Sunday, July 31, 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

Monday, July 25, 2011

Trish Young (Clouds) interview: 2011


The current ‘90s reunion tour juggernaut continues to prosper and throw up some pretty surprising, half remembered names. Some are more obviously deserving of our attention than others - it’s a personal taste thing for sure - but the last time Sydney band Clouds played in my hometown, I was so teasingly close to experiencing their show, I've always reserved a special place for them. The over 18’s-only gig in question, resulted in a cold night stood in the venue’s car-park straining to enjoy every morsel of muffled sound cranking from the speakers. This so close, but not quite moment never abated, but only rose to a lingering obsession with one day being in the same room as the band while they played - after all, their music had already made a fan-for-life of me.

Clouds’ reunion this year falls on the anniversary of their left-field, ARIA-winning debut album, Penny Century, a record that pooled together a whole career’s worth of ideas, and one that the band would never quite equal again in popularity. Yet the most endearing elements at play remained throughout Clouds’ eight year run; the perfectly synchronized harmonies of Jodi Phillis and Trish Young - who also provided lead guitar and bass – the well-measured guitar feedback/melodic tune-ship and some seriously creative drumming, was their ongoing signature. It was after a frustrating US tour, during which time they were signed and dropped within just three months, Clouds ended tidily with the single Never Say Forever and final album, Futura in 1997. The following years were good to Trish Young, she confesses today from her home in Sydney, but she's quick to add, “Though I am really looking forward to getting out there and playing some of the old songs again!” Young explains the timing of the tour - which see’s Gen-X favourites, Jesus Jones and The Wonderstuff on the same bill -  had an added benefit for Clouds’, who were already considering making a return.

“We had put out the feelers already to see if anybody would be interested in booking us to play a couple of shows before the Jesus Jones/Wonderstuff tour came about.” Trish claims, “In the start we were told it would be a five band line-up with us, Jesus Jones, Wonderstuff, Frente and Caligula, but by the time the booking was done, Frente and Caligula had vanished from the roster. I think in the beginning the promoter wanted a full mini-festival of bands from that era.“ The planned triple bill might seem like some cobbling together of completely unrelated acts in any musical sense, but between them, they recall a very specific time in music and had all laid claim to equal billing on the alternative music charts. So much like cask wine and orange juice, it’s not strictly an obvious mix, but then all three bands had previously crossed paths during their respective peaks. Trish recounts.

“I can’t remember the exact year – it would have been around 1992 I think – but we actually supported The Wonderstuff once before, and Jesus Jones used to open for them in England quite a bit.” She continues, “ I do vaguely remember hanging back stage and chatting with (singer) Miles (Hunt) and the guitarist and having a great time, but recently I read in an interview, Miles said none of them (in Wonderstuff) got on back then and tours were always really tense, but it was not the impression I had of them at all. But who knows, maybe the tour with us was the only one they enjoyed!” Clouds frequent tours, including the first ever Big Day Out in 1992, were near legendary events on the live music calendar and attracted sell-out crowds all around the country. Trish recalls Clouds’ touring years fondly,

“When Clouds started, that was exactly the kind of life I had wanted ever since I was in school.” She exclaims, “Opposed to a lot of bands, I actually enjoyed living on the road and staying in a different hotel every night, meeting fans and doing in-stores, but then it was tough on Jodi. She used to suffer terribly from insomnia when we were on tour.” Jodi’s fatigue was never offered as a reason for the Clouds’ eventual split in 1997, but it seems reasonable to think it was a factor. “No it really wasn’t that, but it is true that Jodi wasn’t enjoying the same things that I was about being on tour.” Although Trish admits she misses Clouds, and Jodi continues to slot her 'old band's songs' in during her live solo gigs, no plans are afoot to revive the group. “It’s only a reunion in the sense that we’re playing these three shows... there won’t be any new music or plans to continue beyond the tour. There just isn’t the time anymore for us to commit to that kind of lifestyle.” At the start of Clouds’ career in 1990, the release of their debut self-titled EP in 1990 - which featured Triple J favourite, Cloud Factory – saw the band lumped in with stand-out 4AD acts of the day, Cocteau Twins and Lush. It looked too many reviewers as though fans of ‘jangly guitar/girly-harmonies pop’ had a new band to slip nicely among their This Mortal Coil collections, but Clouds were already in the process of losing their innocence.

