Review: The Green Mohair Suits, The Vanguard, Sydney

Green Mohair Suits

The Green Mohair Suits
13th April 2012, The Vanguard
Sydney

My name is Julie Stenton, I am Generation Y, and I like alt-country-bluegrass music.

There. I said it.

I like Aimee Mann, I like Neil Young, I like Ryan Adams, I like The Mountain Goats, I like Earle Scruggs, I like the O Brother, Where Art Thou? soundtrack and, most recently, I like The Green Mohair Suits.

I like that Sarah Howells (Triple J) incorporates a little bit of this stuff into her Thursday night program, Roots ‘N’ All, but I’d REALLY like it if more of this stuff was played on the radio during the waking hours. Surely, I’m not alone.

Coincidentally, The Green Mohair Suits launched their new album at The Vanguard on Friday night (Triple J, are you smelling what I’m baking here? Wink, wink).

Their live performance was fun, engaging and energetic – even without the piano accordion and Elana Stone’s vocals as featured on the album. Self described as ‘Bluegrass Garage’, their songs are beguiling, quirky, frequently eccentric and sometimes sweary. With several singers on call in the band, they are also beautifully and diversely sung (if you haven’t heard Brian Campeau ‘do’ country, well, you need to take a look at your life, Old Man).

Lyrically, the style is classic country (“I only got one dollar, so I only play one chord”) and insanely catchy (“I’m a liar [He’s a liar], I’m a liar, liar, liar, liar”) and the album holds little gems like a song sung from the perspective of a bug, replete with bug-voice accompaniment. I’m not kidding. It is clear that these guys have been brought up on a very, very varied musical diet.

There was something for everyone at the gig (except green suits of any kind) and their freshly minted, eponymous album only further showcases their musical range. I like it, bugs and all (and if the broadcasters and record labels are looking for quirk or beauty with a difference to appeal to their listeners, these suits will likely impress them Suits).

National Folk Festival 2012: A Musical Feast Part 1

Food

Hosted over Easter by Our Nation’s Capital, The National Folk Festival is something I look forward to, and every year I am in equal measure befuddled by, and in awe of, the phantasmagoria of sounds and kaleidoscope of sights present.

Music, dance, workshops, and expert percussive monkey puppeteers – these are all reasons to attend. But of course, there is another…

Lounging amidst lashings of hot mulled wine, ubiquitous gozleme and meat on sticks, lays the lip-smacking delight that comes with a side-served promise of spiritual awakening, known as The Feast.

The Feast, folk festival grub perfected by vegetarian Hare Krishnas, has become a main attraction. Two parts Royal Rice and Mixed Veggie Curry, one part Kofta Balls and Tomato Chutney and one part Halava Dessert, The Feast describes The National Folk Festival itself – aromatic, wholesome, lively and at times, experimental (who knew that sweet, sticky date-laden halava and tomato chutney could taste so good once accidentally combined)?

For this reason I will allow The Hare Krishna Feast a guest spot in this report (as it ‘gets’ folk).

The Yearlings

This super-lovely set got off to a cute start, with Robyn and Chris, a.k.a. The Yearlings wholeheartedly strumming (as we wondered, “Why are they performing through their foldback, and underwater?” and “Who turned out the lights?”) until the sound guy helpfully pointed out that things had not yet begun. Then, after giggles all round and a formal introduction from the MC they were on their way, both visible and audible.

What followed was dreamy, alt-country, road-trippin’ side-winding – the kind that makes you think, “Life moves pretty fast. If you don’t stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it”, or “Dernit, I fergit ma Stetson”.

Wildflower Girl” was ultra-cool. Robyn’s voice, with a touch of the Hope Sandovals, is so listenable and Chris coaxes milky tones from his electric guitar. Isn’t it so much more engrossing when talented guitarists don’t overdo it, even though they could?

After the gig we bumped into them at the sunscreen dispensary. They were friendly, relaxed and not the least bit sunburnt.

The Yearlings via The Feast: Everything that is great about The Feast, exists within The Yearlings. If I had to compare them to a particular part, it would be Royal Rice and Mixed Vegetable Curry: subtle, moreish, satisfying.

Sarah Humphreys (feat. Sam Buckingham)

Sarah Humphreys is quite the endearing performer. Somehow both shy and confident, she has a gentle, folky sway and a bunch of stories that, if told by a performer less natural, would seem too earnest for me (heck, she’s brought me to near-tears on more than one occasion).

This year at The National she was joined by her guitarist and a percussionist, which added a good amount of pep, to her oft introspective set.

I adore her most when she sings this song, which she did with fellow songbird, Sam Buckingham, silencing all in the Flute ‘n’ Fiddle and well into the fields beyond, even the drumming monkeys.

Sarah Humphreys via The Feast: Sweet like Halava.

April Verch

We wandered into a dark, cow-barn-sized, full of folk-folk room and settled in on the floor to catch some country/bluegrass tunes sung by a tiny, be-frocked Canadian fiddler accompanied by her wickedly skilled band (Cody Walters on double bass and banjo and Hayes Griffin on guitar).

All seemed wonderfully put together, hearty, festival, fiddle-driven fare until…April Verch started TAP DANCING!

