Review: First Annual Australian Americana Honours Night

Americana Honours
Image Courtesy of the Americana Music Association

Australian Americana Honours Night feat. Old Crow Medicine Show, Valerie June, Kevin Welch, Busby Marou, Kasey Chambers, Shane Howard, Yirrmal, Bernard Fanning, Catherine Britt, Henry Wagons, Emily Barker, Ruby Boots, Jordie Lane & The Sleepers
Thornbury Theatre, Melbourne, VIC
Monday 2nd October, 2017

Like many people I woke up Tuesday morning to the horrible news that an evil individual had killed dozens and injured hundreds of people in a mass shooting in Las Vegas. What’s really hit home about this latest atrocity is that it was committed at the Route 91 Harvest country music festival – a festival not unlike the festivals the Timber and Steel community attends all the time here in Australia. Words cannot describe the emotions I’m feeling right now. It’s senseless, just senseless.

As the events in Vegas were unfolding on Monday night night I was sitting in the warm confines of Melbourne’s Thornbury Theatre for the first annual Australian Americana Honours Night. It was a coming together of the Australian Americana community and a celebration of a genre that has so much heart and soul behind it. As so often happens with these events I was overwhelmed with the community that’s been created around the music we love.

From the opening marching-band entrance of Old Crow Medicine Show’s live version of “Rainy Day Women #12 & 35” to the closing singalong of “May The Circle Be Unbroken” featuring Old Crow, Valerie June, Kasey Chambers and Kevin Welch, the Australian Americana Honours Night was pure joy from start to finish.

Americana Honours

It would be too easy to look at the events in Vegas and decide that you’re not going to music festivals anymore. Despite how irrational it is, despite the fact that hundreds, if not thousands of festivals are held around the world every year without incident, it would be easy to walk away from live music.

If it wasn’t for the Australian Americana Honours Night last night maybe I would have made the easy decision and walked away from live music festivals. At the very least maybe I would’ve reconsidered my bucket list of international festivals, striking all off the US-based events.

But when you’re listening to Kasey Chambers and Bernard Fanning duet on “Watch Over Me”, when you can feel the goosebumps from Yirrmal’s surprise performance with Shane Howard, when Henry Wagons literally owns the entire stage while performing “King Hit”, when artists you’ve been following and supporting for years like Ruby Boots, Emily Barker, Catherine Britt, Jordie Lane and Busby Marou get roaring applause from the gathered fans and industry folk, you know there’s no way you can give this up.

Americana Honours

Kasey Chambers and Brian “BT” Taranto were both honoured with vanguard awards on the night and both of them gave passionate speeches about how important Americana music is. How much the community means. To me it was almost a call to arms – a plea to keep the candle burning for good music. To keep going to festivals, to gigs, to keep buying records and to keep the passion alive.

When I woke up Tuesday morning, before I turned to my smart phone, before I knew the full extent of what had happened in Las Vegas, I was still buzzing from the Australian Americana Honours Night, and the 3+ hours of amazing music I’d witnessed the night before. And even as the world came crashing down around me as I scrolled through the news it wasn’t enough to extinguish the light that is burning for live music.

The best way to not let the bastards win? Keep going to live music. Keep going to festivals. Show your support, be part of the community of amazing people who keep this music alive, and enjoy every minute of it.

Thank you Australian Americana Honours.

Review: The Morrisons, Smoke on a Foggy Highway: The Bluegrass Albums of Paul Kelly

The Morrisons

The Morrisons
The Basement, Sydney, NSW
Friday 17th June, 2016

A year ago I was lucky enough to sit in on Sydney bluegrass band The Morrisons as they practiced for an upcoming show. But this wasn’t any ordinary practice – The Morrisons were putting the finishing touches on Smoke on a Foggy Highway, their tribute to the bluegrass albums of Paul Kelly. And it was just magic.

Just over a week ago I found myself at The Basement in Sydney watching The Morrisons make their way through Smoke and Foggy Highway with a deftness and grace that was a testament to just how good these guys are. Despite a building a reputation off their Paul Kelly and O Brother Where Art Thou? shows, The Morrisons are no mere tribute band. They are some of the finest musicians in Australia bringing their favourite music to the stage.

For a cold winter’s night in Sydney The Basement was surprisingly packed and I found myself jostling for a position near the bar to catch a glimpse of the band. I suspect Sydney’s Vivid Festival had drawn a few people out of their houses for the show but it’s safe to assume that the majority of people were there on the reputation of the show alone – since its debut last year Smoke on a Foggy Highway has garnered something of a cult status in the folk community as a must see show.

