Tonight’s lineup could have gotten Arts Victoria funding for a ‘live exploration and reassessment of masculinity and electro rock’; each act taking inspiration from looking inward and exploring what a man is in modern Australian society. Each act also happens to kick arse.
Stripping off within the opening seconds of the first song. Jonny Telafone, eyes closed, standing amidst small bursts of dry ice, occupies a bizarrely perfect balance between the seductive and the aggressively intimate. Though he seems wholly engaged when performing, the second he’s not singing his sometime-secular paeans to the spiritual and the physical, it’s like he thinks he’s invisible; swigging beer, stoking his dry ice machine, freezing in poses. It’s captivating stuff, until his final two songs Stay Strong For Me and The End in which the audience (mostly men in glasses, trimmed beards and with swept back hair) get noisy in their appreciation.
Opening with clouds of choked synth atmospheres, Standish/Carlyon's arresting set builds on crisp, distant drums and overt sexuality oozing from every plucked bass note and barely discernible vocal. In lesser hands, it would be easy for this to turn into a prematurely disappointing mess, but so confident and self-assured are these men, we’re instead privy to a seamy sub-urban pleasuredome. Focusing on the creation of mood seems to be their drive, and songs seem to explode unexpectedly. When melodies surface, as on Nono/Yoyo and Subliminally, they shine brightly. Closing song Gucci Mountain is introduced as 'A terse psychological thriller taking place over several continents', its ricochets of sparse slap bass and vocal refrain sending us to our own dark places.
Equally adept with sound and mood, and probably the only Australian act to generate more hyperbole in recent months, is Kirin J Callinan. Entering the room to silence, he arranges himself amidst two microphones, adjusts his headset microphone, and kicks into gear. Blasting us with strobes and lasers, and instantly hitting all the high-mid frequencies that Standish/Carlyon missed, opening song Halo and title track of new album Embracism is galvanizing stuff. Instantly showing us his mastery of production, Callinan is meticulous in his control of sound, unusual for a performer so associated with the unpredictable; even the humility of his banter seems designed to offset the ambition on show. Regardless of hype and filmclips, the sonic impact here is massive and brilliantly constructed. His guitar sounds are often deftly tight bursts of chaos, conversely, his voice a hoarse and often limited (perhaps due to recent overuse) instrument. Chardonnay Sean follows and allows his excellent three-piece backing band to stretch out.
Moving from furious blasts of keys and guitar as on Come on USA to near-shoegaze splendour of Victoria M. and Landslide, Callinan’s set is well-paced and seems to build to the closing epic Love Delay that leaves Callinan’s voice at its most ragged. Returning to the stage alone to display his astoundingly proficient guitar layering, he closes the set with a wave and leaves to wild cheers. Three bands with a theme, captured at exactly the right time; tonight is a gig for the time capsule.