I rummaged around for her programme bio to confirm that yes, this was happening and yes, April is not only a multi-instrumentalist and cherished Canadian musical export, she is also known in the business for her ‘step dancing’ prowess.

What the?

Over the next 30 minutes April and her band wowed us with their 3-man show. They were true performers, charming and funny (Hayes pointed out wryly that the only way to tell one fiddle tune from another is by the name, how true).

I’m Still Trying” was uber-country in both lyrical style and arrangement, and simply lovely. The final number, “Bumblebee in a Jug” was a foot stompin’ hurrah that had me looking around for bumblebees swarming from jugs (‘cause people play jugs at the Folky).

To finish, the crowd sung Happy Birthday to April and she forgave us for not bringing a card. It was short notice, after all.

April Verch via The Feast: Just like a small dollop of Tomato Chutney, April Verch stepped up with a surprising amount of (high) kick!

The Ellis Collective

Being a Sound Guy at a folk festival is pretty much the job from Hell. Sound checks in real time, constant rearranging of instrument mics, vocal mics and leads, knob/big ego/fiddle fiddling, it’s no walk in the park.

On Friday night, as The Ellis Collective prepared to folk-rock the Majestic (a 1950s circus-style tent and newish venue at The National), it was clear that there might be technical difficulties. The show was running 25 minutes late, for starters.

When Matty Ellis and his band of ragamuffin folksters graced the stage, they were met with raucous applause. Having recently been ‘Unearthed’ in 2011, their following is growing in number and devotion and those attending didn’t seem to mind the murky sound one bit. The Ellis Collective soldiered through the sound and even sanctioned some specific, rhythmic audience participation, which much to their bemusement, the odd wag continued in unexpected songs, with the full audience’s final approval delivered in said-same rhythm-claps instead of the usual applause.

The gig swung from an avant-garde experiment that at one point saw nine band members on stage (incl. four percussionists, one playing a chain, in a bucket) to a moving, heartfelt performance, and it brought the tent down. Sound Guy Hell, but fan Heaven.

The Ellis Collective via The Feast: Crunchy, crunchy Kofta Balls.

David Ross MacDonald

A cool thing to do at a folk festival is take a punt, as we did on Friday afternoon, with David Ross MacDonald.

Knowing nothing about him, we sat ourselves down in the Flute ‘n’ Fiddle, taking care to manage our exit strategy, should his set not fill our 40 minutes with joy (sounds harsh but there is a LOT of music to get through at The National)! The only clue that we were about to see something good was that The Yearlings crept in via a sneaky side entrance to watch. Did I mention how much I like The Yearlings?

David, a troubadour in folk-armour (white shirt and vest), had us immediately. And I can’t quite pinpoint what it was that captivated, perhaps the blend of introversion, quirk, honesty and sing-scat-humming to himself off mic. If you watch this shaky recording of “Ruby Stone” (try to ignore the children crying), you might hear what I think I heard – a hint of Darren Hanlon and something deeply lovely. And we all joined in with the chorus.

(Here, why not watch some more, it’s fun)!

I also liked what he had to say – whether dispensing advice from his Mother (“Adapt or die!”) or telling a funny story about a family holiday with Grandpa that takes a twist and punches you in the guts with brutal, beautiful observation.

David is a great guitarist but his appeal isn’t abracadabra or production. We lined up to buy his latest album after the gig (and maybe gush a little) and I like it, but his live performance with nothing added, seemed so, so pure. The album longs me to see him live again.

In any case, I give David Ross MacDonald two of my thumbs, pointed skyward.

David Ross MacDonald via The Feast: Have you ever eaten the feast for lunch AND dinner. David Ross MacDonald is just like that.

In sum, The National Folk Festival rules. So does sunscreen, songbirds, tap dancing, Sound Guys, Grandparents, D. R. MacDonald and of course, The Feast.

Review: Pear and the Awkward Orchestra, FBi Social, Kings Cross

Pear and the Awkward Orchestra
Image Courtesy of Pear and the Awkward Orchestra

Pear and the Awkward Orchestra
22nd February 2012, FBi Social, Kings Cross
Sydney

I am no stranger to feeling awkward. In fact, you could say that I feel awkward at the drop of a hat. Especially on a breezy street, if dropping said hat, it tumbles along just out of reach while I’m bent-over-running, arms flailing. Awkward!

I do not like feeling awkward, yet at first glance, awkwardness is something that Pear and the Awkward Orchestra have embraced – everything from the band name to the promotional picture included in the press release (above) whiffs of it. I mean, is Pear (Stephanie Barros Lees) laughing at ME? Did she see ME running like a clown after that hat? I feel a little awkward!

I also find band biographies a bit awkward. Mostly because, unless the band is a ‘big deal’, they are written in the third person by the first person. How awkward is that? Heaps.

With all this personal-discomfort-regarding-how-others-perceive-you afoot, I have decided to review Pear and the Awkward Orchestra’s performance at FBi Social against their own set of criteria, namely – how they are described in their band biography.

Awkward enough for you?* Here we go:

Pear says

Jules says

Score

Sweet Absolutely. Pear is quite adorable, actually.

