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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Damon Smith and the Quality Lightweights

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https://damonsmith.bandcamp.com/

http://www.danlethbridge.com/

 

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Parley – Amistat Album Launch 11/3/16

Parley – typically a discussion often between enemies to negotiate a truce. However, having experienced an Amistat gig a couple of times now, I’m guessing that here it’s used as it originated, from the French, meaning, “to speak”. And speak to the audience, Jan and Josef Prasil, do!

Wandering aimlessly along Bourke Street one sunny day in 2015, I stumbled, (almost literally), across Jan and Josef, serenading an inquisitive crowd, and like many in the crowd, I was effortlessly won over by their subtle tightly knit harmonies and haunting acoustic sound. So it was not surprising that only 11 months later I was at Northcote Social Club for the release of their debut album, “Parley“.

One of my favourite singer/songwriter’s, Adelaide’s Ryan Oliver, (this time without the other members of Oliver’s Army), guitar in hand, took to the stage, to begin the night. I’ve often felt that when an audience at a gig sits on the floor to listen to an act, it can somehow create a feeling of distance and detract from the performance. I’ve even been at gigs where the band has asked the crowd to stand up so that people can dance and feel more connected to the music. But on this night, as Ryan’s crisp delicate vocal and reflective lyrics, captured our emotions, the crowd sat and silently absorbed his music. Music that could be described as atmospheric, alt-folk, with an Americana and sometimes alt-country feel, as evidenced by the drum/guitar combo on songs like “Shallow Water” and particularly “Lonesome Man”. This acoustic set not only retained this feel, but the acoustic guitar/vocal combo gave “Liquor Store” and the Tom West cover “I Drank All The Rum” a vulnerable fragility. Add a haunting, slow, version of the single “Born To Breed” with it’s looping harmonies and, like the crowd, I couldn’t take my eyes from the stage.

A hard act to follow, next Ben Whiting, accompanied by bass, guitar and drums got the crowd to their feet. Again, a performer I’ve seen a number of times and keep coming back for more. Alt-Folk is a favourite, and Ben would be one of the best local folk acts around. Folk, alternative, even Rock, a singer/songwriter whose lyrics seem introspective reflections or musings on all that we ponder ourselves. Every gig, he seems to be evolving, songs that you want to play over and over with a vocal that is unique, gentle yet strong. A mix of favourites and songs I hadn’t heard before, the set was tight and like always, for me, over too quickly. Every time I see Ben perform I wonder why he isn’t already headlining huge shows, but judging from the ever growing enthusiastic crowd, I get the feeling that won’t be too far away.

After a break, the curtain starts to open and there’s an unmistakable push to the front. Some audience almost on the stage itself, they couldn’t get close enough. The lights kept low, Amistat begin the journey through the new album. A narrative of their experiences, loves, losses and life all intertwined by an emotional thread highlighting their love of performing and music which creates an instant connection with the audience. “Charlatan”, a song about how although we have inner happiness, at times we struggle to acknowledge or feel it. Then the very introspective “Born Without A Mask”, a song that resonates with many, surmising that the older we get the more we put on a mask and therefore hide the real us. Finally, the poignant, “Addictive Pain”. The songs have a strong acoustic folk sound and harmonies that have a synergy that makes them distinctly Amistat. The set, (over an hour), is a mixture of song and stories, some anecdotal about the lyrics or life on the road, others, the musings from Josef that we’ve come to expect. Amistat continue to grow in popularity and have an ease of performing and connecting with their audience in a way which also manages to retain their busking roots.

After a night of folk storytelling, melodic guitar and soaring harmonies, I think of a line from “Liquor Store”………..this thing’s got a hold on me.

 

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Ryan Oliver

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Ben Whiting

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http://benwhiting.bandcamp.com/

https://oliversarmy.bandcamp.com/

https://www.facebook.com/amistatmusic/?fref=ts

 

David Bowie Tribute – A Starman Waiting in the Sky – N.S.C 7-2-16

There, in the chords and melodies, is everything I want to say. The words just jolly it along. It’s always been my way of expressing what, for me, is inexpressible by any other means” (Bowie)

Bowie often stated that he communicated more through his music than his lyrics. But I defy the notion that from the first couple of bars, (we can all immediately identify), of classics like; “The Jean Genie“, “Ziggy Stardust” or “Life on Mars“, that you’re not prompted to sing the words that are somehow indelibly etched in your subconscious, even if only a sometimes fan. Such was the impact of the thin white duke. And just as it’d be difficult to find a music lover who hasn’t had at least a feeling about a Bowie song, it would be difficult to find a musician who hasn’t been influenced either directly or indirectly by Bowie in some form, be it music, lyrics or image. He was renowned for his ability to reinvent himself as a performer both through the use of characters and his changing musical style. So it seemed somehow fitting that performers whose musical styles differed were assembled to pay tribute, including a few I wouldn’t have immediately thought would be Bowie fans.

