Friday, December 30, 2011

Another year comes to an end...

Well then, it's certainly been a while between drinks/blog posts, so I thought I'd just post a little something here to try and sum up exactly what's been going on in my musical world in the past month or so? Yeah, that sounds like a good idea. It's been a busy month! Too busy, apparently, to post regularly... so as I did around this time last year, here's a quick summation of the final gigs of 2011!

So, since Harvest there's been almost two solid months of gigs. The first really notable one was a typically thrilling performance from Sydonia (19/11), and if you follow this blog regularly, then you must know that I. FUCKING. LOVE. THIS. BAND. Especially this year. But this performance was certainly one that stood out from the rest, and you know why? The band decided to treat their loyal fans to a start-to-finish rendition of their debut (and thus far, only) album Given to Destroyers, giving every track a healthy full-blown live rendition! The full-album-in-order-live format has been used with increasing frequency by many bands over the past few years and for good reason - it works an absolute treat, especially if the album is as good as this one is! It was definitely nice to hear all of these songs together, as a lot of them aren't really staples in the Sydonia set anymore due to them working in new material from their LONG-AWAITED second album! Anyway, a cracker of a show!

More than a few eyebrows were raised earlier this year when it was announced that Fucked Up were joining some rock band called Foo Fighters on their sold-out megastadium tour of Australia. But it was no mistake - Dave Grohl's apparently a bit of a fan of the Canadian hardcore troupe, like we all (read, anyone with a half-decent taste in music) are really; the band's third studio album David Comes to Life has been getting almost unanimous praise from critics and fans across the board, and though quite a few of the less knowledgeable Foos fans were scratching their head as to who and why that fat guy on the stage was yelling things, the more openminded were more than happy to see the Canadians return to our shores for the second time in the calendar year (they'd been a part of the Soundwave juggernaut in early March). The band also got the chance to squeeze in their very own intimate performance at the East Brunswick Club (30/11), and what a show it was. The band didn't waste the chance, obviously performing a lot more songs than they would at the Foos shows, and knowing that they were performing them to an audience who were actually Fucked Up fans! A few days later (03/12), of course, Foo Fighters, Tenacious D and Fucked Up (as well as local duo DZ Deathrays) rolled into AAMI Park for a mammoth stadium rock extravaganza, and entertained the capacity crowd immensely. You can say what you like about some of their recent material (although Wasting Light is arguably a cracking return to form), but the fact is Messrs Grohl, Shiflett, Smear, Mendel and Hawkins are pretty damn comfortable on a live stage, and this performance was a true stand-out for the year, as they ripped their way through a healthy TWENTY-SIX song set, covering just about every single facet of their extremely lengthy and productive career.

Meredith, Meredith, Meredith. Just saying those words makes me miss the place. So the second weekend (9-11th) of December rolled around once again, and once again the trip was made to the Supernatural Amphitheatre. Where to begin? Grinderman were pretty much the name on everyone's lips in the lead-up to the festival and naturally, Jim Sclavunos, Martyn Casey, Warren Ellis, and Nick fucking Cave did not disappoint at all - however, they played an extremely unexpected card at the very end of the set, with Cave annoucing that the band was "over", and that they'd "see (us) in ten years, when (they'd) be even older and uglier". Who saw that coming, hey? Other than that though, there were plenty of musical highlights scattered throughout the two nights and three days - Icehouse played to everyone's undeniable love of nostalgia, Future of the Left brought their raucous filthy noise, Explosions in the Sky chilled things out quite nicely with their sublime brand of post-rock, Barbariön allegedly spent most of their budget on literal explosions and had the entire amphitheatre fist pumping and shouting along to their hilarious take on the excessive side of heavy metal, hardcore supergroup Off! played a ridiculous amount of songs in a very short time, and well, that's about it really isn't it? Well done Aunty. Happy 21st!

Just two days later, it was off to the East Brunswick Club for a night of SHRED (followed by ANOTHER NIGHT) (13&14/12). And who better to deliver it than Omar Rodriguez-Lopez, a man who has released a shitload of albums and been the driving force of two of my (and everyone else's with a decent music taste) bands, The Mars Volta and At the Drive-In. On this occasion he would also play bass in Le Butcherettes, a wacky Mexican/American punk rock group fronted by the extremely unique Teri Gender Bender who played quite a different style of music to the headliner! Then once that was done, Omar, backed by his Mars Volta cohorts in Juan Alderete on bass and Deantoni Parks on drums, treated the audience to a mind-boggling display of his amazing axe abilities. With a set that consisted mostly of tracks from the forthcoming Vato Negro album, it's fair to say that most of the audience was unfamiliar with the material being aired, but when the talent onstage is that fucking good, who cares?!

At Meredith, I had woken up on the second day with absolutely no voice as a result of Future of the Left's massive Friday night belter; suffice to say, I was keen to attend them again, albeit with a little more sobriety and common sense on my side. After all, they are releasing an album this year entitled The Plot Against Common Sense. Anyway. Falco and his band of merry men (and woman) were given the opportunity to play their own gig at the Corner (16/12) and they delivered another absolute ripper, with tracks from across their career (including PLENTY from the new album), which was of course interspersed with the usual witty banter, which covered such topics as Australian made keyboards, cricket (numerous times), dead celebrities, and the Olympic Games. Not necessarily in that order. And concluded with an extended jam involving plenty of audience participation...

The final (well, major) gig for the year? One I had fucking high expectations for, given that in July, Sydney post-rocking godchildren sleepmakeswaves had delivered a magnificent set from the soon-to-be-non-operational stage at the East Brunswick Club. The announcement of another date in December later in the year saw me marking the date IMMEDIATELY on my mental calendar. Due to some other things happening earlier in the evening, Meniscus were the only other support band I managed to see, but my god were they impressive, resulting in me immediately purchasing their War of Currents album. And then we made our way to the front, took our seats on the floor (yes) and braced ourselves for... a setlist identical to the aforementioned East Brunswick show? Though it has to be said that the band did deliver a brilliant show again, the fact that they didn't go out of their way to mix it up even a little bit was slightly disappointing, and meant the show just wasn't as awesome as the previous. Nonetheless, this band DID release an album that I enjoyed the shit out of in 2011 (hell, I still am!) and it was a great show regardless. And hey, it was our first live introduction to the band's new drummer, Tim Adderley! So that was nice.

2011, 2011, 2011. It brought many highlights, musical and otherwise. Live music this year, oh we had a belter. Too many great acts doing amazing things to possibly mention here... and yet, in the coming weeks, I will have to mention them. That's right, my end of year top 10 gigs are beginning to take shape, mentally at least, and hopefully will be posted in completed form before the month's end. And what was I doing when I wasn't at a gig? Listening to music, of course! Though I must say I didn't really keep up with new music last year as much as I usually do, obviously my (not-so-) hard-earned cash was often spent on CDs, and quite often, some of those were new! So yes, there WILL be, as always, a top 10 countdown of 2011's best albums according to yours truly. It will probably be posted quite soon, as I've had quite a good think about it and I've got a clear idea of where most things are going to land (or not land, as the case may be).

OH! One thing I do want to mention about 2011 is my introduction to the wonderful world of bootleg recording. For those who aren't aware, in late 2010 year my friend Chris Jacques, the founder of the wonderful Fan Made Recordings blog invited me to join the team, GIVING me his old recording equipment after he purchased some new stuff. Though the microphones were a little bit dead, I got a few good uses out of them before a new pair arrived in about April, and then the real fun began! Though quite often my err, state of inebriation lead to obnoxious conversations and RIDICULOUS singing, rendering some (quite a lot, really!) of the recordings unpostable, there were plenty more gigs where I managed to keep myself under control and it lead to some truly amazing gigs being captured for my own personal enjoyment AS WELL as sharing them with the wider world. I really can't thank Chris enough!

Anyway. That's about it. Top 10s are coming soon!