Cloud Factory’s gentle acoustic delivery was a false indicator of what was about to come and in 1991, the band dipped into darker terrain with the release of the Loot EP, in particular, the murder ballad 4pm, which beat Nick Cave at his own game. Following Loot, and its radio single, Soul Eater, Clouds managed to chart with a gothic tribute to Flemish impressionist painter, Hieronymus Bosch (Hieronymus), giving the band a green light to go darker and stranger still. Their debut album, Penny Century released at the end of ’91, carried on their sweet but sinister turn and a sizable section of the record-buying public went along for the ride. At this stage, Clouds guitarist Dave Easton was tuning into Pixies/Sonic Youth’s cosmic radio while Jodi and Trish’s writing seemed to be channeled through punk goddess, Siouxsie Sioux. Then in 1993, the much anticipated come-back single, Bower Of Bliss - with a vagina-worship narrative that would’ve made Serge Gainsbourg blush – signaled the end of Clouds mk.1, and unfortunately the end of long-held support from Triple J. Radio barely touched Bower… or it’s parent album, Thunderhead, but Trish holds no regrets about Clouds’ rapid shift towards a heavier, ‘less popular’ sound.

“Even if there had’ve been a ‘Clouds-sound’ to use as a reference, I doubt that we could have maintained such a thing. There were four people in this band at any given time, all with different musical tastes and wanting to do different things, so just that alone meant we were never going to be about one idea, or one person’s idea of what Clouds were meant to sound like.” Indeed Trish and Jodi are the only members of Clouds who remained from start to finish. A crew of six players all-up came and went between 1990 and 1997, however the current reunion shows will feature Clouds’ longest term line-up; Dave Easton, who played guitar during the band’s peak period, ‘91-’95, and Raphael Whittingham, who drummed between ’93 and ’97. Preparations for the three-date run, Trish explains, have been a mix of spirited gatherings of old mates, and the odd memory lapse. “I’m pretty pleased actually with the amount of songs I could remember, almost start to finish, but there were a couple of times where everyone just stopped playing and no-one could remember how the next part was supposed to go!” She laughs. “We used a lot of weird structures in our songs and it was kind of funny how everyone forgot the same parts because of these sudden changes where the music would just stop, or get really fast!” Trish says, surely describing Clouds’ superb 1992 single, Anthem, in which the band knowingly replicate The TroggsWild Thing before freezing mid riff, as a chiming music box replaces an expected glam-rock guitar solo. “I’m glad you picked up on that, because there were quite a lot of gruesome guitar solos around at the time, and we were trying to sort of go against that in our own little way.” Fourteen years on from their split, regarding the Clouds catalogue, Trish reckons that the music her band made within those eight years, stands-up today, and has aged very well indeed. “I think some of the songs sound a bit dated, but most of them still feel surprisingly fresh to me.” She adds, “I honestly think we didn’t sound as though we belonged to particular time, or decade... to me it’s like Clouds could have happened at any time really.”


Jodi and Trish; an unbeatable combo.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Isobel Campbell interview: 2011


Possessing one of the sweetest voices in contemporary music, meant Isobel Campbell slotted rather neatly into Glasgow folk-pop ensemble, Belle & Sebastian – the band she started with former lover, Stuart Murdoch - but just slotting in, by her own admission, was never Campbell's intention. “Nah…. holding back has never been something I’m particularly good at.” Isobel left Belle & Sebastian in 2002, having provided them with their biggest hit, Legal Man just previous, and emerged from her Gentle Waves solo side-project to finally record under her own name from 2003 onward. Meanwhile, across the Atlantic, a serviceable grunge act called Screaming Trees had ended their ten year run with a whimper, and brooding front-man, Mark Lanegan was part-timing with Queens Of The Stone Age. Seemingly adverse to maintaining another full-time band, Lanegan stuck to his 'casual basis only' habit all decade-long, leaving a trail of collaborations in his wake.

