Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Live Review: STEVE MASON

Melbourne Festival Hub
Oh good, you're reading this, because seeing Steve Mason's name on the Melbourne Festival lineup was something few people remembered doing and most ignored. With the words ‘(ex-Beta Band)’ taking up a small amount of space, Mason is the definition of unjustly overlooked, though this is partly by his own design. Recording as King Biscuit Hour before releasing Boys Outside in 2010 and this year’s Monkey Minds in the Devil’s Time regardless of what name he is using, his songs are about the vibe, and tonight’s performance is redolent with it.

Doubts about his popularity and the oddness of his selection for the Melbourne Music Festival are confirmed when the excellent makeshift venue that constitutes the Festival Hub sees around 100 people at the outset of his set. Leading a four-piece band onto the stage, Mason seems chipper and eager to work his way through the intelligent yet slack funk that epitomises his style; like a warmer Ian Brown. Opening with Lost and Found from Boys Outside the whole room is instantly switched on. With Scottish accents peppering the crowd and occasionally bursting forth in affectionate heckling, Mason seems to be right at home, his own brogue lending his lyrics a melodic fluidity.

‘So uh, does everybody know who I am?’ he asks bashfully, wearing old paint-spattered shirt and jeans. The crowd respond resoundingly, as they do throughout the set. Listing his favourite things about Australia as he works his way through highlights from his albums (a list that includes Bad Boy Bubby, the Saints and more bizarrely Alan Jones - a name that does not go down well with his fans though confusion between the racing driver and the radio DJ seem to explain it), Mason invests as much energy in examining his sexuality (Am I Just a Man?) as he does with ‘fighting back against the established powers, who are revolting in my opinion’ (Fire and Fight Them Back). Ending his set with the euphoric Beta Band highlight Dry the Rain he is brought back by an insistent crowd for an encore. ‘Well, we’ve only learned the set so we’ll read out the names of the songs we played and whichever ones get the loudest cheer, we’ll play again’ he says. And so we hear Lost and Found, and a fantastic Oh My Lord and Boys Outside one more time. No bad thing at all.


Following the release of their first studio album in 20 years, and on the eve of their tour, rock legends Baby Animals are young once more, and as ANDY HAZEL finds out singer SUZE DEMARCHI is full of fire, even if she’s not a tech head and calls the music industry "a fucking nightmare".

