Nick Barker and Justin Garner – Post Office Hotel 25-2-18

 

“I know who I am and what I do” (Michael Hutchence)

Like Alice through the looking glass, I always wonder whether it is going to be a good thing, to jump down that rabbit hole to revisit my past. But risk or rust I always say, and in this case, it was only my teenage memories of massive shoulder pads, leg warmers, and my already curly hair expanded 100 fold that I had to think about. It was a teenage, of everything Brit, loud music, local indie bands and flirting with bartenders, who would always ask what “Goldilocks” wanted to drink. To which I would invariably reply, something not too hot, not too cold….

1989, with a vinyl collection of Beatles, Kinks and mostly British imports, courtesy of my Aladdin’s cave, Missing Link Records, it was only being dragged along to a sweaty pub to see a singer whose presence commanded the stage, and who I couldn’t take my eyes off, that I first discovered Nick Barker and the Reptiles. Nick was singing, Cockney Rebel’s “Make me Smile”, still one of my favorite songs to which there’s been much barefoot dancing…. but that’s another story.

Nearly 20 years on, it was curiosity that prompted me to venture to the “Posty” in Coburg on a lazy Sunday afternoon to see Nick Barker and Justin Garner, one half of Heartache State, acoustic. The Posty, always has a relaxed, armchair feel, and this was immediately evident as Nick and Justin casually sauntered to the stage. It’s easy to forget that I’m watching a singer songwriter with 30 years hard grind, pub band experience, until the opening bars of “Look out Joe”. I had read that in one year in the early 90’s The Reptiles played 200 gigs! Nick Barker, minus that trademark long hair and Guns N Roses look, even without drums and bass, still has that edge. The crowd, who judging by their age, I suspect were mostly fans of olde, had their attention fixed to the stage, barely a mobile phone in sight, from the off.

What followed was a first set of almost an hour of songs that told stories. Stories that were relatable and sung in a thoughtful, unassuming way. We’ve all experienced heartbreak, love, loss, and, life with a backdrop country beat! like in “Cripple Creek” and “Never Easy”. The set then mixed in the harder rock sound of the 1994 release “Time Bomb’ and the quirky “Thylacine”, influenced by said stuffed animal Nick saw at the museum. While comparisons have been made to the aforementioned Guns, Nick Barker has a unique sound which has made me want to experience the louder power rock version with a full band.

But it was the raw realness of “Sunny’s Song”, which is still stuck in my head. Nick explained the song was about his son, who he also told us was an 18 year old with a tattoo that had gone wrong and a dad, that we’ve all had times we wish we had, with the attitude, it’s ok mate, I’ll take you, we’ll make it look good! The lines; “In my mind I know things aren’t right between the two most important people in my life”,  “ I sit on the floor while my little world falls apart”, and “my mum and dad don’t love one another no more” are so simple. But in a raw, rip the band-aid off way, tell it like it is for kids when their parents are breaking up.

It is lyrics like these that reminded me that Nick Barker has been around the music scene for as long as I’ve been going to gigs and it’s this longevity along with tight melodic chord changes and those killer lyrics, that still get me completely absorbed in his performance.

He knows who he is and what he does…. no comparisons needed.

 

Nick Barker

 

Justin Garner

Nick Barker

 

Facebook: The Heartache State

Facebook: Nick Barker and the Reptiles

http://www.theheartachestate.com

 

 

 

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The Sun and The Moon – Damon Smith and the Quality Lightweights Single Launch 1-4-16

Music replays the past memories, awakens our forgotten worlds and makes our minds travel.” (Michael Bassey Johnson)

Damon Smith is first and foremost a story teller. Like a minstrel of old, his lyrics create emotive vivid images, as his observations come to life through song. Having heard Damon Smith play as part of Dan Lethbridge and the Campaigners last year, I’ve been impatiently waiting for Damon and his Quality Lightweights to hit the stage. As some of the Lightweights are also Campaigners, I thought comparisons would be inevitable. However, once the set began, I was instantly absorbed in the stories and the chord driven melodic exchanges, comparisons forgotten.

