Gig Review: The Goon Sax

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Saturday, April 2nd @ Newtown Social Club

I was a loser in high school, a big time dork. I look back on those days, and hang my head in shame. Every morning I wake up and check the Internet to make sure that some regrettable photo from that period hasn’t surfaced in a mission to ruin my life. I live with caution, certain that it’s only a matter of time before people realise that, at 15 years old, I was the biggest Red Hot Chili Peppers fan and argued with my parents over getting the lyrics to “Dani California” permanently inked to my skin.

Which is why, when I look at The Goon Sax, a bunch of 17 and 18 year olds from Brisbane, I instantly become consumed with jealousy. They’re playing after FLOWERTRUCK, who are essentially Sydney’s gatekeepers of guitar pop, an Edwyn Collins/David Byrne amalgamation from heaven. FLOWERTRUCK have just put on a hell of a show, not exactly something you’d jump at the chance to follow. But before The Goon Sax have played a note, before they’ve even made a gesture, I know that they are the coolest people I’ve ever seen in my life, and that they’re about to play something very memorable. There’s a casual but inviting way to how they stand on stage that speaks of nervous anticipation. I’ve seen so many bands get up at the NSC looking bored or dismissive, and the novelty of The Goon Sax’s quiet excitement doesn’t just make them interesting, it makes them far cooler than they already are. And that’s all before they’ve even started strumming.

Musically, The Goon Sax have taken jangle-pop, and applied a level of self-awareness, self-deprecation and affable charm that has evolved the genre. There’s no obvious allusions to their forebearers, nor the modern champions of the genre like Twerps, Dick Diver and The Ocean Party. They stand apart, spinning seemingly mundane topics into compulsive stories, which spill from the stage and directly into your gaping mouth. These yarns – simple, scratchy and flawed – are wrought directly from the teenage experience; but the real sucker punch is that these songs speak to any age, without relying on some sense of nostalgia in the lyrics or music. It just speaks to the fact that The Goon Sax are really fucking amazing songwriters, who actually get pop music, far more than I ever will. It’s only when frontmen Louis Forster and James Harrison switch instruments that you’re pulled out of the spell, and it once again dawns on you that, holy shit, I will never be as cool as the people I am watching right now.

Although an hour set might have been a bit ambitious (maybe that’s just me – I love a good short and sweet set), the performance never felt like it dragged. There were lulls, sure, but The Goon Sax have a talent for always being able to reset the audience’s interest, whether it be through one of their instant-classic singles, such as “Boyfriend” and “Sometimes Accidentally”, or hidden gems from their debut album, like the closer “Ice Cream (On My Own)”. Or maybe it was their attitude that made them so loveable; the fact that, whenever you zoned in on the band, you could see a real love for what they were doing, with none of the ego or cynicism that usually coats other guitar pop bands onstage. That kind of genuine and unpretentious behaviour is infectious, and gives all the more reason to become completely and utterly infatuated with this band.

As soon as The Goon Sax left the stage, there was nothing left to do but swear a blood oath to them. The Goon Sax have gone from being yet another fantastic Brisbane band, to one of my favourites in the country. I may be consumed by jealousy at their monstrous coolness, but the music and show is too good to bite a thumb at. Folks, here’s some sound advice: see the show, buy the record, and learn a thing or two from these bloody geniuses.

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Gig Review: Fairgrounds Festival

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Saturday 5th December @ Berry Showgrounds

“Ryan, turn down that fucking death metal, I can barely think”. I’m on my way down to Berry with my Mum, for Fairgrounds Festival. Besides the obvious reasoning of using her as a diversion tactic to sneak in enough drugs to make a Mexican cartel leader feel the threat of competition, Mum had never been to a festival before in her whole life, and wanted to see what all the fuss was about. A three hour drive and plenty of argument over what to play on the stereo later, and Mum had her notepad out and was ready to critique the shit out of her first festival experience.

Full disclosure: my Mum doesn’t know a lot about music – she loves Madonna, ABBA and Bruce Springsteen, and that’s about it. So, keep that in mind when reading her comments on the festival. 

The first thing you notice about Fairgrounds is how insanely beautiful the surroundings are. Maybe its because my experience with the festivals in Sydney have been reduced to whatever concrete structure the headliner can pack out, but going down to Berry was like seeing a whole new side of NSW that a lot of city dwellers like myself probably don’t get to see. Father John Misty aside, it’s definitely worth a day trip. What’s more, the audience at Fairgrounds is completely different to any other festival I’ve been to. Sure, you can argue that it ain’t too hard to beat out the three long day scream of “BROOOOOOOOOOOO!!!!!” that hangs over Falls and Splendour, but the air of complacency and relaxation that smothers Fairgrounds is unreal. There were more picnic blankets, sunshine and smiles than a Sunday arvo football game on the Hill at Brooky Oval when the Sea Eagles are up by 20.

Mum: It’s so beautiful down here – they’ve done a really great job with picking this site out. Do you know who picked it? I really like it here, Ryan. It’s so nice. I’m going to tell your Dad that I want to move here. 

Shining Bird, the Leisure Coast’s greatest treasure, opened up Fairgrounds with their assortment of lush, extended jams that blow apart the doors of what psychy dream pop can do. They’re the equivalent of being thrown into a bed with a thread count of infinity, over and over and over again. The addition of a saxophone to their crew has added a brand new element to the Shining Bird sound, adding a little more electricity and warmth to their hum. Watching them live has a certain mesmerising quality that puts them leagues ahead of their contemporaries.

Mum: I missed most of their set because I was parking the car, but I thought they were awesome. I really love their t-shirts [she bought one before the festival]. I think I’m in love with Dane. 

Following Shining Bird are Methyl Ethyl – the Perth trio have been getting all sorts of adulation for their debut album and their live show, but I just don’t see it. Having witnessed them a fair few times now, their set at Fairgrounds just cemented the fact that I don’t get this band, and it didn’t feel like anyone in the audience did either. They felt awkward, listless and disconnected on stage, and with the exception of “Twilight Driving”, nothing felt too memorable about Methyl Ethyl.

Mum: I think they’re boring. But I liked that one song. I really didn’t like that they didn’t say hello or goodbye, or even thank you. No one clapped, that’s how bad they were. 

Watching C.W. Stoneking is an experience that should be recommended to everyone. He’s weird, and feels like he doesn’t belong anywhere, which is great. He thumps along on his guitars and banjo charismatically, howling and groaning like he’s just come off a shift with a chain gang. Visually, the band are just as striking – Stoneking sways in an all-white suit that must cost a small-fortune to get dry cleaned before every gig, and he’s complemented with a booming double bass and a couple of astounding back up singers who sway like they’re late for their gig with The Temptations. Whilst the heat beats down, C.W. Stoneking splashes the crowd with a sound that feels cold and refreshing, a cocktail of genres, styles and accents that feels just as illegal and sought after as the Prohibition bar that it was ripped from.

Mum: Their sound is confused. It doesn’t work. The girls in the glitter dresses and the mixed moaning country sounds, its like urrrgghhh neeerrr nerrr. I don’t like it.

Time for a fun fact: excluding the five or so times we went and saw BJORN AGAIN, the world’s premier ABBA cover band, Unknown Mortal Orchestra were the first band Mum and I ever saw together. I was 17 and had a fake ID, but needed a responsible adult to complete the guise, so she came along with me. You can actually read a really poorly written review I wrote of that gig here.

Although my ability to string words together hasn’t increased, Unknown Mortal Orchestra have become one of the biggest bands on the planet. My personal opinion of them now is pretty “meh”, but their live show is still something to behold. Ruban Nielson has a voice of silky chocolate, a Valentine’s Day gift bursting forth 365 days a year. Meanwhile, the songs are transformed, shaking free of the psych-pop restraints and rolling into all sort of different musical territory, from hammering riff-rock to placid R&B-lite. Nielson is surprisingly energetic, far more of a frontman than last time we witnessed him, clamouring onto the PA stack to lounge and serenade from above. Whatever you think of the band themselves, if the opportunity arrives to catch them, seize it.

Mum: This isn’t the same band we saw ages ago, is it? Really? Well, I like the older stuff better than the new stuff, the stuff I recognised, my hips were swaying. I like the lead singers voice, it’s awesome and unusual. I thought they were really cool. 

Up until this point, the bands had mostly relied on their music to engage and entice the crowd. Not Royal Headache: Shogun is the centre of attention, a crooning, beloved and charismatic frontman who doesn’t so much capture attention as he does wrangle it like Paul Hogan and a crocodile.  Even when an amp fucks up, and a song goes by completely guitar-less, they can carry on off the back of pure charisma, and the error is completely forgiven and forgotten by the time guitarist Lawrence Hall is back to strumming. Fast forward to a sore and exhausted Ryan keeling over a barrier, trying to hold in the vomit post-“Down the Lane”, mosh pit marathon, and the memory of the band looking on frustrated has been completely replaced with joy and mild bruising.

