Ten bands sounds like a lot for one evening right? Well, in the case of BIGSOUND Live’s second night of musical showcases, it’s a doable effort but still only 1/6th of the full smorgasboard of what’s on offer.
Bakery Lane offers a surfeit of electronically leaning newcomers, including the synthpop of Voltaire Twins, the one-man chillwave stylings of Oliver Tank and banging out the evening with Strange Talk and The Aston Shuffle. Both acts that could conceivably slay Triple J Unearthed’s stage at Oh Hello; that is if it wasn’t already occupied by the post-rock indie of Blonde Bear, Hayden Calnin’s restrained beauty or Courtney Barnett proving she’s much woollier on stage than on record.
Then there’s the allure of those ever-pesky label showcases, with both OzTix and Virgin vying for attention. The former offering the sultry sounds of soul cabaret act Clairy Browne & The Bangin’ Rackettes’ and recently re-christened The Preatures, while the Australian airline has flown in the best of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander talent to Alhambra Lounge. Namely, Jake and the Cowboys and endearing roots up-and-comer, Thelma Plum.
The winner was Fuse’s Irreverent South Australia Party, bringing three of Adelaide’s best emerging acts to Brisbane’s Black Bear Lodge. A long, moodily lit, wood-panelled venue greeted those who took the flight of stars from Brunswick’s Street’s ever-bustling mall. Escaping the greasy eateries of the outside world, attendees were greeted to the wholesome sounds of Traveller & Fortune.
Delivering a lightly bronzed mix of country, folk and rock, the five piece have all the trimmings to diversify their sound. Xylophone, ukulele, mandolin, bouzouki all boost the conventional set-up, including the suitably teaming Cole Clark guitar of curly-haired frontman Tom West. It seems that the entire band are handily talented multi-instrumentalists, with the drummer moving to keys for the suitably floating ‘Flying’.
The rapport is all there too, an endearingly comic moment where West’s bandmate adjusts his falling harmonica like a bib speaks volumes of their professionalism, attempting to address the issue practically without interrupting their rustic-flecked set. They won’t reinvent the wheel with their earnest tunes, but they’ll certainly lend an air of sophistication.
The arrival of the serrated sounds that follow offers a winning contrast, as the three-piece Sincerely Grizzly demonstrate their enormous potential. Playing a brand of alt-rock the likes of Cloud Nothings have recently resurrected or that …And You Will Know Us By The Trail Of Dead never abandoned. In fact, the Adelaide trio have supported the latter, which makes perfect sense when you hear their explosive tunes – all wiry guitars and spiky fury bursting forth from brooding mood setting.
They may not look the part, frontman Josh Calligeros’ lanky frame sporting retro basketball shorts, but they certainly sound it. Whipping around the choppy corners of their winding tunes, shifting tempos that coil around the whip-tight punch of the rhythm section of Rowan Mount’s precise pounding and Griffin Farley’s gnarled bass. Anyone who missed them at the Black Bear Lodge or later at Ric’s Bar clearly missed out on a band most certainly worth keeping an eye on.
If you prefer your guitar rock more lucid than bristling, then Electric Playground was the place to be. Dodging the enormous line for Perth pop-rockers Split Seconds at Magic City, and making your way inside the neon-splayed club led you to Melbourne’s I, A Man.
Opening to a criminally underpacked room, the quartet nevertheless put on an impressive face and steered their way through the lapping builds and textures of ‘Five Four’ (so named for its bobbing time signature) and delicate propulsion of ‘Haight Ashbury’. Both highlights from the band’s current EP, You’re Boring Us All, a brilliant exercise in lilting, ambient atmospheres tied to strong structures, understated but crucial rhythms and Daniel Moss’ yearning vocals.
