St Jerome’s Laneway Festival (02.03.08)

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So I went to what will hopefully be my last gig for a long time on Sunday (I seriously need rehab for my full-blown gig addiction) – St Jerome’s Laneway Festival was splendid! There should be more micro-gigs in Australia where independent and unsigned bands are given its own prime space for the year. That said, there have been a rather ridiculous amount of festivals coming through in recent years: Future Music, Parklife, Good Vibrations, V Festival, and that’s all on top of the annual Big Day Out, Homebake, and inaugural Splendour In The Grass (for which tickets are freakin’ impossible to get!). It seems that jmag got it right with their latest issue – “electro is killing pub gigs”.

But it’s not just electro – music itself seems to be moving in the digital direction, as downloads of both the illegal and legal kind taking its toll on CD and record sales, thereby significantly reducing the average income for musos. So really, what choice do they have other than to tour, and tour often. Not that I’m complaining – the microbyted quality of an mp3 is nothing compared to the atmosphere at a live gig. And what better way to sample all of this mind-blowing music than via a festival. The only thing you have to worry about is time clashes like Gotye being on at the same time as The Presets and The Brunettes, or Broken Social Scene being on at the same time as Dan Deacon – clashes of which I fiercely shake my fist to.

Anyhoo, below is a gig review I drummed up for Sunday’s glorious event. I submitted it to FasterLouder, but it didn’t get published because the editor of The Brag (Elmo Keep) got in first. Grrr..

Photos are on my Facebook by the way! And there are a gazillion if you look them up on Flickr.


St Jerome’s Laneway Festival

Circular Quay, Sydney


With the onslaught of music festivals in recent years, St Jerome’s Laneway Festival is a little ray of sunshine in a darkened alley of otherwise mind-numbing genres. Indeed, the clouds threatened a downpour as punters rocked up in their decidedly individualist garb – flannel shirts and wayfarer sunnies in equal parts please.

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But no matter, the sun proved its staying power and was cheerfully helped along by the power pop sounds of a suit-wearing trio. Performing to a handful of early Sunday morning risers on the stage closest to the entrance, The Basics gave a charmingly observed set as the first act of the day. Wally de Backer, a.k.a. Gotye sat hidden in the back, possibly to give his long time band mates Tim Heath and Kris Schroeder some time in the spotlight. Despite their shining tunes, it was clear that Wally quietly outshone his crew with his stunning vocals and mild drummer gymnastics, the drum kit left shaking from his beats.

Ghostwood have been playing the live scene for a good 18 months, and their punk rock drawl often brings a fairly strong crowd to their shows, curious onlookers included. That said, they did little to maximise the laneway space of Reiby Place to their potential and left a promising sound quite unfulfilled. On a similar plane, there followed The Devastations who unfurled their own brand of moody rock to a politely intrigued crowd. Unfortunately, I wasn’t intrigued enough so it was back to the Park Stage for some swing dancing via Little Red.

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The Melbourne boys of Little Red continued the do-wopping trend set by The Basics as they filled the canopied area with sweet tunes of holding hands and monogamous relationships. With the joyous fizzy dream of an ice cream soda, their marriage of The Kinks ’ pop-rocks and Beach Boys groove sent a growing crowd to partake in their own brand of toe-tapping, though their rock star swagger and throbbing bass lines provided a curious sexual lining to their otherwise innocent personas.

Indeed, the Laneway Festival provides a platform for new and upcoming bands to strut their stuff to a smorgasboard of indie enthusiasts where music tastes are as diverse as they are intriguing. Perhaps the most curiosity-driven crowd arrived when Manchester Orchestra took the Reiby Place stage, and with a name as poetic as that, one almost expects a string ensemble to join their otherwise tempered rock. With vocals reminiscent of Placebo, Manchester Orchestra gave Sydney a solid performance to their music on the back of their, ahem, virgin record, I’m Like A Virgin Losing A Child. The crowd threw appreciative applause as lead singer Andy Hull bestowed his pleasantries on them to see his band.

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From there, this reviewer inched back towards the Park Stage with sausage and notepad in tow to witness emerging Australian darlings The Panics. The sheer volume of the crowd became apparent as the path to the front barrier was quickly obstructed by devoted fans sitting put and staking their claim to the popular stage. The Panics are quickly becoming infused into the Australian music psyche, not unlike the lads of You Am I. With a third album firmly latched under their well-worn belts, The Panics launched into the oh-so-familiar tracks from A House on a Street in a Town I’m From, and Sleeps Like A Curse. A faulty keyboard threw off their performance with a “ghostly” jarring to their otherwise melodramatic blend of rock and psychedelia. As the stage crew attempted to replace the keyboard with what sounded like a second faulty one, lead singer Jae Laffer unleashed a torrent of F-bombs, a testimony to his admission that he doesn’t “work well under stress”. But worry not, for all was forgotten as guitarist Julian Douglas led an arm waving of support as the familiar opening chords of Don’t Fight It filled our ears. Technical glitches cut the set short, but the adoring crowd really couldn’t give a flying fuck – pleasing is as pleasing does.