And The Morrisons didn’t disappoint. Kicking off the show by running through Paul Kelly & Uncle Bill’s classic album Smoke and then returning for a second half exploration of Paul Kelly & The Stormwater Boys’ Foggy Highway The Morrisons made these songs come alive. Their skills as musicians meant the material was elevated above impersonation or parody – the band treated it as respectfully as they would any other part of the bluegrass canon.

James “Morri” Morrison is an affable front man whose easygoing stage presence kept the audience enthralled throughout. I love the way he personalised Paul Kelly’s songs with his introductions, espousing his personal connections to the material. Morri was joined by a band of fine musicians – Anna McInerey on fiddle, Jimmy Daley on mandolin, Dr Zane Banks on banjo (and even a little bit of guitar!), Iain Tallis on bass and Miles Fraser on lead guitar – who in turn reproduced the musical accompaniment of Paul Kelly’s bluegrass albums and also made the songs their own. For a brief moment I wondered how close the players were getting to the solos and melodies of the original albums and then I realised it didn’t matter – each song was pitch perfect.

By far my favourite parts of the night were the songs that were driven by a capella and harmony singing. From “Until Death Do Them Part” to “Shy Before You Lord” to the amazing “Meet Me in The Middle of the Air”, The Morrisons proved themselves as some of the finest harmony singers around, not just fantastic instrumentalists.

The other highlight for me this time around was Morri’s solo acoustic version of “They Thought I Was Asleep”. We don’t often get to see Morri picking out a tune on a guitar by himself as it’s easy for him to get over shadowed by the other amazing players in the band, but watching him deliver this classic Paul Kelly track all on his lonesome was truly special.

When the band finished up the night performing their own track “Wild Eleanor” I found myself grinning from ear to ear. There’s a reason that Paul Kelly is considered Australia’s finest songwriter and there’s no better band than The Morrisons to bring his music to life. These songs have grown beyond their maker and it is amazing to see bands like The Morrisons treating this material with the seriousness and reverence it deserves. Next time you see The Morrisons advertise their Smoke on a Foggy Highway show – hell, any time you see The Morrisons advertise any show – make sure you snap up tickets. You can be assured it’s going to be magic.

Review: Boy & Bear at Hordern Pavilion

Boy&Bear Hordern Pavilion

Boy & Bear with Art of Sleeping and Montaigne
Hordern Pavilion, Sydney, NSW
Friday 12th February, 2016

We hurried on a Friday night to the Hordern Pavilion to catch the Sydney leg of Boy & Bear’s Limit of Love tour. Unfortunately, we missed support act Montaigne but the praise heaped upon her from The Art of Sleeping and the guarantee of her amazing voice is testament to both a strong camaraderie on tour, and the real talent that we had missed. We’ll be tracking down Montaigne for sure.

We did manage to catch the majority of Brisbane 5-piece Art of Sleeping who filled the stage with confidence, man-bun styling and a considerable bit of alternative musical goodness. Man-bun aside, their set covered both new and old tracks and was punctuated by solid rhythmic openings, glorious sliding melodies and musical tones that seems to recreate the very sound of shining light. The audience had been growing throughout the set and the majority were seriously engaged with the show on stage. To round out their set, the boys played Crazy complete with bold opening solo, subsequent big sound all the time underpinned by a chilled piano melody paired with statement drums.

David Hosking - Boy & BearThe main event arrived without too much fanfare, just the signature opening beats of Limit of Love infused with an upbeat vibe and the Boy & Bear guys owning the stage. Their title track performance set the tone for the rest of the show and had the audience ready to roll. The first noticeable feature of the show was the very high production standards, lighting, sound and transitions between songs was flawless and smooth. It’s those little elements that make a concert so much more enjoyable and are a sign of an excellent touring collective effort. The entire show was slick and inclusive of all the band members, each having their own moments, their own feature parts and at times, and even their own lighting states at times.

Stand outs included Bridges, Three Headed Woman, and Man Alone with the silence of the stage broken only by Hosking’s finger clicks. Seeing him commit his entire self to Old Town Blues showed just how the changes to the line up and the increased prevalence of his performing without an instrumented on the freedom to delve deep in to the song. All of the band members were playful and relaxed on stage, the obvious sign it’s been a good tour and everyone can play on stage in a fun way.

The night was full of moments. That moment when a whole crowd moves the same to a song. That moment when every pair of lips sang along to every word. That moment when everyone in the crowd gave genuine applause for the support acts when asked. That moment when the clap from the crowd grows to a point that unites stage and audience in to one musical creation.