Enter JMS Harrison, (who is also lead vocalist with Old Etiquettes), who is emerging as the “go to” guy when you want an event that will feature a diverse group of local musicians, (both within their own bands or as part of a mix), having also organised the successful PJ Harvey tribute last year. It’s not an easy task to stage manage a dozen acts over a marathon six hours, keeping the set up times to a minimum and the audience engaged. A difficult task when most acts are playing only 2 or 3 songs each. It was the diversity of the performers, many who I hadn’t heard before and the mix of Bowie songs, including some of the lesser known, that kept the audience eager for more.

A strong start with one of the centrepieces of the Ziggy Stardust album, “Starman“, performed by a band I hadn’t heard before, Closet Straights, who got the crowd singing along from the off, and definitely a band I’ll see again. Kate Lucas from Coda Chroma then smashed it with a brilliant version of “Ashes to Ashes“. Andrew McCubbin once again showed his skill on guitar with one of my favourites, “Wild is the Wind“. The first half had something for everyone with other classics; “Five Years“, “China Girl“, “Heroes” and a couple of songs Bowie had covered.

The second half of the show somehow seemed to take it up a notch. Beginning with JMS and band performing a great version of “Modern Love” along with the lesser known, haunting, “Slip Away“. Then rockers, Have/Hold turned up the volume and had some of the crowd almost in a dancing frenzy. But, it was from the first 8 well known beats of “The Jean Genie” that high energy power blues band, The Ugly Kings assaulted the stage. “The Jean Genie“, “Lazarus“, and “Rebel Rebel“, perfect choices for their powerful sound and style. The sound, played with precision, exploded from the stage, and having chosen two of the best loved Bowie hits, it took things to the next level. They absolutely stole the show. A marathon afternoon and early evening, it was left to the flawless Ash Naylor & Sun God Replica, who continued the vibe and closed the show with great renditions of “Boys Keep Swinging” and one of the best versions I’ve heard in a long time of “All the Young Dudes“.

And so ended a day of music that has endured the passage of time, a celebration both among the crowd and  musicians, of a one-off, musician, performer, chameleon and rock icon whose breadth of influence is almost too vast to contemplate.

Maybe Ziggy Stardust was immortal after all….

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JMS Harrison

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The Ugly Kings

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https://jmsharrison.bandcamp.com/

https://theuglykings.bandcamp.com/releases

http://havehold.com/

https://closetstraights.bandcamp.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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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

The Basics – Tinder Knight 2, 2/1/16

When I said I was starting 2016 with a Tinder night, I think it was assumed I was going to a slightly different “love in” than was the Northcote Social club. However, 2016 for me, did begin with a smile and a definite swipe to the right!

Thanks to Wally coming home for Christmas, the indefinite hiatus announced at their Melbourne Cup Eve gig, temporarily modified to an intermission of sorts, with The Basics together again for the one-off Tinder Knight 2. This “love in” was the guys stripped back, in the round, with the just over 200 sold out audience, stretched out on the floor around them. Tim and Kris acoustic and Wally swapping drums for a Wurlitzer.

What has this to do with Tinder you ask? A gig with some sort of dating twist perhaps? Not such a bad idea! However, simply, the original Tinder Knight began as a word of mouth secret gig on a Tuesday night last February. The name evolved because the band figured Tuesday nights were slow nights so everyone was probably at home on Tinder. Not everyone, guys! The name is now recognised by Basics followers as a night of covers, their own tracks and audience requests, if copies of the sheet music or at least chords are brought along. Kris had requested everyone sit on the floor as the last Tinder Knight went for 3hrs. At first we thought this would detract from the performance, even though I was basically beside Wally’s chair, but it was perfect and allowed the music to just happen.

Admitting there was no set list, they began, and immediately I was smiling when I heard Wally’s gentle vocal and the unmistakable opening chords of my absolute best loved Beatles track, In My Life. The room instantly fell silent and already I knew, that this night was going to exceed any expectations. Next, was the up tempo Beatles version of Ain’t She Sweet. Then, what followed was a mixture of Basics tracks, covers and audience requests. The musicianship of the group was evident as the next two and bit hours was an eclectic mix of songs that crossed nearly all genres interspersed with the usual Basics humour, story telling and good-natured banter that kept me smiling until my cheeks hurt.

The two sets had a laid back feel with songs sometimes being chosen because someone had shouted out a name. This happened when a shout out “George Michael” resulted in a lively fun version of Faith. The Beatles featured again with Wally and Kris nailing two of my other favourite tracks; Golden Slumbers and If I Fell. The consensus being, oh not Ringo, George Harrison’s All Things Must Pass was also sung. Being seated, we clapped along to The Everly Brothers’ Wake Up Little Susie and sang along to All I Have To Do Is Dream. We stamped our feet when they rocked out Rebel Rebel and as a tribute to Stevie Wright, I’ll Make You Happy, which many knew from their Rockwiz performance.

