mrs. Cold from their most recent album Declaration of Dependence are sparkling mid-set highlights, though older songs Failure and Homesick gets the biggest cheers of recognition. Unexpectedly for many, a three-piece band with equally clean and clear intent behind ever note they play is introduced and things get very funky very quickly.

Any chance to allow Erlend Øye to dance should be welcomed with open arms, and so it is that Misread and I’d Rather Dance With You are played, and Øye gets very Dad-like with his dance moves. The fact he’s already six-foot something and skinny helps this rampant nerdiness and bringing equally exuberant audience members up to dance only accentuates this. Pausing Boat Behind to kill the house lights and encourage us all to make jungle noises for some strange reason only shows how much affection he’s held in. Freedom and It’s Owner is the first major deviation we’ve seen from the fantastic set they played at Laneway Festival. Closing with the gorgeous Parallel Lines everyone leaves sharing smiles and a feeling little warmer inside.


Footscray Community Arts Centre

Returning to its spiritual home of Melbourne, this year's Laneway comes blazing a trail of success. With other festivals rebranding and reorganising, Laneway has selected a lineup heavy on blog-love and therefore, in many cases, music made, mixed and reviewed in small rooms, that sounds great on headphones. Which raises the questions: can these acts cut it live? And, with festivals more a rite of summer for Triple J listeners than a gathering of fans of particular bands, does it matter?

Opening the day at the Dean Turner Stage are Kings of Convenience, a band made for small rooms if ever there was one. The gentleness of the music clashes beautifully with the loud, beery fun-lovers who have just poured in off the train. Held almost immediate silence by the lilting Norwegian harmonies of Erlend Øye and Eirik Glambek Bøe, this is the first of many marvels Laneway unleashes today. Beginning as a duo, Mrs Cold and 24/25 captivate. Soon, a backing band is brought on for a rousing take of I Could Never Belong to You and the brilliant I’d Rather Dance With You, guaranteeing KoC to be the discovery of the day for many. Disco-folk shouldn't: a) exist or b) sound this good. 

While Twerps are on typically blazing form, at the Eat Your Own Ears stage Brooklyn-based quartet The Men take churning garage rock, remove any gaps, overlay the results with endless guitar solos and punish it through Marshall stacks. Their wild, semi-naked drummer could be beamed in from Sunbury (suburb or festival) and is a total asset, occasionally pushing a Motorik rhythm beneath their non-stop southern-boogie, it's glorious, life-affirming stuff. Their set ends suddenly with a guitarist looking at his watch, taking off his guitar and leaving the stage, the others immediately following suit.

On the auspiciously named Future Classic stage, Julia Holter is building strange bubbling atmospheres with synth, drums, cello and a swimming pool's worth of reverb. The music is intriguing and is composed and arranged rather than felt, her talent enhanced not hidden by the filters and echoes. Despite this precision, many subtleties don't make it through the chattering crowd, most of whom are clustered beneath shady trees and talking over her bewitching tunes.

As the heat increases and shady spots become highly prized, the River Stage sees Perfume Genius suffer a similar fate; his music never reaching the heights it does on headphones. His weak voice is a cloudy, vaguely inert instrument, the reverb rendering his lyrics indecipherable and his symphonic electric piano and synth playing reduced to moody noodling. Though his backing band provides some energy, it all seems confused, and undoubtedly better in a small, dark venue. 

Real Estate benefit from bringing dispositions to match the weather, and their bright chiming riffs and breezy harmonies go down nicely. Though they're not about to surprise you with distortion or anything, smartly made, tightly played songs like Suburban Dogs, Fake Blues and the crowd-rallying It's Real remind you why they're here, and why a large number of people are willing to be badly sunburned to see them. 

Recasting memories of Real Estate as a mid-paced snoozefest, Cloud Nothings pull off one of the most relentless and intense sets of the day. Opening with a blistering Fall In, the pace never drops. Dylan Baldi’s harsh, ripped vocals wail atop bludgeoning bass and a drummer who rarely stops playing a fill. As their set plays out though, long, forceful yet indulgent instrumental sections in songs like Wasted Days and Separation eat up much of the set. Instead of playing pithy strokes of genius like Cut You and Stay Useless - which it sounds like it took five minutes to write – Baldi seems infatuated with the sound of chaos, which is face-meltingly awesome, it’s just not showing what the band can really do. 