Jon Hart - Boy & BearThere was a slick, cool, moody intro filled with hollow drum beats and a building echoey bass that was so atmospheric. The sheer clarity and quality of sound was evidence of an excellent sound tech I assume was travelling with them to achieve such great effects live on stage.

This is a band that has reached its stride and now has a career pace that they could maintain for the veritable marathon ahead. While their new stuff is developing a new sound and direction, their old stuff is just as open to new interpretation and appreciation. Their rendition of Rabbit Song was beautiful, with a slowed bridge the seems to hang in its own air only to  roll and tumble down from the stage, out across the audience. The quality of this performance brought a whole new grace and beauty to a well known favourite.

Their now famed ‘Like a Version’ cover is a source of on stage jokes as they tease the audiences in each city that they won’t play it. Back to Black brought the phenomenal harmonies from their radio performance to the live stage and impresses, reminding us of their particularly tight brand of close harmonies.

Tim Hart - Boy & BearAll the big favourites stirred the crowd, but the rumbling bass of Feeding Line had the intensity in the pavilion escalate. An epic western-alt country style opening to Golden Jubilee had everyone wondering what was coming and was testiment that the band were really having fun with it, changing it up, breathing a new life in to the song we thought we knew.

By the time their back catalog had been thoroughly brought to the stage, punctuated by their new tracks from Limit of Love, it was nearing the end of a massive hour and a half set. Hosting pointed out that, from the very beginning, they are a band who never do encores. They usually make that announcement and then play two final songs, but tonight we were in for a treat with three.

Big twangy chords heralded the opening of Part Time Believer that went on to treat the crowd. The synth-pop vibe of Harlequin Dream countered the encore feel with their surprise sax player turning up on stage to play that interlude live! The announcement of last song rightfully drew huge applause as they broke in to a final song from their new album, Walk the Wire.

This wasn’t just a good concert, this was a great show, an entertainment form start to finish. A high quality production that will stay with audiences for a long time to come.

Photos from the set can be viewed on our Facebook page.

Review: Josh Pyke, Twilight at Taronga, Sydney

IMG_0322
Josh Pyke with Winterbourne
Twilight at Taronga, Sydney, NSW
Friday 29th January, 2016

I can’t believe that Twilight at Taronga has been running for more years than I have lived in Sydney for, yet it took until 2016 for me to make it to one of the famed summer series concerts. With the city reeling from an afternoon thunderstorm that threatened to close the show before it even started, we settled in under grey skies to see one of our favourite artists of all time, Josh Pyke.

Having arrived later than intended, the available grass space was limited, but surprisingly there seems to not be a bad seat in the house for this annual pop-up venue. We grabbed our spot, picked up our fancy hamper, collected our Aperol Spritzs and made ourselves comfortable in time for support act Winterbourne to start. I admit, I hadn’t heard much by Winterbourne before last night, but knowing that Josh Pyke gigs are like a personal curation of Pyke’s favourite emerging and established acts in town, we knew we were in good hands. And, Winterbourne didn’t disappoint. With a smattering of recorded and released tracks to warm up the crowd (many of whom did know Winterbourne‘s work, much to their surprise and delight), the boys brought out some new songs from their forthcoming release that had the crowd hooked.

As a bonus, a brand new song, not yet recorded and probably only a few weeks old, was played with the caveat that the crowd’s reaction would seal the fate of the new track – and that we should not scream and shout at the end if we don’t like it. Suffice to say, they now have a crowd approved song on their hands. I found Winterbourne had a delightful spectrum of sounds and styles to their repertoire – some upbeat tunes that would get you up to dance, some ballady-folky tunes, some shades of indie-pop and some definite Pyke-esque sounds woven throughout their playbook. Winterbourne ultimately delivered an excellent, enigmatic set that warmed the crowd perfectly for the main attraction.

When I go to gigs, I usually make note of everything that is played and pay attention to which songs are highlights both personally, and for the crowd as a whole. With a consummate performer like Josh Pyke, the list is inevitably an entire list of highlights, sing alongs, huge responses and upswells from the audience and I could just resort too recounting the play list and waxing lyrical about each an every song. This concert was no exception, however the joy for me – apart from yet another brilliant Josh Pyke concert – is the reminder that his personality and banter on stage is the truly magical and endearing aspect of his live shows.

