Easy and The Sun
Chris Chinchilla reports from Australia


The Exploders
Easy and The Sun

The biggest surprise is that The Exploders are a two-piece, how on earth do they recreate guitar, bass, drums, keys and vocals live? "Easy and the Sun" starts very well, mellow Ozzie rock, well played and crafted, but a majority of the tracks are much too long for a commercially viable pop rock album and about half way through things start to drag somewhat, the guitar sound, vocal delivery and pace of songs falling into something of a rut, never changing or varying (apart from the final song, which is a beautiful acoustic ballad), leaving the listener yearning for a break, unless you're getting stoned, I should imagine this is the perfect sonic accompaniment for such an evening, nothing too shocking or surprising. That said the album is a cut above a lot of other "Australian Rock" albums, there's not too much guitar wank, solos kept to a bluesy, basic and heartfelt minimum, it treads over familiar ground whilst keeping the path accessible and open to new wanderers. Perhaps this is the overall problem with The Exploders, possibly somewhere along the way the band decided to make their blend of rock lighter, becoming commercially more viable but losing their edge, ending up stuck in a rock limbo.

The Stabs, NinetyNine, Love of Diagrams, My Disco Trades Hall
It's a busy weekend for all ages shows and there is something very strange about attending gigs where there's no alcohol, not even on stage. Tonight all the adults keep dashing to the pub over the road between bands bewildering and frustrating the sole bar man who seems annoyed that his (obviously) usual quiet Saturday night is being disturbed. Meanwhile the kids do what they always do on a Saturday night and illicitly sip cans of cheap booze on municipal steps and get in the way, oh happy days! The Stabs are in an odd mood tonight, jovial and even slightly cheeky. Offsetting their intense and discordant guitar duelling with some frankly bizarre and confusing dialogue in-between songs. It's hard to describe The Stabs music as tuneful or particularly catchy but it's certainly 'interesting'. NinetyNine are performing as a duo tonight, stripping down their usually complexly arranged songs to drums, vocals and a keyboard or guitar. Cameron Potts is his usual flamboyant and enthralling self on drums, rather dominating the set, vocals and other instruments struggling to be heard over the shear volume he produces. The other instruments normally present are missed, the songs work without them, but not as well, Laura Macfarlane even looks a little confused and overwhelmed at times, almost like the songs are new to her, perhaps in this format they are. Melbourne has a habit of producing many bands like Love of Diagrams, bands that seem to forsake performance, enjoyment and acknowledging the audience to produce the fussiest, most technical sound possible. The band are overly fussy tonight, complaining about sound and fiddling with pedals throughout most of the set, which (especially if this is the only audience interaction) is incredibly annoying. Maybe the band are having a bad gig, but everything's a bit flat, the band aren't especially tight and the audience are getting fidgety, with only a group of over zealous sixteen year olds seeming to get anything out of the music. Granted that this over technical style of rock is popular in Melbourne but if you're forsaking performance for tightness, then you have to be tight, and this is where My Disco and their greater experience of playing live come into play. They possess a similar angular sound, heavily influenced by New Wave but far more planned and thought out, counter rhythms and melodies carefully arranged and tested, but these guys actually put on a show, they acknowledge the audience, they talk to them, they thank them for coming along. They realise that it's an audience and a band's interaction with them that makes a night a good night, it's a fundamental, and lets not forget it.

Karate Party, Bitchslap
Melbourne Pony
There are a lot of young bands like Karate Party, some nice songs, with a few interesting riffs and melodies lurking within them, but the two piece line up of keyboards and drums lacks the drive needed to get them across. Jo and Cat's intersong banter is also irritatingly fey, causing a few cringes, however as the set nears it's conclusion the girls seem to be getting it together and the songs are having more impact, perhaps a few more live shows and rehearsals are needed…

Bitchslap and their fuzzy Grunge Punk on the other hand are as tight as Jon Bon Jovi's trousers. Wonderfully thick guitar tones, bass lines and drum beats coming through crisp and crystal clear. Jess Coram, resplendent in regulation black with a severe haircut that looks just so right for the night, delivers sullen lyrics with aggression and panache. She barely acknowledges the audience between songs but still possesses and emits a certain confidence and charm whilst spitting lyrics about misery and oppression. Equally competent on guitar she rips out simple but blistering lead lines as well as chunky rhythm, treating her guitar like an old friend that you're not quite sure if she still likes. Liz on bass constantly conjures the perfect accompaniment, expertly interplaying with the guitar; the arrangements of songs seemingly planned for maximum effectiveness, unyet making it all look so easy.
Scott at the back on drums may look a little out of place (with the additional role tonight of being the sole male on the entire line up, a role he may be quite used to) but he doesn't show it, providing a similarly solid backing to the girls up front.
The material and its content is far from cheery and some might say it's even a little melodramatic at times, but it's heartfelt, the motivations and passions behind it are real and genuine. You may not sympathise, comprehend or understand the band or their aggravations, but if you're in the same room as Bitchslap, you will most certainly notice and hear them. http://www.myspace.com/bitchslapband