Nite Jewel (aka Ramona Gonzalez) shows exactly how to take the DIY tropes of 80s pop (cool reverb, shimmering guitars and spacey keyboards) and make it sound immediate, catchy and fresh. Gonzalez’s arresting stage presence helps songs like One Second of Love and She’s Always Watching You feel strange, engaging and genuinely new.

Despite the festival selling out, moving between stages is easy though keeping a spot in the shade less so. Back at Future Classic Stage mix-maestro Holy Other is pushing a womb-like mix of woolly bass, warm pulses, exhausted beats and snatches of vocal; if Burial has a wife and she were pregnant, this is probably what that zygote is bugging out to. It’s envelopes but never betrays pressure which is rare, as is a set that travels perfectly from dark club to sunny day; a fantastic atmospheric discovery. 

Despite the unusual lineup of two drummers, a bassist, a lot of pedal-operated programming and a hyperkinetic jazz singer, Polica are surprisingly unremarkable. Though initially arresting, primarily due to Channy Leaneagh’s powerful voice, there is little variation in sounds, tempo or dynamics throughout their set. Opener The Maker, I See My Mother and single Dark Star are punchier, but their reliance on the same effects and sounds wears thin, and anyway, Of Monsters and Men are exerting some serious gravitational force.

Sounding about as Icelandic as a Big Mac, the biggest crowd pullers by some measure today are plying a trade in songs that sound a lot like but not exactly like some song by Edwin Sharpe, Mumford and Sons or a dozen other bands. The septet play a tight, rousing set; they know when to pull a trumpet out to drive a melody home, when to let the crowd take over and how to shout ‘hey!’. Mountain Sound and Little Talks get the biggest singalongs so far today, though the band have surprisingly weak vocals for such strong melodies. 

As the (recyclable) rubbish piles up, the queues for the toilets and phone chargers grow, and sunburns become the norm, crowds surge toward the Eat Your Own Ears stage. Canadian duo Japandroids explode onto it in a flurry of volume and charisma and pretty much embody everything that's been missing so far today; brevity, showmanship, great songs and energy. The duo rarely let up in their quest for killer riffs and emphatic ‘whoah-oh’ choruses. Boasting more guitar amps than could be concievably feasible, every watt is used for opener Adrenaline Nightshift the gargantuan Night of Wine and Roses and ‘hit’ The House That Heaven Built.  Here is a band whose New Jersey/Springsteen-style rock suits the backdrop of towering dockyard cranes and passing cargo trains and they make a powerful, triumphant sight.

Sacrificing Alt-J for Jessie Ware we are immediately rewarded with some hilarious banter, made even funnier for its incongruous setting between some sparkling neo-soul songs. Speaking in a strong Adele-like South London accent, Ware launches into the spellbinding title track from her Devotion LP. Her young, three-piece backing band wait while she tells us of St Kilda’s lobster rolls, bands we should see and apologises for her clumsy keyboard playing: ‘’onestly, these fingers o’ mine are like fuckin’ chipolatas today,’ she cackles before casting another glittering spell on us. Night Light, 110% and Wildest Moments are all glittering highlights of the day.

The taut, edgy rock of Divine Fits is fitting for music made from Spoon’s Britt Daniels and Dan Boeckner of Wolf Parade. Though the guitar spirals and smears more than chops, deceptive simplicity is still their greatest asset. Winning over the crowd, the band’s 50s-rock in a post-punk framework proves surprisingly flexible, especially for a take on Rowland S Howard’s near-sacred Shivers, which they pull off nicely; all calamitous guitars and huge dynamic shifts.

The bizarre mixing skills of Nicholas Jaar gives audiences the only time they genuinely don't know what's going to happen next; genre, sound, rhythm, anything. A saxophone/pianist and guitarist flank Jaar, dressed in a cape, looming over a laptop issuing skinny pulses, occasional trouser-flapping basslines and meandering Rhodes chords. Completely unhurried, he teases and taunts us, forcing our attention on the textures and surprises that epitomize his journey, only occasionally hinting at a big beat payoff. It’s masterful.

Unable to stop smiling for her entire set, Natasha Khan (aka Bat for Lashes) seems happier than anyone to be here. Resplendent in a multi-coloured sparkly gypsy dress, she dances, swoons, laughs, claps and emotes her way through her rich trove of songs. With cello, Cocteau Twins-style guitar and busy electronic percussion and drums, Khan holds our attention almost as well as her striking album cover. Laura gets a predictably huge response, but later songs, the synth-driven dynamics of Marilyn and the closing Daniel allow her to stretch from epic longing to intimate revelations. It’s her smiling face, beaming down from the big screens that we see before turning to go, as the happily chattering masses surge through the streets to the station.

