Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Melbourne Big Day Out

I’m happy to say that largely thanks to a handful of great performances, smart scheduling, minimal queuing, plenty of room and an aptly named Green Stage, the 2008 Big Day Out at the Flemington Racecourses was an overwhelmingly enjoyable experience.

There were a few negatives too of course. A festival of this size, appealing to so many people in a certain age group is never going to be the perfect environment to see your favourite bands (i.e. it’s not Meredith), but I guess you just have to take what's on offer. Perhaps if I was insistent on watching acts on the main stages, then I may not have been as pleased. Fortunately enough I am seeing Arcade Fire tonight so I didn’t feel as strong a need to face the masses and the dusty discomfort for their main stage performance. I’ve never been a huge Bjork fan but avoided her also for this reason.

Other gripes included the utterly ridiculous upfront requirement to purchase at least 30 bucks worth of alcohol tokens. Security’s overly liberal use of water hoses was annoying also.

Die! Die! Die!
First band on the ATR schedule was the fragile, brooding, yet surprisingly catchy New Zealanders. Despite starting at 11am, the trio ferociously tore into their set.

The lead singer jumped the barrier and joined the crowed on numerous occassions, which I guess some could find gimmicky. But to be frank, if you have the songs, you play mean and tight anyway, and the songs work with something a little unhinged, then it’s not a gimmick, its part of the charm.

Die! Die! Die! delivered their performance without even a hint of the pretentiousness perhaps expected for a band beginning at this hour on such a small stage, playing to a meagre handful of people. Brilliant.

Eddy Current Suppression Ring
One of my local favourites once again failed to disappoint. The set was made up of quite a few new songs, but if you hadn’t heard the band before it would have been very difficult to tell – such is their cohesion. And singer, Brendan Suppression is one of a kind. He’s a manic performer. Quite mental at times actually. And not in a ‘this is my stage persona’ kind of way.

While being interesting to watch, he’s also endearing. Always conscious of his command over a crowd, while at the same time appearing genuinely surprised by the reaction he and the band provokes.

Midnight Juggernauts
After a wonderful performance at Meredith, I was highly anticipating their BDO debut. Unfortunately they were a huge disappointment. Partly it was the setting. The main stage is ultimately for patrons with the most popular tastes, and to enjoy Midnight Juggernauts at the Big Day Out requires dancing among kids, which to me, feels a little strange.

The dusty surroundings didn't help either. While the Green Stage was set in one of the few lush corners of the Flemington Racecourse carpark, the mainstages were parked right in the middle of gravel, so whenever anyone moved it stirred up a huge cloud of dust.

But I think the main reason was they sounded pretty average. The thumping disco sections just weren’t loud enough. Too much drums and guitar in the mix it seemed. And Vince is pretty quiet most of the time, but was made to sound meeker than usual.

For some reason I’ve overlooked them before, but will never again after yesterday. A perfect choice for a mid-afternoon slot while the sun shone down on the Green Stage.

Britt Daniel gave a supremely measured performance, emaphasising in a live context many of the intricate and elaborate textures buried within Spoon’s music. And not only can he play a mean guitar solo, but I didn’t quite realise how soulful they were until yesterday. To be honest, I can’t think of one other ‘indie rock’ band who would make me dance that much (The Underdog was the highlight).

It’s a shame I won’t be seeing them again on this tour, but regardless, I will definitely be digging into their back catalogue on the strength of yesterday’s performance.

Children Collide
Part grunge, part psychy Aus rock (think Gersey or Gaslight Radio) and in part sounding a bit like they are doing that post-punk revival thing, this Melbourne three piece played a relentlessly intense set on the local stage. Blasted away without even appearing to draw breath, or raise a sweat. It actually seemed remarkable that Heath and Johnny could still play their instruments the way they were throwing their bodies all over their stage.

Their music does lack a little restraint at times and it could do with a few more shades, but ATM they are awesome rock performers, and they are a young band so there is plenty of time to develop these extra elements. Look set for a big year, on JJJ at the very least.

