Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Clouds, The Wonderstuff, Jesus Jones: live in Melbourne 2011 (review)

Venue: The Palace
Date: 19/08/2011

“Did that really just happen?” I say to myself in the moments following Jesus Jones’ final exit from the Palace stage, after an encore that concluded a night 20-plus years in waiting. This triple bill of bands that all peaked quite some time ago, could only truly tickle the fancy of a very specific age group – children of the early 1990’s – and it is precisely those ‘children’ who’ve flocked to the Palace tonight to rejoice in and lament the last ever pre-internet era in music, known as the early ‘90s.

Jesus Jones in particular were a major part of my education, as I slipped from top 40 radio into this new wow thing called ‘alternative music’. Remember that? Looking back, Jesus Jones were the perfect vehicle to carry a newbie into lower-end-of-charts comparative weirdness. At the time, they represented everything that had been missing from the music I had known, but suddenly found myself needing. Meanwhile closer to home, Sydney’s Clouds had blipped on the radar around the same time, with their strange but sing-a-long tunes and a reputation as the must-see live band. I didn’t see them, but as first band up tonight Clouds, who hadn’t played together since 1997, deliver an eerily powerful and dust-free set, safely securing that reputation. However, time wouldn’t allow them a sound-check for this show, and as a result there is something slightly mechanical about watching them perform some of their most-loved tracks. Soul Eater, 4pm, Immorta, Say It and Bower Of Bliss are undoubtedly superior to the recorded versions, but the band’s rigid presence suggested they were anxious to just get through the set – as marvelous as it is – and leave. They end on a meticulously rendered Hieronymus, playing as though every fragment of the song was burned into their collective brains, and leave us hanging with no encore.

Perhaps not all that many were here for Clouds tonight, and they picked up that they weren’t playing to ‘their crowd’ as such, but no doubt the vibes are still good all round as most people are just here to enjoy three fine examples of a great period in music. Although it’s a seemingly unrelated line-up of acts - a Jesus Jones fan is basically indistinguishable from a Wonderstuff fan, at least until the many British-accented punters present chime-in following Clouds' set. One ex-pat speaks hazily into my ear between bands of how important it was to ‘choose your tribe’ during the British post new-wave in the early ‘90s. Jesus Jones, EMF and Age Of Chance fans would never have been seen at a Wonderstuff gig back in the day, for those bands were worshipped by a totally different clan and mixing was off the table. This tribalism however looks to be long-gone, as no Pulp Mis-Shapes-style’ war on the dance floor takes place and it’s thankfully still too cold for the Balmy Army to make an appearance. Further evidence of tribalism’s death needed? The Wonderstuff have only gone and got ex-Pop Will Eat Itself drummer Fuzz Townshend to bash the bins for them, and their placing on tonight’s bill could be read as ‘Jesus Jones’ opening act.’

But whoever decided on the running order of the bands was probably tossing a three sided coin. Jesus Jones had top billing, but exactly why so is not obvious by any traditional ‘biggest seller’ means… Until Wonderstuff take to the stage and things became a little clearer. Performance wise, Wonderstuff are incredible. They deliver a riot of, mainly drinking songs that would make Shane MacGowan proud, and all the energy of an out-of-control Red Bull delivery truck. However, the spectacle of singer Miles Hunt at 47 years of age in Play School presenter’s regalia – stripy t-shirt and ill-fitting denim overalls - and the mysterious return of his circa-1991 bushy mane (heads it’s a wig….) probably seemed like a good idea on paper, but I found the music more enjoyable when I wasn’t actually watching him. Presentation wise, they would have been far more suited to headlining a fancy dress barn dance is all I’m saying.

Some part of me really wanted Jesus Jones to emerge in their (now) vintage skate gear, and still sporting enormous fringes, but perhaps fearing a Wonderstuff-esque pantomime, they opted for smart casuals. Besides their new dressed-down look, vampish lead singer, Mike Edwards hasn’t aged in any obvious way whatsoever, but rather seems to be transitioning into a dandy-ish fop. With not an ounce of fat on Edward’s body and barely a wrinkle on his chiseled face, somewhere out there, Jarvis was seething. The rest of the almost-all-original line-up (they have a new drummer) resemble archetypal aging ravers with a bit of a nod to heavy metal thrown in for good measure. Basically Jesus Jones look exactly like they sounded at their peak, and just as both bands before them tonight, deliver a set pooled only from their first three albums – or the ‘hit period’ - Liquidizer, Doubt and Perverse. It’s been 20 years since the Jones boys have played in Australia, and with tongue slightly in cheek, Edwards declares, “We’ll just do a few songs you used to know.” They kick off with Doubt’s Who, Where, Why? – a song of lost identity which could not be more fitting for the band now. Jesus Jones self-confidence early on verged on arrogance. Mike Edwards fully believed his band were making ‘the music of the future’, but in saying so, he placed his band’s heads neatly onto the block and the brutal lashing he received from the press resulted in rapidly dwindling interest/product post 1993 album, Perverse.

Perhaps Jesus Jones weren’t so wide of the mark though. The Prodigy proved the masses were open to the idea of a slightly daft electro-metal act, but alas, if only Jesus Jones hadn’t thought so hard about it all. At least for a time, they were music’s baggy jeaned fortune tellers. Sounding very fortuitous now, 1991’s anti-pop hit single, Real Real Real blasts forth its claim that pop music is on a downward spiral into ‘safe and samey’ terrain. It might not have rung Nostradamus’s bell, but at least someone was saying it. Nostalgia concerts are strange things when the band in question once stood firm against ‘repeating the past’ but its undeniable that Jesus Jones would not be touring at all were it not for a single piece of music - 1991’s Right Here Right Now - and its impact beyond the charts. Politicians campaigned with it playing in the background, advertisers sought its power to push their products and street demonstrations rang with its message of instant revolution. It’s also the song that a large number of fans tonight were happy to leave once hearing. Mike waves goodbye from the stage as the exodus occurs leaving the hard-cores with some very welcome extra dance-floor space. 