Wednesday, February 6, 2013


Northcote Social Club

With a torrential downpour outside, scant few make it to an early, deft set from the almighty Spencer P Jones and his Escape Committee. The wry swagger, wiry guitar work and wily attitude that sets him apart from other garage rockers Melbourne is renown for breeding is on show in force tonight. Jones, one of the key evolutionaries seems to exist as a fuse back to the 60s garage rock explosion; at times it seems the sound was born from his melodious hacking. The band, bathed in luminous geometric projections, also boast the brilliance of Dave Nicholls’ drumming and bassist Helen Cattanach's vocals. A cameo from Evan Dando on The Rain Came is wonderful, but the languid She Walks Between the Raindrops and brief rush of Make em Cry are the highlights.

Pataphysics, a supremely talented three-piece specializing in jazzy hip-hop are, it’s blindingly obvious, on the up. Days away from winning a truckload of new fans with a set at Laneway, tonight’s set sees them plugging a smooth Ben Harper-esque soul; playful with the melodies, heavy on the rhythm. If you ever wanted to seduce Lisa Bonet or one of Bob Marley’s grandsons, this is your soundtrack. Always pushing a positive message via some rock solid arrangements, Pataphysics are an excellent choice for this varied lineup.

Despite there being only fifty-odd people in the audience by the time Bohjass Upas Militia (BUM) take to the stage, excitement courses through the venue.  This seventeen-piece explorchestra of jazz-funk-psych minimalism match the low-fi cosmic projections beautifully. Opening with some brassy, noir-ish toning and spectral percussion, the band show an astonishing level of restraint and silence, leaving the tension of what ‘could’ suddenly explode from the crowded stage lingering through their quieter movements. The band leap from killer blaxploitation funk and delicate minimalism to Sun Ra freakouts in the tight constraints of a song-length piece, with a mere raising of bandleader Timothy Pledger hand. At times BUM’s rhythm section sound like a programmed backing as it’s so unusual to see and hear such intricate combination of sounds. Swimming Pool is a blast of exuberant space funk and highlights the fluidity of the guitars and insistence of the brass; the music never feels as crowded as the stage looks. Launching their album Beneath the Lightless Sky tonight, this is a fascinating, unique band and a blast of a show.

Tuesday, February 5, 2013


Hamer Hall
A good portion of the audience choose to nurse drinks and chat in the carpet-walled corridors outside the auditorium rather than watch Oh Mercy’s set, and it does seem an incongruous location for their show. To a half-full room a painfully sibilant mix does not help Alex Gow’s coruscating take on folk rock. Despite inventive harmonies and imaginative songwriting, the audience seems largely unmoved. Gow’s deadpan humour is a winning addition, and songs like Making Me Pay show an acerbic wit at work. Closing with a raucous take on Leonard Cohen’s Memories does however win the audience round and they earn their warm applause.

Playing their first Australian show, Waterboys ringleader Mike Scott wastes no time in cranking the volume and letting the beautifully phrased vitriol fly. Opening with Don’t Bang the Drum, Scott is held, hacking at his guitar in a warm spotlight while the rest of the band lingers in cold blue. He appears ageless in a broad black hat, large glasses, high-collared coat, framed by copious flowing hair. The audience seems physically restrained by the plush chairs and submits to rhythmic nodding despite musical urgings to turn the theatre into an Irish pub. Admitting he’s spent a week in Melbourne and become an addict of Miss Phryne Fisher mysteries, Scott soon makes true on his promise to play ‘songs from all eras of the Waterboys’; When Ye Go Away, flows into their first ever single, the honky-tonk stomp of A Girl Called Johnny.

Scott’s has never shied away from spiritualism, so his recent album interpreting the poems of W.B. Yeats wasn’t a huge surprise. Highlights of this come as the stunning White Birds, featuring further violin pyrotechnics from long-time Waterboy Steve Wickham, and Scott’s chilling reading of The Second Coming while wearing a mask of three faces won’t leave the memory soon: ‘And what rough beast, its hour come round at last, slouches towards Bethlehem to be born?’ he shouts, slamming shut a book and briefly leaving the stage.