A Death in the family, Cockfight shootout, Young & Restless, Magic Dirt
Collingwood Town hall

All Ages gigs are tough; everyone claims there are not enough taking place and not enough opportunities for under 18's to attend live music. Unyet when an organisation goes to lengths to organise an all ages show with a strong line up at a prestigious and large venue, attendance is a little disappointing. Why is this? Perhaps running an all ages show in the evening is too late for some parents to allow their children to attend. Perhaps the lack of alcohol dissuades over eighteens attending, which if true, is a sad fact, that a vast majority of people are only attending gigs to get drunk, not for the music. Whatever the reasons, the audience is small tonight, slowly building but never filling the large, spacious and regal Collingwood Town Hall.

A Death in the Family could be described as an Emo band, that constant chugging guitar and strained vocals present throughout most of their set and songs, the guys put on a good show despite the early hour and lack of audience, quipping "We're not used to playing venues this small" but their songs need more dynamics, more variation. With a name like Cockfight Shootout the band could only be a good old-fashioned Ozzie rock band, all dressed in black, all Gibson Les Paul's, all Marshall stacks. Good solid stuff, fun and dependable, but nothing original or surprising.

Young and Restless are perhaps the one band on the bill tonight that might attract the largest all ages crowd, and the audience is now reaching it's peak and even starting to move it's feet. At their core Young and Restless are yet another jagged angular guitar band, but there's something about them, something rawer than their peers, something more challenging and interesting. An exciting discordance between guitars, a front woman who paces the stage like a dancing tiger, an enormous bass player who's eyes are barely seen and some great songs that get the heart pumping and the pulse racing. Magic Dirt are an institution, and like all long running institutions, they're mellowing and their priorities are changing, frequently referencing their children and even allowing them onstage to cutely dance along to the music. If you didn't know already the songs are big rocking slabs of guitar led by the powerful vocals of Adalita Srsen. Despite some of the dark lyrics lurking beneath the surface it's rousing music, and the perfect way to end the night, there will be no encores, it's time for parents to collect their children… On and off stage.


Sascha Ion, Nights at the Abattoir,
Schvendes Ding Dong Lounge

Landing the opening slot is a daunting and unenviable task for any band, doubly so when you're an acoustic act at a rock gig, you have to work extremely hard to even get the audience to acknowledge your existence, let alone actually listen to you. Sacha Ion's unique voice with its equal measures of vibrato, warble, screech and heart-felt gentility performs a good job of gaining the interests of at least some of the small crowd slowly building at Ding Dong tonight; she earns respect and hopefully some fans.
For a debut gig, Nights at the Abattoir are brimming with confidence, ability and great songs, their peculiar blend of Gothic Glam rapidly winning over the hearts and feet of the audience. Aside from the incredibly bubbly (and possibly drunk) keyboard player and the dapper vocalist, the bands guitarist seems to be in a world of his own, the stage lighting even marking him out differently. Discordantly soloing over everything or indulgently descending into messy sonic pools of layered effects, most of the time it doesn't really work or sit well over the good fun and straight forward gutsy stomp of the rest of the band, but at times he finds his own moments of genius, pulling out a solo or lick that compliments the song beautifully.

Schvendes take to the stage ably assisted by a sound man who seems to accompany just about every medium sized WA band, and short of a few early technical problems work together to produce a set where you hear every breath, every cello string bowed, every delicate bass note and ringing guitar chord. A mesmerising set ensues, Schvendes are a band that doesn't have to do or say a lot between songs, and in fact they're best staying silent to savour the adoring silence of the audience as they are absorbed in the show. Perhaps an occasional change of pace would be welcome; emotional lifts are needed at some points in the set as the dour melancholic material can sometimes be a little too much. However the set ends on a high note, so just as it's time to leave the audience and send them home, the band ensure that your memory of the night is generally a happy one.