Look, it’s hard to express what’s been said a million times over already, but I’ll just add my two cents and say that Royal Headache are the kind of band where every song makes you exclaim, “Fuck me, this is my favourite song”. Watching Royal Headache re-affirms why I like going to see live music: there’s an exhilaration, a thrill, a shot in the arm of ecstasy that’s impossible to find anywhere else but the front row of a rock show. Maybe it’s because my world-view is pretty limited to the bands that have hauled themselves through Sydney, but I still feel that Royal Headache are the best band on the planet.

Mum: He’s quite hyper! I don’t think he should have taken his shirt off though, that was maybe a bit OTT. I really loved it, the people were going crazy and I loved that he got everyone going. I really like the guitarist, he had a nice presence. 

Following the exhaustion, sweat and threat of sunburn that pervaded Royal Headache’s set, it was nice to sit down on one of the gazillion picnic rugs and soak up Mercury Rev‘s performance. Their set faded into one bombastic flood of guitars spilling over the Berry Showgrounds. It was a slow-burning avalanche, tumbling forever, mostly soft and buzzing, and then occasionally bursting at the seams like old school Marlon Brando trying to squeeze into skinny jeans.

Mum: Oh my God, Ryan, I love this band! I was having a nap, and I heard them, and had to come and check them out. They’re my favourite band so far, they were mesmerising, what a bunch of incredible sounds. What instruments do they use to get those sounds? What genre is this?

Le Pie was in full swing by the time we arrived, playing to a packed out shed of enthralled bodies. Most lay on the floor, sprawled out with grins flicking up whenever Le Pie kicked into another one of her dazzling tunes. Today, she plays with a stripped-back version of  her band, just a quiet bass, an acoustic guitar and a tambourine, which actually put a bold emphasis on that enthralling voice of hers. Things go into a much more pop direction, closer to Taylor Swift than Kim Deal, and that’s not too bad, is it?

Mum: I remember you showing me Le Pie ages ago, right? She’s awesome, I love her. She’s got a real Taylor Swift vibe, no?

One of the only teething problems Fairgrounds Festival had in its first year was a lack of food. By the time the sun wasn’t trying to actively kill us all, most food stalls either had a 45 minute waiting period, or had sold out entirely, leaving the only option available to be the wonderful Berry pub – $5.20 for schooey and the biggest goddamn slices of calamari you’ve seen in your life, no fucking dramas. Worth missing Meg Mac over, for sure.

The sun’s going down, and it’s time for Father John Misty. Similarly to Unknown Mortal Orchestra, his music is a bit hey-how-ya-goin, but his live show is essential. The man is all over it, a religious figure and a cult leader who happened to choose the guitar instead of the Kool Aid. As the sun bleeds into the sky, the bearded maestro bounds around, committing to his performance with a strange enthusiasm that defies his morose lyrics and tempered music. The crowd is in his hands, and even when the set begins to drag at the 40 minute mark, their eyes stay fixated. But credit to his abilities as a performer, Papa John sees out his hour of power with a triumphant melody, including “Hollywood Forever Cemetery Sings” (aka The Aubrey Plaza song), joined by an equally brilliant and theatrical live show. Even though he looks like a Surry Hills barista, Father John Misty can stay.

Mum: What is it with these beards, Ryan? I don’t get it, they’re so rank! They’re disgusting! Is this a new thing? But I really, really like this guy, he’s fun and he’s got a lovely voice. 

By this time night has settled upon Berry, the show ground now more closely resembles a glen from A MidSummer Nights Dream, with trees lit up like rainbows and fairy lights adorning every spare centimetre. Finishing out the night are Ratatat, who seem like a strange choice for a festival closer. They do a decent job, aided by some severe visuals and a laser show that wouldn’t be out of place at Burning Man, but it feels slightly flat. It also looks weird to see two blokes absolutely throwing themselves into a keyboard and shredding guitars like they’re auditioning for Jeff Hanneman’s spot in Slayer, when the music that’s emerging is relatively middling. Comparatively, the visuals seemed to fuse with the music far more than their strutting figures, a psychedelic mixture of birds of prey, multi-limbed toddlers and lots of explosions.

Mum: I don’t like this doof doof stuff. They’re very talented, but this is terrible. The lasers are good, but the visuals are shit.

 

Overall, Fairgrounds provided that “something” in the festival calendar that has been missing for so long. In an environment that can be fairly predictable and void of genuine headliners, Fairgrounds found multiple acts of first-class calibre, and sought to create NSW’s very own version of Meredith. Although it did see a share of teething problems, the way these impacted the day were minimal. Furthermore, the range of small treats on hand – bands getting to the stage on time, the sack and three-legged races raging in the haystacks, the record fair, the swimming pool – didn’t go unnoticed. The dickheads were non-existent, and the general atmosphere was completely different to anything else that exists on the festival radar. Having experienced Fairgrounds and its bevy of little wonders, you come to realise how essential it is, and how much you’re looking forward to going next year. As for my Mum, well, she had the time of her goddamn life, and is now a festival junkie – she’s already booked her tickets for Psyfari and is starting a strict shredding regime for Stereo. So yeah, thanks for that Fairgrounds.

Gig Review: At First Sight Festival

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What kind of world do we live in that some fucking ginger kid with the social etiquette of Todd Carney on a handful of pingas can make out with a copy of Slayer’s Show No Mercy AND boogie to NO ZU in the space of a single day> It’s a truly  barbaric thought, and it’s one that came true just a few days ago. At First Sight Festival, curated by Marty Doyle of Dusty Fingers fame, happened over the weekend, and it was a truly glorious time for all involved.

Full disclosure – I was involved in some aspects of this festival, but not anything that could be considered important. Nope, Count Doyle did it all, from booking an incredible lineup which somehow deviated from the usual Tkay Maidza/Hilltop Hoods/Sticky Fingers combination, to the promotion, scheduling, and other organisational duties that no sane person should be willing to take on. Instead, I was tasked with trapping a member of Blank Realm in a car, and chewing his ear off for hours on end. It did mean missing the early portion of the festival, but according to multiple eye-witnesses, Rolling Blackouts and Royal Sitars were best on ground.

The first moments of At First Sight that were seared into my eyeballs belong to the explosive set of Palms. Seriously, if you haven’t listened to their new album Crazy Rack, then fuck off and do so. There’s no reason to continue reading, just plug yourself into this masterpiece for the next half hour and only return when you’re finished. Done? Fucking hell, so you’ve come to the realisation that these Palms dudes would sound alright blaring out from a fuck-off, huge mountain of speakers, yeah? Because that’s what happened; Palms ploughed through all the hits from their two records to date, smashing “This Last Year”, “Love”, “Bad Apple”, and “Beatdown” with the kind of howling ferocity that forces you to lift a fist (IF NOT BOTH) in the air with mashing glee.

TEESNicholas Allbrook and Lucy Cliche all swiftly followed with impressive sets. TEES provided a dreamy set that showcases that their dreamy pop material works just as gorgeously on a stage as it does in .mp3 form, and Nicholas Allbrook brought the weirdness in leaps and bounds. Literally, the man cannot stay still – although his set suffered from such sporadicalness, shifting manically and at an unpredictable whim, the POND frontman remained enjoyable. Lucy Cliche was a bevy of intensity, her thudding, sharp dance music transforming a small bunker at 3pm on a Saturday afternoon into a thriving hive of hungry gazes and shuffling feet. Do yourself a favour, and make yourself as familiar as possible with her work.

This next passage might seem hyperbolic, but it’s not. If anything, whatever words I type next will be under-representative of the insanity that is NO ZU. An eight piece hydra indebted to raising the heat of a room by several degrees, the Melbourne collective had pulses racing at an unhealthy rate. Folks should have been having heart attacks from all the exercise that was going down, but sheer joy and anticipation for what NO ZU would pull out next forced them to party on. They remain to be one of the funnest, strangest, most exotic things on this planet, a laboratory of thrilling genres mashed into a sweaty dance-floor filling experience. Forget heroin, NO ZU are the most addictive substances on the planet.

Still reeling from NO ZU, Nun continued the legacy of Melbourne acts putting on exhilarating performances. A member was wearing a Gutter Gods t-shirt and that wasn’t even the most punk thing on stage. Front woman Jenny Branagan is fucking mental to watch. She is the greatest thing to happen to a stage since our prayers were answered and Dave Growl fell off of one. She jumps, dives, sprawls, screams, thrashes and delivers shriek after shriek, her band’s domineering wall of synth punk throwing jabs from behind her. Incredible – if you haven’t picked up their debut album then fix this gaping mistake in your life with a little bit of this.

