Review:Riverboats Music Festival

Brian Nankervis-7
Photos by Stuart Bucknell Photography

Here at Timber and Steel, we’ve been to a fair few festivals. From huge national events, to small and intimate gatherings celebrating local. For quite some time, The Riverboats Music Festival on the Victorian border has been on our radar, and 2020 was the year we made the trek.

We are used to Folk Festivals being set on gorgeous land with camping facilities and asense of remoteness. The Riverboats Music Festival however is nestled in the center of bustling Echuca in a natural reserve come ampitheatre. With modern accommodations surrounding the venue, a strong local supporter base, and performer curation to die for, the festival clearly is on a winning ticket. See our full gallery on our Facebook page, and read on for our full review.

Welcome to Country-3

We were welcomed on Friday with the caress of the afternoon sun and a Welcome to Country that gave a great account of Yorta Yorta country and its history, delivering a friendly warm welcome in local language. The festival kicked off with the Americana stylings of charismatic Matt Joe Gow. He wowed the crowd with an assortment of pieces, changing pace and rhythm to mix things up, sliding some blues in and telling great stories and tales of how songs came to life between. Amongst his tales, the truth behind Break Rattle and Roll lit up the crowd as the favourite track echoed across the space. A perfect opening to a weekend of great music.

 

Dyson Stringer Cloher-11

Next was a delight, surprise, and treat wrapped in one – Dyson Stringer Cloher, the trio made up of Jen Cloher, Mia Dyson, and Liz Stringer. Dusting off their 2013 collaboration project, and bringing recent debut album to life on stage, the exceptional trio were a vision in technicolour. In fact, if The Wiggles were an all female indie band, this would be it. Their clever multi-layered vocals complimented the inspired guitar, creating rich captivating aural textures. Their beautiful harmonies reflected the beauty of the setting sunbeams shining through the leafy green glen. Sultry harmony soaked ballads slipped innocently between upbeat indie fun times, and the stage was set for the night.

To round out the opening night of the three-day festival, Country star Troy Cassar-Daley made his own dreams come true, finally taking to the Riverboats stage. He was at once friendly, yet charismatic, filling the stage with his presence. The set revolved around his storytelling prowess, drawing upon his family heritage to weave musical magic. He played both instrument and audience perfectly, switching from country to blues, kicking up in to higher gears, bringing the tone back down with harmonica trills, and the audience singing along.Troy Cassar-Daley-2

Saturday morning brought a number of options for festival goers – the morning was full of sideshows on the water, with one-hour riverboat cruises. But the main gates and festival tunes kicked off in the early afternoon with delightfully insightful Ainslie Wills. Performing as a 3 piece, the clear, scintillating harmonized duet reached out grabbed attention. Storytelling intertwined with her own musical style uncovered tricky relationships past, fear of missing out, and treated the crowd finishing with Triple J hit favourite I Blame Society.

Hailing from Go-Betweens fame, Robert Forster’s presence on stage filled the ampitheatre with an indisputable warmth. Working alongside talented musicians, the troubadour was revealed as tales tall or true build vivid imaginings whether a scandal or a flood, a secret rendezvous, the stories unraveled in front of a willing crowd, with a big  city dreams flowing.

Horns Of Leroy Feat. Thando-9Switching gears, the Horns of Leroy, featuring Thando turned the energy up to 11. With their own take on nostalgic track Dancing in the Moonlight, they serenaded the newly wed couple who chose the Festival as their wedding reception location! The party was truly started as combos of instrumentals, smooth vocal tracks, sassy blues, hit covers, hip hop and rap, soul, blues and more and big booming voices got the crowd up and grooving. They delivered a toe tapping, head nodding good time from start to finish. The clincher was the finish, a rendition of I Wanna Dance with Somebody, and the entire festival singing along word for word.

Mama Kin Spender-7

Two long-time friends made their festival debut together as Mama Kin Spender. Mama Kin, and Tommy Spender have a stripped back duo style that allows music to rattle, roll and tremble forth. They knew how to whip up a crowd, bringing a soulful opening, punctuated with clever harmonies and snippets of sass. Their spellbinding on stage rapport was elevated by the amazing 15 piece choir on stage throughout to bolster and support their music to deliver moving moody melodies alongside a playful, eclectic, inclusive and engaging repertoire of rejoicing in song.

As the night set in, Something for Kate took to the stage amongst rapturous applause. Opening with Electricity, it was an apt description as the crowd quickly swelling to see nostalgic favourites and Paul Dempsey in the lead did not disappoint. They kept the energy going, moving in to Echolalia much to everyone’s delight, and then delivering new album tracks that had the unmistakable, iconic sound and emotive edge we’ve come to know and love from Something for Kate. Using a haunting red stage lighting, Stop had the crowd enraptured, before rounding out their set with a rousing performance of Captain.

Something For Kate-15

As the night came closer to an end, the much anticipated performance of the night was finally here. Bernard Fanning took to the stage to huge applause and enthusiastic crowds waiting to sing the night away. He was in fine form, warm yet rugged, and a knowing look in his eye, ready to take us all on a journey. A robust musical tone, strong and vibrant, built an anticipation and eagerness as the musicians melded their prowess in to an all round satisfying and comforting blanket of music. Highlights of course included an emphatic Songbird, the set was a walk down memory lane as Day You Come, and Wish You Well particularly carried the crowd on a tide of good wishes.