Returning, the five-piece tear through The Thrill is Gone, the redemptive riposte of She Tried to Hold Me and Raggle Taggle Gypsy, one of the few songs that escapes the ‘epic’ touch he usually brings. The Waterboys’ sound is that of folk music being ripped wide open and made huge. Natural highlights of this are their biggest hits The Whole of the Moon, a song you can only breathe ‘wow!’ at after hearing, set-closer The Pan Within and their oddly perfect encore of Prince’s Purple Rain.

'I know what it's like here at the Hamer Hall,” says Scott to a now-rapt audience. “I do. They don't let you dance, you stand up and they get awful freaked out,” he grins before snapping into a fearsome Be My Enemy that elicits a dozen dancers into the aisles, and once-vigilant, now-shrugging ushers. Their second encore of Fisherman’s Blues and A Man Is in Love sees everyone standing, aisles full of dancers and a broadly grinning band. ‘See you all at Mario’s, Brunswick St, 2PM tomorrow!’ shouts Scott.


Palais Theatre
Filing in with the chattering masses, it’s clear Costello is going all-out in his vaudevillian theme. A third of the stage is occupied by his Spinning Wheel of Song (aka ‘the showbiz marvel of our age’) there is a small ‘society bar’, a trompe-l'œil backdrop and the ‘Hostage to a Fortune Go-Go Cage’ a dancing ‘cage’ with strings of beads for bars.

Looking surprisingly at home, Joe Camilleri (whose song So Young Costello covered in 1987) brings one-time JoJo Zep and Black Sorrow members George Butrumlis and Jeff Burstin on accordion and guitar to flesh out his tunes. Camilleri’s own compositions sound right at home next to some choice covers, though it’s the set-closing cover of Willy DeVille’s No Such Pain as Love that highlight’s Camilleri’s Van Morrison-esque delivery and the trio’s musical chops.

With minimal fuss, The Imposters (a four-piece including original Attractions keyboardist Steve Nieve and drummer Pete Thomas) and go-go dancer Miss Kelly (aka ‘the former Mother Superior of Our Lady of Perpetual Torment’) unleash a seamless burst of I Hope You’re Happy Now, Nick Lowe’s Heart of the City, Uncomplicated and Radio Radio, before stopping to say hello. Donning a top hat and grabbing a cane, Costello introduces himself as Napoleon Dynamite (a character he invented in the early 80s) and draws the first audience member up who spins the wheel, selects Oliver’s Army and is seated on stage with a drink. Nieve’s complex keyboard playing is a genuine marvel and it’s rare for a talent this big to be given the freedom he is to pluck motifs from songs and reinvent whole sections of others, almost teasing our memories.

Next audience member up is Sam who spins All Time Doll and chooses to go-go dance in the ‘cage’ in a manner that causes Costello’s rich, expressive voice to drift off-mic and crack. With Sam happily back in the crowd, couple Erin and Michael spin up The River in Reverse and I Want You, both showcasing Costello’s penchant for slipping better-known songs into his own (in this case Don’t Let Me Be Misunderstood, and a later segue from Angels Want to Wear My Red Shoes into Purple Rain is a genuine laugh-out-loud moment). For an artist renown for well-constructed songs that reward close attention, placing them in a setting designed to offer as many distractions as possible is odd, as is engaging with that most unpredictable of variables; the public. Soon, an extremely starstruck Belle spins Alison, and Costello uses wit and a genteel disposition to avoid Morrissey-like scenes of mawkish adoration.

Though due for a brief encore, the set is barely 2/3rds done as a brace of classics follow; Chelsea, High Fidelity a cover of the Stones’ Out of Time, Watching the Detectives, Pump it Up and a closing What’s So Funny ‘bout Peace Love and Understanding? Though Costello sometimes fumbles with the guitar parts and plays with lyrics in an offhand way, his wry wit and deft charm fuels the show. He appears to be having as much fun as we are, which really isn’t that hard.

Sunday, February 3, 2013



Twenty-one years. Yes, it really has been that long since we last heard from My Bloody Valentine. With even more rumours than The Avalanches surrounding the existence or otherwise of this long-awaited album, is the summation of lost albums, million dollar home studios that ‘weren’t right’, tapes of 60 hours of psychedelic jamming, dozens of missed release dates and unexpected reformations any good? Yes, very.

Expecting a band to resemble itself after this long a break is a big ask, but this album is a grandiose example of the militant perfectionism front-man Kevin Shields is known for; like it or not, this is the album he wanted to make, the way he wanted to make it, released as he wanted to release it (website crashing aside).
For a band whose music assuages any sense of pressure, there is a huge weight of expectation around m b v, and it was always going to be a fascinating listen.