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Soon after, Stars blended dreamy pop tunes with the ever-melodious Torquil Campbell. The trees lining the area provided a fitting atmosphere for the stronghold of fans – one girl sang along word perfect to each and every one of their musical offerings. Amy Millan stuck a decided brash rock chick persona, her part balanced by Torquil’s exuberant singing and clapping – an action that’s seemingly become a crucial part of indie pop. Indeed, the fun was just beginning as Torquil introduced a song about “fucking someone to death” with a well-observed Australian accent, providing a violently prosaic tinge to their set with One More Night (Your Ex-Lover Remains Dead).

A last minute change and clash to the timetable meant there was no way I was forgoing the next band for Dan Deacon, no matter how amazing people say he is. Kevin Drew emerged with the ever-expansive Broken Social Scene. To say that this band is a supergroup is a profound understatement. There is definitely something brewing in those Canadian waters – the sheer quality of musicians coming out of that place over the past few years is mind-blowing, and Broken Social Scene are no exception. If you thought their gorgeous layers of orchestral joy and guitar noise was splendid on CD, then seeing them play it live is like a whole new revelation.

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Opening to the chorus of audience anticipation, the band dallied across the stage, their fingers articulated in concentration. Stars And Sons provided the first high of the set as Leslie Feist , Stars, and a slew of other members clapped their way into the hearts of an already adoring crowd before skipping off to the sidelines, their figures still visibly dancing. 7/4 (Shoreline) was another highlight as Feist gave us another reason to love her wily ways amidst the stunning cacophony of brass-wielding members. Torquil came out with his trumpet and a nod to his own Australian idol via his emblazoned t-shirt – “I Miss Grant McLennan” – as the air practically hummed with euphoria.

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Part Three of the Broken Social Scene takeover of Sydney came as Leslie Feist took the stage for her solo act leaving Clap Your Hands Say Yeah to puncture her ballads and iPod passengers from the Reiby Place stage with their stellar guitar. That said, Ms Feist radiated powerful Joni Mitchell vibes as she came on stage soon after sunset with her lantern. So interchangeable she seemed that the blues guitar of Janis Joplin, the soft lilting voice of Jane Birkin, and even the brash persona of Stevie Nicks came soaring through her performances. Feist cruised through most of her latest album, jarring the spaces between songs with the odd “fuck you” to the doof-doof sounds of neighbouring stages.

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The Presets

But enough Canadian joy for tonight, as a handful of punters shuffled back to Reiby Place to catch The Presets last performance before their stint in the UK. I would’ve liked to have seen The Brunettes, but the Basement was decidedly out of bounds having reached full capacity about 3 hours previously. That said, a night with The Presets is a guaranteed night well-spent as the electro duo shot through their tracks with the precision of a dance sniper – so compelling were their beats that one really had no option but to dance. Are You The One? and My People proved the biggest hits of the night as the crowd sent St Jerome’s off to the musical ether for another year.

As the dispersing crowd headed for the exit, Gotye finished up at the Park Stage with the closing sounds of Night Drive. And so it was with the rising chorus and sheer joy of his mantra Learnalilgivinanlovin ’ that this punter headed home with gleefully imploding back muscles and a day’s worth of aural splendour.

Explosions In The Sky (15.02.08)

explosions in the sky gig review margaret tran
I’ve always been a fan of Explosions In The Sky ever since my Last.FM player pulled them up during my early aural experiments. Being a fan of Mogwai and Sigur Rós, Explosions was right up my alley. That said, seeing them live is a whole new experience.. Intense only barely begins to describe the atmosphere of the place.

And it seems that University of Sydney’s Manning Bar is fast becoming a formidable venue in the Sydney live scene. February was without a doubt chockers with indie’s finest: Stars, Broken Social Scene, Beirut, Okkervil River, but to name a few.

explosions in the sky gig review margaret tranBroken Social Scene
Freakin’ glorious

Anyhoo, below is the gig review I did for FasterLouder. I personally think I come off as a pretentious wanker, but it’s still fairly readable. Those prog-rock/soundscapes stuff that extreme artsy types listen to can be a hit-and-miss for me sometimes..