Monday, November 14, 2011

"On nights like this, we drink ourselves dry, and make promises with no intent" - Harvest presents The Gathering, 12/11/2011 at Werribee Park

Music fans of Australia went into a bit of a frenzy earlier this year when rumours began of a new festival by the name of Harvest, that was supposedly being organised by AJ Maddah, he of Soundwave fame (and also infamous for the utter debacle that was Soundwave Revolution). Though at that point there was nothing set in stone and nobody was really getting their hopes up, the rumours suggested that artists playing at the festival may include the likes of Portishead, Mogwai, Aphex Twin and The Flaming Lips. But in July, all doubts were erased when the official first announcement hit, and yes, at the top of the lineup were a band coming to Australia for the first time in 14 years, the one and only Portishead - with an impressive array of other internationals including The Flaming Lips, The National, Mogwai, Bright Eyes and many more! Billed as a "Civilised Gathering", Harvest set out from the start to be an alternative to the mainstream festivals in this country, and despite a few teething problems, by most accounts it was a very successful first year for the event!

One of the first bands on the main stage of the event - named "The Great Lawn" - were the irrepressibly funky Hypnotic Brass Ensemble. Last in the country less than twelve months ago for the Meredith Music Festival, this is a band whose name really says it all - eight brothers and another unrelated who play addictive music centred on brass instruments. Though punters were still arriving and settling in, and weren't really ready to make their way right down the front, plenty of festival earlybirds were clearly enjoying the sounds of this Chicago group, as they should with a band who sound this great. The band were doing their best to get the crowd involved too, at one point engaging in that tried-and-true routine of seeing which side of the crowd was the loudest.
(Hypnotic Brass Ensemble score 8/10)

Over on the Windmill Stage, Oxford quartet This Town Needs Guns were treating a respectable-sized crowd to a solid selection of their math-rock/indie numbers, including plenty of favourites from the band's debut album Animals. Many had enjoyed their performances earlier in the year at the Soundwave Festival, and evidently AJ Maddah had, given that he asked them back for Harvest. Since those performances, the band have undergone a bit of a lineup change, with Pennines' Henry Tremain replacing former vocalist/guitarist Stuart Smith, who has left the band due to the birth of his child. Tremain joked that he had been to so many of the band's gigs as a fan, and had to remind himself not to clap after every song. He certainly gave the crowd many reasons to clap, fitting in very well in the band with a similar vocal style to his predecssor and doing the band's older material justice, and also proving himself quite handy on the guitar with a few songs. However, it was bassist Jamie Cooper that took care of most of the crowd interaction, seeming genuinely humbled by the response his band received but definitely appreciative of it. On the surface of it, This Town Needs Guns' music seems a little bit complex what with all that guitar noodling going on, but there's an underlying pop sensibilty to them that the punters really enjoyed on this particular occasion.
(This Town Needs Guns score 9/10)

Back on the Great Lawn, funk was once again the flavour of the afternoon with legendary act The Family Stone taking to the stage and delighting all in attendance. Despite the notable absence of the group's frontman Sly, the current incarnation of the band boasts a surprising amount of original members, something that they were keen to remind us about several times during the set. Even though there were probably a few in the crowd who couldn't put a song to the band name, there were many looks of recognition and possibly even a few exclamations of "OH! THIS SONG!" as the band worked their way through a selection of timeless material such as Everday People and Family Affair. God knows how Maddah managed to book these guys, but it was certainly an amazing performance from a group that showed no signs of their age!
(The Family Stone score 7/10)

It was then time for a band from a bit closer to home, as Sydney-based electronic experimentalists PVT wowed a packed-out tent at the Big Red Tractor Stage. As they got things going with the title track from last year's very successful Church With No Magic album, the crowd came alive, doing their best to pull off some dance moves despite the glitchy and unpredictable nature of PVT's music! After a surprisingly lacklustre performance at the Corner Hotel last year to launch the album, PVT seemed really in their element today. The trio, made up of Richard Pike on just about EVERYHING (guitar, bass, keys and vocals), his brother Laurence on drums (an absolute force to behold), and Dave Miller on laptop, synths and whatever other electronic gadgets took his fancy, really delivered a standout performance on the day. A selection of Church With No Magic favourites were interspersed with a pair of brand new songs, and even some from their second album O Soundtrack My Heart for the diehard (Pivot?) fans in the audience, with the appropriately-named Didn't I Furious sounding absolutely massive as delivered through a festival sound system, and O Soundtrack My Heart chilling things out a bit toward the end of the set. The crowd's enthusiasm didn't fall at all during the intense 45-minute set by the band; again, perhaps it was the sound system in the tent, perhaps it was the "festival atmosphere", but things just seemed to really go PVT's way on this occasion.
(PVT score 9/10)

It was back to the Great Lawn for the inimitable TV on the Radio. They have long been regarded by many as a band that performs at their absolute best every time, whether it be in the studio while making their excellent albums, or on a live stage as they were today. A highly anticipated act for many on the day, they showcased plenty of new material from their latest release Nine Types of Light as well as dipping into their much-loved back catalogue for fan favourite such as Red Dress, Golden Age and Staring at the Sun. The only complaint heard about their set was that the mix was a bit noisy in places, but overall, this band have a pretty high reputation to uphold when it comes to delivering a good show, and on this occasion, they managed to do so with great success. The set concluded with their arguable "signature song" Wolf Like Me, and although the audience had obviously already been enjoying themselves up until that point, that particular song as a closer really drove it home!
(TV on the Radio score 8.5/10)

The Great Lawn was rapidly filling up at this point, understandable due to the exceptional talent of the acts to come, and to prove the point, it was Conor Oberst and his highly-praised Bright Eyes that were next up on the stage. With such a vast discography, it was always going to be interesting to see how they'd fare with the hour set they were given, but they certainly managed to cover most facets of their career, from 2000's Fevers and Mirrors to their latest release, The People's Key. Oberst showed the crowd he was no slouch on stage, as he switched between guitar and keyboards with great ease, and looked to be having the time of his life the whole set. He even delivered a couple of songs by himself on just acoustic guitar and vocals, which was a nice way of balancing out the set when juxtaposed with the full-band Bright Eyes tracks.
(Bright Eyes score 8/10)
Old Soul Song (For the New World Order)
Four Winds
Arc of Time (Time Code)
Lover I Don't Have to Love
Jejune Stars
The Calendar Hung Itself...
Shell Games
Another Travellin' Song
I Believe in Symmetry
Road to Joy

A little later on the Windmill Stage, Scottish post-rock heroes Mogwai drew a full crowd to witness their impressive combination of extreme dynamics, melody and at times, pure fucking noise! Again, an hour set was probably a little short for a band who have been around for quite a while, and who are known for often making some pretty lengthy songs. However, they managed to please all in attendance, balancing out material from this year's brilliantly-titled Hardcore Will Never Die, But You Will with a decent selection of past material, even including rarity Ithica 27 Ø 9 from the Ten Rapid compilation. With the aid of a white sheet hung from the stage, the set was complemented nicely by a series of visuals, with geometric shapes and city skylines seeming quite appropriate for their music; however, it wasn't completely dark yet which meant that this probably wasn't as effective as it could've been. It's fair to say that a lot of post-rock bands don't seem all that energetic onstage, and play with focus and concentration rather than attempting to put on "a show". Though for the most part, this seemed to fit Mogwai's approach to live performance, on the right-hand side of the stage Stuart Braithwaite was positively animated, jumping around during the heavier moments of the songs, and thanking the audience heartily between songs, all with a big smile on his face. Given that it was getting very close to a certain headlining performance on the Great Lawn stage, people started to drift off toward the end of their set, but those who stayed around were rewarded with the penultimate performance of the classic Mogwai Fear Satan, delivered with all the intensity and sonic fury of the studio version that was released fourteen years ago! Time flies. At its conclusion, once again Braithwaite thanked the audience for sticking around, before they closed with Mexican Grand Prix and the few stragglers headed over to the Great Lawn.
White Noise
Ithica 27 Ø 9
I'm Jim Morrison, I'm Dead
Rano Pano
Auto Rock
How to be a Werewolf
Hunted by a Freak
Mogwai Fear Satan
Mexican Grand Prix

Though nobody would dare to say that the rest of the lineup had been lacking in quality so far, the real talk of this festival was THE headlining act that was apparently the whole reason the festival was launched in the first place. A band with enormous critical acclaim, who only just re-entered the consciousness of the music world a few years ago after taking a full eleven years of silence between the release of their second and third albums. And tonight, for the first time in fourteen years, Australian audiences were treated to a performance that lived up to all expectations. When the lights went down on the main stage and the video screens flickered into life, the usual applause that happens during the beginning of a concert seemed a little subdued, as the crowd held their collective breath for the great moment to come. Static and abstract imagery crawled across the screens for a few seconds, until it was finally replaced with a very familiar symbol - a big bold letter "P". And then, it began. As the musicians involved with this band's live incarnation - the orginal three members, plus three extras to handle various live tasks - made their way onto the stage, a familiar voice reciting a saying in Brazilian-Portuguese came over the PA, and Portishead began their set with the opening track from 2008's Third, Silence.

