Tuesday, April 16, 2013


The Palace, 11/04/2013

Harmony takes to the stage before a half-full Palace, which is, as expected, mostly comprised of gentlemen witness to the headliner’s last tour in 1989. More a variation of sonic forces than a set of songs, the band’s excoriating blues and ferocious Australiana are devastatingly effective. Always a tough act to follow (just ask anyone on day two of Golden Plains 2012), the variety of textures and emotions Harmony span within a song is impressive, and largely due to their imaginative musicianship, and songs’ disorienting construction. Tom Lyngcoln's incendiary guitar work remains determinedly economical for a man recently voted one of the Top 40 guitarists in this country’s history. Notes singe but never linger, chords sound like a free jazz horn trio; it’s a disorienting, hellish perfection.

'Good evening Melbourne,’ proclaims John Lydon, as Public Image Limited assemble. Dressed in an oversized plaid shirt and resembling an exasperated chicken with his cockscomb hair, pulled in chin, rotund tum and flapping arms, Lydon is on full power from the get go. His voice powerful and evocative, the show is essentially about him and his concerns, and we’re captivated. Technical brilliance was never a term associated with punk or post-punk, but tonight Lydon makes a case for being one of the most overlooked vocal talents in history. His lyrical acuity never questioned, he moves effortlessly from the Muslim-call-to-prayer of opener Four Enclosed Walls to the ensuing caustic fury of Albatross with its dark, suffocating locked groove. The band, made up of talent from Slits, The Pop Group and The Spice Girls’ live band (no, really), specialise in piercing guitar and tight, rolling rhythms, solidly reinforcing Lydon as he wrestles truth. Highlights of the set come from their classic Metal Box album and the writing team of Lydon, Keith Levene and Jah Wobble. The phenomenal Swan Lake/Death Disco merges a subterranean bassline, clustering shards of guitar and Lydon actually crying as he relates the story of his mother’s death, which, sadly, could double for the passing of his stepdaughter Ari Up another victim of cancer.

‘This person’s had enough of useless memories!’ he later sneers, leading the band through Memories, another arctic blast from the past. Songs from 2012’s comeback This is PiL album stand up well; Deeper Waters, Reggie Song and the titanic dub of One Drop all show no drop in power or conviction. Crowd involvement reaches a peak during This is Not a Love Song (’Melbourne, show me your fucking dance moves. You need more Aborigine’ he waspishly remarks). The barbing continues during Warrior; ‘Australia, are you a warrior?’ [Cheers]. Is this YOUR land?’ [Confused silence].

Always needling, even when the rhythms are at their most danceable, Lydon leads us out with a euphoric take on Theme, which ends with on a resounding ‘good-BYE!’ Cheered back on, the set closes with Rise (‘WHAT is anger? / Anger is an en-er-gy!’) and a surprise revisiting of Leftfield & Lydon’s banging 90s club anthem Open Up proving that whether aiming for the mind or body, Lydon knows that the truth never misses.


Northcote Social Club, 6/04/2013
'We're Gung Ho from Brisbane thanks for coming down' says bassist and singer Oliver Duncan, to the fans huddled at the foot of stage. Often in danger of being overshadowed by the charisma of drummer James Wright, songs ease in and out of moods; the chugging bass lines and whipped beats underpinning Michael McAlary’s fluid guitar riffs and vocal melodies. First single Twin Rays showcases Wright’s sticksmanship, and is a clear highlight. Between in-jokes, matey banter and moments of genuine fun and hilarity, Gung Ho punch a dynamite set full of clean and heavy riff-driven Rapture-esque post punk. Current single Strangers and closing triumph Side By Side are further great examples of atmospheric, breakneck pop, but even more than that, Gung Ho are guys you want to spend time with.

Seemingly in existence for about half an hour (though actually formed in 2011), California two-piece Deap Vally hit the stage to rowdy cheers. Bedecked in sequins and denim, drummer Julie Edwards and guitarist and singer Lindsey Troy look as though nothing after 1977 – bar a set of extra-heavy guitar strings - ever entered their consciousness. True to blues-rock form, instrumentation (and, in this case, clothing) is sparse and room for personality is large, so within a few songs you feel you know a little about the duo. In fact, several pledges of marriage are shouted and coyly dispatched before the end of the third song. 'Hello Melbourne, we have found our homeland it's called Melbourne,’ smiles Edwards. ‘Sydney was a warm up show for tonight, this is cookin'. And it is. Every song gets louder cheers, a more raucous mosh and a makes for a hoarser, huskier and happier Troy. After one particularly energetic tussle in the crowd Edwards interjects - 'one of you just got fucked up by rock and roll. My apologies and congratulations all at the same time; it’s like bein’ shat on by an ibis'.