 

 

Mama Kin Spender-16

Sunday morning saw the customary festival breakfast treat the crowds who snapped up tickets to see some of the festival acts do it all again in a more intimate setting offsite.

As the Festival proper kicked off late morning, the somewhat smaller crowd (perhaps some sore heads from the night before) gathered to appreciate the dulcet tones of Jess Locke. Her mellow tunes were a perfect, lilting, comforting way to wake up to the final day, her style not dissimilar to Julia Jacklin (appropriate given she toured with Jackiln), had an understated passion and vibrancy to enliven the day.

Bob Evans-7

Bob Evans received a very warm welcome from the crowd as he took to the stage, his set eagerly anticipated. His quintessential rapport with the audience, with nothing but his acoustic guitar and wit set his charisma filled set on fire. With backing from violin punctuating through the gum-scented air, the singalong was strong and a happy crowd lapped up every reminiscent note that hung in the air.

Australian music royalty took to the stage, filling the audience with reverence and anticipation. Archie Roach’s magical storytelling took the crowd on a journey through different times, both dreamtime and modern, with dreamlike qualities to transport the mind, heart and soul. A passionate and engaged crowd lapped up every moment, giving Roach attention and energy to uplift his voice. It’s no surprised his set ended to a standing ovation.

Kate Miller-Heidke-5As the sun started to shine through the trees, signaling the impending sunset, the final act of the festival, probably the most anticipated performance took to the stage. Kate Miller-Heidke, to rapturous applause took her place on stage and beamed just as brightly as the sunbeams soaking her in gold hues. A lively set full of energy to the biggest crowd really was the most magnificent end to a weekend full of mirth and joy. Miller-Heidke’s set was laced with all the big songs you wanted to hear, and her genuinely delightful demeanour and powerhouse performance had every set of eyes glued to the stage. Her set transitioned from slow and insightful to upbeat and poppy, adding a lively breath of fresh air to the ampitheatre and every attention was captured by her mesmerizing vocals. Zero Gravity was of course the finale and was every bit as breathtaking as the audience had hoped. A stellar performance that absolutely stole the show.

All in all, Riverboats Music Festival is probably the most comfortable festival to attend – accommodation is nearby, the venue is easy to navigate and facilities excellent. The curation of the line up ensures a great variety of complimentary acts. MC Brian Nankervis of RocKwiz fame kept acts rolling and entertainment between sets going – never have we seen so much dedication from a crowd to either quiz answers or a Frisbee competition.Brian Nankervis-3

With programming allowing late starts so festival goers can appreciate surrounding businesses is a great way to integrate the local community in to the whole weekend vibe, it’s like all of Echuca is the festival, not just the grounds. No doubt the 2021 line up is going to be just as great (but we won’t know what it looks like until 12 October), and the die hards with their chairs for the central ‘island’ will be there bright and early each day to secure their best position – so be sure to get your tickets early, make your way along to pick a spot, set yourself up for a full weekend of great music, no matter who is on stage.

 

Review: The Starry Field, Back on the Milks

null     Image courtesy of The Starry Field

I was quite glad to see that Mark Myers’ The Starry Field not only still existed, but had released an official recording. Whilst many may consider The Starry Field a splinter from the formerly active The Middle East (I say this, as no band ever really breaks up), I have in my own collection a DIY recording of The Starry Field from 2007, obtained from a festival that featured the close-knit family of Townsville bands that consisted of The Starry Field, Sleeping in Trains, and The Middle East (all of which Myers was a member).
 
Elements of each collective can be heard throughout Back on the Milks, and with Myers wearing his front man cap, the album covers six years worth of candid, emotional, and honest song writing. On each listen, to me, this album has grown and matured, with the distinct components of The Starry Field sound evolving into something very comfortable and familiar. Myers’ voice at first seemed quite foreign to a city dweller like myself, but as each song took me on a journey from Cape Town, Tennant Creek, and Townsville, to Bellingen, Sydney, Holbrook, and across the Tasman, it was obvious that his voice and slang-tinged conversational lyric style is perfectly suited to such stories.

“From north & south, from city & country…”
– The Starry Field @ MySpace

An accurate description of the feel of this album. Part dirt and dust, part smog and steel, and unmistakingly Australian. The modesty and earthiness of Paul Kelly, the innocence of Darren Hanlon, the warmth of Angus and Julia Stone, and the ‘local voice’ of The Waifs and Missy Higgins. Mark Myers plants his feet firmly in the soil of his North Queensland home, but his alt-country roots spread further into moments of sparse electronic beats and sound scapes nestled within his acoustically driven story telling.

This album makes me want to travel, to see the country and the world, being wary of the challenges of the human relationship, and learning from the warnings of those who’ve come before. A real, raw collection of songs that reveal Mark Myers the man, and reflect a little something within ourselves.

Back on the Milks is available on iTunes now

Review: Sleepy Dreamers, Creatures

Sleepy Dreamers
Image Courtesy of Sleepy Dreamers

Sleepy Dreamers describe themselves as an indie-folk quartet from Melbourne. They have been honing their craft since 2010, but only this month have released their debut EP. Listening to “Creatures”, I get the feeling that they were experimenting in the studio with some of the many songs they had to hand, trying to see which style fits them best.

