Review of Baroness live at Prince Bandroom, Melbourne on Friday December 9, 2016 – Photographed at Metro Theatre, Sydney by Mikki Gomez
Someone behind Meredith Music Festival evidently loves their sludge metal. After bringing out Melvins and Sleep over the the past few years, fans can this year thank the largely non-heavy festival for inviting Baroness to fly the heavy music flag.
The fact that Baroness embraced the opportunity to finally embark on their first Australian headline tour is a particularly satisfying bonus. After releasing their fourth critically lauded album Purple, it’s past time Aussies were treated to the full Baroness experience.
These shows are very much a celebration of Purple, an album that was at one stage unlikely to ever happen following the near-fatal bus crash that shook the band back in 2012. A testament to their resilience, Purple is perhaps the band’s strongest effort yet, further advancing Yellow & Green’s melodic leanings and often deviating from their southern sludge foundations into post-rock, ambient and pop influenced territories. Indeed, the set material is largely reflective of Purple, with a small handful from Yellow & Green and a choice cut from each of Red and Blue to ensure the full Baroness spectrum is projected.
Support acts at Melbourne’s Prince Bandroom were suitably chosen, evidenced by a near-packed room for opening trio Child. The Melbourne locals play a unique fusion of blues and hard rock that’s chock-full of thick, doomy riffs. Child recently dropped their second full-length album Blueside and their short, enthralling set was rife with new material.
Batpiss were up next with a gripping garage punk odyssey that commanded attention. The harsher edge to the trio’s music seemed slightly at odds with a portion of the crowd, though the raw, energetic set was wholly well received and a lot of fun to experience.
Baroness took the stage with a rare passion – frontman John Dyer Baizley feeding off crowd energy and projecting an infectiously uplifting persona as the band launched into ‘Kerosene.’ Maintaining urgency, the band followed with ‘March To The Sea’ prompting impassioned sing-alongs to Baizley’s signature vocal hooks. Purple’s immensely catchy single ‘Shock Me’ continued this theme, and the overwhelming crowd response confirmed that everyone in the room was well and truly across the newer material.
The disparate instrumental odysseys of ‘Green Theme’ and ‘Fugue’ were both heartily cheered on, blending well into the set and offering an opportune moment to refill at the bar. As was to be expected, well-received new single ‘Chlorine & Wine’ provided some of the biggest moments of the night. Lyrically, the track deals with the band’s post bus accident recovery and the echoed vocal hooks were incredibly lucid and chilling.
The Prince’s crystal clear acoustics were a perfect match to Baroness’ more melodic moments – in particular highlighting the upper-range bass passages in songs such as ‘Try to Disappear’. However, disappointingly, the effect of the many ambient intros and segues throughout the show yearned for a more intimate atmosphere, and were largely washed out in the noisy pub. While it’s refreshing to see touring bands tuning their own instruments, the constant need to retune also sometimes broke momentum throughout the set.
With a substantial portion of Purple now covered, the band closed out the set with a trio of older cuts. The crowd erupted for the accelerating thrashy riffs of ‘The Gnashing’ – the sole representation of 2009’s Blue Record.
Post-encore, Baroness returned with the classic muted staccato opening of Red’s ‘Isak’, and Baizley’s cheeky smile communicated that the band were well aware that they had finally hit home with long-time fans. With little reprise, the band catapulted into the beer-raising anthem ‘Take My Bones Away’, a fitting celebratory closer inciting maximum audience participation.
Few bands hold a candle to the cohesion and contagious passion with which Baroness play music. Momentum occasionally wavered, but the atmosphere at the Prince was joyously vibrant throughout the entire show. An early Christmas present for Melbourne’s rock community, Baroness’ debut headline performance was undoubtedly one of the most enjoyable gigs of the year.