"Oh it is," says Suze DeMarchi, looking quite possibly the same as she did when caught in the glare of the spotlight in the early 1990s. "The music industry is a fucking nightmare. Last night we played a show at this pop up venue for Rolling Stone in Sydney," she says, keenly expanding on the point. "Afterwards we did a Q&A and this young girl from a band asked me this question – she was so upset, so angry - 'can you tell me how do you make it in this industry? It’s a joke this industry. It’s a fucking joke.’ I told her ‘first of all you have to really love music. Second, you have got to have a great team around you. Without my first manager John Woodruff we would never have got anywhere, because we were young and just wanted to play. I felt bad for her. Now for kids…it’s difficult. We were lucky."
Luck may not play as big a part in DeMarchi’s career as she claims. Leaving school at 15, quitting a nowhere job at 16 and living on the road with her band at 17 shows a confidence and a willingness to fast-track experience that seems rarer now. "Sometimes we’d do three shows a day," she says of her beginnings in Perth rockers Photoplay. "We’d do a university lunchtime show, then a pub gig, which would be three sets, then we’d do a nightclub gig, three sets again; three different 40 minute sets." She says laughing. "That’s where we learned how to play. I did that for two years. I got my work ethic from thinking it’s no big deal to drive [from Perth] to Geraldton to do a set or three. Now I wouldn’t want to - I have enough trouble getting through a one hour 40 minute set!"
Despite the lifestyle change from platinum-selling, world-touring rock star to being a mother and wife (of guitar icon Nuno Bettencourt), DeMarchi claims that her new life in Sydney and reinvention of the Baby Animals doesn’t feel like a job. "When I’m on stage it doesn’t, the other stuff does," she laughs. "I hate the music business. I really, really loathe it. I hate the way it’s structured. I mean, it’s changing but…" she trails off shaking her head. "We’ve gone independent now because I was so tired of signing deals with labels that just fuck you over. The worst thing about it is that they have control over you forever - they own your copyrights forever. This way we own it, we can share the load, you can do things that you want to do. You’re not going to reach as many people as you would if you were on a massive label, but we’ve got the Internet now."
With the release of new album This is Not the End, DeMarchi has eased into the role of a youthful rock legend, dispensing wisdom and dividing her time between parenting, performing and writing. While there are many album highlights, for DeMarchi two songs stand out. "We recorded Stitch on [previous acoustic album] Il Grande Silencio, but I didn’t think we did it properly; I always wanted to give that song the right treatment. I wrote You Still Need Me with Andrew Farriss when I was talking to him about all the INXS stuff [DeMarchi was in discussion about becoming the singer for INXS before they went the reality show route], I love that song."
While there is a buzz about the new album and its single Email, September 2013 marks the 22nd anniversary for the band’s eponymous debut album; the most successful in Australian music history until the landing of Jet. "It doesn’t feel like 20 years," she muses. "And I think that’s a testament to that album; those songs and [producer] Mike Chapman. He very rigidly made us pull things back and just concentrate on the essence of the song rather than being fancy. Mike was really anti-‘ooh, look what I can play! I can play this in 7/12 timing or whatever’. I always fucking hated that stuff. Everyone got a bit too fancy on the second album [Shaved and Dangerous]," she pauses before returning to the debut. "Mike was the taskmaster – ‘Let me hear the hooks’. Like Early Warning - that tag at the beginning ‘too young to know too old to listen - Mike said ‘I’m going to take that part of the chorus, let’s put that at the front; that’s the hook."
Recently making the 100 Best Australian Albums of All Time list, Baby Animals was a primal beast of its time, yet still forms the backbone of the band’s powerful live shows. Though the newer songs don’t elicit the same reaction, DeMarchi is happy to celebrate the older material. "It doesn’t bother me," she says breezily. "I’m really proud of all that stuff and it was a really good time. We did a lot of great things; we travelled everywhere and we were really lucky. We had a fledgling label that had a lot of money – they were like ‘take it!’" she laughs, pushing an invisible pile of money. "Just to keep us on the road with Van Halen for six months cost a million dollars in tour support; we couldn’t have done what we did without it…it’s a lot of money," she says slightly in awe of her own adventures. "It always comes back to having a good team around you, I think that’s 70% of being successful."

Seeing the band live, it’s easy to imagine why a label would feel comfortable in spending that much on a foursome of Perth rockers, and it’s live the band still shines. Despite a long break from the stage, DeMarchi is comfortable back in the spotlight. "Sometimes it’s difficult, but there’s no better way to make a connection. There are people there, and they wouldn’t be there if they didn’t want to be, so you’re starting already ahead of the game. All you want to do is your best for them and to enjoy yourself," she says instructively. "I remember the first time I went on stage and people clapped," she laughs. "I was like ‘they fucking liked it? This is great! I can make money doing this? Not much, but I can make money?’’  She laughs. "I never was good at any other job, and I’m not crazy about the industry – it’s a shit industry, but it’s really a very, very good job."

Saturday, October 12, 2013

FACE THE FACTS: An interview with Ian Jorgensen aka Blink

“Fuck Game of Thrones! The main threat to the live music scene isn’t downloading music, it’s downloading crazy-good TV,” says Kiwi legend and Face the Music guest BLINK. ANDY HAZEL laughs, and then feels awkward.