Lanegan's reputation as a sleeping bear never reached Campbell ahead of her request for Mark to 'sing on a couple of tracks she'd written'. The voice she had in mind for her songs was, 'that guy from Screaming Trees', knowing nothing of Mark's volatile nature and problems with addiction. Campbell simply says, “All of us have something or other to contend with… I believe”, and whether or not his demons affect their creative output, Isobel maintains, “Everything affects everything else, doesn’t it?” Her attitude to Mark is based on mutual respect and certainly Lanegan displays uncharacteristic warmth in Campbell's presence during rare joint-interviews. Their collaborative efforts to date amount to three acclaimed albums, the last of which, Hawk, released in 2010 spells the end of their partnership. Looking back over their work together, Isobel's lasting impression is, “I would say 99.9 percent of the time we saw eye-to-eye musically. We trust and respect each other a lot, and I think that is pretty obvious by the music we made.”

Isobel and Mark's work has allowed Campbell much greater expression. She utilises their shared vocal lyrically to direct a conversation, often willfully personal, courting comparisons with Serge Gainsbourg and Jane Birkin's explicitly charged duets. In her writing, Campbell has addressed the messy break-up with Belle & Sebastian's Stuart Murdoch, but she's equally at home playing fictional storyteller. “Sometimes it can be a vent for things, yes, but sometimes it is just pure fantasy. If the song is for someone in particular then I usually have their voice in my head, but usually I just concentrate on writing a good song and that may or may not tell some kind of story, or reveal something about me, but either way it's some form of personal expression.” Although Campbell and Lanegan's last tour winds up this year leaving Isobel to pursue new collaborations, she reveals a long-term retirement plan she hopes will include Mark.

“I think when we're really, really old it'd be nice to get together one more time and do something with our combined history and the experiences we've had separately as well.” She laughs, “I'll be like Mark is now – kind of broody and dark – and he might have mellowed out, so it could be really interesting!” While Campbell fantasises about possible future role reversals, she reveals exactly what their current collaborative roles are. “Mark always says I am the head and he's the body in this arrangement. He likes to leave the thinking to me. I think it's worked out well though  because, I was really willing to be that person and it suited Mark also because he needs somebody  to push him to work sometimes.” Geographically, Isobel and Mark are closer now than ever – Campbell recently moved to LA, while Mark calls Washington State home – but her shift to the US has offered Isobel new opportunities, helping her transition away from the safety net of the Lanegan collaborations.

“I'm really proud of the three albums (I made) with Mark, but that cycle is completed for now.” The musically fertile Arizona desert, unlikely as that sounds, drew Isobel in. “I've found it's the perfect place for me, being from Glasgow, you can't get a greater contrast. Also, I've fallen in love with the music scene out there.” She reveals, “I've been writing with a singer called Victoria Williams, and our record is about half done now.” She adds excitedly, “ Calexico play on some of it, as well who are just amazing, but as for what the end product will sound like, I will quote Victoria, who always says…. 'We’ll see….', but you just know she has it all mapped out in her head.” Both Mark and Isobel have grown considerably through their in-obvious bond, and certainly a great deal more than if either had stayed within their respective bands. Between them they've forged one of those, for all intense and purposes, mis-matched duos who like, Kirtsy MacColl and The Pogues or Nick Cave and Kylie, although usually short-lived, we continue to have an enduring fascination with.


"Is the glass half full, or half empty, Mark?"