That they’ve managed to flex and stretch their material in new directions for the live setting is proof of a group of restless innovators, but ones who’ve worked hard on delivering a sophisticated set. They begin to get the crowd they deserve as bodies trickle in to the strains of a Krautrock jam that sees Moss and fellow six-string wizard Ash Hunter trading skyscraping guitar squalor over Sumner Fish’s metronomic drum pulse.
From the driving accessibility of ‘Sometimes’ to the shimmering elegance of ‘Chores’, and the extended shuddering climax that is ‘Big Ideas’, there’s not a dud among their set. Songs that are as well planned as they are well executed.
You could say the same for The Hello Morning, once again filling the Black Bear Lodge with sonorous rock as they win over a shoulder-to-shoulder crowd with their straight-up passion and bluesy vigour.
A real band’s band, they play with the full body of their five-man strong lineup and focus on the basic elements that make a hard-working act tick. Turning potential clichés, like the titular chorus of ‘Don’t Let It Break Your Heart’, into heart-rending moments with genuine soul.
There’s a spit and shine to frontman Steven Clifford that’s impossible to deny – especially when he makes every female in the room swoon with the beautiful ‘Don’t Let The Green Grass Fall.’ Of course it helps when he’s backed by flawless harmonies and the brilliant work of “Ivory Dealer” Joe Cope. If there’s a better keys player than the bearded, be-suited Cope performing at BIGSOUND – you’d have to look awfully hard to find them.
It’s clear that these five gentleman of the road have played together for some time, their heads, hearts and fingers going straight into their varnished tunes; channelling the classics without being beholden to them in a cracking live show.
A hop, skip and a very funky jump away, the soul-certified Saskwatch are whipping the QMusic stage into a frenzy with their heavy dose of traditional R&B. Helped in no small part by master of ceremonies, Nkechi Anele, the singer giving as much with her stage presence as she does her belting voice.
Flanked by her eight bandmates – horns and strut to her right, rhythm section and groove to her left – Anele is a magnetic presence as she twirls and goads throughout the set. Highlights include the performance of the title track of their debut album Leave It All Behind, with its classic horn builds, the sassy ‘Second Best’ and the group lending the necessary bluster to ‘Two Hearts’.
Though they cater to a particular set of retro-loving funk aficionado, it’s hard not to get swept up in the band’s energy and dance-baiting grooves. If Saskwatch were aiming to empty the beer tent by encouraging the crowd’s insistence on turning the converted car park into a dancefloor – then mission accomplished.
A night of great music was about to reach its apex, at least for those who’d made their way to Alhambra Lounge late in the night to see BIGSOUND Live’s best-kept secret, an international act all the way from Toronto called The Darcys.
Looking as intense as they sounded under dim blue lighting, the Canadian quartet wrangled a daunting array of effects pedals, keys and instruments into icy walls of art-rock. Their music contains elements of drone and shoegaze, lacing instrumental sequences of chest-thumping power with Jason Couse’s yawning, soulful vocals, with more than a few nods to Radiohead at their most ambitious as well as glacial post-rock outfits.
Having delivered two parts of an intended three album trilogy for free online, The Darcys have a healthy dose of dark, atmospheric material to draw form. Particularly given that their last release was an album-length cover of Steely Dan’s 1977 masterpiece, Aja. Draining the original of its delicious jazz-rock and wrapping it around a brooding ambience that emphasises the murkier, latent qualities of the original.
You don’t need to know the ins and outs to appreciate the two covers they perform – ‘Peg’ and ‘Home At Last’ – to appreciate the music. They have very much made both their own, with the hammering, crashing drawl of the former and the drawn-out melancholy of the latter both fizzing to life on stage.
The Darcys’ live show proves that they’ve got an utterly unique sound, innovative approach and a performance that cuts and gleams like a dagger. It truly felt like one of those rare ‘I was there’ gigs – which in the end, is the beauty of BIGSOUND Live’s enormous program. There’s something to discover at every turn that will stay with you long after the amps are unplugged.
– Al NewsteadWrite a Letter to the Editor