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