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Charles Jenkins Mid-Winter Ball, 2011 (review)

Venue: Corner Hotel

Date: 09/07/11

At the third annual Mid-Winter Ball event, host and super-connected musician, Charles Jenkins once again rallies Melbourne’s finest for a heart and hand warming night of song. Jenkins’ band The Zhivagos are joined throughout by enough guest artists to bash out a modern day Do They Know It’s Christmas at the drop of a hat – which we are thankfully spared. Instead, the desperate to stay warm crowd gathering rapidly in the Corner, enjoy the proven talent of the Ball’s wondrous line-up minus the smugness usually found at charity events. This year’s beneficiaries of tickets sold are Foodbank Victoria who distribute much needed grub to everyone from those in disaster affected areas to the homeless.

However the thrill of helping provide some well needed funds to charity isn’t what’s on our minds when opening act, Ron Peno & The Superstitions take to the side stage with zero fanfare. Having the ex-Died Pretty front-man as a ‘warm-up’ act speaks volumes about the  musical acts on offer tonight. This being the first of two sets Peno performs with his new band, the captivating singer takes his time in building up the mood and momentum for the night’s proceedings. By third song in, Death O’ Me, Ron – refreshed, following a recent Died Pretty reunion show – is commanding our attention with a set of entirely new, yet somehow familiar tracks. Peno’s Ian Curtis dance is still a part of his live delivery, as well as touches of the American Wild West in his songwriting (Train Whistle).

Over on the mainstage, Charles Jenkins is preparing to unleash his many guest artists, while indulging us with songs from his latest album, Walk This Ocean. What happens over the course of his first of two sets, is a wildly veering, rough round the edges blast of rock. When singers like Mick Thomas (ex-Weddings Parties Anything) and Lisa Miller cosy up with Jenkins for tantalising duets, the arctic chills of Melbourne at night feel like a memory. Even the decorative cardboard snowflakes hanging from the ceiling seem in danger of melting at the sound of Thomas’s gruff and throaty punctuations. In equally fine fettle, Kat Spazzy (from The Spazzys) brings some youthful energy to the stage, while Georgia Fields cuts through the wailing guitars proving she can work her magic in any situation. It is those guitars in the end that dominate however, with no less than four maestros of the axe whooping it up as he concert draws to an end.

Having never seen one of Mark Seymour’s famed live performances for myself, I was triple-thrilled to see him at last join Jenkins and co. for punchy Hunters’ classic, Everything’s On Fire. Mark’s presence noticeably stirs up the crowd, so Jenkins chooses his moment to surprise us with an unrehearsed, but effective, cover of David Bowie’s Boys Keep Swinging, backed by every one of tonight’s guests. The rabble-rousing glam-rock rendition was a hit, and only topped by the full line-up’s closing number, The KinksVictoria - in the style of The Fall meets the Sex Pistols, or some such brutal marriage. The mess of artists filling the stage sharing mics and trying not to bump into one another while showing great camaraderie, is a warming image to hold onto as the deafening chorus of Victoria throbs in my ears on the long, chilly walk home. The freezing weather is a crappy part of life here in Melbourne, we all know, but with events this good, it’s so worth chucking on the thermals and braving the snap to bask in Melbourne’s other claim to fame; it’s awesome musicians.

Meeting Mark Seymour!

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

The Bedroom Philosopher's Croxton School Assembly (live review)

Venue: Thornbury Theatre

For both audience and the many and varied acts tonight at the Thornbury theatre, school is a comfortable enough distance away in time, that mocking its regiment feels like a rite of passage we can all relate to. Justin Heazlewood (aka; The Bedroom Philosopher) who established himself as one of the best observational comedians on the album, Songs From The 86 Tram, taps into that powerful uniting source of mirth and agony we call our school days in this latest in a series of themed concerts. Anybody who grew up attending an Australian school, recognised tonight the painfully accurate bad student poetry/music/acting in a show that - although aimed more at a Gen-X crowd –managed to remain broadly accessible.

