Grouplove could be the second Big Bang. Out of apparently nothing, they’ve exploded into a force of seemingly unstoppable magnitude. Furthermore, their power and popularity continues to expand, as they swiftly sold out their Falls Festival sideshow at Richmond’s Corner Hotel.
Melbourne quintet, Undercolours, begin the night’s proceedings. Fresh melodies and haunting harmonies thrive at the centre of this band, as their delicious brand of pop-rock tantalises the tastebuds of the already sizable crowd.
The Head and the Heart are a mellow, folky delight. With harmonies so delicate that we dare not attempt to sing along for fear of shattering them, the Seattle sextet roll through a set of exquisite and elegant folk-pop that threatens to outshine the headliners. Lead singer, Josiah Johnson, is strangely intense, barely contributing a moment to address or even observe the crowd, instead preferring to immerse himself entirely within his art. If a broken china doll could sing, it would sound like backing vocalist/violinist Charity Rose Theilen, whose magical stage presence and extraordinarily entrancing voice unfortunately is not afforded much of the spotlight.
Soundtracked by Kanye West’s “Monster”, Grouplove energetically emerge onto the stage. Blissfully exploding into “Don’t Say Oh Well”, they radiate a joy that’s so exaggerated, it seems contrived. Of course, their album is called Never Trust A Happy Song, so we’d be forgiven for questioning the authenticity of their apparent elation. Yet, backing vocalist Hannah Hooper’s consistent smile and persistent dancing spreads like a fever through the entire venue, and it’s not long before every member of the crowd is overcome by an unrelenting desire to dance.
The band roars through a number of tracks from their first album, including “Lovely Cup”, “Itchin’ On A Photograph” and “Betty’s Bomb Shell”. An eclectic bunch of people, Hooper wears a gorgeous bo-peep style lace dress, while Zucconi adorns a curious black and white dress with a geometric print; the sort of thing you’d expect to see a housewife wear to a primary school art show.
Zucconi emanates a strange intensity. His piercing eyes and shoulder-length, greasy hair, combined with his tendency to step back from the mic and tear the stage apart with his guitar solos, gives the impression of the indie-pop movement’s equivalent to Kurt Cobain. The fact that he’s wearing a woman’s dress only perpetuates this comparison.
Ukulele in hand, guitarist Andrew Wessen adopts the lead vocal role for the saccharine “Spun”. Like a sparkling diamond, the recorded version is fine cut, sharp and glowing, yet this live version is slightly rawer, ironically making it more palatable. During “Chloe”, Sean Gadd swaps his bass lead vocal duties, while Zucconi plays bass. A natural at working the crowd, Gadd runs across the edge of the stage, getting as close to the crowd as possible without actually plunging into it. It’s a shame that he isn’t allowed more opportunity to take the spotlight. This track is definitely the highlight of the evening. Nothing can match the enthusiasm and energy conveyed by Gadd.
“Melbourne, you’re so fucking crazy! What’s up with you guys?” yells Zucconi. Gadd barely lets him finish his question, before interrupting with a brief lecture on the correct pronunciation of Melbourne.
Before launching into the delicate “Slow”, Zucconi encourages the crowd to join them as they imitate howling wolves. Reluctant at first, it takes some classic reverse psychology from Hooper, the dimming of stage lights and an abundance of smoke machine emissions before the crowd eerily begins to resemble a pack of fervent wolves. The group close their set with the haunting Slow, featuring the soft, ethereal tones of Hooper on lead vocals.
Lights low and expectations high, an eager buzz shoots through the venue as everyone waits for the quintet to return and perform their two most popular singles. A synth loop, vaguely resembling the chords from “Tongue Tied”, slowly begins to rise in volume. Suddenly, the lights ascend and the band bursts back onto stage, with Shaun throwing a handful of Grouplove t-shirts into the rapacious audience.
The encore consists of just two songs, but those are the two which have drawn the crowd here, tonight. “Tongue Tied” results in enough crazy dancing that it could tear the venue from its very foundations. Toned down a little, Zucconi joins Hooper during the rap verse, replacing it with smooth, flowing singing, rather than the peculiar rapping. “Colours” invites the audience to attempt to match Zucconi’s high notes during the chorus, before rolling into the anthemic coda.
Finally, as the band is about to depart from the stage, Rabin leaps into the crowd, lingering atop the keen fingertips of the audience for a few seconds, as everyone rushes wildly towards him. When he’s safely returned to the stage, the band all lock arms and bow. The rapturous cheers and applause of the crowd seem to be a gesture inadequate to properly express the gratitude of the crowd, who continue to cheer for minutes after the show.
– Lara Moates