Who said Melbourne crowds are stilted, and boring? A throbbing mosh to Atlas was one of the most surprising aspects of yesterday. To me, Battles’ incredibly complex music demands more time, space and ultimately comfortable surroundings so they didn’t quite make me react in this way. But the more bands like Battles they get along to the Big Day Out in the future, the more likely it is that I will continue to buy a ticket. Big points to Ian from Battles who played (complete with bright gold headphones) despite a broken eardrum!!!

LCD Soundsystem
I never thought I’d say this, but thank god for Rage Against the Machine. Because of the scheduling it meant that there was a decent amount of jiggling room to enjoy these critical darlings. The set was the same as Sydney BDO. All My Friends was even better than on record, and Time to Get Away – irrestibly good. I also never thought I could enjoy such monotonous lyrics before!

I’m always surprised when a seemingly electro oriented band have such an organic live setup, but LCDSS hardly rely on electronics at all in their live setup. Instead all the energy comes from the traditional heartstarters.

As expected with the Boiler Room, many of the viewers didn’t appear to be fans, and because of the distance between the stage and the audience, as well as the dim lighting, there was only a minimal band v audience dynamic. But from the strength of their tight live unit, I now expect big things for Thursday night’s show.

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Sunday, January 20, 2008

The National @ Corner Hotel, 19/1

I know when I’ve really enjoyed a gig when I cannot stop playing their music when I get home. And today, The National have been on rotation all day.

For anyone that went on Friday, the performance was very similar, the only notable difference being that the whole band (minus Matt Berninger) wearing Fitzroy jumpers during the encore. Matt explained that he had left his in his hotel, although it emerged later that because of his muscular deficiency it may have been on purpose.

The set list and its sequencing were almost the same too, but instead of All The Wine we got Wasp’s Nest. Daughters of the Soho Rights (I fucking love this song) came right before Fake Empire last night, which ended the main set on both nights. The only other change saw the encore begin with Gospel instead of Green Gloves.

But even these slight changes in the set list seemed to make for a noticeably varied alteration in tempo. All the songs they only performed on Saturday were slower. This not only focussed greater attention on the relative poignancy of these songs, but also on the songs that were already in Friday’s set. Ada was one song that sounded more delicate to me because the tempo of the whole gig had changed.

Yet, it wasn’t just the slower songs that benefited from these changes. While there were similar renditions of all the songs that were repeated on both nights , the harder edged songs, Abel and Mr November sounded more frantic, more emotionally disturbed because they were surrounded by a slightly more varied track selection.

The main difference however appeared to be a better mix. For starters, it was welcomed that the drums were clearer, but it was themarkedly more lucid guitars that made the most difference to me . The Dessner brothers’ occasional short sharp blasts of feedback demanded attention on Saturday instead of floundering within a muddy mix on Friday.

So, while Friday night may have hinted that The National were a good live band, with some very minor changes, Saturday night suggested they are perhaps much much better than this initial assessment.

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Saturday, January 19, 2008

The National @ Corner Hotel, 18/1

(Note: - Above not from Melbourne show)

Brooklyn's The National are one of my favourite bands right now, so, at the Corner last night it was great to be able to see their first ever show in Melbourne.

A big highlight of the performance was the delivery from two of the band members. The unbridled enthusiasm of Aussie multi-instrumentalist Padma Newsome was a joy to watch, irrepressibly devoting his efforts into two keyboards, as well as frenzied violin solos.

Also great was the impenetrably intense delivery from Matt Berninger, always impassioned - even to the point of delirium with his on-stage stumbling, and off-stage excursion during Abel reminding the audience that his ‘mind’s not right’.

The setlist was pretty much split between Alligator and Boxer, with the only exception being the final song of the encore. There were some regular peaks within songs that were quite inspiring, but it was actually hard to identify a song highlight. I guess this is a testament to the band’s consistency as songwriters and performers, but also an indication that this was probably just a solid, not an outstanding show.

It seemed a rawer, rockier performance than I’d imagined . This was to be expected to some of the angrier and more emotionally confused tracks of Alligator, but I’d imagined a touch more variety. I'd envisioned more meticulous, restrained renditions of songs such as Slow Show or Fake Empire.