Current single Lies (‘a song about an Australian gentleman’), and previous single End of the World are behemoths. Walk of Shame (‘Does that register with anybody? No? You're being coy! Would someone bring me another whiskey?') would earn a thousand Meredith boots. Rarely playing more than one humungous note at a time, Troy hacks at her Mustang to devastating effect. Songs are skeletal; thumping glam rhythms, bass-driven buzzing guitar riffs and howled excoriating vocals. Troy’s voice is a formidable weapon and their songs are excellent vehicles for it. An encore of possibly the heaviest and darkest version of I Put a Spell on You sees Troy collapsing, mic-stand and all, into the front row, consumed by a rabidly affectionate crowd. Rumours of their return for Splendour should see this crowd size quadruple within months.

Monday, April 8, 2013

A VICTIM, A SURVIVOR, A TRIUMPH: An interview with Charles Bradley

With the release of his second album Victim of Love modern soul icon CHARLES BRADLEY tells ANDY HAZEL about life, the universe and how to look back without breaking down.

‘Oh man, it was a beautiful feeling and God knows it’s way overdue because I’ve been fighting for this opportunity for a long time and I have a lot I still want to do,’ says Charles Bradley, not stopping for breath. Expounding on his second album Victim of Love, the soul singer whose explosive performance was a highlight of last year’s Golden Plains is clearly overjoyed at having another record out. ‘Each album is just a product of these experiences I have and a lot has happened to me,’ he explains. A bigger understatement you’re unlikely to ever read.

His trials and misfortunes are almost unprecedented in any living performer; an unknown father, homeless from the age of 14, near death from an allergic reaction to penicillin, the violent and graphic murder of his brother, two counts of wrongful imprisonment…it’s the real deal. It’s also something that Bradley is very willing to talk about, despite often being brought to tears. In fact, few interviews or concerts don’t result in his breaking down, something he confesses to doing when recording too.

Like Jimmy Scott, Bradley is a performer who exudes the hope that sustains him. ‘Singing is to me a great joy and pain,’ he says in his rich expressive voice. ‘When it hurts, I go to the joy part, and when it’s joyous, I can go the pain part. I’m learning that heartache and pain bring the lyrics out of me, and I’m learning how to do it without breaking down now. I write all of the lyrics, and even though they hurt, I’d rather be able to express myself a little more deeply without trying to avoid the hard parts. This is what I’m learning about myself now, about how to talk about my life and my experiences, which is so hard.’

Victim of Love is, like his 2011 debut No Time for Dreaming an astonishing collection of soul songs, and again features members of the Daptones stable backing him with reflexive proficiency, always keeping Bradley’s searing voice at the centre. “I’m very happy with how it sounds,’ he explains. ‘There are some songs I really love on this record, Victim of Loving You, Love Bug Blues, Confusion; I can really get into them, get nasty with it,’ he chuckles hollowly. ‘I love every moment of singing those.’
Working with bandleader and co-writer Tom Brenneck may seem logical from an outsider standpoint – Brenneck and other members of Daptone Records brought Sharon Jones to international attention - but with a natural distrust of those who offer to help a side-effect of Bradley’s years of rough living, their musical partnership didn’t develop easily. ‘At first it was hard,’ he says slowly. ‘We came from different backgrounds. He’s white middle class, he came from a loving background, and he was trying to help me. I felt very bitter, and coming from living in the hood, I did not know he was being real. I had to learn where he was coming from. I was not use to races living and working together like that,’ he pauses. ‘Tom and I got really into writing and recording, into bringing my soulfulness into the world as pure as it can be. That’s what people like to hear. He chose the name too,’ he continues. ‘When he chose it everybody asked me about it and I am the victim of love. It’s brought me low, it’s brought me up again too, but I’ve never had one true love in my life.’

With hopes to return to Australia later this year, his main love now, he says, is people. ‘By travelling all over the world and meeting so many people, I’ve seen that everybody wants the same thing; all they’re looking for is love and understanding. And that’s what I found, it took a while, but it’s real now.’