Following Nun are Brissy’s Blank Realm, who have been awarded the very prestigious honour of “BEST FARKIN BAND IN AUSTRALIA”. They get this award because they a) wear Pere Ubu t-shirts, b) rock keytars like Duran Duran didn’t fuck it up for everyone, c) are possibly the best songwriters in the country and d) because fuck, have you heard Blank Realm before? They’re amazing! Of course they rule live, how could they not? When you’re a band that owns a cache of tunes like “River of Longing”, “Falling Down the Stairs”, “Reach You on the Phone” and “Go Easy”, it’s hard to be anything less than “BEST FARKIN BAND IN AUSTRALIA”.

Previous duties withheld experiencing My Disco, Broadway Sounds, and most of Andras’ set, but hey, we all know these acts are national treasures, so build a Spotify playlist, and get over it, y’know? Let’s move onto Oscar Key Sung: draped in cloth, the man is pure beauty constructed around eyes of steel and a voice of cotton. His beats switch from lush and textured to the occasional pummel, however, it did feel like he could have benefitted from someone else onstage to help him. It’s hard to fully enjoy a crooner like Key Sung, who is so concentrated on flipping between production, singing and entertaining. He worked best when he was joined by Amrita, who danced their way into all of our adoring hearts, and freed Key Sung up into a party mode.

Moving onward to Total Giovanni – now they’re a band that could give Blank Realm a run for their money. The tagline for this band is “Fun. Incarnate”. With enough energy to power the LargeHadron Collider,  Total Giovanni are Italo-disco superstars, bestowers of the silky sensual. This is a group with only a handful of singles to their name, but every single beating heart in the cavern of Carriageworks was thumping along meticulously to the party that Total Giovanni were delivering. What was the greatest moment? “When We Break” churning a few hundred people into  a sea of flailing bodies? The over-the-top, pelvis-shattering thrusts that took place during “Human Animal? Or the batshit crazy cover of Eddy Current Suppression Ring’s “Precious Rose”? Trying to decide the answer to that question is aneurysm-inducing.

By some miracle, the best moment of At First Sight didn’t belong to any one of the bands mentioned above, but rather, a combination of them via Uncle Donny’s Rotating Sideshow of Stellar Performance aka the Donny Benet Showband’s Tribute to Nile Rodgers. Bringing out all the day’s superstars, including Becky Sui Zhen and Daphne Camf of NO ZU, Oscar Key Sung and Vachel Spirason of Total Giovanni, Donny and co. re-introduced some of the past century’s biggest hits, resulting in an all-out dance bloodbath. The sea was angry that day, my friends. Oh, it was an angry mosh of people screaming, “OH FUCK, I LOVE THIS SONG!” as DB and his merry band played the best version of “Original Sin” since Hutcho called it quits. Special mention goes to Nicholas Allbrook for a very special performance of Mick Jagger’s “Just Another Night”, and in turn, transforming a so-bad-it’s-good song into something so-good-it’s-brilliant.

It’s worth reminding everyone that, whilst all of this amazing music was happening, people were record shopping. Two of the greatest habits, combined into one day! How can someone like me be lucky enough to get The Saint’s I’m (Stranded) and get the opportunity to witness a one-of-a-kind musical experience courtesy of Donny? It cannot be overstated how much of a miracle it is that all of this could happen under one roof: the bands of tomorrow shredding minds and expectations to tatters mere metres away from where some of the most important records are being sold. That’s the dream, ladies and gentlemen. That’s the fucking dream. See you at Carriageworks next year.

10 Best Bands of BIGSOUND

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Brisbane – you go alright. Sydney folk have given you a bit of a rough ride throughout the years: “It’s too hot…full of bogans…fucking Maroon wankers” are all pretty common complaints. But after offering up so many fantastic bands over the years, it was awesome to finally experience the whirlwind of your uncomfortably warm embrace. And BIGSOUND! What a treat! Despite an abundance of blokes (always blokes) with incredibly overinflated egos (shoutouts to the guy that threw his pass in a security guard’s face, throwing his arm at the 30 second queue and exclaiming “But I’m a delegate! That’s a punter’s line…THIS IS BULLSHIT!”) BIGSOUND is an opportunity.

Y’see, there’s over 150 bands playingsome incredible, some lame as shit, but all there to hopefully further their careers and find success, whatever that definition might be. And I’m really happy about that – there’s not nearly enough cash being thrown back to the musicians who make our punter lives such a joy. So, even though don’t like it, who gives a shit? I’m happy for any artist, of any genre, to achieve their goal, particularly through a process like BIGSOUND, which is a great way to connect with folks who can help you. For every guy that can’t stop mentioning the fact that he works in the “music industry”, there are a dozen people who genuinely care about checking out as many of the good things on offer. So here’s my two cents on the best bands up at BIGSOUND – and by the way, if you ever fucking make me wait in a queue again, I will sue you.

10. Rainbow Chan

The electronic contingent at BIGSOUND was pretty disappointing this year. Maybe it’s coming from a really ill-informed “band bro” point of view, but watching someone overanalyse a set of decks just really doesn’t seem like that exciting of a thing to watch. It was the acts that went left of centre and made the most of their sets that performed best: Sui Zhen and NULL both pulled off impressive and visually engaging sets that are worth checking out. But it was Rainbow Chan that proved to be the most energetic and lively; she’s criminally underrated, and doesn’t play shows nearly enough. Any chance to catch her bop, groove and twirl onstage is a treat that should be taken advantage of immediately.

9. Tired Lion

If I wasn’t guzzling booze and schmoozing up to the heads of the major labels with all the gusto of Gary Busey on a coke binge, then I probably would’ve made it into the sold-out Gang of Youths gig, and they would’ve been on this list. Unfortunately, that didn’t happen (didn’t even get a fucking corporate sponsorship out of all that sucking up either). However, it did mean that I caught Tired Lion, Perth shredders that feature an absolute powerhouse of a front woman, the unstoppable Sophie Hopes. She latched onto every figure in the packed out room with the ferocity of the band’s namesake tearing open the throat of the slowest gazelle in the Savannah. We are all that gazelle, and all we could do was stare in awe of the show that Tired Lion supplied as they stewed upon our entrails.

8. Cosmic Psychos

Their new album leaves a lot to be desired, as much of a disappointment as my results at uni. But it would be plain ignorant to call Cosmic Psychos as anything less than a heritage act, an influential band that spits in the face of legacy because they’re too busy riding tractors and slamming into dead roos. Their reputation as one of the best pub rockers remains undisputed when it comes to a live show. Sweaty, blood-spurting and beer-soaked faces caked the grey-haired but perpetually young-at-heart performance, as classics “Nice Day to Go the Pub”, “Lost Cause” and “David Lee Roth” all saw air time, both from the stage and the bevy of crowd-surfers.

7. DARTS

DARTS played two sets, and both proved to be overwhelming punches of spectacle. Straight ahead, teeth-bared rock that presents itself as a slew snarling anthems, but is plagued with cutting self-analysis and anguish, which explodes in the live arena. DARTS work well in confined spaces, barrelling through track after track on the stages of Brisbane with loaded sets of staunch, lip-curling grunge.

6. WAAX

On a bill packed with rock acts, WAAX feel like the band destined to inspire more than fair few teenagers to pick up the guitar and thrash around in their bedroom. This band deserves every loud-loving punters full attention, and catching them live should shoot to the top of the list. Ask anyone who was there, and you’re likely to get the same gushing response as entailed here. Front woman Marie De Vita is particularly worthy of praise, an irrepressible emerald-doused firework who dominates the crowd like she’s Joan of Arc and we’re all a bunch of bloody Brits ready for rock slaughter.

5. Tiny Little Houses

This show was absolutely fucking packed. A full 24 hours later, and my lungs still haven’t decompressed themselves. But mate, wasn’t it bloody worth it? I’d kinda given up on folk bands, what with the realisation that Boy & Bear and The Paper Kites both suck…but man, Tiny Little Houses – swoon! They’re lo-fi recordings shine on a stage, and the inclusion of a fair bit of shredding helps bolster their performances into quite the mesmerising spectacle.

4. The Ocean Party

The Ocean Party are easily the hardest working band in Australia, with more live gigs notched under their belts than Ron Jeremy’s got STD’s. Not only that, but they’ve got a fifth record due out in a month AND all seven members deal with their own stellar recording projects in what mythical spare time they have. With all that practice and constant skill-honing, it’s no wonder that The Ocean Party are one of the most charming bands to watch in Aus. Their gigs will suck you in like a bloody typhoon, and you’ll have their incredible brand of guitar-pop stuck in your head for days, weeks, months, years. Truly, this band is the herpes of music…but delightful instead of burning.

3. Dorsal Fins

There’s a fuck-off amount of members in Dorsal Fins, so many that it’s all too easy to lose count. Watching them is like watching that classic gorilla selective attention experiment video – your eyes are bouncing between so many members that a giant ape could walk through the middle and you wouldn’t notice. Not that King Kong antics are a problem here – you’re having way too much fun! Dorsal Fins do pop to its logical, exuberant climax, and the unstoppable Ella Thompson not only possesses one hell of a voice, but the most enthusiastic dance moves that BIGSOUND had to offer. On a bill filled with bright pop musicians, Dorsal Fins were far and away the most brilliant and enticing.

2. The Goon Sax

One song and a handful of demos is apparently enough to fill up a room to a dangerous capacity. If someone coughed, the whole audience would’ve come down with pneumonia the next day. But of course, everyone was excited to check out the new Chapter Music signing. After 20 years, one of the most prestigious and continuously enigmatic labels in Australia went out on a limb and signed their first band based on unsolicited demos. Holy shit did they make the right decision: three high school kids, loaded with shy charm and a love for bands that I wish I could’ve claimed to be into in Year 12 (The Apartments, Go-Betweens, and The Bats) deserved every cheer and clap they got during their slot. I don’t even give a shit if I’ve got whooping cough now – seeing The Goon Sax will be worth every second of my impending plague.

1. DEAFCULT

I am so okay with a band with four guitars. Yeah, you read that right – four. This band has the same amount of guitars as the core cast of Seinfeld has members. And they use these guitars in their entire brutal capacity – nobody was leaving this room without bleeding eardrums and grin planted on their cranium. Fuck, there is so much to love about this band: from the name, to the incredible musicianship on display, to the simple awe generated by the sheer volume of it all. This band is epic, but with all the pretension removed. Watching DEAFCULT is an experience that anyone with even a passing interest in what guitars can do should participate in. Fuck…I think I’ve shit myself just from thinking back to it.

Gig Review: Volumes Festival 2015

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Saturday, August 29th @ Brighton Up Bar, Oxford Art Factory, Cliff Dive

It’s rare to walk into a venue at 3 o’clock in the arvo and see anything more than a few winos having a quiet beer. Maybe a couple of #ridiculouslydressed folks on a pub crawl for someone’s birthday. There’s certainly no expectation of seeing a packed house of clamouring music fans singing along to an album that hasn’t even been released yet. But, in the first incarnation of what’s sure to be a celebrated annual occurrence, VOLUMES Festival brought Sydney’s music fans out of their share houses and into venues, catering a fantastically eclectic showcase of Australian music.

VOLUMES Festival sure seemed like a gamble – for a local nerd like myself, the lineup was a wet dream. Relatively speaking, it was like a Star Wars geek getting to have lunch with a pre-sequels Lucas at Skywalker Ranch. Just viewing the bands playing, delight was being compressed into my brain at an unhealthy rate. The lineup was stocked with incredible acts, from the bigger names Jack Ladder & the Dreamlanders and Blank Realm, to sturdy up and comers such as FLOWERTRUCK, Low Lux and Gold Class. However, statistically speaking, these aren’t your typical headlining bands. In anticipated excitement over the festival, I would sputter and slobber about all these awesome names and would often be greeted with blank, occasionally hostile, stares. “Oi, can you fucking not spit in my face…and I don’t know who the fucking Laurels are, mate!” was a common response. It felt like this beautiful new thing that was taking over three of the most celebrated venues in Sydney – Oxford Art Factory, Cliff Dive and Brighton Up Bar – could be attended solely by music nerds with nothing better to do with their time (read: this ginger piece of shit with a keyboard).

Come 3pm, and bands that don’t even have full records out are busting out their jams to enthralled audiences. Big White serenaded with their off-kilter guitar pop, Death Bells shot daggers with their dark, infiltrating gaze of post-punk inflected dream pop, and The Pinheads engaged in all-out debauchery. Three bands in, and the senses have been driven into overdrive, particularly by The Pinheads, who make it their mission to risk their lives for the sake of our entertainment. Draped in thrift shop rock star outfits, shimmering with a Straight-Outta-Spotlight glamour, The Pinheads brand of overwhelming rock ‘n’ roll continually invades the audience and challenges the status quo of standing with your arms folded *nodding in solemn appreciation*. Bertolt Brecht would be proud.

It’s been said before, by folks much more eloquent/intelligible/handsome than myself, but FLOWERTRUCK are fucking sick, hey. Go-Betweens/Triffids meets Talking Heads with a dash of Factory Records pop aesthetic. Winner winner, chicken dinner. Although they’re usually a first-song-in-capture-the-whole-crowd group, the sound in the Gallery Bar seemed to irk the set towards the beginning – however, FLOWERTRUCK still commanded their half hour with the most impressive pop to come out of Sydney in a long time. Don’t get us wrong – the crowd was grooving hard, especially when cynic-evaporators “I Wanna Be With You” and “Sunshower” upended naysayers right in the pleasure gland. As their time stretched thin, the dance floor grew more heated, and sweat poured. This band is essential – don’t miss them next week, when they play the Junkyard-curated leg of King Street Crawl at the Botany View Hotel.

Holy Balm made a rare appearance, and quickly reminded why they’re one of Sydney’s favourites. They are a truly un-pigeonhole-able group, a threesome who’s influences stretch far, unveiling a sound that is equally at home in a nightclub as it is in the bedroom of a lonely soul. In the intimate Cliff Dive, Holy Balm quietly shone with dance music that’s unrivalled, beautifully delivered monologues bubbling over the top of incredible live production – whenever Holy Balm decide to next grace a stage, ensure that you are front and centre. Switch over to World Champion in the OAF main stage, where a very different kind of noise is being produced. BritPop sheen collides with skilful production, and bolstered by vivid visuals, the lean team of Julian Sudek and Will Campion make for a bustling performance reminiscent of Jagwar Ma’s live shows.

ONWARDS! A cinematic double-team of Shining Bird and Jack Ladder. Although both faced technical problems, the South Coast and Blue Mountains ensembles triumphed in their own way. Shining Bird are impossible to tear away from, and once they float into their groove of slow-burning psych pop hauled from a conk shell in Thirroul, there’s no backing away from the gems of the South Coast. Much like interrupting a sleepwalker, it’s better to just look on in bewilderment at the dream-cloaked happenings that city slickers would never be capable of pulling off. Meanwhile, Jack Ladder and co. simply pushed through the difficulty with brute force. Typically dressed to impress, Jack Ladder & The Dreamlanders played admirably, but hardly at their most memorable. Whereas previous performances have left attendees in complete awe, sound issues plagued early portions, and the band didn’t seem to throw themselves in as much as they have previously. There isn’t much too complain about – any chance to witness “Cold Feet” and “Hurtsville” is always a pleasure that should be experienced by everyone, but tonight felt slightly crooked.

Segue into Brighton Up Bar, and the room is fixated on Melbourne’s Gold Class and their urgent post-punk. It’s a paradox, hearing such a confessional and committed singer, running around the stage, wrapped in his microphone, strapped to snarling, drenched music. It’s bleak stuff curdling upon sharp and searing punches of music that unwraps spectacularly. Seeing them made for a satisfying prequel to their debut album, which drops soon.

Unsurprisingly, Blank Realm were the highlight of VOLUMES. This band is easily the greatest band in Australia, firmly tied with Royal Headache. Do whatever is in your possible power to see this band, or buy their record…fuck it, do both. Their music is incredible, and just keep getting better. The festival provided an opportunity for Blank Realm to unleash a few songs from their upcoming masterpiece “Illegals in Heaven“. Not only is this album perfect in recorded form, but live, it does to the heart what a volcanic explosion would do to butter. “River of Longing”, “Palace of Love”, “No Views” – these are some goddamn hits! Sprinkle these amongst some bonafide classics from the Brisbanites back catalogue, you’ve got the best thing that’s happened to Oxford Street since the first Mardis Gras. How Blank Realm haven’t been scooped up by a multi-national corporation to be the face of contemporary music, showered in unruly decadence and a royal declaration of excellence, is beyond me. Maybe it’s because the subject matter is Schindler’s List-crossed-with-Lassie levels of heartbreak…but cut with the band’s wonky serving of pop and the group’s irrepressible live show ensure that anyone in hearing distance is cutting shapes and sweating harder than a 17 year old at their first Stereosonic. Seriously, Sarah Spencer is the coolest person in live music – her keytar moves are more inspiring than hearing Nelson Mandela and Ghandi swap stories. I’ll say it again – DO WHATEVER IT IS NECESSARY TO WITNESS THIS BAND! IT IS ESSENTIAL TO YOUR SURVIVAL AS A HUMAN BEING! YOU WILL BE BETTER OFF FOR IT! BLANK REALM ARE THE MCDONALDS SALADS OF BANDS – SURROUNDED BY FAKE BILE, THEY ARE GOOD AND GOOD FOR YOU! 🙂

Concluding the night are a couple of rock “elder” statesmen – Wollongong’s finest shredders Step-Panther and Sydney’s The Laurels. The former are criminally underrated, a South Coast three piece who drenched an adoring audience in fits of fuzz, and sporadic solos that should have splintered the fingers of frontman Steve Bourke. Although some wankstain, twat-faced ginger who probably runs a blog decided to ruin their otherwise spot on rendition of King Tuff’s “Headbanger”, the set was otherwise an encapsulation of everything there is to love about Step-Panther: unstoppable garage rock paired with a heads-down, lets-fucking-rock performance. It was enough to warrant abundant crowd surfing, which at Brighton Up Bar is a cock tease to Death, considering the giant hole in the middle of the room. People are actually willing to plunge to their execution at a Step-Panther show, what have you done lately? The Laurels finished the VOLUMES marathon with a tight set drawing from tracks off their legendary psych rock debut ‘Plains’, as well as material from their upcoming record. Paired with throbbing visuals, The Laurels went into shred territory, running the gauntlet of rock from the squealing charge of “Changing the Timeline” to the hypnotic “Tidal Wave”, and new jam “Zodiac K”.