The second the incomparable Beth Gibbons stepped up to the microphone, the crowd couldn't contain themselves any longer, almost drowning her out with deafening cheers. But they quickly lapsed back into reverential silence, which continue almost throughout the entirety of the set. Appreciation was shown at the right moments - usually at beginning of songs, such as right after Silence when the familiar eerie theremin intro to Mysterons began - but it was amazing to see how just respectful and appreciative the crowd were. If someone dared to break the mood by talking to his or her friend, they were quickly chastised by other people, something you don't often see at a gig! But, this was fucking Portishead, and so such a level of respect was demanded. The band made up for lost time and really didn't fail to deliver a set high on atmosphere and sonic intensity. Of course, the only way the Bristolians could have delivered a setlist to please everybody would be to play everything they've ever recorded, but of course that wasn't possible. So instead, they opted for a healthy selection of crowd favourites, mostly taken from their groundbreaking 1994 album Dummy, and the aforementioned comeback release Third; unfortunately the band's self-titled second album only got two tracks represented in the set, the stunning Over and Cowboys.

As one would expect, the band didn't really stuff around on stage with any theatrics or over-performing, but simply played their parts and let the music do the talking. With that said, there was really no shortage of things to look out, as the band were accompanied by some stunning visual material, in addition to heavily-effected live footage of themselves performing. The imagery used was abstract, surreal, and at times downright intense, such as during Machine Gun when Tony Abbott appeared with bright red laser beams for eyes! Spontaneous appreciative cheering from the crowd showed that they certainly appreciated this "local" flavour for Portishead's appearance. Machine Gun was definitely an overall highlight in a set that really highlighted the sonic difference between today's Portishead and the band who recorded Dummy all those years ago. From the chilled-out ambience of songs like Sour Times and Glory Box (the latter of which saw the crowd break their vow of silence and join in with their best voices), to the jarring intensity of the likes of Magic Doors and Threads, this is a band with quite a dynamic range. Threads was the last song of the main set, but the entire crowd waited patiently for an encore, and it came in the form of the haunting Roads, and an upbeat conclusion with We Carry On. During the song's climax, Gibbons climbed off the stage and ran along the barrier to high-five and embrace the adoring fans. As the song finally ended, it was clear that it was the end of their set completely, and finally, she spoke, thanking everyone for coming and finishing with "We love Australia!", to an appropriate reaction.
The Rip
Sour Times
Magic Doors
Wandering Star
Machine Gun
Glory Box
Chase the Tear
We Carry On

Over on the Windmill Stage, things were about to get downright freaky, as a naked woman appeared on a semi-circular video screen and began spreading her legs. A strategically-placed door began opening sporadically, with members of the upcoming band making their way out one by one, until finally, a giant bubble was inflated and the man inside it launched himself into a rapturous crowd as his bandmates struck up a cover of Black Sabbath's Sweet Leaf - and so began the closing performance of the night, and who else would it be but The Flaming Lips. Pushed for time due to Portishead's insistence on absolute silence on other stages during their set, one got the sense that this wasn't exactly the greatest way to enjoy everything that the Flips could potentially offer, and at the end of a festival day, the energy was dipping considerably. "Come on, come on fuckers!" encouraged Wayne Coyne (who it must be mentioned, had a camera on the end of his microphone stand which allowed for some very extreme close-ups!). "I know it's the end of the festival, but by anybody's standards, it's still really fucking early on a Saturday night!" Despite their time restrictions only allowing seven songs to be played, Coyne and his friends still did their best to make sure everyone left on a high note, getting everyone involved with some fanastically fun singalongs to She Don't Use Jelly, The Yeah Yeah Song, Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots and of course, the closing Do You Realize?? All this was of course accompanied by the usual Flips theatrics, including giant balloons, confetti and streamers floating out into the delighted audience, while onstage, colourful psychedelic visuals played out on the band's trademark video screen, and some extra costumed bodies danced the night away. Overall, it was still quite an enjoyable performance, but definitely not quite the uplifting extravaganza that many were hoping for. Nevertheless, everyone seemed to be smiling as they slowly made their way out of what seemed to be a very successful first edition of Harvest! Here's to next year!
Sweet Leaf (Black Sabbath cover)
Worm Mountain
She Don't Use Jelly
The Yeah Yeah Yeah Song (With All Your Power)
Is David Bowie Dying?
Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots, Pt. 1
Do You Realize??

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

"Roll up, roll up, the circus is in town" - Saltar Hype presents Creepshow Festival, 29/10/2011

In October 2010, Matt Crute and his team at the Saltar Hype booking agency put on a very successful Halloween-themed mini-festival at the Espy. Appropriately dubbed "Creepshow", the night saw a plethora of great local Melbourne acts taking to the three stages at the Espy, with plenty of weird and wonderful costumes present among bands and punters alike. Evidently, the night was a success as Crutey opted to put on another this year, once again with great results!

A standout performance the year before had been instrumental heavy prog trio Anna Salen, or as they had dubbed themselves for the evening, the "Super Anna Salen Brothers". This was due to their Super Mario-themed choice of costumes - guitarist/keyboardist Daiv Morgan was Mario, drummer Shaun Scott was Wario, and bassist/keyboardist Paul Risso was Luigi. But they didn't stop at the costumes - "question mark" boxes were placed on top of amps, coin and pipe sound effects were loaded into Scott's triggers and appeared in random places throughout the Anna Salen set, and the band covered the theme music from the games between their own tunes. This year the boys decided to stick to their winning formula, to the delight of those who had witnessed it the year before and to the delighted surprise of those who hadn't! The band have rapidly become one of Melbourne's most-talked about upcoming bands, no doubt helped by their very unique sound and lack of vocals. The band had just supported Sydney powerhouse Floating Me in Geelong and Melbourne the two nights previous, but they weren't showing any signs of fatigue, as they delivered another solid set from the Espy front bar stage. As another sign of just how much the band is on the up, midway through the set Morgan invited "Jason Vorhees" to the stage to play some guest drums, while Scott took up a second guitar. "Jason" was none other than the event organiser, Matt Crute, and he lent his amazing drum skills to the favourite Karate, appropriately dubbed "Karutey" by Morgan for the occasion. At the set's conclusion, Morgan picked up one of the question mark boxes and threw its contents into the audience, which appropriately were chocolate coins!
Tit Dirt
-Mario Theme-
Communist Rocket
-Mario Theme 2-
Dinner's On
(with Matt Crute of Full Scale)

In the Gershwin Room, local djent powerhouse Circles were wowing the crowd with their highly complex brand of heavy syncopated riffs, drawing obvious comparisons to the likes of Meshuggah and recent visitors to our shores, Periphery. The band has achieved some international recognition for their sound, and were performing very well on this particular evening - surprisingly, they got a very good mix on the night too, with every subtle sound perfectly audible in the right amounts. A lot of djent bands (again, Periphery) have been known to dabble in the electronica/industrial side of things, and Circles use these sounds even more than their contemporaries, to great effect. However, like a few of these bands, there's something about the vocals that doesn't really seem to fit the rest of the music. Their performance onstage was of a very high quality though.

Melbourne-based supergroup The Khyber Belt were next to take to the front bar stage, with their debut EP being available to the public for the very first time this evening. Their costumes of choice were decidedly un-scary, with the instrumentalists in the band wearing Wiggles skivvys, and vocalist Forbes McKail dressed as Captain Feathersword. As McKail explained, it was only the band's fifth show in total, due to the fact that the band members live in different cities and they find it difficult to jam together. However, at all of those gigs they've seemed quite well-rehearsed and now they've got quite a few solid tunes written, as tonight's set showed. There were a few among the crowd who looked like they had perhaps attended most or all of these shows, as they were singing along in parts to songs that hadn't even really been released yet! The Khyber Belt still have a bit of a way to go before their songwriting craft reaches that of the bands they came from, but there were certainly some gems in this set, and in time, they might just be an adequate replacement to fill the void for all those still missing Rook.