The rest of the set is a fan’s dream list of b-sides, near-forgotten album tracks and even one new song, which was promising to say the least, but it’s their debut single, Info Freako that gets the warmest welcome. A cry of ‘FINALLY!’ rings out from one punter at the barrier, who had been waiting possibly years for Perverse stand-out track Idiot Stare, and further voices are raised in response to the ‘song we haven’t played live in 20 years’ – Blissed - another from Doubt. All up, Jesus Jones play a well-considered set, but by the time their one-song encore is over, there’s two gaping holes in the shape of The Right Decision and Devil. Incredibly, they chose the far less interesting Zeros & Ones as major representative of their dense electro-metal phase (Perverse) which was certainly not the right decision. Still, the concert felt way too short despite the band covering so much ground, which translated means, it was a fucking brilliant ride to be on, and knowing that every song played was one closer to the end of an unlikely to ever be repeated event, was enough to cause minor welling up in these eyes.





Monday, August 1, 2011

Wild Beasts: live in Melbourne 2011 (review)

Venue: Corner Hotel
Date: 28/07/11

Good news, music lovers! The lost link between XTC, Friendly Fires and Crying Light-era Antony and The Johnsons has finally been found… about bloody time, you might say. Wild Beasts - as it is they - bring together the power of a stadium rock show, and the intimacy and heart of a folk festival, which although sounds atrocious in print, the Leeds based neo-psychedelic rock/soul act, saw to it tonight at the Corner, that fans were unanimous in their agreement – the combination somehow works.

The very, very indie, mostly male crowd found themselves robbed of a whole two hour’s composure, on this second visit by Wild Beasts to our shores, as part of the amazing Splendour 2011 line-up. On record, these guys impressively strain and simper over rolling percussion and strings, favouring unstructured spacing - as is the will of bands in the post-Sigur Ros world – only much like Mariah Carey’s urge to use every fucking note on the octave scale - just because she can - Wild Beasts perhaps could do with reining in a bit that ‘desire to dazzle’ so much on stage as they are quite clearly gifted musicians, and have a solid cannon of songs working in their favour. 

To give an example of just how well versed and ‘in control’ they were in setting up the right vibes, the band managed to drink enough alcohol between them to dull the pain of three Christmas’s, and although they were, “still really, really jet lagged”, as co-lead singer Tom Fleming states, nobody dropped a single musical baton in their multi-multi-instrumental set-up. These guys are switching instruments in every direction tonight, and taking to it like it ain’t no thang. But hey, if any one of the four guy/one girl team were slackin’ off – guitarist Ben Little did spend a considerable amount of time on the floor - drummer Chris Talbot proved a sensational distraction for them to catch a break. Holding a steady gaze throughout, Talbot played his enormous kit – which included a timpani – as though he were leading a charge into battle.

Despite the drummers commanding presence however, it was all eyes on Wild Beasts’ remarkable lead vocalist, Hayden Thorpe and his roof-raising falsetto. A lot was made of the fact that Brett Anderson (of Suede) and Jeff Buckley sang in falsetto because ‘it just wasn’t done’ in the days of flannelette-shirted rawk, otherwise known as the ‘90s, and I wonder if it’s because of those two artists that more and more male singers are finding their inner eunuch now? Or is it all down to Justin Hawkins from The Darkness? Probably. But whatever the cause, Thorpe is a magnificent on the ‘shrinking balls’ choral vocalising, but not as high pitched live as on the band’s three albums, surprisingly. But Thorpe, as unique as his voice is, has found a wonderous foil in co-lead singer, Fleming. The duo, who are positioned either side of back-to-back keyboards, never outshine, but virtually match one another note for note, and it hits me that I never knew it was two guys I was hearing all along on those tracks.

Of the band’s back catalogue, their set is a pretty generous serve of second album, Two Dancers, which clearly pleases the crowd, who get rowdiest during We Still Have The Taste Dancing On Our Tongues and Hootin’ & Howlin’. Although the stand-out performances were of The Devil’s Crayon and Brave Bulging Buoyant Clairvoyants from their debut release, Limbo Panto by far. To these most festive of Wild Beasts’ songs, a core group of fans gather on the smaller side stage to dance. “Hey I love the Top Of The Pops thing you guys have got going on over there!” Thorpe cracks, only to be met with confused expressions from the ‘too young’ invaders.

Maybe it was a little harsh to say the band over do the ‘dazzle’ in a clear desire to go against typical indie band clonery, but on reflection, their show would simply have worked better in a stonking big arena. In other words, Wild Beasts were a jet engine blasting in a two-car garage in this setting, and their performance was far from ‘considerate of the neighbours.’ If my prediction’s anywhere near right, we were lucky to see them in such an intimate venue tonight because somebody soon is gonna see what these Beasts are capable of if let out to play, in which case it’ll be ‘watch your arses, Muse’.



Play Thing
Loop The Loop

The Devil's Crayon
We've Still Got The Taste Dancing On Our Tongues
This Is Our Lot
Bed Of Nails
Hooting and Howling
Reach A Bit Further
Lion's Share
Brave Bulging Bouyant Clairvoyants
All The Kings Men
End Comes Too Soon