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Photo courtesy of Josh Pyke

We’ve seen him in a number of settings, from large festival stages, to solo shows, from super groups, to full band concerts and even a magical collaboration with the Sydney Symphony Orchestra. But it’s the witty repartee that fills the gaps between songs and reveals his inner dork that is exactly the thing that fans love about him. We all identify with getting things in the wrong order (and jokingly giving retrospective thanks for the upcoming misplaced track), having the Sydney humidity screw with your hair do, forgetting where your hands are supposed to go on the guitar for the chords you needs mid song but pretending it’s a quiet, sing-along moment for the audience, then outing yourself after the song… Ok, we might not identify with that exactly, but it’s his good humour, cheeky comments and ultimately flawed human approach to his fans that makes us all feel like we are personal friends gathering for a get together where our mate Josh pulls out his guitar.

He dedicated Leeward Side to his sons, Archer and Augie (who were in the audience with wife Sarah), which elicited the appropriate ‘aaaawww’ response and cheers from the crowd. Speaking of kids, he gave an hilarious language warning before the Lighthouse Song, which probably should have come with a language warning of it’s own. During another interlude, he asked whether anyone in the crowd did not follow him on Facebook, and for all those people to please go and immediately like his page and see if we could “crash the interweb”. Pyke announced towards the end of the set that they had a noise curfew at the venue and that he wouldn’t be doing any of that encore sh*t and to just pretend that the next song was the last if we wanted an encore. Middle of the Hill subsequently tore the house (or lawn) down and had us all cheering for more and ‘demanding’ an encore.

If the admission of no encore wasn’t funny enough, his ‘faux’ encore “oh we don’t have anything prepared” hammered home his penchant for Dad jokes and familiar rapport with the crowd. From the fans dancing madly at front of stage, to us and our fellow repose wine sippers up the back, the entire sold our audience was in raptures with Pyke‘s performance. Every person in attendance would have had as enjoyable a night as us.

You know it’s been a great show when on the Ferry back to the city, the couples around you are all singing their own two part harmonies of their favourite tracks, or humming their favourite melodies, or posting photos of the show to social media.

Twilight at Taronga was the first show in his new tour promoting But For All These Shrinking Hearts and continues around the country over the next month taking in Canberra, Gold Coast, Brisbane, Lismore, Melbourne, Adelaide and Perth. Tickets are available on his website.

Twilight at Taronga is an exquisite concert series with a stunning backdrop, and excellent set up and is big enough to have a great vibe without having fellow music lovers in your back pocket. A string of sold out concerts limit your options for this year if you haven’t yet been, but there are definitely still some gems of the folk persuasion with tickets available, so treat yourself to some summer sounds by the harbour.

 

Review: Traveller & Fortune, FBi Social, Sydney

Traveller and Fortune
Image Courtesy of Traveller & Fortune

Traveller & Fortune with Emma Davis, Huckleberry Hastings
FBi Social, Sydney, NSW
Thursday 30th January, 2014

Once again I found myself at the end of a Traveller & Fortune at FBi Social in Kings Cross, as the band packed up and faithful congratulated them on their show, almost apologising for the tiny crowd that had shown up that night. The Sydney live scene is a fickle thing and it boggles my mind that a band as good as Traveller & Fortune, with strong supports from Huckleberry Hastings and Emma Davis, will play to about 30 people on a Thursday night especially when they can easily fill rooms in Melbourne and their native Adelaide. But all I can think is that those that weren’t there missed out on a another amazing show.

Huckleberry Hastings has become a fixture on the live scene in recent months, popping up at so many gigs around the city he’s hard to miss. And there’s a reason Hastings is everywhere – his powerful voice and heart wrenching songs are captivating. I feel like we’re just scraping the surface of Huckleberry Hastings talent and it will be really interesting to watch him grow as an artist. If I had one word of advice for Huck, it’s that he explores the major keys a little more. The final song he played in his set, a newer track that tread the familiar theme of heartbreak, was a welcome respite due to its major chords and “happier” tone. I can’t wait to see what comes next for Huckleberry Hastings.

It’s so good to catch Emma Davis again. I didn’t manage to catch her recent tour with Brian Campeau but her recently released track “Stand Tall” was one of my favourite tracks of last year and gets a regular, almost daily spin on my iPod months after it was released. Her on stage presence is delightful, self-deprecating between songs and raw and honest during. In the hands of most solo singer-songwriters the electric guitar can be an unwieldy tool but in Emma Davis’ hands it becomes beautiful, understated and the perfect accompaniment to her tumbling folk songs. Most of Davis’ set was drawn from her 2010 self titled album, with the inclusion of “Stand Tall” and her cover of Sugar Ray’s “Every Morning”, and I’m really excited to see what she’s got in store for the rest of 2014.