Other highlights were the underrated Real Men, (Joe Jackson), and the surprising Mmm Mmm Mmm Mmm, (Crash Test Dummies). I felt a momentary rush of patriotism during one of the best versions of Eric Bogle’s The Band Played Waltzing Matilda, I’ve heard and Tim had me captivated when he swapped his guitar for keys and quietly performed a beautiful rendition of Neil Young’s Birds. But it was Wally’s haunting vocal on Songbird, that held the room once more.

Whilst not as many brought music as I had expected, we were treated to audience requests; Sister Madly and I Got You. And despite Tim protesting having to play The Eagles, Lyin Eyes was successfully requested. Some of their own songs were also in the mix, including two that I love and haven’t heard live for a while being Memory Lane and Home Again.

But the two most memorable moments of the night were Tim on keys for Hey Rain, with an extra made up on the spot verse about cane toads due to the frog in Wally’s throat, which had us in stitches, and the requested I Walk The Line which somehow ended up a Johnny Cash/Cookie Monster mash up.

Final song of the night was an as usual brilliant version of Comfortably Numb and the band as always, seemed to reluctantly exit.

Kris and Wally stayed chatting to the crowd during the break between sets and I did mention to Kris that not all musicians can play on request with no rehearsal, as I was once again reminded that these guys seem to be able to effortlessly play anything.

His response was simply, “it’s just chords”…….. and I guess it is!

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Wally De Backer

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Wally De Backer

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Tim Heath

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Kris Schroeder

https://thebasics.bandcamp.com/album/leftovers-2

Husky and Moules Frites on a 42 Degree Day 19/12/15

“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….

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http://www.huskysongs.com/music-1/

 

 

 

 

Queenscliff Music Festival 2015 – Part 2

Dick Clark once said “music is the soundtrack of your life“. This has certainly been true for me, and lets face it, who hasn’t at least had a relationship song! When I was 18 and believed I’d met the love of my life, I thought my song was The Cure’s “Friday I’m in Love“, his was more Dire Straits “Money for Nothing“! But after being entranced by The California Honeydrops, I wanted whatever their life soundtrack was.

I had heard about an amazing New Orleans style jazz/soul group from California that was going to play at Queenscliff and one youtube listen had me hooked, but I was unprepared for the unforgettable, complete Honeydrops experience. The music is diverse, drawing on soul, roots, R&B, funk, blues and southern jazz. They don’t give you a performance, they create a joyful party. This joy is infectious and when they play it’s almost as if you’ve stumbled upon them jamming. I don’t think my smile left me.
What sets the California Honeydrops apart is they are all superb musicians
individually so can more than hold their own musically, as was evident in the various showcase solo moments; from the funky keyboard solos and the perfect jazz sax, to Ben Malament smashing the drums and washboard. Each member’s distinct style shines whilst directed by multi instrumentalist and lead singer Lech Wierzynski, who effortlessly won the crowd from the first. For some it was the flawless trumpet solos and crisp vocals, others, that knowing grin when he convinced us with the bluesy, “baby, I liked it better, when it was wrong” and the funky, “if you do it, do it like you mean it“. Add to that, conducting the capacity crowd in a perfectly timed sing-a-long, this was one party I didn’t want to end. After their rendition of one of my favourites, Curtis Mayfields “People Get Ready” which had me swooning, the set finished to cheers and calls for encores.

A hard act to follow, local favourites Augie March hit the stage. After the high energy of the previous act this was a change of pace. Even with lead singer Glenn suffering with the flu, the band played a tight set. With limited banter to preserve the vocals, he still created a rapport, but it was clear that the crowd were waiting for one song. We’ve all been at that party with the drunken circle of friends “singing” along to “One Crowded Hour”, and even with the flu, the intensity of Glenn’s vocal gave me goose bumps.

The gravelly tones of Tex Perkins with Cookin on 3 Burners took me back to hot sweaty summer pub nights. Tex, always a performer that grabs your attention. Then, the final act of the night, Aussie legends, The Hoodoo Gurus, assaulted the stage from the off. Hit after hit. It was the perfect “mix tape”. Tojo, Miss Freelove ’69, Wipeout, Bittersweet, 1000 Miles Away, What’s My Scene, Come Anytime, I Want You Back, they just kept coming. Dave Faulkner’s faultless vocals belied the passage of time. Even pressed against the barrier, moshpit style, the crowd going off behind me, and like the crowd, knowing all the words, I danced and sang until my voice was hoarse. The crowd still fired up, the bus ride home was complete with drunk “Somebody to Love”.

