Gig Review: Jack Ladder & The Dreamlanders

Thursday 13th November @ Newtown Social Club

The man is taller than Yao Ming on stilts. His voicer is deeper than the Marion Trench post-testipop. And he’s got the fashion sense that makes the description ‘impeccable’ cower in the corner. Of course, the name is Jack Ladder, and he has recently released his stellar new album ‘Playmates’, a fourth album of intricate, synth-laden poetry. To celebrate, a sold-out performance was in order, at The Newtown Social Club, with The Dreamlanders (Kirin J Callinan, Donny Benet and Laurence Pike) in tow.

Geoffrey O’Connor, former Crayon Fields-frontman, and Weekend at Donny’s collaborator (probably the highest honour that can be bestowed upon any musician, period) stepped up, and played an immersing set of cuts from two solo albums. Whilst on record, his songs can feel frail and gentle, his live performance is heavily accentuated with a drumpad that added a sprinkled steroid sensationalism to the music. The set built upon itself, with O’Connor almost seducing his guitar the same way he immersed his audience. It was alien, but highly romantic, something that Sydney folks probably aren’t used to, what with our CRAZY hustle ‘n’ bustle in this BUSY. Sultry crooning was exactly the remedy that THE BIG SMOKE craved.

O’Connor’s music harks back to a forgotten era, but added flourishes, both musically and lyrically, that forced your eyes to drill into his extravagant poses. He’s a figure that can pull off  a line like, “Your nipples pointed to the stars”, and have a swooning reaction from the crowd. A triple-threat finale of “Jacqueline”, “Her Name On Every Tongue” and “Whatever Leads Me To You”, meshed all the best factors of O’Connor’s style and music, a sheen as bright and poignant as any chiselled glare into the sunset pre-role of the credits.

Lavish isn’t quite the right description for how Jack Ladder & The Dreamlanders attended the stage. You’d be a lot closer by recounting it as a God descending, which wouldn’t be to far from the truth, what with all the hushed whispers, ecstatic catcalls, and angelic choir booming down from the speakers. Call it a low-rent Second Coming. With all the anticipated murmuring, it really felt like being in the presence of a few holy beings, only instead of frankincense and myrrh, they brought guitars and zany haircuts. All this promise came to fruition with lead cut “Come On Back This Way”, and a follow-through of the bouncy sleaze of “Her Hands”. Much has been made of the greatness of these songs, with their soaring, heart-clenching chorus’, emotionally-wrought and ability to turn even the biggest Ebenezer Scrooge diehard fan into a swaying, bawling wreck. But in the live arena, the music is twisted and contorted into something so much more alive, with new inflections and suspense, but without wrecking any of the original recording’s gorgeous presence. Kirin J. Callinan leans into each of his guitar thrashes with extraordinary zest, playing each note like he’s performing to a stadium, and every word that drips from Jack Ladder’s throat is the equivalent of injecting pure baritone into the pleasure gland.

Jack Ladder’s set purrs along, motored by a range of talent from both the man himself, and the dream team he has assembled. But at a subtle halfway mark, Jack Ladder launches into one of the most serene moments of 2014: “Cold Feet”, followed by “Hurtsville”. Experiencing this in the flesh can only be described as careening – torn absolutely to the core, stuck between overwhelming joy and harrowing sadness eschewed from the sight and sounds of the stage. The way the songs unfold in front of the audience’s stunned eyes, it made you want to kill yourself and fall in love at the same time, profess undying devotion and shut yourself off from humanity forever. When “Hurtsville” ended, the crowd exploded into adoring applause, surrendering to ovation. We were already standing, but if seats had been in the venue, then not one single arse would have been planted.

From this point, the performance balanced itself evenly amongst tumultuous demons being purged, and Jack Ladder The Poet serenading our ears. Recent tracks “Neon Blue” and “Reputation Amputation” provided heated forays into the Rainbow Road-territory, whilst the encore closer of a reclining ‘n’ sighing version “Case Closed” provided more shivers down the spine than Jack Frost giving you an ass-tap after the game.

There aren’t any words that can really describe the collective and genuine appreciation the souls of the Newtown Social Club felt the night. Awe is a word that springs to mind, but it doesn’t do justice the sheer magnitude of respect that one can have for a performance of this magnitude. It was a special occasion for sure, as with a KJC sophomore album looming, it’s doubtful the guitarist will be able attend future shows.But the uniqueness of the night extended more than just the mere players. There was a vibrancy in Ladder’s heartfelt tribute to those that had helped shape the record, and a grin on Donny Benet’s face that was as wide as his bass lines were fat. Tonight wasn’t just another night on the chart of a touring musician, but a momentous occasion for the band themselves that reverberated around the venue.

Oftentimes, Jack Ladder is hurriedly compared to Nick Cave, and even chose to utilise a stage name, because his original name, Tim Rogers, caused confusion with the You Am I frontman. But with this new record and scale of performance, Ladder has graduated to an infinitely higher plane. Comparisons are meaningless. Jack Ladder & The Dreamlanders’ ‘Playmates’ album launch can only be nodded ferociously along to as one of the finest shows of the year.


‘Playmates’ is out now on Self-Portrait Records. The band play a follow-up show as part of ARIA Week, headlining the Inertia showcase at Vic on the Park, Marrickville, with support from The Harpoons, Milwaukee Banks and KUCKA on November 23rd.


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