“Hit me with another one Sam” The bartenders, in film noir, were always Sam or Mack. Through the smokey haze of the dimly lit room was a space littered with tiny tables where there sat an assortment of couples, heads close, tongues whispering. Even with the door open to the street and the ceiling fans buzzing away, the air remained oppressive. I trailed my fingers through the rapidly melting ice in the tub, now half filled with water, and for a second relished the coolness. In the heat of the 42 degree day, my thoughts had wandered!
I had spent the afternoon avoiding the heat at my favourite local French cafe, with French friends, drinking Sangria. The icy fruity cool inviting me to drink many more than my head would later appreciate. Sangria, Moules Frites and the promise of two of the usual chanteurs, Merime and Paul Gillette, crooning Gainsbourg and Trenet, had convinced me to leave my air conditioned oasis. The Sangria filled afternoon too soon became a Sangria filled evening and the mellow tones of Merime had just started to sweep me away when I was jolted back to reality with a text asking where I was! With regret that almost immediately turned to excitement, I bid my friends adieu and in the still sticky heat ventured to the Northcote Social Club to see my absolute favourite musical act, Husky!
I discovered indie folk band Husky in 2014 and from the first song I was like a musical crushed teenager. Having never experienced the band, my friends couldn’t understand what all the fuss was about. After much cajoling on my part to get them there, they now understand. There are only 3 musical acts I can honestly say I would gladly see every gig they played, and this is one of them.
This sweltering Saturday night was my fourth Husky gig this year, and each time had been unique. Begin, Summer twilight at the NGV on a February day much like this had been, the advantage being the NGV had the lawn strewn with plump cushions under leafy shade. Husky previewed their then newish second album Ruckers Hill, and pear cider in hand, reclined on a soft makeshift couch, held me captivated. Next, that old sticky carpet of The Espy for Easter Eggs and Easter Husky. I was then fortunate enough to attend a gig that resembled a relaxed lounge room jam where Husky’s gentle vocal soared for an intimate audience. Spending most of this year on the road collecting devotees throughout Europe and parts of the USA and UK, it was no surprise that this unexpected homecoming show in their home town sold out fast.
Having missed the first support, I arrived having successfully negotiated the tram in the still oppressive heat, in time to see Gena Rose Bruce, a young local singer with catchy songs. The crowd were appreciative but restless for the main act and surged forward immediately the curtain began to open to the unmistakable chords of the song, Ruckers Hill, a story of love at a time when everything is still possible.
Ruckers Hill is one of those rare albums that doesn’t have an obviously weak song. I can say that every song is strong in some way, be it the sometimes haunting harmonies of cousins Husky Gawenda and Gideon Preiss whose voices meld in synthesis, the gentle chord progressions, the sheer musicality of Gideon’s classical piano training or the thoughtful lyrics. I mean, anyone who can successfully use the word somnambulist in a song, (Saint Joan), has my attention. The strength of the songwriting is evident in the fact that Husky Gawenda won the coveted Vanda & Young songwriting competition for Saint Joan in 2014.
Heartbeat, a song with a psychedelic edge that builds momentum and urgency until the final chorus when the rolling drums are introduced, is next. Followed by my favourite, Arrow, with that rare combination of a simultaneously happy and sad feel. The chorus always makes me want to dance, barefoot and swirling. Then it’s back to the debut album Forever So for the hits Tidal Wave and Fake Moustache. The set list of 14 included all of the most well known songs from both albums and had the crowd frequently singing along. Add to that an intense complex classical style solo where Gideon almost feverishly struck the keys.
The genuine affection between the band members translated to the crowd who although strangers, had a feeling of unison about them. The room was awash with smiles as the mellowness of Husky permeated from the stage, evidenced in the gentle banter between the cousins. There was even a “Miyagi” moment when Husky captured an errant fly in a single hand and took it outside. The crowd cheered! It’s difficult to explain, but Husky has that “it” factor where no matter how many times you hear the songs, you want to hear them again and unlike many bands, their live shows add that something extra to the songs.
Although the band’s popularity is constantly growing, they seemingly remain unchanged and accessible, and after the final encore, I’m not coming back, as I leave, a lyric from their song, Animals & Freaks, enters my head.
There was something going on that night, but I don’t know what it was….