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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http://benwhiting.bandcamp.com/

https://oliversarmy.bandcamp.com/

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

 

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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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https://michaelplater.bandcamp.com/

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

2015 in Review-My Musical Medley

John Cusack told me in High Fidelity that, a good mix tape is like writing a letter. There’s a lot of erasing and rethinking and starting again. You’ve got to kick off with a corker, to hold the attention and then you’ve got to up it a notch, or cool it a notch .… 2015 was my mix tape, but after seeing 50 gigs, and I could’ve seen many more, for Melbourne, is, music, could I narrow it to my top 5?

January 1, 2016, there won’t be any new years resolutions from this gal, because we all know that resolutions remain resolute for about the amount of time it takes hungover and draped over the couch, to find the remote control and change the channel. So rather than look forward, as I contemplate the logistics of finding said remote without movement on my part, here is my year of live music that in some way, blew me away.

My friends will tell you that I gush endlessly about Husky so it was somehow fitting, (although completely random), that the first and last gigs of 2015 for me, were in fact, Husky. 2015 began with Husky on a 40 degree Summer evening, outdoors in the cool leafy space behind the NGV International that gave the gig a lazy sumptuous feel. 2015 ended on December 19, a 42 degree day with Husky at NSC where I was as mesmerised as on that earlier February day.

But before the cheers of the final 5, here are my thoughts on those of the other 45 that have stuck in my mind.

The Perfections, a fave from 2013-14, and self proclaimed as Melbourne’s laziest garage soul band kicked ass in February with Christina’s vocals. She could be the love child of Tina Turner and Chrissy Amphlett if that was possible!
A final Bennetts Lane gig with The Furbelows in June transported me to the 40’s with songs of times past, with the exquisite harmonies of the 3 vocalists.
Amistat’s folky goodness charmed with their easy rapport, funny stories and gentle harmonies, then, Marlon Williams’ ballads and vocal gymnastics left us speechless.
Sydney’s Squeeze Box Trio, a 5 piece gypsy swing band, had the whole joint squeeze box jumpin to gypsy beats that had me dancing until my feet ached!
Follow with, the night of every song with a 3/4 (waltz) beat from the somewhat eccentric but wonderful, Captain Apples.
And, absolute highlights for a gal that is indie folk/country at heart, were Ben Whiting, James Fahy, Hugh McGinlay and Dan Lethbridge, whose lyrics all weave wonderful stories.
Having a predilection for Paris in the time of Hemingway and Gauguin, add to the mix, a regular indulgence of French chanson that made me swoon, from crooners, Merime, Paul Gillette and La Mauvaise Reputation.
And finally, Queenscliff Music Festival where I was blown away by The California Honeydrops, Mustered Courage and Melbourne Ska Orchestra, whilst coming home to, Lior and Hoodoo Gurus.

But these 5 were something extra special:

The Basics – Gasometer
Middle of the floor, in the round, everyone huddled around them, an easy banter that comes from playing together a long time, they had the crowd from the first drum beat. For over 2hrs, the musical brilliance of Wally De Backer held me spellbound culminating in a version of Fleetwood Mac’s Songbird.

Rubber Soul Revolver – Arts Centre
A rare opportunity, 3 rows from the front, to see, Jordie Lane, Marlon Williams, Husky Gawenda and Fergus Linacre perform The Beatles Rubber Soul and Revolver albums back to back. Individually and as a group they not only did justice to the The Beatles but made the songs their own.

Husky – Private Gig
Lucky enough to be one of a handful sat around a grand piano, with music that soared.

Three Writers Sing Their Words – Conduit Arts
A truly acoustic gig, no mics, no amps, just three guys and their guitars. James Fahy, James Hazelden and Floyd Thursby did just that. Each performer taking turns, one song each. This allowed a night of humour, stories and song. A delight.

Number 5 is a 3 way tie…cheating I know!

David Bowie Ziggy Stardust From the Top – featured the who’s who of local musicians. Highlights were James Fahy – Life on Mars, Baby Grace – Strangers When We Meet and Pete Whelan embodied Bowie with The Jean Genie

Changes – A Bowie Tribute – performers unleashed their inner Bowie. As I’ve already reviewed this gig I’ll just say, read my review! Highlights; Michael Plater and Sam Sejavka.

The Secret History of Song – Take a true folk soul, Mandy Connell and add provocateur balladeer, Floyd Thursby and you get a singular musical experience focused on the origin of the song, inspiration for the song and if the song was completely original at all. One gig I wanted more of.

…..and you can’t have two tracks by the same artist side by side, unless you’ve done the whole thing in pairs, and … oh there are loads of rules. But, really, there are no rules, for me, often it’s the indefinable.

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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/