1.0

Juicy Figuratively, no idea what this means but I like it. Literally, no band members appeared to be drinking juice.

0.5

Unique Definitely.

1.0

Quirky Utterly – I particularly liked the Orchestra’s matching outfits – Geek Chic.

1.0

Memorable Certainly. I still have “Oh Katrina” stuck in my head and am about to hit up iTunes for Smocks.

1.0

Whimsical Just like Miss Muffet, minus the tuffet, curds etc.

1.0

Diverse instrumentation Three guitars. To be fair, they were all different (and one from the 1920s), but would we call that diverse?

0.5

Emotive/powerful voice Yup, juicy.

1.0

Gritty songs I would have said ‘playful’. But if we read ‘gritty’ as ‘plucky’ then yes – there was a whole lotta pluckin’ goin’ on.

0.5

Personal songs She didn’t mention me once, so room for improvement there.

0.5

Brisbane-based I saw no physical evidence of this but believe it to be true.

1.0

Beautiful, handmade ecologically sustainable merchandise, which has to be seen to be believed I didn’t see it; therefore I do not believe it – full points! Wait, that’s not really true. Pear seems like a good apple and I do believe that the eco merch exists – half points.

1.0

0.5

Total score – a very un-awkward 9.5/12. In addition to their description, I heard inventive, unconventional, hooky songwriting, and witnessed an engaging, warm performance. Pear and the Awkwards were cool in a science-class-explosion kind of way.

Thanks for a fun night, Pear. I think you’re more eccentric than awkward, but next time my hat blows off at the beach, I’ll be thinking of you.

*If it’s not awkward enough for you, please don’t tell me because that would be kind of embarrassing.

Review: Laura Marling, Sydney Opera House, Sydney

Laura Marling

Laura Marling
9th February 2012, The Sydney Opera House
Sydney

Goosebumpy? Not yet an actual word. Amazing? Too common. Cute? Well, it was (especially when she started reeling off facts about the Queen – did you know that she has her manual driver’s licence?), but Laura Marling’s performance at the Sydney Opera House on Thursday night left me scratching around for good adjectives to describe it. Good isn’t good enough.

I’ll start at the start.

I am reasonably new to Laura Marling’s music, which, as a folk-lover, I am a little embarrassed about. Of course, ‘back then’ I knew of her and was reasonably spellbound by “Rambling Man“, but I truly got involved when I chanced upon this live performance of “Ghosts” from her first release, Alas, I Cannot Swim. What happened next was that I lost a great many hours in the wormhole that is YouTube and, several months later after watching this, became entirely convinced that if I didn’t get tickets to her Opera House show it would be very, very bad.

Fast forward three months and I’m on a Mega Date Night with MG. He’s more of an indie-tragic but seems almost as excited about our Date Night entertainment as I am. He says he finds Laura “silencing”, likening her to a good meal – “No need to talk”. I find the simile amusing yet curiously accurate and steal his adjective, “silencing” – nice one, MG.

Appropriately, aside from the occasional wolf whistle and one gentleman’s pertinent request that Laura be his Valentine (an overture the drummer denied simply; “No”), the audience were a silent lot, allowing us all to disappear into Laura’s world – with Sophia and The Beast accompanying – as she recreated A Creature I Don’t Know, song by beautiful song (and only slightly out of order).

Gee, wasn’t it good? My favourite, “Night After Night”, sort of paralysed me, in the nice way – fingertips to mouth. What is goosebumpy on the recording actually hurts you in the heart region live – her voice, both certain and frail as she sings, “It is knowing, it is knowing”. Even “The Beast” – the only track on the album that I don’t love (because I feel like it’s trying to ‘rock’ and doesn’t quite) – was awesome live, due to the almost-spoken and growled delivery.

At interval, MG and I debate whether the riff in “My Friends” is similar to Jose Gonzalez’ rendition of “Heartbeats” whilst queuing for wine and, 20 minutes later we return to our seats just as Laura had ‘hoped’ (endearing humility).

In Act II there were more ‘just Laura’ songs, which was lovely. I mean, her band is brilliant (and funny – the audience having a good chuckle as they each, in turn, shared a fact), but solo – she burns a hole in the stage. Laura claims not to be religious, but with her ensemble white/blonde hair and blouse and singing to The Man Upstairs, she does a pretty convincing angel impression.

Angelically, she treated us to all the favourites – “Ghosts”, “Rambling Man” and “Goodbye England”. There was even a newbie, the title of which remains a mystery, where she sings, “I should have told you where my kindness ends…I am not your tiny dancer” implying heartache and/or Elton John (but I wonder – who could possibly be unkind to Laura – not another indie-tragic surely, and Elton’s not her type).

Other than a buzzed string here and there, and the odd forgotten lyric (again, endearing), the show was hard to fault. Deploying a stated, longstanding approach to encores, she didn’t do one. I respect that. When all is done we leave the ‘House, and MG says he thinks she was better than Aimee Mann. “A big call,” I say, not one for comparisons, but as a massive Mann-fan, the compliment is far better than any adjective I can come up with.

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 340 other followers

%d bloggers like this: