Gig Review: Blank Realm

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Saturday, 24th January @ The Famous Spiegeltent

Fuck, there is nothing better than bedtime. 9pm swings around, and it’s time to hit the fucking sack. None of this grinding on a stranger until the sun rises its disapproving face. But Blank Realm, well, they’ve got that pull. There’s something about a band releasing the best album of 2014that makes this old miser want to shun his principles, and watch the shit out of a band that’s better than a Kevin Spacey marathon.

Midnight steamrolls the 24th into the 25th, but all yawns are suppressed as Blank Realm hit the stage of the intimate circus tent that is the Famous Spiegeltent. There doesn’t seem to be all that many people in attendance, maybe 100, but the atmosphere is one of complete adoration. Mottled lights sway across the stage as more stage fog sweeps forth than a production from the Royal Shakespeare Company. But the opening splashes of “Bulldozer Love” are enough to choke back the smoke, and light a grin up on every face.

There’s a very good reason why Blank Realm are considered the best live band in Australia, and, simply put, it’s because they are. Only a mere hour after watching TV Colours ruin my eardrums and bring me a gag reflex away from throwing up upon an unsuspecting crowd, Blank Realm still had the ability to astonish. A perfect storm of energetic, authentic and original made looking away from the stage a crime against humanity.

Relatively speaking, Blank Realm didn’t play too many songs over their hour-plus set, only about nine or so. But they made each note count, hammering every item with purpose and poise, and added special parts that those in attendance will most likely remember as being the frenzied finales that butts wouldn’t stop shaking to.

Musically, the band is spot on, despite some technical difficulties with Sarah Spencer’s keytar, which she thoroughly made up for by jumping around more than a 12 year old trying their first pinga. Watching Blank Realm on stage, it becomes obvious how different, yet essential to the final product, the band members truly are. The aforementioned Sarah Spencer is youthful energy incarnate, irrepressible in her mission of bouncing higher than any pogostick. Daniel Spencer (somehow) manages to turn his drums into a white-hot flurry, whilst also singing that beautiful yearning voice of his, which I’ve determined as something like Elvis on Quaaludes. Bassist Luke Spencer tries to mirror the effect of a mirage, twirling and twisting indefinitely whilst laying down some of the thickest and grooviest bass lines since Barry White was a sex god. And Luke Walsh became everybody’s new favourite guitarist, diversifying from crunchy Metallica riffs on an unnamed new song, to fluorescently depressed strums on “Baby I Can’t Reach You On The Phone”.

The neon aspects of Blank Realm’s music march to the forefront during their live performance. Sure, the onslaught of mottled lights that shrouded the band in a mixture of hazy purples, greens, reds and blues (much like their excellent “Baby…” video) helped, but the brighter-than-bright pop was somehow accentuated. It’s hard to think of a specific reason, but whilst Sydney slept, Blank Realm shone.

Another fantastic aspect of the show is Blank Realm’s ability to manoeuvre your emotions like you’re a Candy Crush jelly. The audience is stretched into glorious dancing territory during “Back To The Flood”, and a bonafide congo-line is formed multiple times. And then, somehow, they can transition into eyes-closed hurt, like the singed “Cleaning Up My Mess” or swagger-centric “Go Easy”. But the one mainstay of their performance is the ability to always keep an audience elated and transfixed – no matter the subject material, lucky attendees are ecstatic.

As the howls died down, and Blank Realm humbly moved on from the stage, it’s plain to see that, even though sleep deprivation is slowly killing me inside, these Brissy heroes had clearly moved everyone present. A fantastic set from a legendary band. Long live Blank Realm!

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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.