Renown for making guitars sound like you’re underwater in a ferociously bubbling hot spring, the opening seconds of first song she found now lets you know nothing has changed on that front. It is glorious, time-bending music the likes of which they pioneered and no one in the intervening years managed to replicate, despite Billy Corgan spending thousands of dollars and hiring Loveless producer Alan Moulder to try and guitarists the world over pouring over rare interviews with Shields to get his ‘glide guitar’ technique down; this sound is theirs alone. Resisting temptation to put that first song on repeat, the album sprawls forth, and as expected, is as much about sound as song. Previous releases found their sonic experiments hewn into pointedly pop songs or explored emotions that found resonance in the layers of sound and cyclical rhythms the band produced. Here, few influences of the last twenty years have crept in, with only the rhythms of drum and bass making their much-vaunted impact on the final two tracks. Drums may be slightly more martial and feature less of the twists and turns drummer Colm Ó Cíosóig brought to the pioneering album Isn’t Anything.

Some sections sound as though they were recorded in the 1990s and the band’s recommendation to download their album using ‘an Ethernet cable’ reflects the time warp that Shields and co. may be living in. Like the colour silver, this is dated yet futuristic music. Tracks nothing is and the closing wonder 2 have set blogs alight with the more forceful and vicious sounds they channelled on their earliest EPs. Churning drums patterns and cyclical guitar parts burn white hot, suggesting there is nothing in the My Bloody Valentine DNA that suggests ageing gracefully. new you is the only song yet to be played live, sung by bassist Blinda Butcher it is the most reminiscent of the band as we left them; Butcher’s dulcet melody to the fore and a sharp pop song flayed wide open with copious tremeloed guitars. Mbv is as varied and as monumental as could have been hoped for. May this is the beginning of a new season for this most incredible and surprising of bands. It’s hard to believe, but expectations for their first Australian tour since 1992 have just been raised even higher.


The Forum
“This is our first show in town ever ever ever,” says Alabama Shakes singer Brittany Howard. “It's the other side of the world y'know?” she continues, almost to herself.
It’s hard to separate the band from their long line of influences, in particular singer and guitarist Howard. While they allow the boisterous audience in a sold out Forum the appeal of connecting with them as an amalgam of familiar rock tropes, it also means the band struggle to be more than that. For a group few people in the room had heard of a year ago, they can’t be blamed for being a little overwhelmed, or for leaning heavily on the past.

The less said about Bob Log III’s gig-as-gimmick support slot the better. While a sparkly jumpsuit, chrome mask and some helium balloons may work well at a party, these distractions from simplistic slide guitar, inaudible vocals and some basic blues widdling is not enough to make you forget this was the same shtick that he was pulling in 2007 and it was an irritating diversion then too. However, the crowd, most of who have never seen him before, is won over by the novelty.

From the outset the five-piece band is incredibly tight, but remain defiantly in the background of Howard. In fact, Bono would be defiantly in the background of Howard were he to appear on stage. Hang Loose showcases her jaw-dropping talents, and playing their ‘hit’ Hold On this early is a bold move. Following with their contribution to the soundtrack for the film Silver Linings Playbook, Always Alright is a rip-roaring ride through the Deep South that allows her a Chuck Berry impersonation. Bassist Zac Cockrell in overalls, nodding trucker cap, voluminous beard and physical stoicism looks hilariously cartoonish, other members stand stock-still as Howard absorbs attention. Cutting an Odetta-like figure with her semi-acoustic tucked under her arm, her wildly expressive voice and nerdy glasses, she roams the stage, never letting the intensity drop. The joy in watching someone do what they were born to is almost overwhelming. I Found You is another batch of roots rock straight out of the deep fryer, as is the ensuing Rise To The Sun. “We’re from the south,” says Howard, wiping her face with a towel before fixing us with a stare. “But ya’ll are super southern!” she says cracking up and launching into a blistering take of new song Making Me Itch.

There’s an argument to be had about whether soul music should be note perfect, but here isn’t the place for it. Here is the place to talk about how drummer Steve Johnson’s cymbals burst briefly into flame at the start of final song Heavy Chevy, a feat that causes the hundreds to scream with delight and frantically video the song. On exiting, the crowd is rife with dodgy takes on the band’s southern accent. All agree the house was rocked and, regardless of who Alabama Shakes remind you of, that’s what they came to do.