I also didn’t think the sound seemed quite right. It didn’t seem loud enough (which was a bit at odds with the rawness of the show), and the mix seemed too heavily balanced in favour of the vocals, over everything else. Would have loved to hear more of the smooth, sharp snares.

All in all it was pretty good though, and I’m really looking forward to be seeing them again tonight.

It is worth also mentioning Deloris, who put in a great performance as main support. Energy, catchy tunes, guitar feedback. I kinda forgot them when I mentioned that list a few weeks ago about local stuff, cheap and live.

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Thursday, January 17, 2008

Sufjan Stevens @ The Forum, 16/1

Like so many others, I dig Come on Feel The Illinoise. It’s bold and imaginative album. Quirky yet complex. A broad thematical and emotional scope but never too dense. At times playful, hopeful, sincere as well as chilling. A thoroughly engaging listen. (For some reason, I have never got around to hearing any of his other records)

A songwriter with such a grandiose vision is always going difficult to replicate in the live arena. However, after the assessments coming out of the Sydney blogosphere, it looked like Sufjan had done exactly that.

Unfortunately my assessment of his debut Melbourne show at the Forum last night failed to concur with the overwhelmingly positive feedback from my fellow bloggers. A noble attempt at majesty – no doubt, but one that felt a little flat in its execution.

The visual design of the show was commendable. A somewhat stimulating video presentation, vibrant colourful costumes, and, a highlight being an extravagant hula hooper on one of the tracks (2 hula hoopers if you include Sufjan!). Admittedly it did appear a little bit on the cheap side, and with so many performers on stage, this made it feel a little bit like a community group (or, dare I say it, a church group), design and performance. But this definitely worked in its favour. Too slick and it would have detracted from the honest offbeat qualities of his music.

But, I just don’t think there was the performance to match.

Apart from some movement from his female pianist and bass player, Sufjan’s band, for the most part, gave a very rigid performance.. Many of them acted like session musos, the only quirk being they were dressed up.

They sounded OK, but it seemed a bit dull. No songs or notes hit me the way I hoped. There were some abstract diversions but the performance wasn't as passionate as the wildly inventive music required, and much of the band performed as if reading off sheets of music.

Sufjan himself tried hard, and that was appreciated. From his interaction with the audience many of earlier songs clearly emerged as an escape from poverty - the introduction to Seven Swans recalled Sufjan growing up, at the same time powerfully and whimsically conveying the lack of options when poor, as well as subtly indicting his nation’s treatment of those in that situation.

But Sufjan always felt awkward as a performer, never quite displaying the comfort in himself, nor the control perhaps expected as the leader of such a large band, playing such huge and ambitious music.

Later in the show he admitted that it was a humiliating experience performing live and when he said that I felt quite empathetic. So much is expected of an artist who releases good music to come out a deliver a live performance that matches the record, and with the full band, the lights, the costumes etc. he was definitely aware of the expectations and tried to meet them.

So, points for putting in a big effort, and most people seemed to go away pleased. (Of course I did hear the obligatory ‘best gig eva’ remark on leaving), but it fell short of my expectations. With an artist as talented as him, I suppose I shouldn’t be surprised. He does set the bar very high.

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Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Looking Back Down Low

Last week I went along to the first (?) instalment of the Don’t Look Back series in Australia – Low performing their sombre and eerie master piece, Things We Lost In The Fire

I don’t propose to review this show, because, well, I just wasn’t in the frame of mind to fully absorb their rather morose musings. For one it was Friday night. Low seemed better suited when you’ve got the midweek blues, rather that euphoric Friday night feeling. Secondly, I had a shithouse sleep the night before for some reason. Thirdly, well, I should have known it wasn’t the best preparation but I had already indulged in some post-work celebrations. So even though they were sounding hauntingly beautiful, after about 30 minutes my mind began to wander.

So, that’s enough of that, this post wasn’t supposed to be about my Friday night sleepiness…

The real reason was the format, and I’m going to have a bit of a whinge. We didn’t get any dialogue about the album, the input from different musicians, the motivation behind the songs, the development of the songs, quirky anecdotes, album themes, etc, etc.