Ben Birchall & The Corrections
Last Ditch Brigade

It's taken me a long time to get round to writing this review, I've kept putting it off, not due to a dislike of the album, but because for the first time since I've arrived on the shores of Australia I've found an artist who clicks with something inside of me and putting that into words is a tough and daunting prospect. I've not found an artist or album like this since Frank Turner's "Sleep is for the Week", an album full of disillusionment with life past, present and future, that lyrically and musically describe almost precisely how I felt at that exact moment. Ben's mixture of troubadour-esque acoustic stories and laid back rock led by crunchy electric guitar and organ ring true in my ears, a sure sign of my ever maturing musical tastes, no longer impressed by loud guitars and shouting. It may not connect with me so much on a lyrical level, being primarily tales of lamented loves, but that same feeling of mistakes, possible regrets, lessons learned and a new optimistic outlook on life is as equally present as Frank Turner's offering, perhaps I identify with that feeling and process in life, no matter if the situations or motivations differ. But enough of comparisons, what of "Last Ditch Brigade"? It's an album full of finely crafted arrangements and instrumentation demonstrating a song writing ability far beyond Ben's years, the songs would be equally at home on a fashionable Indie Kids' CD shelf as well as their parents', successfully creating an album that manages to transcend genres, fashions and age groups, simply producing a damn fine album, no pretension, no filler, full to the seams with brilliant songs.


Carus and the true believers
Three Boxes

A folk hero belonging truly to the old school, Carus has chalked up an average of 200 shows annually over the past few years and still found the time to release several albums, "Three Boxes" being his third. It's mellow and laid back but brimming with passion, dedication and earnest emotion, the lyrics are tales of his experiences and life on the road, containing equal elements of regret and happiness with his lifestyle, the excitement and the loneliness. A beautiful album that can be listened to time and time again, it doesn't drag, it doesn't need to be turned off halfway through, it sits in the background and makes your workplace peaceful and it sits in the foreground and inspires, a perfect album.

Pikelet, Batrider
Manchester Lane

Let's talk about loop pedals. These little boxes of tricks are popping up everywhere at the moment, giving musicians the capability of layering tracks of instrument loops to produce a texture of complex harmonies, great in theory, but becoming a little tired. Pikelet is the Mistress of such gadgets, not only layering sounds but manipulating them on the fly, speeding them up, slowing them down, for example, using her voice to create a cello like sound. The problem is that due to the fundamental definition of a loop, i.e. something that repeats, songs end up all being rather similar, with no real structure, just building pieces that grow dynamically and then stop, with very few verses, choruses, key changes etc. Despite this Pikelet does a very good job of engaging the audience at Manchester Lane, her hypnotic compositions and lilting voice lulling everyone into her own little world and then bringing them screeching back into the real world with her rather dry and even mildly patronising inter song banter.

The sign outside the venue says that the show is album tour launch party, Batrider say its there last gig before they move to the UK in a month, is that the same thing? What is Australian bands obsession with moving to the UK to fulfil their musical dreams? It's a big, scary and expensive place where outsiders are generally regarded as an annoyance, bands should go somewhere with a friendly music scene like Mainland Europe.
Anyway, enough of that tangent.

Batrider are working from the Nirvana definition of an acoustic gig, with drums, bass and an electric guitar on stage, maybe it's more of a "Stripped down" show, with only overdrive pedals switched off for good measure. Vocalist Sarah is on fine form, her gravel voice sounds like its summoning every ounce of pain she's ever experienced, screeching and howling over the sole acoustic guitar on stage that she bashes with glee. It's a damn fine opportunity to hear what great songwriters the band really are without all that "noise" going on, in fact the definition of a good song is one that you can do anything with and perform any way and it still sounds fantastic. One even starts to wonder if the band should do this all the time, do they really need overdrive? It's an emotional set, Batrider throw in a bunch of songs that they haven't played for a long time and seemingly enjoy doing so. Tonight's set is the sound of a band at the peak of their creativity, and in a twisted kind of a way we all hope that they have no success overseas and have to come back, no one at Manchester Lane wants them to leave the stage let alone the country.

The Pictures
The Fantastic Sound of the Pictures

A compilation of rarities from a band I've never heard of, it seems one half of their permanent line up (Davey Lane) is something of an Australian institution, an institution that never made it past the Pacific Ocean, so I'm off the hook. The problem with rarities albums is that they will often only appeal to hardcore fans, generally being full of slightly dodgy tracks, cover versions and poor recordings, "The Fantastic sound of the Pictures" contains examples of all of those (A Particular highlight is a cover of "Maps" by Yeah yeah yeahs that sounds like Primal Scream have replaced the band). It's a schizophrenic collection of songs, despite only spanning 5 years it sounds like a different band on each track, but I guess the rarities and b-sides of an artists are traditionally where they experiment and try something a little different. The sleeve notes accompanying the album are a fantastic insight into the songs and the band (especially for someone who knows nothing about them), demonstrating a warm and down to earth attitude with comments like "… We think it sucks too" and tales of financial woes, beer and recording session snacks. As the band would be more than likely to admit the album is not a fantastic collection of songs, more a mix of rough and smooth, a disc of memories and stories, but if you're a fan an invaluable and worthy addition to your collection.

Chris Chinchilla

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