Heazlewood’s type of humour works simply by identifying factors specific to average Australians. While Justin might laugh in a different part of the story to most of us, he usually manages to get his audience in on the joke without much effort. School, for those who excelled, was probably not particularly funny or remarkable, but for most of us, the experience is a source of pained amusement, which is precisely what informs Justin’s soft attack. Seated in what could easily pass for a typical school hall, we are presented with the atmosphere of a typical assembly, except for the first time, nobody is really expected to sit quietly and pay attention – or remain sober. The realisation sets in that Heazlewood has thrown his audience a golden opportunity to talk back, lounge around and generally rattle the nerves of those tiresome teachers and staff with no fear of a dreaded parental phone call.

Save from delivering actual canings, the performers in the Croxton School Assembly show maintain an engaging illusion of those uncomfortable, over-long school gatherings complete with authoritarian MC/Principle, (Ben Pobjie) and a better-than-in-reality school band, (Sex On Toast). The mumbling MC, who manages to embody every bored school Principle addressing a restless classroom, ever, becomes a figure of contempt as the night wears on. Between the main acts, he cops a deluge of paper planes and booing and hissing from the cross-legged ‘students’ spread out along the floor in front of the stage. Building on the already realistic atmosphere, he deals out ‘detentions’ in raised voice to even greater objection. But Principle Pobjie’s in-character droning, means reception for the performers is highly enthused whenever he leaves the stage, and with Tripod’s established guarantee-of-fun in place, the boys are swamped by applause after a particularly long head-masterly speech.

Tripod’s routine of songs, ‘unplanned’ cut-aways and geek-ified self-mockery is right at home in the Assembly, as is some stunningly awful poetry courtesy of Emilie Zoe Baker. The broad range of age groups – some with their own kids, some probably just out of school themselves – all respond with the same enthusiasm for being propelled into the horror of an amateur talent-night vibe. Crammed in among the ‘amateurs’ with his cover blown, Damien Cowell - ‘the guy who was in TISM’s’ new band, The DC3 displayed fitting irreverence for the whole event, (and Henry Wagons). Improvisational hooligans, Lime Champions fulfilled the role of class clowns, alongside stiff competition from The Bedroom Philosopher himself, who’s own set allows one notorious local identity to live out a school-age fantasy. Justin and his band, The Awkwardstra, deliver highlights their marvellous 86 Tram CD, plus newbie, I’m Leaving My Hairdresser, before unleashing their surprise guest.

The by-now even rowdier fans, roar their disapproval as Justin asks, ‘who here likes Aussie hip-hop?’ Not to be deterred, he jumps into We Are Tramily, a freakishly spot-on Hilltop Hoods send-up, during which the one and only John Safran, decked out in a silky tracksuit, bursts onto the stage, freestyling like a pro. Anyone who saw Safran’s Music Jamboree series, will recall the failure he endured getting his rap group, Raspberry Cordial taken seriously, but tonight he commands respect. That is, at least until he runs out of rhymes, and resorts to yelling ‘Raspberry Cordial’s in the house!’ randomly until the song ends in total disarray. Yes, it’s unplanned and a complete mess, but so much in the spirit of the Croxton school assembly, no-one cared. The Bedroom Philosopher along with a slightly embarrassed John Safran, file off stage to thunderous approval as our Principle returns to deliver joke-certificates to the performers. Closing the night, the mess of bodies played out on the floor hurling paper at the stage are treated to a medley of ‘90s rock songs by now partly de-trousered school band, Sex On Toast.

Justin Heazlewood took a huge leap of faith in making this theatrical, pretend-amateur show work. Whereas it could easily have come across as confusing and ‘just amateur’, Justin relied on, successfully it turned out, his audience’s willingness to go along with the joke for the duration of an event that gave little indication of what, if anything was expected of his fans. I suspect though, that the sight of half his audience turning up in school uniforms and behaving as if they were extras in the show, was the ultimate pay-off for Heazlewood and co. Other would-be comedy/musical acts should note: The Croxton high class of 2011 final exam results are in, and its distinctions all round people; time to pull your socks up.