It was all a bit disappointing. I thought the whole reason for this Don’t Look Back series was to focus on a single record, and in doing so celebrate the album format, and provide some observations about what makes a disc of 10 or 12 songs such a great piece of work. Hardly seems like a celebration if they don’t even mention it. They even launched into to a few songs from other albums straight after they finished Things.

While I’m likely to go and see any band play an album in full if I really dig it, to get the most out of this concept, there needs to be more interaction, more explanation. Otherwise it just seems as though you’re watching a live rendition of the album. Which, in itself is fine as a purely nostalgic (or marketing) exercise, but not one that provides any particular interesting insights about the creative process.

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Saturday, January 12, 2008

Favourite Melbournian Albums in 2007

While everyone else seemed to compile their best of 2007 lists before the year had even finished, I thought I would actually wait until the year finished so I could listen to few more local albums in the chance that they might make this highly subjective listing of albums whose release dates (for these purposes at least!) fell within a rather arbitrarily chosen 12 month period. Turned out I didn't listen to much else.

Anyways, here it is...Apologies to all those artists whose albums I didn't actually hear as well as those who released EPs that were also enjoyable (Actor/Model, and You Will Die Alone immediately come to mind here). Long live the album format!

1. Art of Fighting - Runaways

2. Midnight Juggernauts - Dystopia
[web] [myspace]

3. International Karate - More Of What We've Heard Than We've Ever Heard Before
[web] [myspace] [ATR comments]

4. Wagons - The Curse of Lightning
[web] [myspace]

5. New Estate - Is This Real?
[web] [myspace] [ATR Comments]

6. Pikelet - Pikelet
[myspace] [ATR Comments]

7. The Smallgoods - Down on the Farm

8. The Small Knives - Rain on Tin
[myspace] [ATR Comments]

9. Devastations - Yes, U
[web] [myspace]

10. Love Of Diagrams - Mosaic
[web] [myspace]


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Tuesday, January 01, 2008

Live in Melbourne '07

Favourite Performances

!!! @ Golden Plains

Restless disco fun with a sexy, rhythmic and devastating percussion assault.

Bob Dylan @ Rod Laver Arena

Could barely see the man, but he played superbly.

Daft Punk @ Myer Music Bowl

Yes, it was a light show, but a damn fine light show.

Dan Kelly and the Alpha Males @ Northcote Social Club

Final show with the Alpha Males. Let's hope Dan returns to the live stage soon.

Eddy Current Suppression Ring @ Meredith

Hot Chip @ Prince Bandroom

I missed their BDO sideshow because it clashed with Joanna Newsom @ The Forum (That show just missed this list), but was fortunate enough to have another chance to see them.

M Ward @ The Corner

Two encores at this New Years Day gig. Great tunes, masteful guitarist, twin drum assault.

Midnight Juggernauts @ The Espy, Meredith

Lots of sweaty bodies but played a pulsating early morning set on Australia Day Eve. Also impressed at Meredith.

Patty Griffin @ Athenaueum

Perfect venu for an amazing voice.

Whomadewho @ Prince Bandroom

The Prince was only half full for this Sunday night gig in early March, but three middle aged Danes in skeleton costumes treated the crowd to an hour of thumping electro rock.

Top 10 Locals for Under 15 Bucks

At the end of '07 these bands still charge only very small amounts to see them play, but all are super live performers.

The Basics
Children Collide

Eddy Current Suppression Ring
Little Red
The Lucksmiths
Mountains in the Sky

My Disco
The Nation Blue
SubAudible Hum


Most Disappointing

The Shins @ Metro

They played OK, but mostly went through the motions. Venue was too large for their relatively simple tunes and straightforward delivery. Crap sound.

Wilco @ Palais

First gig on their world tour was a bit underwhelming. Sounds like they improved by the time they went up to Sydney. Fingers crossed for a better show when they return in March this year.

Worst Performances

Camera Obscura @ Northcote Social Club

Sound was near perfect, but the band were completely disinterested. Tracyanne Campbell failed to raise a smile for the entire show.

The Slits @ Golden Plains

Oh dear!

Teenager @ Bootleg

Lead singer Nick Littlemore was a little too affected by substances to deliver any sort of commendable performance.

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