There was jubiliation in the air in late 2009 when it was surprisingly announced that legendary Aussie heavy rockers Full Scale would be having a reunion of sorts, with original members Ezekiel Ox and Matt Crute being joined by Tristan Ross and Ben Brennan, who had been involved with the Full Scale journey at some point. After an incredible reunion gig in January 2010, the band decided to undertake a new chapter under the name Full Scale Revolution, but after a few well-received live shows across the year, by September it was all over once again. Surprisingly, a post on the band's Facebook page a few months back revealed that the band would be giving it one more shot at Creepshow this year, and understandably punters in the front bar went absolutely nuts on the evening to see FULL SCALE REVOLUTION back in action again! The power of nostalgia should never be underestimated, and as Ox, Crutey, Ross and Brennan ripped into Rapture, the crowd began suitably losing their shit, and moshing all over the place! Tonight was likely to be the last time that this incarnation of the band would take to the stage, and the opportunities weren't wasted on either side of the stage/audience divide. The band looked genuinely happy to be playing the songs, with Ox remarking "It always feels good when we bring Full Scale back in whatever form"; meanwhile the crowd were certainly in agreement with this statement, as they bounced around wildly and sang along to just about everything! It was slightly disappointing however that the set was a little bit shorter than those they'd played last year, skipping over some favourites such as Where's Your Energy? and Sixteen Today, and completely ignoring the Full Scale Deflection era. The band did manage to play the only song they'd written together in 2010, High on the Feeling, which despite being a good song in itself, seemed a bit unfamiliar to most punters and lowered the energy of the set considerably. Eventually, things had to come to an end, but the band drove it home with the usual double-shot of Five-Six and Party Political! Five-Six featured a stellar guest appearance from The Khyber Belt's Forbes McKail, who did a very capable job helping Ox out with the vocals, while Party Political saw Ox make his way through the crowd before standing up on the bar! In the end, the crowd had really enjoyed seeing these songs being played again, even if it may be the last time with this particular incarnation of the band.

It's fair to say that the crowd were looking a little worse for wear after that high intensity set, and luckily the next act on the bill were able to bring things down just enough, but not too much! It was of course everyone's favourite ex-Byron Bay foursome, Engine Three Seven, and the front bar was packed to the rafters for another great performance from the lads. It all kicked off with the favourite Hysterical Hysteria, which as usual featured the old "getting down on the ground, jumping up and going nuts" routine. Other than a slightly mixed up order than usual, there wasn't a whole lot of change in the E37 setlist that they've been playing in recent times. However, it was nice to hear Erasure for the third show in a row, which is hopefully a good sign that they've decided to bring it permanently back into the set. Another surprise came when vocalist Casey Dean (who had gone with a Bananaman costume for the evening!) declared that there would be a brand new song played immediately after Cops! The song, titled Velociraptor, showed that Engine have certainly got some quality new ideas up their sleeve and hopefully a new album isn't too far away! Other than that, it was a pretty standard set, but "standard" for Engine Three Seven usually means "excellent", and this was no exception! The crowd were really getting into it too, singing along delightedly with just about everything!

The event finally drew to a close at around 1am, with an act that were no strangers to the people still remaining in the front bar, Jericco. They kicked things off with a great little intro featuring bass player Roy Amar doing his thing on an electric Oud, before the familiar pulsing intro to Rujm (Pile of Stones) kicked in over the PA. The band usually puts this one in toward the end of the set, but as an early opener it set the tone for an absolute cracker! The ever-amazing vocalist Brent McCormick had decided to go with the "bearded lady" theme for the evening, something that brought great amusement to the punters. Even though the timeslot was extremely late, those that were willing to stick it out were treated to a typical high-energy Jericco show, with the band delivering on all fronts as they usually do - and the punters didn't look tired either; there was plenty of moshing and pogoing still going on! The setlist was jam-packed with the usual Jericco favourites, in fact, the band played every single song proper they've released so far with the exception of a few from their first EP. New drummer Matt Bray also seems to be settling into the band well after a few solid gigs, playing along with his bandmates like he'd been there all along! There was a bit of a surprise in the middle of the set, where the other members vacated the stage and McCormick delivered a song by himself with an acoustic guitar. This certainly was the only real "low-energy" point in the set, and even then, he still encouraged everyone to get involved with a bit of a singalong! Eventually the set closed with current single Monsters, which was a top way to end a great night!

The Saltar Hype team have been putting on some really stellar events lately, and though only in its second year, it's fair to say that this time around Creepshow was another rousing success! See you all at Rock the Bay!

Monday, October 31, 2011

"Never mind the facts, find a way to frame them" - Floating Me, East Brunswick Club, 28/10/2011

2011 has seen the gradual rise to prominence of one of Australia's most exciting new bands, Sydney-based Floating Me. Undoubtedly they were able to inspire many people to investigate their music pretty much as soon as they formed, because of the past musical history of the members (the former vocalist, guitarist and keyboardist of Scary Mother, the bass player of Karnivool, and the former drummer of Cog), but with the release of their debut album in April, it's clear that Floating Me are now ready to forge their own musical path. After their first headlining tour in May, and a subsequent coheadlining ventue with Thousand Needles in Red in July, the quintet did another lap around the nation to celebrate the release of new single Breaking to Breathe. On a very wet Friday night, it was Melbourne's turn to experience the live sounds of Floating Me, along with a handpicked bill of exceptional local Melbourne talent.

At one point in our lives, we've all "liked" (or at least noticed) one of those "(x band) should support (x band)" pages on Facebook, but it seems that the people never manage to actually make the people responsible for organising the tour aware of the page. On this particular occasion though, a friend of local Melbourne instrumental post/prog metal trio Anna Salen was successful in his attempt to get the band noticed by Floating Me, and so it was that Daiv Morgan (guitar/keys), Paul Risso (bass/keys) and Shaun Scott (drums) were given the great honour of warming the East Brunswick stage (and also played the Geelong show the night before). The band were understandably very excited to be given the opportunity, and didn't waste it, delighting the audience with their complex yet highly accessible brand of heavy instrumental music. New material and old alike was embraced by the crowd; the band's regular fans up the front of the room (a few Anna Salen t-shirts were spotted) knew all the right moments to headbang to, while others in the bandroom seemed new to the band, wearing looks of "Who are these guys? I LIKE IT!" This was definitely one of the band's biggest gigs in recent times, and if a band of the calibre of Floating Me is taking notice, then hopefully that's an indication that the metaphorical doors are opening for Anna Salen. They deserve it!

Up next was another great example of the diversity of the Melbourne heavy/prog scene, Ennis Tola. This unique five-piece have been on the rise in recent times, landing some pretty impressive gigs including a support slot with internationally-renowned Adelaide progressive rock group Unitopia. No doubt this can be attributed to the fact that there really isn’t another band around at the moment that sounds quite like these four guys and girl, and on this occasion they rose to the challenge and delighted the punters with something a little different. The band’s frontman, acoustic guitarist/vocalist Tomas Fitzgerald, wasn’t exactly engaging the crowd as much as he could have, but in all fairness, he probably had a good excuse – his guitar abilities are extremely impressive and instead of “delivering a show” so to speak, he was just concentrating on making sure he didn’t miss a note. Certainly with some of his band’s complex rhythmic ideas and time signatures, this was no mean feat, but Fitzgerald nailed every intricate riff and lead pattern. It must be mentioned that he also has a really powerful voice, with an almost soulful/blues tone to it, and his ability to sing and play those particular rhythms simultaneously deserves full points. Another area also getting a lot of the crowd’s attention was stage right, where the multi-talented Karen Heath was positioned. As various songs required, she switched effortlessly from clarinet, to saxophone, to bass clarinet, to keyboard, and at one point during the set, she even sat down to play the koto – a large Japanese 13-stringed instrument. Utilising this instrument in their set only served to underline Ennis Tola’s commitment to delivering forward-thinking, cerebral progressive rock. The set closed with Weather the Storm, definitely a stand-out piece in an already impressive set of tunes, and many members of the crowd looked quite surprised yet appreciative of what they’d just witnessed. This band is one to watch.