Ahead of his contribution to the Face the Music industry chat-fest, New Zealand music mogul and man of action Ian Jorgensen, better known as Blink, is, as ever, full of ideas. The man responsible for the legendary Camp a Low Hum festival, November’s five-city Square Wave Festival and manager of Wellington’s latest venue Puppies, is always happy to share advice.
“I think I’m just confident in my ability to take on anything. I’m also a bit of dick,’ he says casually. ‘I’ve had my fails like everyone else, but I’m always willing to take on a massive risk, and New Zealand is a small place. The benefit of being here is that it’s easy to reach out to everybody; you only need to make an impact in four cities, so it’s simple for me to raise the profile of an artist or band. In the US, you have to work hard for a long time and you probably still won’t make a dent. The problem with New Zealand is that it’s easy to get to the top and once you’re there, there’s nowhere to go. With my festival [Camp A Low Hum] it’s a big as it can get, which makes you think, right, now what can I do with this?’
Having taken his can-do attitude around the country and around the world, Blink collated his experiences in the book D.I.Y Touring the World; a repository of advice on how to travel on next to nothing. ‘Part of the reason I wrote the book is because every time someone wanted to know anything, they’d email me; ‘Who puts posters up in Dunedin? Who can mix us in Auckland?’ So I put out a book that featured everything I knew about touring. Since I’d toured overseas, I put out another book that had everything I know about touring the world.’
‘The same piece of advice I tell everyone,’ he continues, ‘and what everyone at this conference will be talking about, is this; people underestimate how hard they have to work on any project,’ he pauses. ‘When I booked my first tour, I wouldn’t start the day until I’d emailed at least 20 venues. I did that every day for six weeks. Sometimes it would take an hour or two, sometimes most of the day. Setting little goals before you relax achieves a lot. And another thing’ he says warming up, ‘people never think big enough either. With [his new festival] Square Wave, it’s the first year I’m doing it; I’m kicking it off straight away in 5 cities with 70 artists. If you’re doing the work anyway you may as well make it big.’
Despite his litany of impressive efforts and inspired bands, there are sad facts that enthusiasm can’t overcome. “If anything, the music scene is dying in New Zealand,’ he says unemotionally, “and it’s not because people are downloading music. It’s because they’re downloading TV; that’s my competition. It’s Breaking Bad, Mad Men, Game of Thrones and these amazing TV shows, that’s why people stay at home, and everyone I know does this! No one stayed at home in the early 2000s, back then it was just…Friends, now TV is crazy good. If it weren’t my job, I’d be home watching TV too. Fuck Game of Thrones!’ he laughs. 


Spotted Mallard
The Spotted Mallard is bustling as chatty diners, sitting at lamp-lit tables, have their attention drawn from each other to the stage by opening act The Motifs. While the pre-programmed drum loops splutter emphatically from diminutive Casios, and Alexis Hall’s wonderfully intimate voice and guitar playing is as warmly appealing as ever, the songs themselves seem undersold and the band under-rehearsed. Playing their first show in many months, even a below-par version of a song like Backwards is still a cause for celebration, and the crowd respond warmly, glad to have them back.

Six-piece Hello Satellites follow and bewitch the attentive with their arresting, twisting four-part harmonies. The intricate arrangements for voice, bass, drums, accordion, viola and violin betray the professionalism and attention to detail that infuses the work of singer/songwriter Eva Popov, and almost seems out of place tonight it is so good. The tight rhythm section leavens the songs a Lamb-like subtle dance-ability, while intricate Sweet Honey in the Rock-style vocal arrangements lend the songs an exotic flavour. Closing song Won't You Dance With Me? is especially powerful. 

Hitting the highlights from their beloved 2012 album Zingers, Milk Teddy set about spinning webs of dour indie pop. The unpretentious, matter-of-factness to their music belies the talent involved in their creation; singer/songwriter Thomas Mendelovits sings almost as if he’s ashamed of his songs’ pop sensibility. The set, while well played and full of their trademark wry intelligence, doesn’t see the band breaking any new ground; fine for fans such as those here tonight, but does make you hope their momentum hasn’t slowed.

Sweet Fantasy is the first song for headliners T:dy T:wns, and within its opening seconds you know something very special is happening here. The dual vocals of Louise Terry and Sez Wilks are jaw dropping in their harmonic strength and fluidity. Guitarist and songwriter Peter Head boasts a Flying V guitar with an iPhone-keyboard plugged into it and makes noises just as sweetly odd as you’d expect. Popov returns to the stage for Bask, one of the A-sides of tonight’s launched single, and with it the gig really takes off. While Pikelet isn’t available for the band’s radio hit Dear Joseph, Terry, Wilks and copious handclaps drive the song to its satisfying conclusion.
St Clare joins them for the other A side, the knowing Goldfrapp-esque I'm Gonna Get Dressed Up, and it too is a triumph. Terry’s Elizabeth Fraser-esque take on Once a Year silences the room, which then sings along to closer Bare Chested Boys. A major addition to Melbourne’s music scene has arrived, and they’re glorious.