Opening track and lead single “Winter Make Way” is, as experiments go, an immediate success. Utilizing the song structure popularized by Mumford and Sons and Of Monsters and Men, it sets the scene with a slow build of soft guitars under hushed vocals. When the crowd-friendly chorus arrives, it doesn’t disappoint, but it’s Matt Salisbury’s innovative drums which take the song to the next level. They gallop easily through a stadium’s worth of reverb, carrying it to the ears of an eagerly waiting audience. That could be you, by the way.

Elsewhere, “Charley” waltzes cheerfully through its three-chord pattern, despite some quite dark imagery. “In my concrete cell is an unknowing hell / and I’m starting to find / I’m stuck for good in my concrete bind”. It’s probably a metaphor, but it’s striking, and catchy, like a folksier version of Powderfinger.

The best lyric comes from “Misbehaving”, an interesting approach to the old carpe diem trope. “Time’s worth saving as long as I can spend it on you / because while we’re aging we’re starting something new”. With that though comes the band’s least confident delivery. The harmonies in the chorus seem under-performed, and a long guitar solo, while technically interesting, feels oddly out of place.

But in seven minute closer “Long Way Down”, they know what they’re doing. There’s hardly any verse, just glorious chorus. The details don’t matter. Only the experience, the elongated “I” which they sing in unison becomes a lonely, wordless cry, ready to be taken up by a thousand other voices. It is this anthemic style which Sleepy Dreamers seem most comfortable with, and that’s what you should expect from them in the future. If you want to sing along, “Creatures” is a promising debut from a band which, with your help, could soon be enjoying great success.

Creatures is available on Bandcamp now.

Review: Radical Face, The Family Tree: The Roots

Image courtesy of Radical Face

It was some years ago now that I fell in love with the music of Ben Cooper, and I’ve listened to his Electric President albums and solo releases under the moniker Radical Face so religiously that they’ve become a surrogate home for my ears. It hasn’t always been easy trying to justify publishing news stories and opinion pieces about Cooper’s music on this site, which is first and foremost dedicated to folk music- but we’ve always managed to make some kind of link. However, for this Radical Face album; the long awaited follow-up to 2007 debut Ghosts, and the first in a trilogy of records following the tale of a fictional family, the Northcotes, through its generations, we have had no such trouble justifying as folk music. In fact, this has to be one of the albums most deeply rooted in tradition that we’ve ever reviewed on Timber & Steel- just in a different way than what we’re used to.

The Family Tree: The Roots is dedicated to the first two generations of the Northcotes’ family tree and is narratively based in the 1800s. A challenge that Cooper set himself in the making of this album was to use only the musical tools available from that era to tell the family’s story: piano, voice, guitar, banjo, strings and basic percussion. The result isn’t a traditionally accurate sound- that was never Cooper’s intention. But listening to this album now, one can recognise the enormous potential for the relative stylistic simplicity of this part one of The Family Tree trilogy to provide a wonderful sense of historical context when it is someday joined by (and compared to) part two of the trilogy The Branches and part three The Relatives.

Die hard Radical Face fans amongst our readership must be dying to know- is this album as good as Ghosts? The answer is; yes, it is. But it’s also somewhat different, which I’m sure will lead some people to believe that it’s not as good at all. When I say different- I don’t mean it on like a Dylan going electric scale. The album still reflects all of the hallmarks of Cooper’s songwriting that we’ve come to love; the layers upon layers of stirring instrumentals that fold together and follow classic storyline curves to reach beautiful climaxes. Take “A Pound Of Flesh” for instance. It’s not all that different from songs like “Doorways”. Aside from being brilliant, the constant dancing piano line lays the foundation for the rest of the arrangement to build upon, sinks away and then rises back to the foreground like a brilliant, long-lost memory. You will notice with this song though, and throughout quite a lot of the album, that a section of the arrangement follows a peculiar timing. In this case, three repeating bars. I’ve listened to enough jazz fusion and prog in my days to adapt to unexpected timings, and although it’s only the slightest abnormality, I could understand how it might alienate some listeners. If there’s one constant factor that unifies all walks of pop music it’s that it’s at the very least predictable and comfortable- and despite all its texture and contrast Cooper’s music has always been that. “Family Portrait” is another song that doesn’t do entirely what you expect it to, but what it does do is lovely. Sun drunk and woozy instrumentals break up verses that are, I believe, uncharacteristic of Ben Cooper. One thing I’ve always admired about Cooper’s brand of storytelling is the ambiguity of his words. He tells his own stories, but through imagery and introducing ideas indirectly and subtly which leaves the listener with only the tools to construct their own impression of the song and no instruction manual to tell you what it should have left you with. In this song Cooper strays as close as he’s ever come to a  literal, state-the-facts style of storytelling, maybe because there’s so much story to tell. It’s a great song, but one more example of why I would dare to judge the album a little bit “different”.