It really can’t be overstated how important a festival like VOLUMES is – in the void of the incredible Sound Summit, it is instrumental that there is a festival that showcases everything there is to love about Sydney and Australian music. The lineup was extraordinarily well put together by music lovers for music lovers, covering far more bases than this review was capable of representing; for example, the electronic masterminds of friendships, Null and Lower Spectrum went unseen, as did the brutal Zeahorse. But the fact that it catered to more than just a guitar loving Aus music nerd, and managed to consistently serve up some of Sydney’s favourite rooms with punters itching to dance is proof that, even though it occasionally might not seem like it, people do care about Australian music. And why shouldn’t they – when the bands that played brought such great performances it’s hard not to pat Aussie music on the back, grin and say…fuck, we’re pretty alright.

Gig Review: Brighton Up Bar 3rd Birthday

Saturday, 4th July @ Brighton Up Bar

The Standard is dead. The Lansdowne is dead. The Imperial is dead. All the venues where bands could cut their teeth in moderate rooms before lambasting the Enmore Theatre 12 months down the track – deader than my dreams. It’s not all doom ‘n’ gloom, but. There’s still a few champions out there. A few pockets of beer-soaked mayhem, where the crowds sing with dement, and the bands play with broken guitars and wonky keyboards. Where the beer is relatively cheap, and the dickheads are minimal. And that place celebrated it’s 3rd bloody birthday on Saturday.

I’ve swooned about the Bells of Death before, and that’s because they’re incredible. This – THIS – is a band, I tells ya. Get around, hear them, LISTEN TO THEM. They serenade a packed room with songs equally influenced by stony pre-Brit Pop (New Order, Stone Roses) as they are the finest exports of Brooklyn (Wild Nothing, DIIV). They’re a special breed, five young guns who put everything into their performance, swelling at their peaks and bottoming out in their troughs. They lower a fierce grip over the audience, belting through a manic set, including the highlight of “You, Me & Everyone In Between”. Fair warning, you’re gonna be giving this a thrashing if you press play. And you’ll also be desperate to get along to catch them. The real deal, mates, the real deal.

The Pinheads follow with a set of deep-fried Nuggets rock ‘n’ roll. All seven members are in attendance, and the shedding of layers is imminent. This shit is sweaty, sweatier than an American preparing to tell you why the USA is way goddamn better than your shithole. The Pinheads are deep fried garage rock, hurtling through a tight, loud set of two minute rip snorters. Frontman Jez is particularly admirable, a bopping mass of hair and muscle who desperately wants to fuse the flamboyance of Marc Bolan with the reckless endangerment of Iggy Pop. The man is everywhere, soaring over the top of his band’s increasingly intense shenanigans.

Conquering the stage soon after are everyone’s favourite local troupe Big White – the five piece immediately set about laying down some of the most romantic guitar pop songs to worm their way into the ears of every audience member. A conglomeration of all the best pop bands in Sydney (High-tails, Jack & Elmo, New Lovers, Cody Munroe Moore etc.) Big White were always going to be doing fantastic things…but this was something else! We’re chowing down on their songs like it’s a $5 schnitty deal. The tri-guitar attack is heavenly, and songs like “You Know I Love You”, “Dinosaur City” and “EOFY” are pop sluggers, and force every single mop of hair in the room to bounce like they had just discovered the joy of the pogostick for the first time. Seeing Big White was just a really happy experience for everyone involved, off-kilter excellence served on a beer-soaked, joy-drenched platter. Even those two grumpy shits from The Muppets would’ve been giving two thumbs up!

Melbourne’s Mangelwurzel came next…look, A for effort. They’re obviously making the exact type of music that they want to make, a weird sort of gremlin punk. But it just didn’t seem to be anyone’s thing. Sax and guitars…you’re getting dangerously close to ska, the worst genre of all time. It was a cool thing to watch, but it was a burger filled with exotic ingredients that didn’t really make up for the absence of the basics. Why add radishes and caviar when you’re missing the burger patty?

Brisbane’s The Creases closed out the night. The eyelids are closing, the mouths are developing into yawns, everyone’s checking their watches a bit more frequently. But these guys, they knew bring it all back into the party gear. They’re a group bound for the biggest of things, that’s obvious enough to see. They write excellent songs, they play with enthusiasm, they’ve got weird earrings. It’s the triple threat.

Seriously though, go and check out The Creases. They feel like a pretty big band, but ya know, some are a bit slow on the uptake. An amalgamation of Primary Colours-era The Horrors, The Vaccines, Palma Violets…the NME hit-list really…it was a set of shimmering, invigorating guitar pop that had the floorboards creaking and the kids violently excited. Someone knocked my beer, and I wasn’t even that mad. Now that’s an accomplishment and a half. Get around The Creases!

There have been some good times had at Brighton Up Bar. Excellent times, quiet times, disgusting times where my head has been so repugnant that it’s a surprise they let me in the place/palace. The fact that little 120 cap room hunkered down on the Hyde end of Oxford has been home to so many excellent gigs is no mean feat. From Donny B to Ms Barnett, all the best come through Brighton Up’s precarious staircase, and proceed to demolish the place. Such was the case this night, and such will the case be on many nights to be. This esteemed little venue has plenty of life left, and love to give, so get the fuck down and watch a band!

Gig Review: Bad//Dreems

Saturday 21st June @ GoodGod Small Club

I was 18 when I first saw Bad//Dreems. They played a house party in Redfern, and it was one of the best shows of my goddamn life. There was blood, sweat and enough beer to kill Boonie. The Modern History Exam I had the next day was a complete and utter write off. The examiner that looked through my answers was probably assuming that an illiterate Neanderthal with Parkinsons had adopted my name, and taken the assessment in my place. But it was worth it, oh so worth it, to see a band as good as Baddies play in such a corrupting environment.

Two years on, and Baddies have graduated to one of the most beloved rock acts in our fair country. They’ve got a little blue tick next to their name on Facebook and everything. Fuck, they’ve even got a Twitter account. Isn’t that the very definition of making it? They’ve got big things piling up, so before they crack the charts at No. 1 and play the Enmore Theatre to thousands of adoring fans, they gave the punters another go, and played a few intimate shows around the country to support their latest single “Cuffed and Collared”.

JODY opened proceedings with their brand of anthemic indie rock. These guys are young guns in the truest sense of the words. You can smell the hormones, wafting in tidal waves off their 19 year old bodies. Ladies and gents, please, contain yourselves. I believe a couple of them are single and rearing to go with all the youthful exuberance at their disposal, and that comes through their energy and constant streams of songs about girls. But I wouldn’t go near the frontman, Dom O’Connor. That human pleasure machine can play the fuck outta a guitar, move and hop around a show with the stage presence of Paul Westerberg on the third day of a two week binge, and knows his way around a melody. But he can’t finish a fucking Melbourne Bitter tinnie. No matter how many spot-on jams erupt from this beautiful man’s mouth, like “Never Change” (a spiritual successor to INXS if there ever was one) and “Codeine”, ya just can’t trust a bloke who can’t polish off one of Aus’ greatest gifts. Otherwise, fantastic show!

Mining Boom made the trek North for the Baddies show, and for that, I am forever grateful. Not only are they selling the best t-shirt in the music biz game, but they’ve got the choons to back it up. You know what type of fish Mining Boom would be if they were in the sea? A tune-a. Because they make music that good. It’s broken, fragile rock for the everyman, who owns a pair of dirty Redback’s, and a hi-vis that’s lost its sheen. Songs like “Telecom” and “PDA” are just as powerful gut punches as they were when they were released back in 2012, but the presence that frontman Paul French brings is more of a headspin than chowing down on a whole pack of Champion Ruby. New songs are stunning,  with the Mining Boom aesthetic of drenched, desperate romance remaining intact throughout. Apparently there’s an album in the works, but I don’t think the world is ready for that kind of brilliance. Regardless, you need to check out this band like a bloke from Chernobyl needs to check out that funny looking mark that’s recently developed on his collarbone.

