Review: TinPan Orange at The Northcote Social Club, Melbourne

TinPan Orange
Image Courtesy of gifas

TinPan Orange single launch, supported by Leon Thomas
22nd September 2011, The Northcote Social Club

Although TinPan Orange have taken a few months off and are only now easing their way back into the live music thing after the birth of Emily Lubitz’s son in August they certainly haven’t been idle. There’s a whole bunch of new songs that have been written including the new single “Barcelona” and the addition of a drummer to the band in the form of Danny Farrugia (The Bamboos). So it was with eager anticipation that I made my way to The Northcote Social Club (my first time in the iconic Melbourne venue) to watch TinPan Orange on their home turf.

Leon Thomas is not a name I was familiar with but the Melbourne audience showed the singer-songwriter genuine affection when he came on stage armed with his electric guitar. Thomas’ stripped back, bluesy sound was complimented by multi-instrumentalist (and TinPan Orange member) Alex Burkoy’s accompaniment. As the set progressed Thomas gradually lost or removed items of clothing (he had entered the stage dressed for winter it seemed), added a drummer to his band and settled into a groove that resulted in some really catchy tunes. I feel that Leon Thomas worked much better with the “full band” sound and that his performance improved throughout the set – he’s definitely an artist worth checking out if you’re a fan of the Jack White school of blues.

By the time TinPan Orange arrived on stage, complete with new drummer Danny Farrugia and sometimes-keyboard player Harry James Angus, The Northcote Social Club was packed full of fans eager to see the band following their brief hiatus. Launching into their much loved track “Like Snow” you could tell the band were happy to back on stage and excited to be showcasing their “new” drummer-inspired sound.

On Farugia’s drumming, I did feel it was a little understated, especially on the older songs. There were times when I wasn’t sure whether he was playing at all (apart from the occasional crash cymbal) but I guess this did show respect to the original arrangements of many of TinPan’s much loved songs. It was the newer songs, especially the latest single “Barcelona”, where Farrugia demonstrated the depth and gravitas he has added to TinPan’s sounds – I found myself watching him closely throughout the new single, marvelling at just how skillful a drummer he is.

TinPan Orange played a really balanced set covering most of their earlier work and a smattering of newer songs. Emily Lubitz was as charismatic as ever, winning the audience over with her relaxed banter (apparently her new born baby was back stage, a bottle of whiskey in hand). Probably my favourite of the new songs was performed by guitarist Jesse Lubitz – although for the life of me I couldn’t tell you the name. “Broken Heart” maybe? And of course Alex Burkoy’s skill on the violin, electric mandolin, bass and more are simply not rivaled on the indie-folk scene – the man quietly steals every show he’s involved in.

A special mention has to be made of the cover songs from the night. “Walk Like an Egyptian” suited the band right down to the ground but it was TinPan Orange’s version of the “Round the Twist” theme (from the 80s/90s children’s television show) that both surprised and delighted the crowd. Emily’s haunting voice over the sparse arrangement and perfectly timed backing vocals from the rest of the band achieved the fine balance needed in a cover song – keeping it recognisable while stamping your own unique style on the song.

As an introduction to The Northcote Social Club I couldn’t have asked for a better show than the return of TinPan Orange. I left the gig eager to hear more of the new stuff and thanking the folk-gods that Emily had chosen to return to the stage so soon. A truly wonderful gig – I can’t wait for the next one!

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