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Melbourne Fringe Festival: SABRINA D’ANGELO - WHY DO I DREAM?

Son of Loft, Lithuanian Club

A slackly hanging crocheted tablecloth adorns the black curtained stage, a homely totem giving no warning whatsoever of the bizarre world of psychosexual body poetry to follow. Sabrina D'Angelo's third foray into the Fringe Festival establishes her as a major talent and a pioneer in physical theatre. While previous shows focused on puppets and asked you to ignore the master, in Why Do I Dream? it is impossible for your eyes to leave her. 

Ostensibly a theatrical interpretation of Madam Bovary, D'Angelo uses the text to explore notions of inhibition, desire and satiation, which she excels in expressing using mime, song, interpretive dance, ventriloquism and poetry. Frequently hilarious, occasionally confronting and often poignant, she manages abrupt shifts in tone with a deft physicality, and a constant sense of surprise in a show crammed with ideas. Possibly the first performer to connect Gustave Flaubert, Lionel Richie and an amorous bear, D'Angelo is fast forging a totally unique and utterly arresting body of work. 
One of the few true originals this Fringe is offering.


Simultaneously dwarfing and inarguably enhancing tonight’s performances is the impression of this new Brunswick venue, Howler. Resplendent with floor to ceiling timber and purple lights and boasting a phenomenal PA system, Howler will hopefully be figuring far more commonly in readers’ gig schedules in the near future. 
Tonight begins with chamber-pop songstress Prudence Rees-Lee leading us on the musical equivalent a tour of The Wicker Man’s Summer Isle. Wearing a face-obscuring hat, Rees-Lee and her octet hit highlights from recent album Court Music From the Planet of Love and bewitch us in the process. Intricate and subtly atmospheric arrangements boast harp, strings, guitar and keys and push the richly complex songs. Parts interweave, enhance and echo each other, though Rees-Lee often seems as though she’s singing louder than she’d like to be. Closing with one of the year’s best songs, Morning, this is a set bursting with originality and talent, and a charismatic singer committed to making her own way. 

Oozing in from the electro pop of DJs Darren Sylvester and Hannah Higher Power, comes programmer Andras Fox. Warm bass pulses meld beneath mellow Kompakt-style tones; it's pretty sweet but ultimately samey stuff. Fox dabbles with African percussion and clipped, delayed melodies to inoffensive 80s-ish ends. Claiming he's not dancing due a squash injury, Fox churns through several sound-alike pieces of tinkly warm elevator techno from forthcoming album Café Romantica over which people happily chat.

Beginning with life-affirming album opener Adriana, Montero celebrate the long-delayed release of their debut The Loving Gaze in a glorious rush of bright, fizzing glee. Over projections of colour-saturated explosions, singer and songwriter Bjenny Montero arrives looking like a cross between Chrissy Amphlett and a young shaman. While the band has never sounded bigger, there is a sense of euphoric freedom here that seems rare in other bands.

Montero himself is so committed to the performance and fearless in his expression that the stage is a playground, allowing other personalities in the six-piece to shine through. Guitarist Geoff O’Connor’s slick chops and smoother visage sits comfortably next to Gerald Wells, a perfectionist intently dispatching fluid analogue synth melodies. Guy Blackman’s cheery avuncular electric piano work blends impeccably with drummer Cameron Potts’ wild and accurate additions and the bass and vocal work of Bobby Brave; it’s brilliant stuff.
Mumbai is a glorious spin in the sun, Clear Sailing loses its freewheeling nature in a new rushed arrangement, but the band can’t be blamed for reinventing a song with which the audience are familiar. Dead Heads Come to Dinner and Glam Campbell are closing highlights in a night full of revelations, and one the packed room reward with deafening cheers.