I think there are two things that make Traveller & Fortune a pretty special band. Firstly the fact that it’s made up of a collection of singer-songwriters – Tom West, Todd Sibbin and Kaurna Cronin are just three of the band’s members whose solo projects Timber and Steel has covered – yet it seems to be a group without egos. Their sound just gels with each member adding to the whole, not show boating or over reaching.

Which brings me to the second reason I like Traveller & Fortune – the fact that they’re just such talented musicians. Among the band’s five members I think I counted at least nine different instruments, and that’s before you call out the different vocalists. But rather than being showy – rather than going through instrumental acrobatics in an effort to show off how good they are – Traveller & Fortune choose the right instrumentation for the song. Even if only six notes are played on a xylophone or the harmonica only makes a single appearance across the entire set, their inclusion on the songs is perfectly placed makes dragging them all the way to Sydney worthwhile. The way Traveller & Fortune layer their songs is just masterful.

Traveller & Fortune were launching their new EP I Am Only Snow and I have to say I really enjoyed hearing the tracks from it live. Probably my favourite track from the night is the single “Little Plastic People”, although the entire set was a joy and I just hope they keep coming back to Sydney.

And while this is the second time I’ve seen Traveller & Fortune play to a small Sydney crowd I hope this doesn’t discourage them for giving the city another chance. This band has an amazing sound and I really look forward to seeing how much they’ve grown next time they venture east.

Review: The Little Stevies, Camelot Lounge, Sydney

The Little Stevies
Image Courtesy of The Little Stevies

The Little Stevies with Achoo! Bless You
Camelot Lounge Sydney, NSW
Thursday 7th November, 2013

A lot has changed since the last time I saw The Little Stevies live. Their bass player Robin Geradts-Gill has left the band. One half of the sister duo, Sibylla Stephen, is a new mother. And they’ve just released their most mature album to date in Diamonds For Your Tea. So I was pretty excited to be able to catch them at Sydney’s Camelot Lounge.

Opening for The Little Stevies were local duo Achoo! Bless You who were performing on the night with indie-folk go to drummer Sophia Felton on the skins. Achoo! Bless You write really sweet indie-pop folk songs and are definitely growing with every performance they do. Ash and Ross’s voices really do suit each other especially in their stand out track “Before We Say Goodbye” – these guys were a great choice as a support act.

The Little Stevies, complete with a full rhythm section, introduced themselves by saying “we’re going to play you our new album” – a promise that they delivered on for their entire set. Older material was scarce with Diamonds For Your Tea really coming to the fore and the result was really special.

Sibylla and Beth are obviously very comfortable in their new duo-with-a-backing-band setup and seemed to really be enjoying bringing their new material to the audience. The girls’ trademark harmonies (and relaxed banter) were in full force and despite some sound issues as a result of a lot of microphone swapping they were sounding absolutely beautiful in Camelot’s intimate space. I was especially impressed with the generous use of keyboards in The Little Stevies’ set – an instrument that hasn’t featured much in the band’s repertoire previously.

Most, if not all, of the new album’s tracks made an appearance with songs like “Thunder” (which is about Sibylla’s baby – I had no idea), “Shattered Dreams” and “Canadia” clear highlights. Older tracks like “Feel It” and “Accidentally” also got an airing and “Sister” also popped up as an unplanned encore. The current single and title track of the new album “Diamonds for Your Tea” closed out the main set and was probably my favourite track of the night – I caught myself singing along almost from the very beginning of the song!

It’s great to see how far The Little Stevies have come in the last year. A lot has changed – the more mature sound to the songs, the full band, the abundance of keyboard – but the key elements that I’ve always loved about The Little Stevies are as strong as ever. I’m so happy I got to see The Little Stevies again – I can’t wait until they’re back in Sydney!

Review: Paper Aeroplanes at Bush Hall, London UK

DSC_0176Paper Aeroplanes with Farrow and Joseinne Clark at Bush Hall,
Shepherds Bush, London UK
22 May, 2013

Living in London, you’re a bit spoiled for choice for good music and venues, but it also means you’re flat out trying to fit it all in. The Paper Aeroplanes zoomed on to my radar and I managed to make it to their London gig as part of their Little Letters album launch tour.

I had been to Bush Hall the previous weekend for a different event, but the elegant surrounds of such a period room managed to be large enough to host a good crowd, yet intimate enough to experience a show and see the musicians well with a raised stage bedecked in red velvet playing their host. The luxury of space and ability to cleverly use lighting created instant atmosphere which could shift mood with the music.