But, look, this is all just pre-game. Bad//Dreems have let the kids have the oval, but it’s time to bring on the big guns. Mayhem erupts as Bad//Dreems launch into their heavy catalogue of top-notch tunes. One could go so far as to call them bangers. It’s pub rock, but delivered without the menace and overt masculinity that has restrained others, like Lubricated Goat and The Birthday Party, from reaching larger audiences. Some might say that’s a bad thing, but hey, different strokes for different folks. Some bands like to get in the nude on the ABC, others like to deliver muscular melodies. And the four flannel-clad guys thundering through hit after hit to the admiration of a few hundred fans were probably the only blokes capable of pulling off both feats.

Bad//Dreems are on fire. They plunder and pillage the room like they’re characters from Game of Thrones, and have a limited amount of time to connect with the audience and become their favourite figures before facing a brutal death at the hands of the Lannisters. The set swells, with excitement and energy being sprinkled through like a zealot chef making the recipe of their career. A heft portion of the a-spicy meatball, aka “Caroline”, swiftly complimented with a smidgen of “Too Old”. A dousing of “Dumb Ideas”, and an overdose of ocker riffs and frenzied headbanging via “Cuffed And Collared”. And to finish? Well, you just can’t leave a stage when the crowd so eagerly wants more, baying for music or blood with the enraged glare of the insane striding so radiantly from their eyes. So, you appease the appetite with a polite offering to the GODs, with the Australian classic of “My Pal” bringing the evening’ festivities to a glorious, sweaty, beer-soaked, suffocating end.

If this is the first you’ve heard of Bad//Dreems, then suck eggs, mate. This is a band bound for big things, and it looks like this GoodGod show might just be the final opportunity for punters to have caught them in intimate settings. But don’t get too offended – there will always be another chance to catch Baddies at a gig, and there’s a fair guarantee that you’ll be sorted for a good time. When a band can upend a crowd with as much joy and over-the-top rock ‘n’ roll perfection as Bad//Dreems accomplished at this show, there’s no doubt that they’ll be able to pull off this feat over and over again, only to bigger crowds and more adoring shitheads such as myself. If you haven’t already, do yourself a favour, and get on board with this band.

Gig Review: Repressed Records Presents feat. Royal Headache

Saturday 23rd May @ Joan Sutherland Theatre, Sydney Opera House

I’ve had a long and storied history with Newtown’s Repressed Records, but really, it’s a story that’s been replicated by individuals all over Australia and the world. You walk into the shop on South King Street, begin digging through the sizeable collection of records, and lose yourself for hours. When your fingers become dull and blunted from flicking through the best collection of obscure and underrepresented Australian albums, you can move onto the book collections, the zine selections, or the vast array of cassette tapes. There’s also some CD’s, but they’re about as cheap as a piece of plastic with a laserdisc inside should be. Repressed Records is the perfect stronghold of punk paraphernalia, a place of relentless discovery and the occasional cry of ecstasy when a rare gem is stumbled upon. This is the place where I picked up a scarce Jodie Foster’s Army record, where I first heard Blank Realm blaring out of a system, and where countless over-the-counter conversations/grillings about music and culture have taken place with Nic and Chris, aka two of the most clued-in blokes in Shitney.

As a bastion and champion of Australian music weird and wonderful, Repressed Records pulled together a lineup at the Opera House that they alone were probably capable of. Case in point was the debut performance of Snake, the solo project of Al Montfort. You may know Al Montfort as the Unrequited Australian of the Year, as well as that bloke with the mullet who plays in a couple of bands. You know, like Dick Diver, The UV Race, Straightjacket Nation, Total Control, Russell St Bombings, Lower Plenty and Eastlink. Just a coupla very diverse and very incredible bands. Anyway, Snake unveiled yet another dimension to Al Montfort’s songwriting; a loose, slightly experimental set that utilised a myriad of instruments, from flutes and mandolins to nameless tools of percussion. It was an opportunity for Montfort to unleash his usual simple demeanour to a more exotic soundscape than the rest of his bands would execute. After watching him and his cohort kill it onstage, it made the idea of more live shows from Snake a very desirable prospect.

Melbourne’s Superstar followed Snake with a set that exaggerated all the lush, poetic beauty that makes their name so applicable. With a new record out on Bedroom Suck, their quaint, refined electronic soundscapes were serene and beautiful, and in the live format, their music swelled. It was aloft, floating amongst the room, intimate, timid and personal. Like Portishead as fronted by Karen Carpenter, Superstar are a rare thing that honestly feel suspended in time, bending modern and retro stylings upon one another like benevolent gods. It was a soundtrack to a elongated, wordless drama never committed to the screen. Incredibly mesmerising. Also, they gave the greatest awkward walk off a stage that anyone has ever seen, ever. So, if you needed any more of a push to go see Superstar for yourself, well, there ya go.

I don’t believe Exhaustion haven’t played in Sydney since the 2013 Sound Summit, so it was with (my) welcome arms that they began an improvised set with acclaimed Dutch saxophonist Kris Wanders. Exhaustion can be a bit hit & miss – their recent collaboration album with KW wasn’t too rewarding, especially compared to the gruelling post-punk excellence of ‘Biker’. But live, the Melbourne trio and European legend play one of the most intoxicatingly noisy and brilliant sets I’ve ever seen. Just as Superstar had enthralled with their spacial gloss, Exhaustion lambasted the Opera House with some of the most gruelling and poisonous sounds known to man. It was thrilling, a horror film built from samples of a nightmare. Screaming, droning, a half hour on the ol’ emotional roller coaster. Kris Wanders especially punished punters with his schizophrenic saxophone outbursts. It was visceral and haywire, more frightening than letting Jehovah’s Witness into your house.

Monica Brooks’ set was unfortunately missed due to long lines for a beer, but according to everyone’s mate Ads Lewis, “…she was gorgeous”. That’s all the info you need to know, as this bloke has got a music taste more on point than the record clerks behind the counters of High Fidelity. Next time she’s got a show, make sure you get down.

Blank Realm released the bonafide best album of 2014 – a magical pop journey of heartbreak, self-detriment and depression. Whenever they get on stage, my heart floats like a blimp that’s been inflated by keytar. I can watch this band for hours – they have never failed to get this bloated ginger to crack a smile. It’s impossible not to get swept up in the majesty of Blank Realm’s performance – from the cobra-like onstage whirlings of bassist Luke Spencer, to the endless joy that is Sarah Spencer’s urge to break through the floors of every venue she plays at. She jumps up and down like she’s running across asphalt in bare feet in 40 degree heat, otherwise known as a little bit crisp in Brisbane.

Rock n roll is in full steam as Blank Realm seduce the audience with their music. From “Grassed Inn” standouts like “Falling Down the Stairs” and “Falling Down the Stairs”, to “Go Easy”, the exhilaration never escapes from underneath Blank Realm. In the confines of the Joan Sutherland Theatre, the band have never sounded better, and they bring movement and exuberance to the Repressed Records showcase that had yet to be revealed up until this point. As soon as their set finished, I wasn’t even the first person to immediately leap out of my seat in a standing ovation for this incredible group. May all the major deities of the globe bless Blank Realm and their wonderful, wonderful music.

Before the main event of Royal Headache, who would perform their first major public appearance in nearly two years, appeared, I reflected. I’m not much of  thinker, but here I was, knuckles resting in my second chin, mind buzzing. Royal Headache are one of the bands that brought me into the realm of local music, and here I was, at 19 years old, finally seeing one of my formative bands in the flesh. I’d seen them before – once with The Black Keys, and once at Big Day Out – but both performances had been shadows of the stories I had heard. The reckless endangerment, the commitment, the crowd interaction. A hazy and hyperbolic word-of-mouth mythical throwback to a time that I could never experience. As the members shuffled in the dark, preparing and whispering to each other, I grew nervous. This was the band who were only capable of recording material that resonated and excited me more than almost anything else. I had connected with their song “Surprise” on a more personal level than most, and it became painful to realise that all this could become undone if Royal Headache delivered a lacklustre affair. I’d seen some of my previously favourite bands shrivel in favour when their live show faltered, and I desperately wanted Royal Headache to uphold to the saga that they had established.

Why worry? Why fucking worry? They opened with a new song that took the air out of my lungs, as well as any other respiratory device in the vast hall. Shogun’s vocals weren’t just piercing, they were emotional terrorism – just thinking about it now, as the familiarly dishevelled frontman sang about his lows, it makes me want to weep. 20 seconds in, and there was not an eye that wasn’t zeroed in on the band, nor a jaw that wasn’t agape in shock and awe. You’ll know the song when you hear it, assuming it comes out on Royal Headache’s soon-to-be-released sophomore LP. You’ll know it because you’ll be curled up in a ball of rawness, as all your tough-guy exterior is peeled away by Shogun’s words. This man is a national fucking treasure, and any doubt I had about that was firmly battered into the furthest recesses of my mind.

I wasn’t the only one touched: Royal Headache moved folks out of their seats by the second song. With whiplash-inducing proficiency, they tore through now classic standards of Australian rock. From “Really In Love”, to “Pity”, to “Psychotic Episode” and “Stand & Stare”, the honest and gritty songwriting of the band exploded into a real-life marvel of music. Every word was shouted back to the band with intense and open passion, fists thrown in the air with the single-minded ambition of matching the unmatchable – Shogun’s onstage presence and personality.