I was told, (that even though they don’t rehearse or play live nearly as much as they should), the band have been together about six years, and this longevity shows. These guys play with skill and maturity, as was evident individually in their various solos, and as a group. The set was cohesive and polished and yet there’s an honesty to the songs and an ease to the performance that is completely relatable. It is this honesty and the stories Damon shares that enhance the lyrics, that engages the listeners. It’s not often that you go to a gig where every song has your attention and evokes an inward response. From, “Lines are Made for Standing in”, telling of dying, death and grieving, to the lighter, warm, and one of my favourites, “Call up Dad”, with it’s distinctive Dan Lethbridge guitar licks. But it was the more melancholy “Threadbare” with it’s great harmonies and violin that captured me.

But the song of the night was the single, “The Sun and The Moon”, a playful, whimsical song of love featured in the upcoming TV series “Under the Milky Way”. “Who am I to sit and debate, the Sun and the Moon and their fate, perhaps they’re in love”. It begins with a catchy rock n roll style beat, then violin adds a more country sound. But it’s the unexpected instrumental section, that Damon explained was influenced by his experience of a Chinese Opera during his time in Hong Kong as a child, that gives it something unique and leaves you wondering, about the sun and the moon, and, of love.

A couple more songs including the bluesy, “It’s time to let the wolves out”, and for only my second time at the Mallard, an encore is demanded. I have since had their 2011 album release, ” I Thought I’d Be Someone by Now” on repeat!

This is one band and songwriter that you simply must experience live, or at the very least, watch the TV show, “Under the Milky Way” this April, if only to hear the opening title music.

And if this single is any indication, for Damon Smith, like the lyric says, “…I’m like the sun and my rise has just begun…. “

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Damon Smith

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Dan Lethbridge

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Damon Smith and the Quality Lightweights

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https://damonsmith.bandcamp.com/

http://www.danlethbridge.com/

 

VulgarGrad, Johnnies and Floyd – Northcote Social Club 6-2-16

Gorbachev once purported “Gentlemen, comrades, do not be concerned about all you hear about Glasnost and Perestroika and democracy in the coming years. They are primarily for outward consumption. There will be no significant internal changes in the Soviet Union

But in the 80’s, Perestroika brought musical freedom for many underground Soviet rock bands previously banned from playing live. The underground bands no longer Russian “criminals” as they could release their music officially. Last weekend I was transported back to Eastern Europe 2014, to a tiny dingy smokey cafe in Budapest and a night of frenetic Csardas dancing, Goulash, grapefruit Vodka and gypsy beats, when our local Russian “crims”, VulgarGrad, took to the Northcote stage. A night of Perestroika punk classics and blatnyak, (the songs of the Russian thieves), mixed with gypsy swing, jazz and pop followed.

Already much has been said by me about the opening act of the night, troubadour, poet and swashbuckler adventurer,(as evidenced by his lyrics), Floyd Thursby. I could say I’m almost a regular, and each performance brings something a little different from the last. He set the stage for the night with a tight set, a mixture of ballads sprinkled with anecdotes. From the gentle tale of letting go of love, “You’ve Gotta Fly”, to the lyrics that belie the dreamy beat of, “All The Towns Asleep”. Add the toe tappin, truckin,”Eight Days”, which has one of the best song lines, “And Oswald killed the President Like JFK killed John Wilkes Booth“, and perfect for the overall feel of the night, “The Thief“. But it was a new song he penned for the upcoming Australian movie “The Death and Life of Otto Bloom“, (a story of a man who experiences time in reverse), called “Forget the Future” that held me captivated.

The night was also my first experience of Johnnie and the Johnnie Johnnies. A great name, I was expecting a great band and I wasn’t disappointed. I can easily say that I haven’t recently heard anyone do 60’s go-go, surf, beatnik, garage beats better. And with band members names including; Pope Johnnie Paul II and Johnny Hot Pants Boogaloo, I liked them even before I’d heard a note. They burst onto the stage, drums, guitar, bass, keyboard and sax’s, and I was almost scanning the crowd for Annette Funicello and Midget Farrelly. The songs are infectious, with that 60’s surf guitar twang that I love.
Every song is perfectly danceable and the band showed their versatility mixing it up with 60’s surf beats, cha cha and even 7/8 time. Favourites; the cha cha funky “The Black Flamingo” and one I now have on repeat, the 60’s surf sound of “Mao’s Party Room“.  I definitely want to be at that “party”!