It was no surprise to anyone that Over-reactor were invited to join this bill, given that in the past they have supported Cog and more recently, Karnivool. The latter tour saw the Melbourne "death-hop" duo gain a whole new audience, and tonight there was a pretty sizeable crowd in the small East Brunswick bandroom to check out Ezekiel Ox and Cory Blight doing their thing. The setlist was pretty much identical to recent Over-reactor shows, but the two-piece gave it their all as they usually do - well, with Blight behind the drums there wasn't a lot he could do, but Ox more than made up for it, covering every possible corner of the stage (and a bit later in the set, even some territory off the stage), belting out his vicious lyrics with his trademark fire and passion, and even getting a little artistic between songs. As happened at the Showdown gig in August, an easel was set up on the stage, and Ox took every possible opportunity to spraypaint some interesting designs onto it. Well known for his fierce political beliefs, Ox also took time out between songs to comment on the Occupy Melbourne protests, not surprisingly criticising the police brutality that had occurred the previous week. This gig also saw the return of the trademark Over-reactor visuals, or at least, at attempt at it. The band had done some gigs in the past with deliberately old-school TVs displaying various imagery (helped out by their good friend Josh Meney), but tonight, technical difficulties meant that the two TVs (one up the very front of stage, one more in the centre) displayed nothing but static the entire set. "Once again, there's nothing on TV," remarked Ox sarcastically as he decided to try and fix the problem. "Maybe I'll check the other channels." However, his efforts proved unsuccessful, and at the conclusion of the set, he warned punters up the front to stand back before picking up the front TV and smashing it on the floor. It was a dramatic end to what had already been a very enthusiastically delivered set already, and Ox quickly requested a cleanup, and subsequently emphasised that the headlining act did not sanction his behaviour.

After the anger and passion of that set, it was time for Floating Me to take things down a notch, but the crowd were no less enthusiastic for their performance! Getting things off to a slow start with Xtoto, the band quickly followed it up with the industrial-flavoured, upbeat Narke, showcasing the amazing talents of Lucius Borich on the kit. However, it became apparent at this point in their set that there were some serious problems with the sound mix; Borich's samples and triggers didn't seem to be working correctly, while the guitars of Antony Brown and keyboards of Tobias Messiter were almost drowned out entirely by the fierce rumble of Jon Stockman's bass. Eventually it seemed enough was enough, with the band taking an extended break after Spirals to try and get everything in order.

When the set resumed with Piano, it seemed that everything was in order, and not a moment too soon, because many in the crowd were growing extremely restless with the disruption to the flow of the evening. The band, to their credit, did their best to soldier on though; after all, sound problems are rarely the fault of the actual artist (what band wants their performance to sound substandard?), and they were still performing with passion and conviction, especially vocalist Andrew Gillespie. Some remarked, after the band's shows earlier in the year with Dead Letter Circus, that the band still had quite a way to go in terms of developing their stagecraft (especially considering that some of their material is a bit more downtempo and reflective), but with a few solid touring runs under their belt, this is now a lot less of a problem and the band look a lot more comfortable onstage, and with each other.

The improvement to the sound was extremely noticeable on the band's next song, which was a cover of the Jefferson Airplane classic White Rabbit. Prior to the band's previous coheadlining tour with Thousand Needles in Red, they had asked fans via their Facebook to select a song for the band to cover, with this being the song they had eventually picked out of the many selections offered. Though some of the younger fans in the room were clearly unfamiliar with the song, it was clear that the band wanted to treat this song with the respect it deserves, and they gave it their all, before returning to their own material to round out the set. Bezhumous was as stunning as it had been on previous tours, given that the outro to the song was magnificently extended by a lengthy drum solo from the one and only Lucius Borich, as the rest of the band jammed around his improvisations. When it was all over, the applause from the sold-out crowd was far longer than the usual between-song appreciation, and deservedly so! The energy didn't stop there, as the band launched into the very first song that everyone heard from them, the 2010 single Sugar, which is understandably a massive crowd favourite. It was almost time to go, but there was one more tune to come, and the set drew to a conclusion with the epic Across the Gulf.

It's been a bit of a gradual process (the fact that Cog aren't together anymore is understandably still upsetting to many), but Floating Me are slowly earning themselves more and more fans, and with the show they put on tonight, it's easy to see why!
White Rabbit
(Jefferson Airplane cover)
Breaking to Breathe
(with drum solo)
Across the Gulf

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

"A penny for your heart, a penny for your dreams" - Welkin Entertainment presents Progfest 2011, Esplanade Hotel, 03/09/2011

Ahh, "prog". For the uninitiated, these four simple letters are short for "progressive", and of course refer to music of that nature - as the word "progressive" naturally implies, music that is forward-thinking, evolving, and boundary-breaking. Though the term has been around for decades and was initially grouped with the word "rock" to describe bands such as Pink Floyd, Hawkwind, King Crimson and Yes, it has since evolved to encompass an extremely wide spectrum of musical sounds - in fact, one could say that the musical definition of the word "progressive" continues to progress over the years. This was never more evident on this particular Saturday afternoon and night mini-festival at St Kilda's famous Espy - note that the event wasn't called "Prog Rock Fest" or "Prog Metal Fest", or anything like that, but simpy Progfest. The Welkin Entertainment booking agency assembled an impressive 31-band lineup of high-quality Australian talent, with an incredibly diverse range of acts to show just how broad the term "progressive" can be. Examining the lineup in closer detail, one could find acts playing grindcore, power metal, reggae-influenced hard rock, math metal, post-rock... need I go on?! No wonder the event apparently had over 900 attendees on the day!

With the event's total running time nearing TWELVE hours, and proceedings kicking off at 3 in the arvo, it wasn't surprising that the various band rooms in the Espy were a little sparsely populated early on, as most people were likely still engaged in other prior committments, or were just taking their time to arrive to conserve their energy for the more well-known and better appreciated acts later in the night. That meant that the promising talent of young Warrnambool-based shoegaze foursome Lunaire went pretty much unheard on this day, as they opened proceedings in the front bar. It was a real shame, as these guys certainly turned a few heads opening for Sydney post-rock powerhouse sleepmakeswaves at their recent Melbourne album launch show. Nonetheless, today they were playing to an almost empty room, something that wasn't helped by the fact that the venue doors didn't open until about ten minutes after 3 - although Lunaire were still playing to their allocated timeslot. "This is our last song" were certainly not the words that the few early punters were expecting to hear the second they walked in the door! A real shame indeed, as the youngsters are showing a lot of promise so early in their career, and with a bit more of a refined sound and a few more solid gigs under their belt, they could turn out to be something quite special.

The focus then shifted to the larger Gershwin Room, where Divine Ascension were due to play as a late replacement for Teramaze. The punters were still arriving quite slowly, but the band's onstage presence showed that despite the small crowd, they wanted to work hard to impress. Their style can best be described as gothic-infused power metal, and with the very talented Jennifer Borg fronting the band, it would be easy to put them under the typical "female-fronted metal" umbrella with the likes of Nightwish, Lacuna Coil, and After Forever. However, this certainly didn't work against the band, as they showed themselves to be very capable musicians - some very solid riffs and impressive keyboard theatrics seemed to impress the more metal-inclined in the room, and though they weren't playing to a big crowd, Divine Ascension didn't let that impact their performance, as it was quite obvious they were holding nothing back.

It was back to the front bar to catch the first of Progfest's interstate visitors, Adelaide's Quiet Child. The band's last major Melbourne appearance was late last year, warming the stage for Brisbane superstars Dead Letter Circus, and though they played their best and showed a lot of promise, they received a pretty lukewarm reaction. Today though, they showed signs of great improvement, even though they chose to play only three songs in what was billed as a half-hour set. Of course, appropriate considering that this was Progfest, these songs were all quite lengthy and from what vocalist Pete said between songs, it seemed that they were all taken from the band's recently released second album. Again, since that DLC support slot, the songwriting and musicianship in the band seems to have developed a whole lot; some songs approached a level of complexity and precision slightly reminiscent of Meshuggah, which is never a bad thing. The crowd in the front bar was now approaching considerable size, and most of those present clearly wanted more than three songs, if they were as exciting as the three that had been played!