Explosions In The Sky
Manning Bar, Sydney
15 February 2008

By expertly balancing the tender tones of Sigur Rós with My Bloody Valentine ’s sadistic brutalities, Explosions In The Sky set an obscenely high bar of expectation for the night. Their late starting time of 10.45PM and requisite support acts only served to heightened the buzz surrounding their maiden performance on our shores.

Wollongong band Ohana meandered onto the stage and unleashed a disjointed mesh of guitars and jagged wails. Indeed they seemed to aim for the punk end of this dizzying prog-rock spectrum, but lacked the energy or presence to really pull it off. The crowd threw appreciative applause, but the band struck an, at times, clichéd chord that did little to stir the senses for this reviewer.

Eluvium on the other hand, was a welcome entrée to the main event as Matthew Cooper shuffled into position. It was a varied and breathtaking experience of soundscapes punctured with conjured images of warfare and its proceeding funeral procession, the sombre piano a testimony to his years of childhood lessons. Being a one-man-band, there was the immediate difficulty in translating the lush layers of sound into a live experience. He alternated between crouching over his DAT players and crouching over his piano, a feat only forgivable by his superb compositions.

Another half hour wait preceded the main event as the crowd ambled closer to the stage. Plastic cups began to litter the carpeted floor of the university hangout, and there was a distinct buzz in the air, heavy with anticipation for the Texan aural artists. Then at last, they arrived, grins apparent on their faces above the roar of applause as they settled into position. After the announcement of the very recent birth of a friend’s baby by guitarist Munaf Rayani, a harrowing explosion (for lack of a better word) of distorted guitar by Michael James opened the set, assaulting the eardrums of those who happened to be nearest to the speakers.

Then came the soft, lilting notes that define the light and shade masterpiece that is Explosions In The Sky. Being so used to seeing microphones follow musicians like an organ extension, one becomes acutely aware that here is a band who let the music do the talking for them. Taking most of the setlist from the records The Earth Is Not A Cold Dead Place and the popular All of a Sudden I Miss Everyone, the band have the outrageously exacting skill of taking you on an almost cathartic journey. Never mind that you might know the songs all by heart, they somehow meld the tracks into one so that it’s impossible to tell which way you’re going to be thrown next. Many punters were standing completely still, their eyes closed in an act of utter submission, allowing their bodies to flow from the proverbial quiet stream into the violent and suffocating ocean.

There are few words that can describe the intensity of experiencing the music live. You get the impression that something terrible is going to happen, and sure enough, it does, its coming obliterating everything in its path. Indeed, some people had to leave the space for a moment or move further away from the stage in a bid to regulate the music. The textured synthesised sounds and the weeping guitars were not done justice by the sound at Manning Bar, the walls of the place threatening to peel away to accommodate. Amazingly, there were a few people talking during the James’ quietly nuanced guitar, but they too were silenced into obedience by the white noise of Mark Smith’s pounding bassline and Rayani’s satanic tones, as he swayed around like a man possessed.

Despite the absence of the beautiful Your Hand In Mine and First Breath After Coma, the band delivered a set worthy if not better than their overused Mogwai comparisons, and leaves this reviewer needing a few days to recover from it all.

gig review: José González

I am stupid behind my usual deadline with this gig review on José González – I usually get it done the morning after the gig. By the way, he was stunning, love love love. But I took a critic perspective with this review. I paid for my ticket, but have since signed on as a contributor for at FasterLouder (about freakin’ time, I know). Hopefully it’ll pass through the editors.. *twiddles thumbs*

I still have a Daft Punk review I’ve been meaning to finish, but let’s face it – how the fuck do you put the Daft Punk experience into words? I was hoping to pitch it Rolling Stone, who’ve since gotten a new editor – HURRAH! No more being freakishly terrified of Simon Wooldridge =D


José González @ Enmore Theatre, 29.12.07
Support: Emily Barker

José González really loves Australia. His recent Enmore gig was his fourth visit to our sweltering shores in just under as many years. Commanding a quietly formidable presence at Newtown’s Enmore Theatre, the artist riffled through his library of finger-plucking tracks with requisite covers thrown into the mix. Indeed there is just something about the Enmore Theatre that keeps musos coming back, and González was no exception, transforming the at times vast space into an intimate mute-lit lounge.

Support Emily Barker turned over a pleasing set with her folk-slash-alternate-country melodies. Dixie Chicks comparisons aside, she found her place between a melancholic Sarah McLachlan and the trace of Stevie Nicks. Indeed, one might even find the strength and clarity of Martha Wainwright if listened hard enough. Barker’s voice is quite an aural gem to behold, as she attracted some appreciative applause from the small crowd who bothered to turn up early.