A short break, the curtains opened to VulgarGrad and the crowd surged forward. As the band assembled on stage in their convict style striped shirts, trumpet player Adam Pierzchalski, trumpet in one hand, bottle of Vodka in the other, there was an unspoken camaraderie, perhaps a joke in progress that we were unaware of, anticipation grew among the crowd. From the first bars, the gravelly vocal, (that immediately reminded me of a Russian Tom Waits), of charismatic singer, Jacek Koman had the crowd buzzing. This was not an audience unfamiliar with the songs. Jacek directed, the crowd followed, with sing-a -longs to a couple of the songs, including a rollicking version of “Oy Oy Oy“, and at one point he conducted the entire 200 odd crowd dancing in unison.

Having experienced VulgarGrad only once before, (and all I can remember is that I drank too many vodka shots and danced until I could hardly walk), most of the songs were relatively unknown to me, apart from “Oy Oy Oy” and “Zhopa“, both songs which beg you to sing along. Highlights; “Super Good” and “If I Were a Sultan” followed, then a favourite, “Limonchiki“, which has a swing/ska style and supposedly tells the story of growing lemons, growing them on a balcony etc. But understanding the lyrics is not the point of VulgarGrad, they are an assault on the senses in the best way possible. You simply must sing and dance and although you are watching the musicians play with precision, skill and humor on a stage, you feel as though they are among you, Ruska Roma, joking, disorderly, and swilling vodka.

Not so much a performance, more a celebration. A celebration I didn’t want to end!

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Jacek Koman – VulgarGrad

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Adam Pierzchalski – VulgarGrad

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VulgarGrad

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Floyd Thursby

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Johnnie and the Johnnie Johnnies

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 https://soundcloud.com/buniola/rock-and-roll     (Mao’s Party Room)

 

 

The Dan Lethbridge 3 – January Residency 15/1/16

A painter paints pictures on canvas. But musicians paint their pictures on silence” (Leopold Stokowski)

And quite simply, Dan Lethbridge does just that.

Growing up with a father who I think secretly wished to live off the land in the middle of the NSW nowhere, by the time I was 6 I could name every breed of cattle on sight. Towns; Glen Innes, Moree, Goondiwindi, I knew them all, to a back drop of alt-country, folk and R&B. So it’s no surprise that as I listened to the mellow reflections on life and love, (a narrative that has somehow distinctly Australian authenticity), that my mind was filled with images of past.

It took one listen of the up tempo, infectious, I Want You With Me, to know that I had to hear this band live. I waited 3 months for their next gig, the album launch of Inner Western, last October. That night, Dan Lethbridge and The Campaigners, (an 8 piece on that occasion), took to the stage and excited the crowd with an energetic cohesive performance. I’ve said that there are only three musical acts that I would gladly see every performance, well Dan Lethbridge is one of those three. In this incarnation, The Dan Lethbridge 3, is stripped back to bass, drums and Dan on vocals and guitar. I liked them so much I saw them two weeks in a row! Fortunately for me, the band was only half way through their January residency. So last Friday, I again ventured to the Post Office Hotel, different friends in tow, to join some of the other now familiar faces in the ever growing crowd.

Taking to the stage in typically laid back style for the first of two sets, the DL3, had me smiling immediately. The opening song, If You Don’t Say It, with it’s melancholy guitar, drew my thoughts to the memory of a solitary figure quietly staring at the wind dance across a field of wheat on a stifling Summer’s day. Then, my favourite, Close The Deal, with it’s crooning vocal and barefoot slow dance almost 50’s rock and roll tempo. The set also featured,(from the acclaimed 2012 release, Oh Hawke), Hard To Fight, a tale of being on the skids, with its’ typically alt-country ballad guitar and crisp vocal. Added to the mix a great cover of the sombre, Van Occupanther. The set finished with the popular more traditional country, Wish For What You Had, with Dan telling us that, “round and round we go until the end you’ll only wish for what you had“. We were convinced!