Up next were local melodic metal five-piece Elysian, playing to, and getting a very good response from, a Gershwin Room crowd that was continuing to increase steadily. The melodeath sound might be a little dated these days, but clearly nobody told this particular band, as their passion and energy onstage was something quite impressive. Adding a unique element to their sound was vocalist Ben's occasional use of a floor tom, to build another layer of percussive heaviness on to an already very full sound. Definitely one of the heaviest acts on the day, the more metal-inclined in the crowd enjoyed this band immensely, and many headbanging heads were visible for the duration of their set. For a band that has only been gigging since February last year, Elysian sure look comfortable on a stage.

While the withdrawal of Okera the night before the event (due to band member illness) had certainly disappointed many, their replacement act on the bill pleased the many post-rock fans in the venue, as Queensland's Nikko stepped up to the plate so to speak. In town to appear at the Old Bar that night and at the Brunswick Hotel the night after, Nikko were a pretty logical choice to join the bill as there were quite a few similar-sounding acts on the bill. As expected, they got a fairly warm response for their music, which was a lot more vocal-oriented than some of their contemporaries and injected a slightly more complex set of influences than most bands in the genre can manage. Which is good.

The punters had arrived in droves by the time 6:30 rolled around, and quite a lot of them were in the front bar to check out A Lonely Crowd. There comes a point when genre labels just become ridiculous and confusing, which is probably why this underground Melbourne four-piece have decided to label themselves "acidmath", which somehow actually works. Drummer Scott Ancell was wearing a Mr Bungle shirt, and you can definitely hear that extreme sense of experimentation in the band's sound. Gentle clean-guitar based passages would abruptly give way to full-tilt thrash-outs, with rapid-fire and extremely technical rhythms being complemented nicely by the soaring voice of female vocalist Xen Pow. The band have played a few excellent gigs this year and also released their first album User Hostile, which is well worth checking out if you're a fan of this kind of music.

It was time for the bill to get considerably more heavy, with avant-garde grindcore crew A Million Dead Birds Laughing (or AMDBL for short) taking to the Gershwin Room stage in their usual formal shirt-and-tie attire. Though a few technical difficulties unfortunately presented themselves throughout the set, the fans of more extreme sounds still managed to enjoy a typically exciting performance from one of Melbourne's best-kept secrets, as they blasted and riffed their way through a healthy selection of material from this year's debut album, Force-Fed Enlightenment. They might have been a bit out of place considering some of the other acts on the lineup, but they made an impression on a receptive audience nonetheless.

Travelling all the way from Perth were the next act in the front bar, post-rockers Tangled Thoughts of Leaving, to put on their long-awaited debut live performance on Melbourne soil. The TToL name has certainly got around since they released a split with sleepmakeswaves in 2009 and this year they've followed it up with their debut album, Deaden the Fields, to much acclaim from fans. The front bar was now very much packed out and very much enjoyed the chance to finally see the Perth four-piece perform live. Though the more sceptical of you are reading this thinking, "ANOTHER Australian post-rock band, yawn", TToL definitely set themselves apart by frequently launching into complex math metal-esque sections. Their heavy use of keyboards and synthesizer also sets them apart from a lot of other bands in this scene, and in general, most punters were left in awe at the band's technical skills. One of the highlights of the day!

The post-rock theme of the evening continued with the next act in the Gershwin Room, Melbourne instrumental four-piece Mushroom Giant. Taking to the stage in front of the usual backdrop of visuals that suitably complement their atmospheric and ambient soundscapes, the four extremely capable musicians delivered a solid set of tunes, mixing up the older tracks from their Kuru album with some as-yet unreleased pieces. Their set also featured a welcome surprise guest appearance from violinist Tim Charles, member of the extreme metal collective Ne Obliviscaris and also the man in charge of running the show today (he's the director of Welkin). He lent his impressive talent on the violin to the track The Abyss, and the punters certainly appreciated this special performance. As they usually do, the band concluded their set with the Woman Heroin and Poor Tom medley, and a full Gershwin Room responded accordingly!
Intro (listed as unnamed on their setlist)
Graven Image
The Abyss
(with Tim Charles on violin)
The Drake Equation
400 and Falling
Woman Heroin / Poor Tom

Towards the end of the evening was an act that were certainly no strangers to the patrons at this gig, and you could see many familiar faces in the packed front bar as Twelve Foot Ninja got ready to take to the stage. Since the release of their 2010 EP Smoke Bomb, the band has just been going from strength to strength, and indeed a highlight of their career came just last month when they were handpicked to be the opening local band in Melbourne on the Periphery/TesseracT coheadlining tour. Periphery certainly had a few very nice words to say about the Ninjas, and they won themselves some new fans that night. The band have been hard at work on a long-awaited debut album this year, and as such haven't really been performing live as frequently as they used to, but their performance was still as tight as ever. They were getting into the "prog" spirit of the evening, donning some ridiculous wigs and vintage op-shop gear, while vocalist Kin announced that they had recently been voted the "fifteenth best prog rock band in the Eastern suburbs". Their set featured a good mixed bag of tunes from both EPs (and even a pair of newies that have been getting some heavy rotation lately) and the crowd ate it up as usual! Their set concluded on an unexpected note, with Ennis Tola members Karen Heath and Tomas Fitzgerald joining the band onstage for a very unique cover of The Police's Walking on the Moon.

Melbournians certainly haven't suffered a shortage of Sydonia gigs to go to this year, with the band performing almost monthly at various events around the city. However, you only need to look at their setlists over the past few months to know that they always put in an effort to mix their shows up and give the fans their moneys' worth every time they attend a Sydonia show. And tonight was no different; through their Facebook page during the week, the band were hinting at playing a very special set for the evening, which would feature some songs they hadn't played in a very long time. And as the set kicked off with guitarist Sam Haycroft and bassist Adam Murray positioned at their additional custom percussion kits, some of the band's older fans in the room smiled in delight; for the first time since 2009, it was the unreleased C: Thirteen that got the set off to a very heavy start! Now, it would be impossible to write a review of a recent Sydonia show without mentioning their long-overdue second album, but the band delivered some promising news on that front this evening, stating that drum tracking was due to start in a few weeks! Naturally, some newer material got an airing, including the very popular Sinner, and a return of Nobodies, which, again, hadn't been played in some time. But the band delighted many of their newer fans with a stellar rendition of the epic Lonely Soul, which hadn't been played for at least three years, and, making its return to the set after a similarly long absence was the brutally heavy closing number I Will Not Serve. It was a brilliant treat for the many people in the room that had never got the opportunity to hear these songs in a live format until now, and as the band left the stage, many shouted for an encore. They're a talented lot, Sydonia, and clearly don't believe in delivering sub-standard live performances.
C: Thirteen
3 Tongues
Lonely Soul
No Woman's Land
I Will Not Serve

There were a few other acts scattered around the venue, but it was now about 1am and most punters were dragging themselves out of the venue after a very long day! All the team at Welkin deserve the highest kudos for making this wonderful day so successful! Here's to Progfest 2012!

Thursday, August 11, 2011

"Never heard a man speak like this man before" - The Mars Volta, Palace Theatre, 07/08/2011

If there's one thing to be said about progressive rock ensemble The Mars Volta, it's that they have always done things their way. Right from their inception, they have somehow managed to build up a loyal fanbase by refusing to conform to "standard" musical practice - concept albums that seem to be released quite frequently, musical pieces of an extended length, an ever-changing roster of band members (remembering of course that The Mars Volta refers to just guitarist and band director Omar Rodriguez-Lopez and vocalist Cedric Bixler Zavala) and live shows which may or may not include forty minutes of improvisation and jamming, it's all part and parcel of what we've come to know and love about Volta. On this night however, they'd take it one step further and break the few rules that they are willing to follow - their own.