A rather long 45-minute wait finally saw the Argentinean-cum-Swede stroll onto the stage with his rapidly expanding afro and mo’. A hush descended the murmuring crowd as he opened the show with a powerful rendition of Hints. Fingers moved across the strings like water, hypnotising to those lucky few at the front as we were treated to a humbling instrumental number before crowd pleaser Heartbeats took the show to the first of many highlights of the night.

Percussionist Erik Bodin and back-up vocalist Yukimi Nagamo joined him on stage for Stay In The Shade, before the crowd threw adoration at a less-than-perfect In Our Nature. Indeed, while the song-writing from the In Our Nature record is a lot more adventurous, its surety was not as easily obtained when translated to a live performance. Interspersing a lukewarm Time To Send Someone Away with a haunting rendition of Lovestain merely served to point out exactly in what made Veneer so exquisite. The atmosphere of this song brought the show to a soaring crescendo as we were treated to a more bitter side to the otherwise quiet González. Soonafter, Remain took this fever to a higher octave before a simmering and almost groovy Down The Line.

A change possibly spurred by his growing popularity, the venue was divided into two dancefloors, a move that did little to benefit González’s otherwise mesmerising performance. The presence that he drove on stage is one of drawn out subtlety and climactic in its execution, an impact lost on some of his newer fans. It seemed that the simplicity of his songs found many punters shuffling from sore lower backs, and made the theatre appear cavernous at times. A shame to be sure considering the lush melodies mused with his soft vocal tones; he spent much of the night hunched over his classical guitar, the odd ‘thank you’ thrown to the crowd here and there in between his aurally pleasing twangs and picks.

With such a lack of showmanship, you become acutely aware González’ complacency with his growing popularity and perchance for the stunning covers he puts in place of his otherwise excellent song-writing, which is on par with the likes of Elliot Smith and of course, Nick Drake. The encore proved such brilliance with Deadweight on Velveteen and Crosses before a lack-lustre Abram from his second album. The softly melancholic Kylie Minogue cover aside, it was apparent that the night belonged to one song. A devastating Teardrop closed the night, building to a commanding high, at once breathtaking and true.

A night with José González is one well-spent indeed, especially for a reviewer who’d paid to see him twice before. Despite a slow rise in popularity with the second offering, the songs were supported by his solid efforts with Veneer many of which proved to be the favourites amongst the crowd. The performance was an enlightening end to the year, though it would be a crying shame if he became defined by the covers that he so ingeniously produces.

Live Earth gig review + existential crisis #87

I banged out a gig review of Live Earth and sent all 1104 words (they’d definitely have to edit it down to about 700 words – it’s impossible editing your own work) to street press mag the Drum Media with the request and thanks that if deemed worthy, the review would be published in the upcoming issue. Now I read a fairly mediocre review in my copy of said issue of the Drum, critiquing an event that, despite its commercial nature, did not really cover the critiques that came with reviewing.

I feel a profound sense of inadequacy, possibly due to my ability to be over-anxious when it comes to not achieving what I’ve set out to do. That coupled with my present anxiety over not hearing any response from USYD about my Masters application, which will eventuate into an overwhelming (and unnecessary) sense of worthlessness means that I am one very tightly wounded individual right now.

But of course, this is just me feeling wounded at not being published so really, don’t listen to me. Such is the self-indulgence and narcissism that comes with blogging YAY.

My review is below for you to make up your own mind.


LIVE EARTH – 07.07.07

With climate change warm in the air, the day was not without a sense of trepidation as the cream of the Australian music crop came together to raise awareness on this most pressing issue in our modern world. I mean, with Al Gore’s stamp of approval, any excuse for a concert right?

An Aboriginal performance paid homage to the nation’s indigenous roots before Blue King Brown opened the bill with an energetic set to wake the early Saturday morning punters trickling into the Oval A and B sections. There was a little more action in the stadium when Toni Collette and The Finish took the stage. Now I haven’t always been a fan of Ms Collette, save for her performance in Muriel’s Wedding, but her band wasn’t half bad. Despite the highlight being her cover of T. Rex’s Children of the Revolution, she carried a firm stage presence. Her songs failed to stir any particular interest in me however – blandness reigned.

The epic food lines at the stalls scattered around the innards of the stadium had me clutching my poor excuse for a pizza as I ran to catch the remnants of Sneaky Sound System. Bridging the gap between indie and mainstream, they made the most of their measly twenty-five minute set, momentarily transforming the stadium into a club house, albeit a very open spaced one. Soon after, The Ghostwriters performed a solid set as Rob Hirst took the stage, unleashing original songs and a classic Midnight Oil number, When The Generals Talk.