I can’t help but smile when I think about how much joy this album will provide to so many people. Like me, tens of thousands of people will sit down with this same-but-different offering that’s been so long in the making and feel the way they felt the first time they ever listened to Ghosts, and with the development of the sound, find new reasons to love Radical Face amongst the old ones. The first time you listen to a record, it’s always difficult to imagine that oneday it will feel like home, no matter how much you like it- it’s like moving into a new house. I vividly remember not being able to to listen to The Tallest Man On Earth’s sophomore album for weeks after I got it because I loved the first one so much that I wasn’t ready for something that sounded a lot like it but wan’t the same. I can tell you now that if you loved Radical Face‘s first album, then you will love songs like “Black Eyes”, “Severus Stone”, “Ghost Towns”, “The Dead Waltz” and “Mountains”, which all follow a similar recipe to the most successful and loved Radical Face tracks like “Welcome Home”, “Wrapped In Piano Strings” and “Doorways”. But what’s more, you’ll love songs like “Kin”, “The Moon Is Down”, “Always Gold” and the aforementioned “A Pound Of Flesh” and “Family Portrait”, because they’re what set this album apart from everything you’ve known before. If you’ve been reading carefully, you’d have noticed that I’ve stated, at one point or another, that you will love just about every song on the album- and that’s my point. All in all, the album is every bit as emotive as Ghosts, but not in such a warming, empowering way. For me, this doesn’t take anything away from the experience at all, after all, Electric President‘s Sleep Well album (themed around nightmares, monsters,  and over-imaginative fear) is still one of my favourites. Even if you can’t imagine loving it now- you will.

As good as it is, there’s probably not one particular song on The Family Tree: The Roots that will receive as much attention as much as “Welcome Home” has, and will continue to recieve. It’s not an album of singles, that’s for sure. It would be unfair to even suggest that the album should be considered as a whole. The reality of the matter is that this album is one of three parts, and while the notion of an album trilogy is so remarkably ambitious that I’m not even remotely surprised that Ben Cooper had to resort to releasing the trilogy independently, I truly believe that when this body of work is completed, the finished product will be a work of genius.

“A Pound of Flesh” – Radical Face

Review: Husky at Rocket Bar, Adelaide

Image courtesy of Husky

Rocket Bar is without a doubt one of my least favourite venues in Adelaide. Unlike many of Adelaide’s more charming small venues (The Grace Emily, The Wheatsheaf, The Jade Monkey, Higher Ground, Format, The Promethean, etc), or even some medium sized ones like the Gov or Fowlers Live for that matter, Rocket Bar is not home to a regular community of patrons or artists; and the atmosphere suffers from it to the extent that the space practically feels soulless. The establishment’s appearance pretty accurately represents it- the intentionally dank, black and white glamour fit-out, complete with an “indie” themed feature wall collage, hopes to create an “underground” vibe whilst simultaneously enforcing an air of superiority and exclusiveness (one would assume that they employ the embarrassingly dolled-up, clipboard wielding door-girl to ensure the freezing public remain in a long line out on the footpath  for the same reason). For a folky pop band like Husky, the subtle craftsmanship of their music was largely lost on the typical Rocket Bar audience, whom are arguably equally as interested in being seen to be enjoying good music as they are in enjoying it.

Rocket Bar typically caters for the up-and-coming, flavour-of-the-month, formulated breed of party music that Triple J would have you believe is the be-all-and-end-all of Australian music- so I wasn’t terribly surprised to see Jinja Safari alongside Husky for this show. I do admire Jinja Safari for their innovation, and would have loved to have seen them if the night’s programme wasn’t 2 hours behind that which was advertised by midnight- another thing Rocket Bar is notorious for. Before Husky came local indie-rock band Archers- whom I’ve had the privilege of being underwhelmed by before (at Myles Mayo’s album launch). There’s no doubt that they’re doing their very best to make some music that the radio might pay attention to- but it’s equally as apparent that they’re no-where near the calibre of the other two acts that were on the bill that night.

Husky only accentuated this when they finally took to the snug stage, playing a short and upbeat set. Husky‘s style of songwriting is refreshing to say the least; usually sombre in theme, but quick-tempoed and uplifting in nature. This is perfectly expressed in their hit single “History’s Door”, which managed to momentarily grab the attention of the entire room. Those who read this website regularly would know that Timber & Steel are great believers in Husky. A cursory search of their name in the bar to the left would give you a number of glowing reviews, interviews and news stories regarding the band’s activities. This was my first time seeing Husky (in fact, it was their first time in Adelaide), and I have to say- if I didn’t before, I now believe the hype. Hailing from that magical collective of Melbourne musicians like Jordie Lane, Tin Pan Orange, Ross Irwin, Harry Angus and Jen Cloher- Husky have the finer points of performance refined down to a tee, which became increasingly evident throughout their set as the man at the mixing desk eventually cottoned on to their acoustic sound.

Husky are Adelaide bound again, as we’ve seen in recent news. This time they’ll be gracing the Gov alongside the ever-impressive Kimbra. Also supporting the larger tour are Adelaide hopefuls Fire! Santa Rosa, Fire!, whose recent album Sea Priest is one of the best pop works to come out of South Australia in recent times. This event promises to be a more worthwhile endeavour for Husky, and I dearly look forawrd to getting to know their debut album and seeing them again. With upcoming tours with Devandra Banhart and Noah and the Whale on top of the recently announced shows with Kimbra, I can’t imagine it will be long until Husky becomes a household name.

Review: Justin Townes Earle at The Gov, Adelaide

Image courtesy of Justin Townes Earle

Justin Townes Earle (USA) supported by Lanie Lane (Syd)
2nd March 2011, The Gov, Adelaide.