During the week, most fans were surprised to say the least with the announcement that Fearless Vampire Killers would be opening the night. Usually, it's been common practice for Volta to simply have a DJ warm the crowd up with experimental music before the headlining act comes onstage and plays quite a lengthy set. But tonight, the established convention was thrown out the window and these Melbournians were given the honour of warming the stage. Their sound wasn't an ideal match for the band they were opening for, but most punters in the room warmed up to their garage rock sounds, and between songs there was plenty of polite applause and cheering. The band seemed pleased with the response they got; no doubt it is a demanding task to win over a near-capacity crowd of prog rock fans.

The familiar strains of Ennio Morricone's Fistful of Dollars came blaring out of the Palace PA, and the crowd reacted accordingly. Though a few of their traditions might have been abandoned on this recent tour, the band playing this as intro music is something that they've continued to do at just about every live performance to date, and it always gets the fans ready for the main event. As the climax of the song approached, the crowd broke out into loud applause and cheering as the current incarnation of The Mars Volta made their way out onto the stage - in addition to Rodriguez-Lopez and Bixler Zavala, the band now features Deantoni Parks back on drums, with Marcel Rodriguez-Lopez taking a more expanded role on keys now that long-term member Isaiah "Ikey" Owens has departed, former off-stage member Lars Stalfors joining in on sound manipulation and keys, and long serving bass whiz Juan Alderete rounding out the lineup. It was then that the night began, as the band postively exploded into the first song - and a large percentage of the audience began metaphorically scratching their heads. Since Omar Rodriguez-Lopez's "solo" tour at the beginning of the year (which actually featured the current lineup of The Mars Volta), the band has been test-driving a few new songs, and on this particular evening, they'd play no less than SIX brand new pieces, and one experimental jam.

This meant that well over half of their set was fresh material, which was a bit of a controversial move. Even though fans warmed up to the sounds of the new songs, there was an undeniable air of uncomfortable unfamiliarity throughout the venue and it has to be said that the band would have got a better response if they had've played a few more tried and true classics. That said, these new songs are sounding pretty good; the opening double of Aegis and The Whip Hand was Volta at their theatrical and riff-driven best, songs that definitely could stand up to the likes of Inertiatic ESP in their back catalogue. Other tracks like Trinkets Pale of Moon and The Malkin Jewel lowered the intensity substantially, but still displayed that trademark Volta brilliance that fans have come to expect from the group. Despite the fact that the songs they were playing were unfamiliar, the stage presence of the band remained very much unchanged - Bixler Zavala danced frenetically, throwing his microphone and stand around with little regard for his bandmates, meanwhile Rodriguez-Lopez drew the audience's attention effortlessly with his impressive guitar wizardry. This was used to particularly great effect during the intermediary Broken English Jam, where he just kept going and going!

Another thing the Volta seem to be doing different lately is embracing the crowd more. Bixler Zavala has never been one for banter, but at recent shows he's been positively animated - introducing songs and explaining their reasons for playing so much new stuff, among other things. Tonight he was a little subdued - perhaps he was feeling the strain at the end of the tour, as between songs he made straight for the kettle situated on the right side of the stage (yes, the kettle was back!) - but in his place, even Rodriguez-Lopez was talking to the crowd, thanking the crowd for being nice to Fearless Vampire Killers, and just for generally being there.

After The Malkin Jewel, the band segued into a bridging sort of jam they've been playing around with lately, which has been dubbed Broken English Jam. Set a slower pace than the rest of the evening, this was an opportunity for the band to experiment with a few new ideas, including some truly mind-blowing guitar work from Rodriguez-Lopez and some interesting typically nonsensical rantings from Bixler Zavala (perhaps this is what inspired the name of this piece). Though the band have been trying to streamline their songs a bit more over the last couple of years and have been cutting down on their penchant for freeform jamming that stretches out over extended periods, on this particular number they took the opportunity to cut loose like the good old days, sending the crowd into stunned amazement. When it finally finished, there was rapturous applause and then finally, the moment that truly woke up the crowd - Omar's familiar introductory line to Son et Lumiere. Though the crowd had enjoyed the new stuff, it was obvious that they had steadily been growing restless as the band indulged themselves for over an hour, and with the indication that familiar material was finally going to be played, the crowd literally came alive. The band chose some of their more popular material to finish the night off, namely obviously, Inertiatic ESP, The Widow and Goliath. Though he held it together admirably, it was obvious Cedric's vocals were faltering a little and he actually encouraged a crowd singalong during The Widow. A slowed-down, experimental version of The Bedlam in Goliath favourite Goliath was the number they chose to close the show with, with a sound reminiscent of the early days of them performing this piece, when it was still evolving from the song Rapid Fire Tollbooth from Rodriguez-Lopez's solo career. The crowd enjoyed the different take on the song, and were highly entertained by Bixler Zavala embarking on a rant about the band's plans for their trip to Hong Kong to support Red Hot Chili Peppers the following night. Finally, in an explosion of musical intensity that only a band like Volta could deliver, it was all over, after just 90 short minutes - definitely something a few people muttered under their breath about due to Volta's past history of treating us to shows comfortably stretching past the two hour mark. Nevertheless, this show showed a band that are comfortable only when they're flying in the face of convention, and though some aspects of the show could've been improved, there was no doubt that The Mars Volta deserved points for bravery, and a set mostly based on new songs that in time will surely stand up to the rest of their very impressive back catalogue. As musicians, it's very hard to fault them on a stage.

(A Fistful of Dollars intro)
The Whip Hand
Trinkets Pale of Moon
The Malkin Jewel
Broken English Jam
Son et Lumiere / Inertiatic ESP
The Widow

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

"Too fragile for sleep today" - Saltar Hype presents Showdown at the Corner, 30/08/2011

In recent years the Melbourne-based Saltar Hype booking agency has had great success with its attempts to stage small-scale "festivals" at various points throughout the year in venues across Melbourne. First we had Rock the Bay in March and Swarm in October 2009, then in 2010 a winter edition came along with Showdown at the Corner. Though the billing usually features relatively underground Melbourne (and occasionally interstate) talent, these events are usually quite popular and well-attended by music lovers in Melbourne. This is no doubt due to the events always bringing together a tidy package of great local bands for a very affordable price, and the 2011 edition of Showdown was no different. Headlined by Sydonia and featuring an enticing supporting cast of bands as diverse as Over-reactor, Sleep Parade and Mushroom Giant, punters packed out the Corner bandroom for a Saturday afternoon and night, and enjoyed immensely!

The Corner was looking a little empty though at the start of the day, as Tempting Fate kicked things off, followed by Le Belle, at around 3pm in the afternoon. Unfortunately these bands were somewhat lacking in the originality department, and weren't really impressing the punters that had turned up for some early brews and bands. Both female-fronted, comparisons to the likes of Evanescence came to mind way too quickly, and this is a genre that's just a little bit out of date and wasn't really that interesting in the first place.

The day took a turn for the better though just after 4pm, when Melbourne post-rock luminaries Mushroom Giant took to the stage. The band attracted a mixed response from fans last year when they reintroduced former vocalist/guitarist David Gogerly back into the band, recording an EP and playing several live dates as a five-piece. The "controversy" (if you will) resulted from the fact that the band was most known for their stunningly beautiful album Kuru, which had been recorded without Gog (as he's affectionately known) and had for the most part, been completely devoid of vocals. Fans really appreciated that particular style, and introducing a vocalist into the band had got a few people offside. However, the band have only just recently reverted to their Kuru instrumental lineup (including the return of David Charlton; a show in December last year was billed as his "last" with the group), and fans were very happy to see this lineup back in action on the Corner stage today, with one enthusiastic punter shouting out "Why aren't you headlining?!" A 30 minute set hardly seemed enough for a band whose repertoire is based on pieces that evolve over a gradual time frame - as a lot of post-rock tends to do - rather than just a to-the-point verse-chorus structure. Nevertheless, they did their best and played a good selection of material, including a track which was presumed to be new entitled Comasphere. The quartet concluded the set with the first two parts of the trilogy contained on tracks 8-10 on Kuru, the more reflective and gentle Woman Heroin and its intense conclusion Poor Tom, featuring dizzying blasts of rapid-fire riffs and drumming. As usual, they had set up a projector which displayed various psychedelic imagery which perfectly accompanied their atmospheric soundscapes.
The Drake Equation
400 and Falling
Woman Heroin / Poor Tom

Up next was more another disappointingly unoriginal set, this time from a band by the name of InVolume. Despite being a very energetic group and appearing very comfortable onstage, their overall sound was more than a little off-putting - it soon became clear that these guys had probably picked up instruments around the same time that nu metal was popular, and in this day and age, that is NOT a good thing. Granted, a lot of bands in the current Melbourne scene have had their sound shaped by that late 90s/early 2000s wave of bands, but the ones that have been most successful are those that have managed to put their own spin on things and create something unique. Hence, a band that sounded an awful lot like Disturbed were never going to impress those who had come to see some more interesting talent. They do deserve points for stage presence though.