In Sydney, you’d be forgiven, if not expected to arrive late to a gig. Unforeseen circumstances meant I arrived in Farrowthe middle of the second support act, Farrow, and found the venue was already packed with an enthusiastic audience. Seems these Londoners take door times seriously. The night had started with Josienne Clarke (who incidentally just dropped an EP with Ben Walker today), who I briefly listened to online before the event and who piqued me interest. I bought her earlier EP and have listened to it so much that I’m now desperate to get my hands on her new collaborative effort.

I did catch the last few songs from Farrow, a duo of two hipster chic gals who delivered a united sultry soliloquy of harmony. While they didn’t rock my boat, they did create a tranquil vibe and were a good set up for the main act.

Paper Aeroplanes took the stage as a 4 piece complete with bassist and drummer As an addition to their usual duo. The beauty of this set up is that the support musicians do appear on the new album and fill out the live sound to create an honest reproduction of their recorded sound on stage.

The Welsh duo only too two of their earlier songs to warm crowd up and capture our attention, then they had the audience hooked as they had us all Singing to Elvis, an up beat number creating a noticeable tendency for the crowd to sway and/or jig along. I might have been guilty and I definitely learned the chorus quickly too.

DSC_0164As the ploughed straight in to their next track, it occurred to me they their sound had the hallmarks of Ella Hooper and sounded like what I had hoped the Verses would have produced if they had taken the more Folk direction rather than pop. There’s something about the sound of her voice and the layering of vocals and chords that made me want to claim the Paper Aeroplanes as home grown Aussie, they’re from Wales, maybe we can tempt the to New South Wales…

Amazingly, there was a One direction moment, but not in a bad pop kind of way. while introducing their next song, they explained that it was THE most downloaded song of theirs from iTunes, it wasn’t a single or anything, which confused them. It turns out that One Direction also have a song called Same Mistake. We all enjoyed imagining throngs if 12 year olds being comforted by folk stories of love, life and experience.Paper Aeroplanes and drum

Album title song, Little Letters, lifted the room and carried everyone along on strength and potency of the piece. It was the song that left the gig with me and has the ability to recreate the space and feeling for me every time I listen.

In an effort to keep the energy created by Little Letters, Red Rover was a really powerful, enigmatic piece that seemed to channel a Florence + The Machine moment with lead singer Sarah playing side drum instead of her usual guitar and passionately smashing out the staccato beat.

When we’d arrived, we were surprised there was a grand piano in front of the stage, and towards the end of the set, Paper Aeroplanes invited a close friend to accompany them for a couple of songs. since the piano was set on the floor, Sarah stepped down on to a chair to be closer to both the piano and the crowd. The next few songs were incredibly intimate with a particular stand out, Best I Can Be, the most heartfelt ballad I have heard in a long time. Paper Aeroplanes and pianoSo stunning and so beautiful, the audience was absolutely silent, engaged, entranced and hung on every word of the lyrics. Intensely personal and obviously emotionally raw, Sarah took a private moment to steady herself having been overcome with tears clearly moved by the truth and meaning within the song, the audience only cheered louder. A truly beautiful moment of honesty.

Approaching the end of their set, they introduced At the Altar with a story that had perplexed them. A couple had contacted them asking to have it at their wedding, seemed an odd choice because the song is not about happy marriage, but they thought “stuff it, have it at a wedding, why not” and proceeded to play it for us too.

The night ended with a rousing rendition of Circus, but the crowd were demanding and an encore was almost immediate. Their encore was a couple of older songs, complete with audience sing along and helping out with the oohhs of the chorus “so winter won’t come”.

After this gig, Paper Aeroplanes became a regular feature of my daily playlist. Their album Little Letters is a more folk deviation from their indie pop past which they delivery honestly and convincingly. Such a brilliant introduction to their musical world really promises big things from Paper Aeroplanes. They are exactly the kind if act I would expect to see gracing Australian shores for some of our most esteemed Folk Festival. I’ll be crossing my fingers for a visit from them soon.

Review: Olivier Libaux Uncovered QOTSA

Olivier Libaux

Olivier Libaux Uncovered QOTSA
Silencio, Paris, France
11th July, 2013

“Silencio. Silencio. Silencio!” The cries of Rita in her sleep for the elusive Silencio club in Mulholland Drive. Walking into the Parisian replica, David Lynch’s dreams on film were now rampant and real. Accompanying me was filmmaker, Ling Ang, as we traversed down an innumerable amount of stairs; the only illumination were the lit black and white photographs on the walls. Girls outside begging for entry to the exclusive members only club, claiming previous patronage and dropping names that I did not recognise.