The Fringe Festival season is a magical time to be in Adelaide, especially for a university student. It marks the end of the holidays and the start of a new year of study with excitement and optimism. The city is temporarily commandeered by travelling artists and performers who provide entertainment in every space they can fit, and on every night of the week. The entire city is running on fumes, trying to make the most of the atmosphere while it lasts despite our collective weariness. On the night of Justin Townes Earle‘s late show at The Gov, I was no exception. By the time I got to the venue I’d already been moving between university and work for 14 hours. You can imagine my relief as I walked inside and discovered the venue full of tables and chairs for a sit-down show. A lot of Adelaide Fringe gigs are like this- compromising atmosphere with comfort and rightly accommodating older audiences, who make up a good portion of audience members for most shows, there’s no denying. I noticed early on that I was probably the youngest person at the show, and as the night went on and I continued to scan the room for a younger face than mine, it became obvious that my first impression was correct- which was just fine by me.

I was greeted to the venue by the lovely Lanie Lane. Timber & Steel contributor KT Bell spotlighted her earlier in the year, and I’ve looked forward to getting the chance to see her live ever since. I put off seeing her Fringe show at the Speigeltent in The Garden of Unearthly Delights the week beforehand because I knew I’d see her support Justin– but now I kind of wish I’d been to both. Lane, clad head to toe in beautiful vintage fashion, only needs a guitar and a microphone to charm an audience. She’s probably still considered as an emerging artist in Australia, but her performance was so faultless, polished and extraordinary that she could easily be a veteran. Like most, I know Lanie Lane for her fantastic single “What Do I Do”, but her entire set was filled with great songs which were only just upstaged by the set-closing  acapella version the single, which had the whole crowd involved. Whoever chose Lanie Lane as the support for Justin’s Australian Tour is blessed with insight and the best of judgement. Although their music shares few stylistic similarities, they share a similar quality. Lanie Lane is an ol’ time kind of gal, whose musical style is backed up by a demeanour and image of lady-like elegance and poise. But at the same time, there’s a quiet sexuality and sass about her, that, because of the very fact that it’s understated, only makes it the more readily apparent and appealing. Similarly, Justin Townes Earle sports the persona of an old fashioned, dapper country gentleman, which in many ways, seems genuine enough. But we all know about the man’s bad-boy chemical dependencies and womanising ways- which, again, is not without a similar sense of appeal, especially to women.

Justin Townes Earle reminds me of an animal that I’m sure doesn’t exist. His long, thin, towering body is somehow even more impossible when viewed through your own eyes than in pictures or film. I’ve never been able to (or felt the need to) identify the cut of a man’s jeans from looking at them; but when you’re 6’6″ tall and as thin as a rake, you really haven’t got much to wrap them ’round. His straight-legs looked like two swaying parallel lines as he settled himself on stage and said his welcomes with a witty and culturally novel Tennessee drawl that would go on to charm the socks off a hopeful and patient audience of a few hundred. I must admit, before the show, the only Justin Townes Earle record I’d gotten to know inside-out was his latest- Harlem River Blues. My knowledge of the rest of his back-catalogue extended to (admittedly a good couple of hours worth of) Youtubing the man. Since however, I’ve managed to find and purchase two thirds of his discography from a local vinyl retailer- which probably gives you a good idea of the direction this review is heading. A friend of mine who came with me to the show, and is a big Justin Townes Earle fan, pointed out before the show started that she felt that his latest album pays more attention to blues and rock & roll influences over folk and country, in comparison to past albums. And having now familiarised myself with them, I mostly agree. In which case, it’s probably fitting that he opened his set with the straight up and down rootsy old-time rock & roll number from the new album “Move Over Mama”. I was interested to see how Justin would translate these more up-beat tracks, which include bass, drums and organs on the studio versions, into a stripped down tour-friendly composition. Justin brought over his violinist-come back-up vocalist Josh Hedley for the tour, and surprisingly, the two of them managed to create a sound that was big and full enough that it took nothing away from the songs. If anything, I enjoyed the live versions more.

Justin‘s violinist, Josh Hedley, is an unlikely sort of performer. Playing alongside the man, he appeared short and stout, where in reality he was probably 6 foot and average build. With round spectacles, receding hair, a straight-laced shirt-and-tie dress sense, a beard with all the shapeliness and density of a well-tended hedge, and hands covered in tattoos, the man looked as though he might have been an accountant before being sent to prison for tax fraud and falling on hard-times. What’s more, I couldn’t make out a single expression on his face until an hour and a half into the set when he burst into laughter after sharing an un-amplified joke with Justin between songs. The break in character was quite a shock.

For the second song on the menu, the two of them broke into “They Killed John Henry” from 2009 album Midnight At The Movies. For both performers, the song gave them a chance to fully show their skills as instrumentalists. Justin took every opportunity to tell the stories behind the songs he was singing- which is such a valuable thing. Storytellers really carve careers for themselves in performing- it’s one aspect of music that can’t be pirated or imitated or replaced or shared illegally. It has the power to seduce audiences and turn fans into die-hard fans. Justin certainly endeared himself to the Adelaide crowd with stories about failed romances, his drug troubles, his childhood and relationships with his parents and grandparents. Of course, it will always help if you can tell your stories using old-fashioned American-south colloquialisms. I won’t ruin the stories by telling them, but I will say that the stories before songs like “One More Night In Brooklyn”, “Slippin’ And Slidin'” and “Midnight At The Movies” in particular are every bit as good as the actual songs.