Paul Kelly got the crowd going with a gorgeous rendition of From Little Things, Big Things Grow as Missy Higgins and John Butler took the stage earlier than scheduled to support the man himself – a definite highlight. Soon after, Eskimo Joe donned their pretentious mainstream coats and took the stage with yet another lack-lustre and tightly rehearsed set, opening with crowd-pleaser From The Sea and ending with the commercial earworm that is Black Fingernails, Red Wine. In a set riddled with new tracks (hate to break it to you boys, but a little Sweater every now and then won’t tarnish those skinny jeans of yours), frontman Kav Temperley renounced London Bombs as a political song. But the political nature of the event itself was already tangible in the air. Regardless, the punters soaked it in and onward we swayed.

The darling of the Australian music scene Missy Higgins bounded on the stage for the second time that day, shooting off tracks from her new record, intercepting The Wrong Girl and Where I Stood with sing-a-long renditions of The Special Two and Scar as her gentle though formidable stage presence was felt. John Butler Trio took the stage, sending the crowd into a dancing frenzy as he punched out a solid performance of Zebra before riffling off Funky Tonight and an undeniably joyous Better Than. He spoke to the audience of looking after Mother Earth (as if we needed reminding) before launching into Treat Yo Mama with lute in tow and a mind-blowing drum solo by percussionist Michael Barker.

The inexorable juggernaut that is Wolfmother unleashed a solid and tight set to a somewhat unworthy crowd. One punter suggested the lack of enthusiasm to the way in which moshing generated heat, and that such refrain would serve as an example to the cause. Indeed, it seemed that green was definitely the taste of the day as Andrew Stockdale held up his double-necked guitar proclaiming, ‘We used just one tree to make two guitars!’ much to the puzzled punters.

In what may very well have been his only gig of the year, tourist Jack Johnson strolled onto the stage with a certain humility and laid-back attitude before strumming an almost crowd-led rendition of Times Like These. Visibly amused by such antics, Mr Johnson teased the audience with ‘I bet you know the words to this next one’ as the opening chords of The Horizon Has Been Defeated guaranteed instant transportation to a tropical island of punter choice. Interspersing older tracks with his newer ones, the crowd was giddy with excitement as they sang along to Gone, a track unfortunately made famous by the ubiquitous Black Eyed Peas.

The screens on either side of the stage occupied the time between sets, interlacing short films that pushed the climate change and water/energy/oil/methane-saving message via Cate Blanchett, Will Ferrell and videos of the eternally annoying Rihanna. Signs brought by the audience, ranging from the hilarious ‘Jack Johnson, have my GREEN babies’ to the downright clever ‘I HEART energy efficient LAMP’, were projected onto said screens for amusement. Then Peter Garrett took the stage to introduce recently reformed headliners Crowded House. Punters cheered for the former Midnight Oil frontman as he put his own green two cents into the bill, telling the crowd that climate change was the biggest issue affecting modern society before dropping the Rudd factor as the crowd shuffled in discomfort. It was almost sad to see a man once revered as rock royalty seemingly weighed down by the political agendas of his party.

Then Crowded House took the stage as the crowd threw their adoration in screams and applause, and let’s face it, tonight was all about them. Neil Finn has become a man one year short of fifty and definitely not one short of rocking out, as he greeted the crowd with a genuine happiness spreading through the lines on his face. And with that familiar opening riff of Locked Out, we were overwhelmingly assured of Crowded House as they once were, at least as much as they are without the late Paul Hester. There was definitely no denying the absence of the drummer that was, but this did not deter the crowd’s raw enthusiasm for the band that formed a big part of the ‘soundtrack to our lives’. Shooting off tracks with a grandiose sing-a-long of Fall At Your Feet and Don’t Dream It’s Over, as well new record offering Silent House, the audience was brimming with nostalgic euphoria, grins and cheers inescapable. The gimmick-free power outage of the tyred backdrop of lights during an ironic Four Seasons In One Day provided a poetic touch to the night; ‘I guess they’re trying to save energy’ replied a surprised Mr Finn. The entire bill took to the stage, including a child-rearing John Butler, to bow out the night with Weather With You, before a Neil Finn-led Better Be Home Soon during the encore.

And so it was, a day (and night) of environmentally friendly and positive green energy as weary punters trudged toward the bus queues and toward Central Station by foot, their heads filled with Orwellian energy saving tactics.