This was our introduction to ‘Olivier Libaux Uncovered Queens of the Stone Age. ‘

Finding our way in the mini labyrinth that is Silencio, we made our way to the bar which was in the room beside the main stage. A stage, might I add, that perfectly resembled a smaller version of the stage in the actual Mulholland Drive film – as Lynch intended. Cocktails in hand, as we entered the main performance room the velvet red curtains instantaneously opened. Before us in this ever-so intimate room was Olivier Libaux (Nouvelle Vague), Nathalie Réaux (Pagan Poetry) and Juliette Paquereau (Diving With Andy).

Considering the somewhat all-star cast, there was very little about the set that I could actually fault. It was my great fortune to have heard the songs of Uncovered Queens of the Stone Age first as a live performance with upstanding female singers like Réaux and Paquereau. Who, in their own respective collectives, have achieved musical and critical acclaim already. In addition to vocals, Réaux was also the percussionist for the evening using a floor tom and other small hand held instruments.

Libaux seems to have quite a knack for bringing together befitting singers to contribute to his portrayals of these timeless songs. As is true to his style, there is a lot of dissonance and minor key changes that add a kind of beautifully eery and creepy feeling to his songs – they are his songs. Though, this can only be noted as a feeling more than a repetition of previous song structures. You listen to this album (and, I heard it in this set) and you feel the familiarity to the style of Nouvelle Vague’s covers, but they are all distinctly different songs. The similarities and that familiarity that you hear is in the ambience that Libaux manages to deliver every time.

Though, there were songs like, “Go With The Flow,” “No One Knows” and “Medication” that had a subtle signature “French pop” to it, the most stand-out song to me was “I Never Came.” In the original Queens of the Stone Ages version, Josh Homme sings of both internal and palpable turmoil with that of whom he loves. The song diverges into denial and acceptance, anger and salvaging of pride, which Libaux has managed to intensify with his interpretation. As is what I can say for most of the songs in his set, Libaux really taps into the raw feeling of the song and puts it on display. After seeing and hearing this live, I almost felt as though my own mind was being lost and the daunting feeling of that loss was brought to me that night.

What is most deserving of notoriety is Libaux moving from one collective that exclusively covers great musicians and songs to another collective that did so, but with just one band – most songs that were from the same album. I was fortunate to catch the set where both Réaux and Paquereau were the singers. Although they differ quite substantially in vocal styling and ranges, there was a huge complimenting harmony between Paquereau’s melancholic mezzo soprano and Réaux’s tender yet emphatic vocals.

A large part of me wants to label this gig as a very professional one, however, that word is only incited because it was a gig that was delivered by a very gifted and humble group of musicians. One almost felt as though they just came together to play for friends. In such an intimate venue, any mistake or fumbling fingers would have been heard – though, none were. Just talented musicians and singers that made music for a night. There were no theatrics or overly inflamed egos, there was no boisterous crowd. Only music lovers who came to listen to an unforgettable and awe-inspiring set.

Uncovered Queens of the Stone Ages sports on the album another set of impressive female singers such as Morcheeba’s Skye, Clare Manchon of Clare and the Reasons, Inara George of Bird and the Bee and Katharine Whalen of the Squirrel Nut Zippers.

Review: Mark Wilkinson, High Tea, Sydney

Mark Wilkinson

Mark Wilkinson with Iluka at High Tea
Hibernian House, Sydney, NSW
18th July, 2013

Review by Kat Kinnie

Mark Wilkinson’s voice could melt butter. And everyone who attended a secret pre-album release gig that he did just a week or so ago, got to experience it up close and personal.

From the outside, Surry Hills’ 342 Elizabeth Street is nothing special. In fact, as we navigated the narrow corridors and stairwells, and passed graffiti covered wall after graffiti covered wall, one could have momentarily been mistaken the journey for perhaps choosing a wild goose chase, rather than a night of live music.

However, after following the metaphysical white rabbit, we were rewarded with a wonderland-like venue, offered to us from the lovely people at High Tea. Complete with a tea party, minus the Mad Hatter.

After freshly arriving from a tour of the UK and Germany, Mark entertained us with songs from his upcoming new album Let the River Run. He kicked things off with the captivating “For the First Time in Years”. He also treated us to a very special cover of Tracy Chapman’s “Fast Car”. He joked that someone once suggested he cover the song, because he sounds like her. And not knowing whether to take it as a compliment or not, promptly learnt the song, which has fast become a fan favourite.