Say what you will about Justin Townes Earle, but there’s no questioning his dedication to a performance. His set spanned the best part of 2 hours, and even gave his violinist a break mid-set while he continued to entertain the audience. Particular highlights of the set were mixed up between old favourites like “Mama’s Eyes”, and new songs like “Learning To Cry”,  “Wanderin'”, “Christchurch Woman” (which he dedicated to earthquake victims in lieu of telling his regular story for the song), and of course the crowd favourite and set-closer “Harlem River Blues”. The audience was even treated to a brand new song called “There Won’t Be A Last Time” that will be on the next Justin Townes Earle album.

For anybody reading who is a musician themselves- take this as a case-study on how fans are made. I went to the gig because I liked what I’d heard of Justin Townes Earle and knew of his reputation, and I left completely wooed and craving his records. If you want to know how he managed to do it, I’d recommend heading to one of his remaining Australian Tour Dates. Click here for details. A word of advice: make sure he gets an encore, and you’ll be treated to a selection of very special covers. Wink.

Review: Florence and the Machine at the Enmore Theatre

Florence and the Machine
Image courtesy of Boudist

Florence and the Machine supported by Ernest Ellis
7th August, The Enmore Theatre
Sydney

If Laura Marling is serene and elfin, then Florence Welch of Florence and the Machine is a frenetic pixie. Selling out three consecutive gigs at the Enmore Theatre, it was sure to be a buzzing night. I had battled the ticket purchasing system to even get two tickets, so my friend and I were seated in the nose bleeds rather than the dance floor, but thankfully we were above the stairway so our view was not impeded by rows of heads directly in front of us. Unfortunately we had missed the support act Ernest Ellis however I will attempt to hear word from other friends also in the audience regarding their set.

Waiting for the main act to begin, there was a distinct impression we were in for something exciting – a black curtain hid the entire stage from the audience and purple lights shone from above. The inevitable clap and chant started in vain only to peter out in disappointment. However, when the show did start, boy did the audience know it.  The house lights dimmed and the audience cheered only to be outdone by the intrigue taking place on the stage. With the black curtain still drawn, lights flashed from the back of the stage in patterns and rhythms while silhouettes moved across the stage. Many times cheers would rise as the audience thought Florence herself had taken centre stage, only to be mislead by a roving band member.

As the curtian finally rose, with Florence in centre stage in a slim long black dress, drum stick in hand and a floor tom to her right, the “Drumming Song” exploded forward from the stage with Florence belting out the beats we are so familiar with throughout the song. One of the things that separates a Florence Concert from the rest, is the sheer beauty of the entire production. The stage was set with lights in bird cages, the backdrop was filled with intricate designs, Florence’s microphone stand had a spray of red flowers climbing up from the base and, we discovered later in the show, many of the instruments glowed under black lights. At times the scenery even changed to create a star-filled sky backdrop. Coupled with the sheer energy and enthusiasm from Florence, dancing around the entire stage and skipping playfully between songs, it was an absolute feast for the eyes and ears.

Highlights were of course “You’ve Got the Love” with backing vocals by the entire audience, “Hurricane Drunk” received an enormous response with a magical extended intro and “Between Two Lungs” was thoroughly enjoyed. With her set beginning at 9.30pm, I was sure it would all be over in an hour, but she delighted us all with new songs, the names of which I didn’t catch (Note to all touring artists – please, Please, clearly announce the names of your new songs so we can all eagerly await them on the new album!) but were full of the melody and that feisty Florence feel. All of which were expertly injected between crowd favourites like “Kiss with a Fist”.  She had us on our feet a number of times, she had the entire audience jump in time, she had us all throw our hands in to the air and declare ‘Raise It Up’ throughout the infectious “Rabit Heart”.  To my, and I’m sure the audience’s delight, her main set ran far over the anticipated 60 mins.   As the crowd cheered and exclaimed for more, it was perhaps the longest wait between set and encore I have ever experienced (though in reality was still just a short break), and part of me thought that perhaps that was it, but with the house lights still down, we all knew better.

Finally the encore began with just ‘The Machine’ giving an extended instrumental introduction. The musicality and talent can often be underappreciated when an act has such a vivacious and enigmatic lead, so this was a wonderful opportunity to soak up the full sound of Florence and the Machine, sans Florence. When she finally took to the stage, well, the crowd errupted. It was a short encore of just two songs, and we all knew the finale would go to the incredibly popular “Dog Days Are Over” which we all joyously sang along too.

To be leaving the Enmore at 11pm, after a phenomenal hour and a half of combined set and encore, was incredibly satisfying and the theatricality of the Florence and the Machine production was impressive enough to stand a long time in memory. The only negative criticism I have of the entire show was one single, large and incredibly bright backlight which unfortunately was pointed directly at the upper dress circle seated area and blinded 2/3 of the seated audience whenever it was used. I hope the lighting design for her future shows might be further thought out so as not to blind her audience as many of us spent much of the show either shielding our eyes, blinded or with eyes shut. She looks amazing backlit, but the nose bleeds would like to watch her too. The only advantage to closing your eyes to shut out the blinding light was being transported by the music to an intimate performance just for one.