A couple of drinks and it was on to set two. Often when a band plays two sets, the second tends to lack something, but not in this case. This set was a mixture of covers, including brilliant versions of Marry Song and Cannibal’s Hymn, and up tempo numbers from Oh Hawke and Inner Western. A highlight, the contrast of the lively almost playful jazz style beat and vocal of, Do No Harm, which contradicts the somewhat sober lyrics. One song I have on repeat. Add, the sing-a-long, Hey Lover and of course the rockin, I Want You With Me.

Dan Lethbridge’s songs effortlessly cross genres from folk to R&B to alt-country and indie rock. His lyrics tell stories and paint pictures. They manage to convey complex sometimes dark emotions yet somehow contain an optimism and often humor, all remain with you. The crowd, at least half being regulars I’d seen at other DL gigs, clearly enjoyed every song. The band, as a trio, was perfect for the very relaxed surrounds. The DL3 perform with an ease, gentle humor and good-natured banter both among the band and with the crowd. Therefore seem very personable and approachable, so there isn’t that appearance of distance between performer and audience that is sometimes evident at gigs.

As we leave and I hope I have at least a couple of good pics, I think, well, if not, there’s always next Friday…..

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http://www.danlethbridge.com/

Mythologies – Michael Plater Album Launch 10/1/16

all of those broken down cowboys with their hearts on their sleeves. They go down so fast they fall so easily….

It was the first 15 seconds that echo, with a single guitar strumming an indie rock beat that first grabbed my attention. Follow with a build up of drums, bass and harmonica, add the distinctive resonating edgy vocal, and that was my introduction to Melbourne singer/songwriter, Michael Plater and a song I still can’t get out of head, Pretty Maids.

With a sound that’s been described as indie, folk, a little bit country, almost gothic and with “noir” influences, it’s this distinctive guitar and vocal that creates a mood that separates Michael from the crowd. It was last year at a PJ Harvey Tribute show that I first discovered Michael Plater. I couldn’t tell you which songs he performed on that night but his voice and performance style left a lasting impression. Although in some ways reminiscent of The Triffids, Velvet Underground and Lloyd Cole, his sound has a singularity that separates him.

So it was on yet another hot Sunday Summer evening that I ventured to The Tote in Collingwood for the launch of his second solo album, Mythologies, a follow up to the critically acclaimed 2012 solo debut, Exit Keys.

Supported by four other acts, Michael performed after the first three supports. First up; Bronwyn Adams, a one woman show with a haunting eclectic quality that was part performance, part poetry. Next, Henry Hugo, who currently resides in one of my top places, Switzerland. Vocally reminiscent of Nick Cave, his songs have a deep rich sound with a slow almost hypnotic guitar and beat. Having been completely unfamiliar with his music, (as it’s a departure from what I usually listen to), I’ve since played his recent release, Noctuary Songs, and May Queen, is already on repeat.

And now for the main event. The set list began in his typically understated style, without fanfare, but from the first guitar chord of the ballad, Reflections of a Dream, Michael had  command of the room. It’s not often at a gig, that the audience is completely absorbed in the performance. Next up, We’re All Drunk Again, with its Americana feel, first appears a light fun song but actually has quite a dark edge. We Lit the Lamps, slow, intense and full of emotion followed. Then, other favourites; The Officers Mess and Pretty Maids, both with a more acoustic feel that builds. Finally, it’s the guitar/harmonica combination in, Old Victories, that draws me in.

The songs are ballads, stories and emotions accompanied by a strong rhythmic or acoustic indie guitar sound and beat. Sometimes add percussion, sometimes not. Sometimes indie rock, sometimes more folk. Each song has the right balance. To me, it’s almost as if the music is there to enhance the words, thoughts and ideas. Lyrics of introspection and observation accompanied by great chord combinations and that vocal, is what really holds my attention.

The set of six new tracks, then finishing with, Rings of Smoke from his debut album, was over too quickly. I was just settling in.

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Michael Plater

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Michael Plater

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Michael Plater

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Henry Hugo

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Michael Plater

https://michaelplater.bandcamp.com/

https://henryhugo.bandcamp.com/album/noctuary-songs