Expectations were high for this gig with a stellar lineup behind local heroes Laura. It was a night of mostly instrumental rock of the highest intensity helped by the brilliant sound The Toff is known for.
The only low point was the annoyingly high level of crowd chatter during songs the whole night, which sadly impacted on the level of enjoyment for those who came for the tunes.
Japan’s Yawning kicked off the night and while the solo performer was clearly influenced by Mono and contemporary classical music, it was the tremendous portrayal of emotion that shone most brightly.
Programming and loops lay the bed for his guitar and piano work as they spoke with exquisite tenderness from melancholy to deep sadness, then to anger and despair, yet there was always the slightest glimmer of hope. Seeing his slight figure alone on stage with guitar, backed by a wall of video and sound behind him simply added to the magnificent story he told.
Mushroom Giant brought their brand of instrumental rock, quickly revealing a surging undercurrent of psyche as the foursome spun a web of hallucigenic post-rock, expertly taking the crowd from the softest lows to crushing highs with the precision they have been demonstrating to Melbourne crowds for over ten years. The three-song, 30 minute set that included “Scars”, and “400 and Falling” just flew by and all too soon it was time for another quick changeover.
Playing shoegaze that borrowed from mbv, with plenty of tremolo and wall-of-sound guitar, second visiting Japanese band Presence Of Soul demonstrated their unique approach to emotion and vocals. The (very, very) loud button was either on or off at all times – no crescendos here.
Most impressive was a passage of angry bass, guitar and drums, through which the ethereal vocals of the band’s singer/songwiter Yuki snaked, supported by her melancholic piano. Somehow it was both intensely catastrophic and soothingly calm at the same time. Truly astonishing.
Laura surprised by opening with the joyous “Every Light” from their 2006 release Radio Swan is Down. Normal transmission appeared to have resumed with “I Hope”, also from Swan, and the melancholic “This Grey Earth”, which injected the bitter sorrow fans have come to expect. The tortured strains of Andrew Chalmers were as beautifully unclear and imperfect as always, the musicality and emotion in many ways more important that their content.
The set was aided by vdmo Kstati who made a welcome return providing immersive visuals. Although spending a few days preparing his display, he “used Laura’s performance as the live cue to change and trigger visual elements on the spot. That’s what live VJing is all about!”
“Levodopa”, appeared next, signalling a shift to a noticeably more angry and violent set by their usual standards, confirmed immediately by the sparse drumbeat and mournful cello of “Radio Swan Is Down part 1”.
Everyone needs some cello in their life, and the destructive chaos that followed showed why Laura has the reputation it does for making some of the best instrumental rock in Australia and is loved around the world. This was the first of a few tracks Laura had been promising to resuscitate during the lead-up to the show.
Next up was another oldie, “We Should Keep This Secret”, ahead of “Shot In The Arm”, released on a limited free CD last year and announced as new but heard live as far back as 2009.
Alas The Toff turns into a nightclub around 11pm and “Cardboard Cutout Robot Hero Victim Children” was sacrificed. Closer “Heliopause”, provided a fittingly noisy and explosive end to the night with Ben Yardley, the last man standing, eventually throwing his guitar to the floor with one last act of aggression before walking off to join the others.
So, did it live up to expectations? Fuck yeah, and then some.