Florence and the Machine – a breathtaking, exciting, must see show which I thought should have been renamed: The Florence and the Machine Spectacular.

Review Panel: Mumford and Sons, Enmore Theatre, Sydney


Image Courtesy of C Murray

Mumford and Sons supported by Matt Corby and Fanfarlo
3rd August, Enmore Theatre
Sydney

Evan: To say that this has been a phenomenal year for Mumford and Sons would be an understatement. From winning triple j’s Hottest 100 to headlining just about every festival on the face of the planet one has to wonder what’s next for the London folksters. In fact given the global domination of Mumford and Sons we were pretty lucky to catch them at Sydney’s Enmore Theatre – by rights they should be playing venues twice this size.

KTBell: Having only seen Mumford and Sons at Laneway Festival in January and very swiftly developing quite an appreciate for their entire album Sigh No More and coming off the back of seeing Laura Marling with stealth guest Marcus Mumford, I was pumped for an amazing show.

Evan: The first artist to grace the Enmore’s stage was Timber and Steel favourite Matt Corby. The last time I had seen Corby was at the intimate Communion night in January of this year where the crowd was transported to a higher plain by his angelic voice and ethereal guitars. Corby’s Enmore set just as good, sweeping through the half filled room and transfixing those that were watching. But I do feel that much of the magic of Matt Corby’s set was lost in the expanse of the Enmore and that he is better suited to smaller rooms and smaller audiences. “My False” is still a magnificent song though which I am very glad he played.

KTBell: I’m going to have a league of Matt Corby fans hating me. While I am whole heartedly impressed with Matt’s progress from Idol fame to now make it as a talented recording artist in his own right, I was looking forward to ‘discovering’ him at this gig. Evan is right, Matt’s style is incredibly ethereal and fantastically well done at that – but I discovered, I’m not much of an ethereal style fan. It’s not to say I disliked the set, it just didn’t speak to me. I do agree with Evan that potentially Matt and the band were lost on a large stage in a large room and I look forward to listening to the new album in a different setting to gain a full appreciation for the skill and musicality Matt brings to the genre. Having said that, the fans who were front and centre were quite clearly enthralled with the performance.

Evan: The second support for the evening were UK-via-Sweden band Fanfarlo who took to the stage to a rapturous applause probably off the back of their positive Splendour reviews. Part Arcade Fire, part Mumford and Sons, Fanfarlo proved to be the perfect lead in to the main act with a high energy, multi-instrumental set that had the crowd up and dancing almost from the get go. While the set did become a little samey towards the end (which may have been a result of the crowds growing anticipation for the headliners) but overall the performance was well received.

KTBell: Their multi-instrumentation was incredibly impressive. Their set had a couple of highlights, but for me, they were good, but not amazing. Their violinist occasionally reminded me of the Bridezilla girls in her flowing movement and sensual involvement in her performance. I can see the huge potential for their future, and I look forward to seeing some variety from them at future performances.

Evan: There’s a reason “Sigh No More” is the first track on the album of the same name – it’s an absolutely killer opening song. As soon as Mumford and Sons entered the stage they had the crowd under their control. Critics may bemoan the fact that many of the bands song follow the same start-slow-and-build-to-a-hoedown formula but this is exactly what makes them such a great live band. The fact that the audience is dancing wildly by the end of each piece of music must mean they’re onto something good.

KTBell: For me, this gig, in comparison to the previous night’s, shows how much difference an audience can make. As we waited eagerly for the Mumford boys to take the stage, it became apparent the crowd was an eclectic mix of fans. In chatting to the people around me, there were some who were die hard fans and others who obviously followed the Triple J hottest 100 rise to fame. Fans come in all shapes, sizes and with different tastes and preferences, so I don’t begrudge anyone their way of appreciating music, but it didn’t take long to realise this was going to be a rowdy crowd and a massive performance. Opening with title song “Sigh No More” was incredibly appropriate and was met with great enthusiasm. The crowd moved, danced, jumped, shouted, cheered and sang as one through the vast majority of the show.

Evan: I was surprised that Mumford and Sons chose to insert Hottest 100 winner “Little Lion Man” into the middle of the set when most bands would save their biggest single for the closer. But it meant that occasional fans got their fix early and were then treated to the rest of the band’s repertoire without the distraction of wondering when they were going to play the one track they knew. It also built the energy in the crowd (not that it was really needed) and filled the Enmore with 2,000 profanity filled voices.

KTBell: I expected an amazing performance and I was not disappointed by the lads. Visually, I am always intrigued that they present themselves in a straight line across the front of the stage – no one is any more important than the rest in this format and it works beautifully for their interaction and banter between songs. Marcus commented that they enjoy playing to Australian audiences, and judging by the grins creeping across their faces as the entire crowd sang along word for word to many of their songs, including the famed “Little Lion Man”, that despite selling out the Enmore for successive concerts, they still didn’t quite expect the reception we provided.

Evan: New material for a band as hard-touring as Mumford and Sons is always an unexpected surprise. For most artists the road is not the most conducive environment for creativity (The Waifs always complain that half of their songs are about being on the road), however the opposite seems true for the Mumford boys. Marcus admitted to the audience that one of their new songs had been written the week prior in Melbourne before launching into a track which sounded practiced and polished. I’m so excited about the prospect of a new album sometime in the near future.

