Image Courtesy of Tehachapi
The Evelyn Hotel, Melbourne VIC
24th March, 2013
There are only a few rare and treasured moments when one stumbles upon musicians that truly transcend all expectation of contemporary music and build a farm in our hearts. In the short life of a Generation Y-er, we have been blessed with the likes of Jeff Buckley, The Mars Volta, Radiohead, John Frusciante, Mogwai, Blonde Redhead – just to name a minimal few. Within such a list is Tehachapi.
Having just moved to Melbourne around the time Tehachapi were an emerging band and being present for their final show was nothing short of a privilege and an honour. Accompanied by local musician Lauren Moore and spying Beloved Elk in the crowd, those new to this brand of music would have collapsed from over-gasping.
Unfortunately, we were too late to catch Strangers From Now On and Amanita. Though, making it just in time for Matt Kelly’s set was nothing short of a miracle. The line-up for this perfect afternoon on The Evelyn Rooftop left me in a truly dreamy stupor, with an incredibly apropos soundtrack.
Backed with a full band and string quartet, Matt Kelly begun his set. With a striking resemblance to the late Jeff Buckley in his vocals, he soon proved the stylistic difference quite quickly. Incorporating a vocal stompbox for most of his set and being backed by a string quartet (two cellos, two violins) created a fullness of sound that turned his humble poetry into an emphatic gesture.
Perhaps, the most standout song for Kelly was “Grand Design,” with a seemingly deceptive structure. Upon first hearing this song, you feel there to be a lack of a crescendo to the succinct and repeated beating of the floor toms, however, Kelly cleverly builds the songs layers slowly. Firstly, introducing himself as a solitary guitarist and gently following him is the string section, the beating floor toms hit and finally altogether with the piano. Wherein you find the true culminating moment is in the last minute of the song.
Most of the crowd is seated on the ground, sipping their beer and blowing smoke into the fresh air. Anthony Cook, Laura Christoforidis, Constantine Stefanou and James Ruse get on stage; everyone claps with excitement and gives them their well-deserved uproarious welcome. Guitarist, Anthony Cook, asks everyone to stand up for the “last time” we will be able to dance to Tehachapi.
Starting off their set with “Land of Four Seasons” from their latest EP, with the same title. The band and crowd dancing and swaying, eyes closed and an incredibly euphoric smile from frontman, Constantine Stefanou. With a much more upbeat track in comparison to their other songs, it is still equally as intense and remaining in the psychedelia/alternative rock genre that Tehachapi are known for. A great way to start the gig.
We move onto the band’s debut EP “(100)” – released in early 2010. Cook taking the lead vocals in “Missing Men,” which played a huge contrast to Constantine’s deep and driving voice. If bands and musicians fit into an evolution chart, Tehachapi would fall somewhere between The Vines and Mars Volta.
“Sighing Eyes” exemplifies the comparisons I had made earlier. To those whose first experience of Tehachapi was this show, you will have been exposed to the two, three and four part harmonies that this collective delivers – impeccably. It was difficult to place Stefanou as the frontman when the four play such crucial and important parts to the entire sound and imagery of Tehachapi.
However, I did enjoy Stefanou’s banter with his fellow band members and also with the audience between songs, which was always witty, casual and humorous. This allowed the seemingly impromptu cover of Spice Girls’ “Stop” after this song appropriate, without taking away from the earnest and genuine body of their set.
Though there are about ninety three things I want to mention about the intricate guitar riffs and melodic dissonance, the “clean” distortion and beautiful anguish, these are all palpable factors of Tehachapi. These are the reasons why we fell in love in the first place and why we will continue to listen decades on and on in the future. “Stars are Dying” being one of the biggest points of reference for this. Being an instrumental song, it could possibly be much more effective in storytelling than some of their other songs with lyrics.
The main thing I want to make a point of is the unique style in which drummer Laura Christoforidis sings. Her vocal style immediately reminded me of the way in which the Saudi Arabians, Egyptians and Lebanese sing, both traditionally and in their more popular modern music. Similar to Lior’s vocal style in “Bedouin Song.” Christoforidis channels this very difficult style of singing so effortlessly throughout “Winds of Motion.” Having Stefanou harmonise with his voice that is somewhat reminiscent of Ian Curtis, Christoforidis’ melisma was truly something I only wish I could paint across my walls and listen to in my dreams.
There seems to be a plethora of sound floating about and around the place, where we as people seem to confuse what is actual quality and what is not. Self-appointed reincarnates of Kurt Cobain and bands that compare themselves to The Smiths come to the harsh realization of truth upon coming across bands like Tehachapi. Devoid of anything trite or contrived, you hear the influence of the greatest musicians of our time but, then they become the greatest innovators of our time.
Now, we move right along to “Numbered Lovers,” which is this reviewer’s favourite Tehachapi song, so I understand that this fragment could seem rather bias. With lyrics like “she lies in her bed, she sighs and she says, ‘it’s over’” as the song comes to an allegro climax, it was difficult not to completely lose myself in this song. It is one of those songs that come along and you find you listen to it over and over again for years, sometimes weeks and months at a time. Other times, sporadically. You feel a strong connection and revelation, however, feeling disconnected at the same time. Not from the music, but from your own lost moments as a disposable lover.
Not unlike all of Tehachapi’s songs, there is a natural flow and a painfully clear chemistry here. The constant layering in songs from four very extraordinary musicians leaves the listener torn between methodically planned sound and silence and beautifully tormented noise strewn across their floor. “Numbered Lovers” comes together as a simple story of heartache, conveyed in a succinct but rather emotive three and a half minute song. With a clear melody playing throughout, you firstly hear this being played by a lone guitar as an introduction, building up its slow force with heavy distortion and an almost extreme anxiety in vocals. At the close of this song, in the last thirty seconds, you again hear the soft lone guitar playing the melody as a defeated ex-lover.
Finally, we reach the last song of the set – “Her Love is a Mountain, Truth in Her Fountain.” A long time fan, adorned in leather, spikes and tattoos, scurries to the front of the crowd and passionately screams at Stefanou, “you are not fucking breaking up!” Every set of hands on that rooftop clapped like giants. This epic twenty minute song broke halfway through to house another song. Stefanou loses control on stage, all instruments blaring as though fighting each other, for each other. After this psychedelic, music-making-love jam starts to fizzle, the song smoothly rolls its way back into “Her Love is a Mountain, Truth in Her Fountain.” It was obvious to all those who were present that a deep love and connection was had in this band, as all members had a look of unadulterated elation and cheek-to-cheek smiles throughout this perfectly timed song.
What a way to end the life of Tehachapi and end their last ever gig. It is extremely difficult to really take this song in its whole entirety after just one listen. There is so much going on all the time that you kind of need several sets of ears to properly catch every fragment and appreciate every bar of notes. Everything that Tehachapi is comprised of comes out, the insanely intricate guitar riffs, the flawless pitch of their four-part harmonies, the funk that bass should have, the long drawn out words that were carefully placed into a lyrical masterpiece. All of which, strung together, lacked convolution and confusion. We are left only with the feeling of natural highs induced by the music and nothing else.
It has been an unbelievable four years of Tehachapi. This gig was a quite a sad farewell to a collective of musicians who prove that there is still evolution in music. However, this is also a very happy occasion also, as I have the opportunity to share this with you.
Thank you for wading in the “Sweet Water” with me.