Royal Headache were not just in fine form – they were historic, legendary. They were showcasing something that people were going to speak about for years. They were affecting people with an immediacy that really can’t be put into words. All around me, people from every background were jumping and thrusting, screaming with Beatlemania-fondness for their favourite band’s unlikely return. Royal Headache touched people – that was obvious. Throats grew sore, and eyes grew wider. Royal Headache continued to pummel and wallop the walls of the Opera House. Glee and happiness swelled to incredible heights. Disbelief became conventional. And then they launched into “Down the Lane”.

Immediately, Will Harley of treasured Sydney punks Housewives leapt onto the platform. The barrier between band and audience was broken, and whatever remained of that seal was smashed into oblivion as Harley brought onstage as many folks as he could grab with two hands. First there were three maniacs jumping around, then ten, then thirty. You’ve never seen such pure happiness like this. What was occurring in front of our very eyes was something special, and everyone knew it. It was unadulterated, a celebration of music and culture, in THE FUCKING OPERA HOUSE! A frenzy of moshing bodies dancing to some of the most celebrated punk music to be released in the last decade, taking place in perhaps the most refined establishment in the country. When “Down the Lane” wraps, a break of approximately 2.3 seconds is required, before Royal Headache launch into “Girls”, and tore our cultural landmark the new asshole it so desperately needed.

But that new asshole needed to shit, and it shat right into our open, naive mouths. Agape at the spectacle that was occurring in front of our disbelieving eyes, security, and then police, stormed the stage. It was the ultimate sucker punch – watching as friends and strangers having the time of their lives being cut so abruptly short by a parade of violent manhandling. From my seat of L11, I watched in horror as police roughly targeted these “dirty punks” with the same sort of respect that Tony Abbot gives to refugees. Afterwards, I overheard an officer bragging, “Yeah bro, I was just grabbing as many cunts as I could and throwing them off the stage”. Of course, you can understand where the Opera House is coming from – it’s a nice venue, and they don’t want anything to be trashed, fair enough. But instead of leaning into the ear of the band, and giving a “Hey mates, reckon you could just tell everyone to relax, and hop down? We’ve got a bond on this place!”, they dealt with the situation with the deft skill of Jason Voorhees trying to have a casual hang out with teenagers. It was a massacre of ideals, and soured the show faster than a BP oil rig ruins an ocean.

On a personal note, I’m thankful that Royal Headache managed to summon another song to placate the audience. If the show had cut as short as it did because of the police intrusion, it could have possibly ruined the night. But a cover of Womack & Womack’s “Teardrop” managed to produce the effect of a finale. Despite the obvious discomfort and tension onstage, the aura of there being some finality managed to give the evening some sort of wholeness to it. So, a personal and heartfelt thank you  goes out to Royal Headache for doing that – it wasn’t hard to see that the band were teeming with dissatisfaction over how the stage invasion had been handled, and battling with the decision to play anymore, but that final song did justice to the legendary performance that they had unveiled that night.

Obviously, many questions are being raised over that night – why was such a heavy security force lodged against a mild stage invasion, (something that the organisers must have at least anticipated)? Why was it handled so violently? What does this mean for punk, or even rock music  at the Opera House? How would Royal Headache’s performance have panned out had they continued to play? Would “Honey Joy” have been as stunning as I always imagined? Despite these hypotheticals and unanswered questions, it’s important to remember that this night is still historical. It was magical, not just because of Royal Headache’s incredible show, but because of all the music on show that night. Such a diverse spread of Australia’s terrific music was given the space and respect it deserved, which is as rewarding a concept as the gig that occurred.  Furthermore, it was a chance for us all to say thank you to the record store that a lot of people have to thank for the introduction and furthering of their musical education in all things. Whether you’re a punk looking for a rabid 7″ by a snarling local band, a crate-digger eager to find the most rare of all records available to mankind, or you’re just keen to go buy an album, Repressed Records is the place to go. All of that respect and adoration was bundled into a night at The Opera House that is not likely to ever be forgotten.

Gig Review: Farmer & the Owl Festival

Saturday 14th March @ University of Wollongong

Wollongong is only an hour away from Sydney, and yet I have never been there. How Sydney is that? Staying in one’s own little bubble is as much as part of the Shitney lifestyle as overpriced coffee that you’ll insist is delicious, and getting coward punched in the Cross. Whether you live in Bondi, Newtown or the Northern Beaches, there’s an adverse reaction to leaving for anything more than a 15 minute bus ride away from your front door.

But with Farmer & the Owl Festival, now in its second iteration, the lineup was too good. A short ginger simply needed to sack up, brave the train ride and seek adventure down South, armed with only unconventional but nonetheless solid good looks and an iPod loaded with the latest Dead Farmers record.

Despite the train trip being pretty bluddy beautiful, that shit is longer than a turd after $2 taco night, and it forced a few unfortunate misses of fantastic acts. However, having bore witness to the pleasant pysch-pop sedation of Sunbeam Sound Machine and Richard in Your Mind many times before, for those who haven’t managed to catch them thusly, get off your thick backside, and buy a goddamn record. Spookyland was the first act to be ingested into the soul, and they were as good as any goddamn paleo diet that I’ve ever tried. Look past the sheer pop prowess of “The Silly Fucking Thing”, and stare on in wonder as Spookyland shred a potent mixture of The Birthday Party meeting Tom Verlaine and The Reid Brothers darkest fantasies. “Blood In the Rain” is particularly demented in the live setting, and when Marcus Gordon looses the shrill cry of “…with that gun in your hand!“, an eel of excitement involuntarily worms its way through your soul.

The Peep Tempel follow up on Spookyland’s brand of eschewed rock with a set that makes it feel like they could be the last real pub rock band in the world. It’s basic stuff, delivered with nonchalant snarls, stirling guitar veneer, and a glittering meanness that would make Scar from Lion King say, “Hey, woah fellas, chill out“. A tighter band couldn’t have been wrought from the slobbery floorboards of The Tote if they tried. A crowd slowly started to gather and build steam towards one of the standout sets of the day. But it still felt like punters didn’t deserve, or at the very least “get” the sheer greatness of a band like this. One dickhead went about his broken tape recorder routine of asking for “Carol” at the end of every single song in The Peep Tempel’s 40 minute set. Fuck, you know, this band has more than just one song, right? In fact, they have an entire catalogue of music, which they have kindly and strategically sorted into a setlist. If you shut the fuck up for a second, shit, you might even get to discover your new favourite song, like “Big Fish”, or “Vicki the Butcher”. God knows we don’t deserve The Peep Tempel already, and deadshits soured the experience.

Luckily, the deadshit factor was kept to a relative minimum, or at least, was herded into the DJ tent for the rest of the festival.  From herein, punters only lapped up the goodness that was served to them at a hurtling rate. There was Jeremy Neale (more like Jizzemy Neale, amirite), ever the showman, lashing up the love with his token mixture of 60’s pop reverie and an ability to make every audience member feel just a little bit loved. Combined with his throat-puncturing performance with Velociraptor (in its smallest form yet, a mere 5 piece), Nealemania is sure to become a hashtag of the future. Then there’s Hockey Dad, who are truly in the midst of their own lil’ Beatlemania replication. Sure, they were on hometurf, but this kind of horny reception was something that would make Ron Jeremy red with rage. Actually, it is understandable, because when you toss two good lookers up on a stage, and then allow them to blast through an EP of surf-rock nuggets that would make any self-respecting mammal with a working pair of ears wet between the knees.

At this point, old mates Big Dick and Brad had sat down with this ginger nutjob to enjoy the lush soak of Shining Bird. Y’all heard this band? Prepare to be casually buttfucked by brilliance. These guys know their way about a pop song, but what’s more, they can extend it past that radio friendly 3 minute mark, and still keep you interested. How many other bands can do that? Yo La Tengo? Stereolab? My Bloody Valentine? That’s about it right? Well, Shining Bird did their hometown proud, as “Stare Into the Sun”, “Keep Warm”, and a laced concoction of others spiralled through the lazy arvo. But that kind of melting haze can only last for so long, which is where a packed room of Los Tones fans made the difference. Do yaself a bloody favour, and go see this band. Strong fucking riffs delivered with an off-kilter craze from a couple of blokes that probably moonlight as whiskey connoisseurs between their day jobs as Lux Interior proteges. Their loud and vivacious brand of medicine bag garage took full-flight in the dingy sideline of the “Thrash Room”, a pleasure to watch, and a pleasure to boogie to. Pro Tip: bring earplugs. Step-Panther are as loud as they are awesome.