You know the morning after the night before? Well that was Sunday at the festival. At nearly every performance the audience was sitting, or stretched out on a rug, almost meditation style. This made connecting with the audience more of a challenge for most of the acts. After a subdued breakfast we headed to the Vue Grand for the surprise act of the weekend, local lads, Mustered Courage. Having never heard them, the promise of some hoe down Sunday mornin banjo appealed. What we got was a slick tight set of musical harmonies and melodies and songs that show cased each band members skill. I was reminded of early Mumford & Sons. Although they’ve only been around about four years, this ARIA nominated, progressive folk/bluegrass/country/R&B band is definitely one that’s on the rise.

The afternoon highlight was another dose of the California Honeydrops who delighted with a completely different set. I couldn’t get enough and wished their first Australian tour hadn’t come to an end.
Festival darlings Angus and Julia Stone closed the weekend with the capacity crowd spilling outside of the Lighthouse tent.

As the final applause echoed, we followed the crowd in silence, each lost in our own thoughts. I turned back to the now deserted Lighthouse stage and thought, “some people feel the rain, others just get wet”.

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Lech Wierzynski – The California Honeydrops

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Ben Malament – The California Honeydrops

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Dave Faulkner – Hoodoo Gurus

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Nik Rieth -Hoodoo Gurus

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Mustered Courage

https://cahoneydrops.bandcamp.com/album/like-you-mean-it

http://www.musteredcourage.com/index.php/video/

Queenscliff Music Festival 2015 – Part 1

Nirvana: a state of perfect peace and happiness, or, any place of pure bliss and delight. I can’t tell you exactly when I hit nirvana, but I know it was somewhere between Lior and The California Honeydrops.

You’ll probably be expecting me to wax lyrical about the sleepy seaside town, with its charming cafes and country town regulation number of pubs, that suddenly bursts into a colourful sea of serious music devotees and the music curious. But for me, it began, when I was leaning against the barrier and Lior, without fanfare, stepped onto the main Lighthouse stage, and began This Old Love. From the first bars, the capacity crowd on the opening night, was his. Pressed against the barrier at the front of the stage, the first melancholy notes, had me completely.

Autumn Flow, the album that 10 years ago kick started an enduring and varied career, has an air of wonder, expectation and innocence and with each song the crowd was carried along as one, each lost in their own memories. Listening to favorites; My Grandfather and Autumn Flow, I can only describe the feeling for me as comfortable, like coming home. But it was the final song, a cover of Jeff Buckley’s Satisfied Mind, with it’s slow, soulful guitar and vocals that just blew me and the crowd away. I wanted more, already feeling that this, only my second act would be difficult to top.

The night finished, with a sea of brass, with the Melbourne Ska Orchestra who had the capacity crowd on their feet dancing from the first beats. Reminiscent of 80’s ska giants, Madness, I was expecting a rendition of One Step Beyond at any moment! Each member brought their own individuality and personality to the performance both musically and through their on stage antics, whilst expertly conducted with endless energy by the multi talented Nicky Bomba. These guys know how to put on a show. The Orchestra commands you to leave your cares behind, dance and have fun, which is exactly what I did. An hour later, with tired feet, as we waited for the bus, with the songs still swirling in my head, I believed Nicky, that, The Best Things in Life are Free!

The organisers had surpassed expectations with the smorgasbord of musical delights scheduled for day 2, yes these were my thoughts whilst contemplating my egg and bacon toastie, necessary fuel for the anticipated 16 hr onslaught ahead. I was ready!

Attracted to unique musical experiences, and for me, uniqueness comes in many different forms, we headed for the QMF Express, a vintage train commonly known as “The Blues Train” which has featured the likes of Claude Hay & Geoff Achison. Three different acts in three different carriages we began with Alister Turrill & The Vagabond Brothers who transported me to the deep south with gravelly vocals and trance like bass. Half way mark, to the back of the train and the impressive blues vocals of Blue Eyes Cry.

Next up, Robert Forster could still command a stage, taking me back to a night where in a tiny club, I drank Vodka and danced to The Go Betweens in a completely white dress under strobe lights! Memories. By then the band had disbanded so it was my first chance to experience his distinctive vocal style live. Besides, not only was Cattle and Cane, classic, their drummer was female and the only other person I’d seen with my name. After all, in your teens it is, all about you!
I then couldn’t help but groove in the Ozone Tent with the ever growing crowd of chai lovers to the sweet soul sounds of DJ Vince Peach. I want him at my next party!

So that was how the first half played out, so grab a drink and get ready for the back to back awesomeness of Saturday night and the more relaxed morning after!

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Lior

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Lior

Lior

Lior

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Robert Forster

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The Vagabond Brothers

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