KTBell: One absolute highlight was the bands decision to play a new track for the crowd. Marcus explained that in the past they had tested out new songs at live gigs, which were traditionally much, much smaller than that at the Enmore. He also revealed that the song in question was written in Melbourne only weeks before, and if we didn’t like it, well it wouldn’t go on to the next album. Unsurprisingly the mention of a new album sent the audience wild with cheers. While I don’t recall the name of the song, it displayed all the charm and melody of the ballads we’ve come to know and love from Mumford and Sons. The sheer elation in response by the audience should see this Aussie gem make it to the new album, well, we can hope.

Evan: Probably my highlight of the night was the band’s rendition of “Roll Away Your Stone” which, much like their Splendour performance the weekend before, featured members of Australian bands like Boy & Bear and The Middle East invade the stage and join the hoedown. Marcus Mumford endeared himself to the audience when he likened touring to “collecting new friends around the world” – the respect these guys show for their fellow artists is absolutely tangible. Finishing the set with an encore that included popular single “The Cave” was always going to be a popular choice and they definitely left the audience feeling uplifted and absolutely satisfied.

KTBell: Amazingly, once the crowd had yelled, cheered, stamped and whistled for an Encore and the boys came back out to play two last songs, I was astounded to realise as they started their last song of the night that “The Cave” had not featured in their main set, and lo and behold, that it was the final song of the night. It is testament to the engaging performance and entertainment that they deliver, that one of my favourite songs could be skipped from the main set and go unnoticed so as to end on a crescendo. It also proves that they are more than a one hit wonder band, with one of our near by fellow audience members declaring at the start of every song (including the new one no one had heard before) “This is my FAVourite”, it’s quite clear the Mumford style will be treating audiences for some time yet.

Evan: I’m so lucky to have seen Mumford and Sons twice this year and having them at the Enmore, rather than a festival, was really a treat. Given the obvious love they have for Australian audiences I’m sure we’ll see them again before too long.

KTBell: If a concert’s success can be measured in merchandise sales, this one rocked as I walked out with a Sigh No More singlet as well as Mumford and Sons branded t-shirt, hat and scarf and a desire for more Mumford as soon as possible. And with sell out crowds who lap up each and every show, they’re sure to be a fixture on the Summer Festival rounds.

Review: Johnny Flynn, “Been Listening”

Been Listening
Image Courtesy of Johnny Flynn

I’ve ‘Been Listening’ to Johnny Flynn’s new album, and I like what I hear.

It’s somewhat strange that with the revival in popularity of the folk scene that Johnny Flynn has seen very little of the media spotlight here in Australia.  Indeed, although Johnny Flynn and his band the Sussex Wit have been doing the rounds a lot longer then fellow folksters and touring partners Mumford and SonsFlynn’s unique music hasn’t shared the exposure his contemporaries have enjoyed.   Things look set to change on the Australian scene at least, with Flynn confirmed to perform on these shores in early August.

Laura Marling completionists may initially pick up this album because of her appearance in the duet ‘The Water’,  but what they’ll discover is a complex and refreshing album from one of the UK folk scenes most accomplished artists.  The opener ‘Kentucky Pill’ is a joyful, optimistic track with confident and tight production that instantly feels more polished and ‘poppy’ than anything we’ve heard before, fueled largely by an energetic drum beat and childhood reminiscences  that sweep away any preconceptions of a “Johnny Flynn” sound.

The second track ‘lost and found’ opens with a riff reminiscent of  ‘shore-to- shore’ from A Larum (2008), allowing Flynn’s unique vocal qualities to shine, with subtle and gentle harmonies that feel much more connected to his previous work.  Trumpets take front and centre in the catchy ‘Churlish May’, which paves the way for the bluesy ‘Been listening’ with a gorgeous electric guitar riff that put me in mind of the Pixies. At this point in my first listen I can confess that I was completely in love with the album.  Lyrically, Flynn always gives me just enough to want to know more and from the line ‘a Kentucky pill and a cow-tipping expedition’ we know that this as album of stories, some of which are strange and difficult to comprehend and others like the excellent  ‘Barnacled Warship’ or the ‘The Water’ which appeal more to the senses.

A real treat is ‘Sweet William part 2’, which reprises the EP of late last year.  Sweet William is a favorite track if mine, and this new version, which sounds far more raw and under-produced when compared with the rest of the album, is a jam-band reprise, a snapshot in time of something that sounds as though it has evolved through many live performances…and  feels like it will continue on moving and growing long after this recording.

At first listen ‘Amazon Love’ seems at odds with the rollicking start of the album, particularly as it follows the energetic ‘Agnes’.  This slow, hopeful track couldn’t sound further from the buoyant ‘Kentucky Pill’, yet it is in this track that we hear Flynn at his most poetic.  Harking back to A Larum’s softer moments,  ‘Amazon Love’ seems to gather all the threads and ideas of ‘Been Listening’ together and steer the entire album home.

Been Listening is an album that encapsulates it’s creator’s obvious delight in all the tastes, sights and sounds of life, and fans will find much that us familiar, and much that is new. Those coming fresh to Flynn’s sound will go on a not-altogether- predictable journey, and encounter an energetic and inspired travelling companion in Johnny Flynn.

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