As mentioned before, the Raptors killed it. Straight up. You’d think that being stretched to a meagre, suffering 5 piece would dilute the mania that is so core to Velociraptor shows, but they remained pinnacles of party professionals, screaming and raving through keytar laden, guitar solo saturated, shout-along ready renditions of “Ramona”, “Cynthia”, “Sneakers” and more. This kind of party merely acted as a precursor for one of Wollongong’s ultimate treasures, Step-Panther. Fuck, what a band, what a treat. If you want yourself some garage-throttled goodness from a band that just happened to put out one of the best records of last year, then look no further than these guys.

Remember when it was mentioned that The Peep Tempel might be the only remaining pub rock band on the planet? Besides that being an obvious lie, Bad//Dreems ensured that any love for draught-soaked belters isn’t being abandoned in the near future. The crowd was thriving on the pounding anthems that seem to come so fluently to the Radelaide natives, jostling to get in the best position to shout “Caroliiiiiiiine, you do it to me eveeeerrrry tiiiiiiiime!” like it was a goddamn war cry. But who can blame them? Baddies slayed it, happily decapitating punters with scything riffs made from years of studying the bible of rock ‘n’ roll. Cold Chisel, AC/DC, Eddy Current Suppression Ring – any band with a riff, a beer, and a prerogative to unleash unholy rock and roll oblivion. That’s who Bad//Dreems remind you of, and there’s no one doing it quite as strongly as they are either right now either.

By this point, night has settled upon the ‘Gong, and the rambunctious are thirsty for some action. Luckily, the final four bands were in no state to dissapoint. There was Bass Drum of Death, from the USA, who combine the leather jacket cool of The Strokes with the fuzz of a Ty Segall record, and double down on the batshit insane, high velocity appeal of Evil Knievel. It’s hard to keep a single limb still during a set that includes “Bad Reputation”, “Crawling After You”, and “Get Found”. Shit, its hard to keep your limbs attached to your body – a set in the pit of a BDOD show is basically succumbing to the fact that you’re coming home minus a few fingers. That lunacy was abruptly followed by a rare performance by The Mess Hall. By this point a band that has reached “classic rock” status, it comes as a huge surprise that The Mess Hall don’t play more frequently, as they have punched through a tight set of hit rolling into hit. Their set was sufficiently stuck in the part zone, an onslaught of crowd-pleasers for a surprisingly small lawn of attendees. However, those who did make it along will be forced to admit that the rough-hewn blues rock of “Shake, Shake”, “Lock & Load”, and “Pills” were just as prime for as they were when they were served to us on a steaming platter all those years ago.

Watching DZ Deathrays, you can’t help but marvel at the fact that this has to be one of the most hard-working bands in existence, and yet they play as though they’re fucking Metallica. That’s meant as an adoring compliment, by the way. Three guys, onstage, prowling and growling with the kind of stage presence that no one has anymore. DZ have graduated beyond mere hometown heroes – they’re bonafide rock gods. They play as though they’re in Wembley Stadium, but they’re in the car park of the University of Wollongong. They treat each stage diving lunatic with a wry grin, and scuttle down their fret boards with the same enthusiasm as when they only had an EP to their name. Oh yeah, and they continue to lay down sicker riffs than an ebola quarantine camp. They’re mental, and the crowd reacts thusly. You’ve never seen kids mosh the way they do at a DZ Deathrays show, hurling themselves at each other with the kind of reckless abandon that can only be brought on from the thundering, lock jaw inducing, brain seizures of “Less Out of Sync”, or “The Mess Up”. There are plenty of bands worthy of seeing, but DZ Deathrays transcend that – they’re a band that you need to see.

Farmer & the Owl Festival feels like what Big Day Out would be like if it were held in the real bush instead of Homebush. From the stage setups that were tiny replicas of the famous Orange and Blue stages, to the rock dog-centric lineup, it was a comfortably small throwback to what I’m sure BDO felt like. This was felt most strongly with the headliner of Jebediah, a band more 90’s than a love for Marilyn Manson that isn’t somehow ironic or attached to guilt. Despite playing to a lacklustre crowd, Jebediah still served up some meaty hits that were made when I was still shitting myself. Is there really any better way to click past midnight than with the powerful punches of “Harpoon”, “Leaving Home”, and “Fall Down”?

Look, the ‘Gong might be a little while away. But the place is loaded with royalties that you can’t get in Sydney. A coastline where the Southern Cross tattoos are minimal, cheap beer, and the great bands are just a few of the reasons to make the voyage. And when there’s a festival that can make a tiny, grumpy ginger loaded with cynicism travel an hour down the coast, and bust out white moves whiter than Bill Clinton eating gluten-free brunch, then that should be enough incentive to head down. Drop the act, Sydney, Wollongong is more than dreads and tye-dye t-shirts. It’s all a lil’ bit alright. Make sure you’re there whenever the next Farmer & the Owl fest goes down.

Gig Review: Kirin J Callinan

Thursday 15th January @ The Aurora Spiegeltent

There are some performers who defy a single identity. There are some characters that fiction itself could not have imagined. And there are some people who spit in the face of categorisation. Now, there are very few people in this world that can live up to such a reputation. It’s an unknown feat, something rarer than a intelligent comment from Fred Nile. But last night, Kirin J Callinan delivered a performance, in the truest sense of the word, that will ruin perspective for all in attendance. It’s going to be a long time before anyone, or anything, will be able to match the stage power of Kirin J Callinan.

In the Aurora Spiegltent, as part of Sydney Festival, Kirin J Callinan adorns the stage at a little past midnight. A bewitching hour for a bewitching figure. He’s had a costume change from his earlier jaunt at Alex Cameron’s set (who played fantastically as always – one of the best albums of modern times), moving from a sleeveless, floral blue shirt, blood-orange pants and spectacles, to a commanding but minimalist staunchly-white singlet, and thick, gold chain. It seems like an insignificant change, but it allows for his body to ripple and flex throughout his show, adding to the delight and fright of his performance.

Summarising the performance of Kirin J Callinan is useless. It’s an event built upon contradiction; nuance and spectacle sidle side-by-side. Everything has the haze of improvisation and spontaneity, and yet things are too flawlessly perfect. Each line of stage banter that drips from his mouth is an execution of dark comic genius. Every lyric is loaded with an intention, but these intentions vary from phrase to phrase, schizophrenically jumping around, and rarely aligning with the recorded product.

For this, Kirin J Callinan’s performance is literally one of a kind. His prior show was nothing like the one we are witnessing. The one after will also be nothing like the one occurring. In this current moment, the people are witnessing something incredibly special. An opening act that feels like David Lynch is unleashing a horror movie on our minds, as “Stretch It Out” banshee screams burn their way into our skulls. Kirin is a terrifying presence on stage, a God amongst men, distorting sounds and melodies into some of the most thrilling and pungent songs ever created. His style is a lovebite, achingly beautiful, a template of pleasure and pain.

Like a snake on top of Medusa’s head, the set winds whilst turning everyone into stone. An early exhibition of “Landslide” has folks crying out for, “…dust and dirt…”, and his voice mildly chokes everyone in attendance into total adoration. The pain is splattered elaboratley, broad brushstrokes of heartache as apparent as any bruise. But so swiftly, the performance maintains its uninhibited ride into madness. “Embracism” tears strips from the flesh with its masculine overture, and a new cut, known only as “The Teacher” turns the atmosphere into that of a forlorn prom scene from an unmade John Hughes movie.

However, it was a theatrical performance of “Victoria M.”, followed by a finale of “Way II War” and “Love Delay”, that stole hearts. What resounded in the small tent that night could have been felt around the world. It felt historic, watching such a diverse array of romanticism, disgust, euphoria and snarling bravado intermingle so organically. Man and machine become one, eyes are fixed upon a triumphant figure holding a guitar aloft, a thrashing crowd falls in love over and over again.

An encore followed, a solo performance of forever-to-be-unreleased, yet crowd-encompassing tune referred to as “The Toddler”, followed by a collaboration between Kirin J Callinan and Alex Cameron called “Big Enough”. Watching two artists, who have dominated and elevated Australian music for the better, intertwine and profess such a profound musical impact, was a moment that softened the blow that this event would be over.

We, the people, did not deserve this. The boisterously drunk crowd who consistently heckled a figure as unique as Mr. Callinan felt inappropriate. But the man wore it, persevering and still putting on one of the best shows many in attendance have undoubtedly seen. The whole thing is visionary, and unprecedentedly fantastic. There are no words to describe the greatness of Kirin J Callinan’s live show that wouldn’t develop as understatements.

All that can be said is this…thank you. For putting up with the distractions, for persisting, for strutting a sinewy frame into oblivion, and back. For the enchanting music, the glorious strobes, the brutally honest and dark revelations that are shared so openly. For the clanging clashes of contradiction that allow something so completely new to be formed. For re-imagining our Australian landscape, in much the same way that The Drones, Eddy Current Suppression Ring and Jack Ladder have, and turning an eye onto what we were blind to before. For mixing surreal entertainment, fanatic reverie and pure originality into a cocktail stirred by the gnashing mouth of the beast.

Thanks.