After their set it was about 5:30pm, and the bandroom crowd was growing noticeably, in anticipation for some truly awesome acts to come later in the night. The quality of bands on show was starting to grow too, and Branch Arterial got a solid response for their progressive-tinged rock numbers. Despite obvious similarities to their contemporaries such as The Butterfly Effect, there's undoubtedly a whole lot of talent in this band, and being a relatively new band, they still have plenty of opportunity to make a mark in this particular scene. They are definitely one to watch. Following their set, it was the bizarre and unique sounds of Xenograft that left a definite impression on the crowd, even if for a lot of people that impression was one of "...Huh?" For those that haven't seen these guys in action, there's six of them onstage, including saxophone and keyboards, and though their influences aren't immediately apparent, one could assume from their spontaneous free-jazz-meets-metal freakouts that they might perhaps be fans of the likes of Mr Bungle and Frank Zappa. Probably the most forward-thinking band Showdown had to offer, to be sure.

At the 2009 Swarm Festival, a relatively young Melbourne band by the name of Anna Salen won themselves a whole heap of new fans with their highly unique and technical blend of math-rock/progressive metal fusion. Though that microphone onstage is only used for between-song banter (and occasional nonsensical non-lyrical chants), after support slots with the likes of Jericco and Engine Three Seven, the regular Melbourne gig followers have quickly welcomed the instrumental trio affectionately known as Anna into their hearts, as evident tonight with the increasing number of punters adorned with the band's t-shirt. The boys riffed and grooved their way through a stomping set, with some old favourites and potential new classics getting an airing to a very appreciative crowd.

A little while later, Melbourne's very own "supergroup" in The Khyber Belt made their way out onto the stage, with many of the audience looking forward to seeing what they'd deliver, now they've notched up a few shows on their belt (no pun intended). Though they only formed late last year, they drew attention to themselves immediately with a lineup consisting of former members of Rook (vocalist Forbes McKail and guitarist Tyson Fish), Bushido (guitarist Guy Shenfield and drummer Alex Dinic) and Sleep Parade (bassist James Livesy; coincidentally his former band were also on this lineup), and they got a very rousing response at their very first gig earlier this year at Rock the Bay. McKail acknowledged that "some of you might recognise us from other bands we've been in", yet through their set they quickly proved that the new band is a force to reckon with in itself - the five guys were obviously a lot more stage-ready than before (and thankfully the technical problems that plagued Shenfield at RtB were non-existent) and they showed a new level of skill with a fresh batch of new tunes. McKail promised an EP in the works sometime soon, and although it seems like a lot of bands feel obligated to make these kind of statements no matter how much intention they have delivering them, the crowd assembled definitely hoped those words would count for something soon.

If there was any doubt about the bands that had taken to the stages up until this point, the next act on the bill proved that it was now very much the business end of the evening - it was the no-nonsense death-hop fury of Over-reactor. Fresh off a national tour with Perth heroes Karnivool, vocalist Ezekiel Ox and drummer/studio-guitarist-meets-live sample-man Cory Blight had gained themselves a whole lot of new fans and a new level of respect for those who had already been familiar with them. For many in the audience, the memories were still fresh from Karnivool's Melbourne shows, when Over-reactor had performed in this very room, and indeed wowed an audience who had probably expected to turn up early and enjoy a few quiet brews - instead they were assaulted by some truly brutal riffs (coming from a laptop no less) and had Ox literally yelling in their faces. Tonight however, the band were a little more subdued, with Ox electing to remain on the stage for the entire duration of the set (not something he does often!) and let the crowd decide whether or not they would get into the Over-reactor sound. Which, for the most part, they did. The setlist was similar to the Karnivool tour, with the best tunes out of the band's double album getting an airing, such as Control of This, Nu Metal Motherfuckers and of course, Something More. Something that was a little different was Ox deciding to get a little artistic during the set - an easel had been set up at the back of the stage, and between songs, Ox picked up a spray can and painted various colorful things on a piece of paper, before auctioning it off at the end of the set. Something you don't see too often, to be sure.
Control of This
Call in the Bombers
Free Music
Naked Words
The Gangbangers
Point to Push
All Shields Down
Something More

The energy levels in the room were continuing to rise, and the next act on the bill were a favourite for many - the former Byron Bay lads now calling Melbourne home, Engine Three Seven. Getting things off to a flying start with older number Win 4 Me, the crowd expected big things of these guys, as their reputation has certainly preceded them and they haven't disappointed on a live stage in recent times. The first part of the show was mostly based on their first EP, but a very special moment came when frontman Casey Dean announced that they were going to play one they hadn't played in a very long time - one of their newer songs that didn't make the cut for the Atmosphere EP, an uptempo rocking number by the name of Erasure that was a staple in sets a few years back, but fell off the radar recently. It had been a while since the fans had heard it, but they recognised the familiar riff and were very happy to welcome it back into their hearts on this evening! They followed it up with another rarely-played-live track, but a favourite nonetheless, in the acoustic-based Retrospect, before the set moved focus to the Atmosphere EP. The show came to its end with the favourites, including the title track, Cops, Have it All and of course, Hysterical Hysteria to close. An accurate description of the crowd, perhaps!
Win 4 Me
Automatic Everything
Easy Graceful Descent
(first time since January 2010!)

Have it All
Hysterical Hysteria

It was time for the night to take a slightly more reflective and proggy turn, with the next on the bill being Sleep Parade. They have certainly taken their time getting another album out into the world, and in recent live shows they've been testing the waters with a lot of new material, which has gone over well at some shows and not so well at others. Tonight however, they'd play one of their better sets, helped out on second guitar and keys by the amazingly talented Red Black of A State of Flux. His presence really helps the band get a more full sound, certainly evident on tracks like Everyday where his keyboard hammering only served to make frontman Leigh Davies' guitar solo sound even more impressive. As expected, the band's newer and more mature sounding material got a fairly solid go during the set, but for the older fans there was Passengers and of course, the regular set-closing epic Weeping Walls. No matter how many times you've seen it, it's always fun to watch that final moment in the song where Davies sings into his guitar pickups to make that incredible solo. This was one of their best sets from recent memory, and hopefully is an indication of good progress on the forthcoming album!
Mr Identify

Weeping Walls

It was certainly getting a bit late in the evening (in fact, it was now pushing into the small hours of Sunday) but the punters had plenty of energy left for the final performance - when that band is called Sydonia, there has to be something left over! The band started their set with guitarist Sam Haycroft and bassist Adam Murray positioned at their oversized custom percussion drums, which meant that nobody was surprised that it was Adornment that opened the set! But as one of Sydonia's more popular tunes, it was definitely a good choice to get the crowd amped and ready for what would turn out to be another belter in Sydonia's recent run of excellent shows! Numerous times, the band mentioned their long-awaited second album (apparently they've actually booked studio time now), and were more than willing to air some new material, including not-so-new-anymore favourite Sinner, which hadn't been played for quite some time before this show. Also in the "songs making a comeback" department was a surprise rendition of Dream Kiss, apparently at the request of some hardcore Sydonia fans. Old favourites such as No Woman's Land and 3 Tongues got the crowd singing along, until finally it all wound down, predictably, with a shout of INCOMING! The crowd was pretty wrecked at the end of a long day's rocking, but Sydonia sets have been extremely high on quality lately, and this was no exception. So at the end of the night, the feeling in the room was that it was all totally worth our necks hurting!
No Woman's Land
Dream Kiss
3 Tongues
Ocean of Storms
Taste More
Crash Here Tonight