He was also joined by the beautiful voice of local songstress, Iluka, and they performed two songs together, one by each artist, including Iluka’s “In the Heat”.

It was an enchanting night and a treat to be able to enjoy Mark’s music in such an intimate and magical setting. Surrounded by lanterns hanging from the ceilings and fairy lights draped over furniture. We sat on cushions upon rugs laid over wooden floors, amongst very good company. A group of people with pure love and appreciation for the music that was entertaining them.

Mark closed with “All I Ever Wanted” a song about a desire to be someone, say something, and search for more in life, to know that you feel alive. Mark is definitely living, breathing proof that it is definitely possible to life a life of purpose and fulfillment, doing something that you love. And the Sydney-based singer-songwriter is destined to continue to spread his music far and wide.

Mark Wilkinson’s new studio album Let the River Run will be released on 9th August and will be available to download on iTunes. He will be embarking upon a nationwide tour of Australia for Timber and Steel from Thursday 15th August. To book tickets, go to markwilkinsonmusic.com – the full list of dates are below:

Thursday 15th August – Beav’s Bar, Geelong, VIC
Friday 16th August – The Thornbury Theatre, Melbourne, VIC
Thursday 22nd August – The Brass Monkey, Cronulla, NSW
Friday 23rd August – The Abbey, Canberra, ACT
Saturday 24th August – Mars Hill Cafe, Parramatta, NSW
Friday 30th August – The Heritage Hotel, Bulli, NSW
Saturday 31st August – The Basement, Sydney, NSW
Friday 6th September – The Promethean, Adelaide, SA
Saturday 7th September – The Ellington, Perth, WA
Sunday 8th September – The Ellington, Perth, WA
Wednesday 11th September – The Rails, Byron Bay, NSW
Thursday 12th September – Cafe Le Monde, Noosa, QLD
Friday 13th September – Mandala Organic Arts Cafe, Gold Coast, QLD
Saturday 14th September – Bon Amici Cafe, Toowoomba, QLD
Sunday 15th September – Black Bear Lodge, Brisbane, QLD
Thursday 19th September – Lizotte’s, Newcastle, NSW
Friday 20th September – Lizotte’s, Central Coast, NSW
Saturday 21st September – The Clarendon Guesthouse, Katoomba, NSW

Review: Aluka Album Launch, Northcote Uniting Church, Melbourne

Aluka
Image Courtesy of Aluka

Aluka with Brighter Later
Northcote Uniting Church, Melbourne VIC
3rd May, 2013

On a typical Melbourne evening, I braved the elements to attend the sold out Aluka album launch. Punters huddled for warmth outside the Northcote Uniting Church weaving a long line to entrance. Upon entering I was warmly met by the delicious smell of mulled wine and chocolate cupcakes. People quickly filled the church pews and spilled over onto the cushions surrounding the stage.

Brighter Later opened the night with their ambient tones. The melancholy songs drifted slowly around the room like a lullaby, sending us into a mild state of meditation. Nice songwriting was complimented by vocal harmonies and swelling arrangements. I did however, find myself itching for a dynamic or tempo change. Highlights included songs “Long Way Home” a song inspired by bird migration; and  “Covergirl”. 

Headliners Aluka were up next, tenderly ushering the audience closer to the stage. As soon as this a capella vocal trio started to sing, the room was reduced to complete silence. Unaccompanied, these three talented young women use their voices as diverse instruments, using harmonies, percussive sounds, ooo’s, ahh’s and combined with hand percussion create a sweet, full sound. Their voices are individually strong but blend together beautifully. I didn’t miss the lack of traditional instrumentation; the arrangements were extremely clever and interesting.

It’s obvious Aluka love singing together, with friendly banter in between songs. Each song on the album was recorded in a different unconventional space and they told the individual stories between songs, which I liked.

“Vision”, which I’d listened to on the album impressed me live, the opening dissonant harmonies vibrated strangely in my ears. This song was recorded in a shop front through the backs of pianos on a rainy day, tells of hearing the cars on the wet road and likened it to an Ocean of Wheels.

Their songs are catchy and very likeable. Highlights included: “Keep My Cool” (recorded in a stairwell), “Vision” (recorded in a shop front), Station (recorded in a tram depot) and “Tiptoe” (recorded in a tractor shed). 

Whatever the weather might have been outside, we had no inkling. I was breath taken.  The venue was perfect, the acoustics of the church amplifying the music of the impressive and luminous Aluka.

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