Jun 4, 2017

Bill Callahan @ Sydney Opera House

Bill Callahan is quite simply understated greatness. The American singer songwriter doesn't possess the flair for the dramatic. What he does possess is a great voice that resonates strongly. It is deep and powerful. He also possesses the great ability to write great songs that have stood the test of time. Bill has been plying his greatness for over twenty years. Firstly as Smog and more recently under his own name. It is always a great pleasure to see him on stage.

Bill was here in Sydney as part of Vivid and he played 4 shows over two days in the Drama Theatre of the Sydney Opera House. We went to show three on Saturday night and were beautifully entertained for just on an hour and a half. The set list was a good spread of Callahan material with a little bit from most eras. Bill plied his acoustic through out, with Matt Kinsey joining him on electric guitar. It was a gently mesmeric performance, devoid of artifice and self indulgence. It was a performance playing servant to the music. And what great music it was.

Set List
Jim Cain
Spring
Ride My Arrow
River Guard
America!
Rock Bottom Riser
Too Many Birds
I Gave Up Good Morning Darling (Red Steagall cover)
Riding For the Feeling
Bathysphere
Drover
I'm New Here
Say Valley Maker

May 29, 2017

Fleet Foxes @ Sydney Opera House

It's been a while. Five years to be exact. Fleet Foxes gave us two brilliant albums and visited us twice. First a rapturous show at the Metro Theatre and then a triumphant night at the Sydney Opera House. Then they disappeared. Josh Tillman left and became Father John Misty and Robin Pecknold ventured into University study. 2017 signaled a return. After much anticipation a song was released, the epic 'Third of May/Ōdaigahara' and soon after a new album was announced. So this was exciting news enough. But then Vivid Sydney announced that Fleet Foxes would be their headline act, playing over four consecutive nights in the Concert Hall. These were planned to be their first live shows in five years and although they eventually played a couple of small shows in the US before arriving it still felt like new territory for everyone lucky to attend. We secured prime seats for the Saturday show and then settled in for the excitement to come.

It was a fascinating show. A blend of old and new. Like any show where you hear songs for the first time there is a strange mix of excitement but also unfamiliarity. In their time away the Seattle band have grown into something else. The new songs are more experimental, multi layered and multi dimensional. Most were aided by a string section and also a brass section, which added a further layer. Of course these songs still contain the hallmarks of beautiful melodies and harmonies but they take strange twists and turns, giving plenty for the listener to chew on. My favourite was probably the afore mentioned 'Third of May/Ōdaigahara' but I also loved the back to back of  'Mearcstapa' and 'On Another Ocean (January/June)'. Some of the new songs though can still be uncomplicated such as the quiet and soulful 'I Should See Memphis'. Naturally there was great joy when old classics were brought out such as 'White Winter Hymnal', 'Ragged Wood' and my favourite, that beast of a song in 'The Shrine/An Argument'. After a short break the band returned for a surprisingly long encore which included Robin going solo and the apt closer in 'Helplessness Blues'. So ended a night which gave us plenty to ponder on. A taste of new songs, a return to older ones. A happy reminder of how great Fleet Foxes are and how nice it is to have them back.

Set List
I Am All That I Need/Arroyo Seco/Thumbprint Scar
Cassius, -
- Naiads, Cassadies
Grown Ocean
White Winter Hymnal
Ragged Wood
Your Protector
The Cascades
Mearcstapa
On Another Ocean (January/June)
Fool’s Errand
He Doesn't Know Why
Mykonos
Third of May/Ōdaigahara
The Shrine/An Argument
Crack-Up

I Should See Memphis
Tiger Mountain Peasant Song (Robin solo)
If You Need To, Keep Time on Me
In the Morning (Bee Gees cover)
Blue Ridge Mountains
Drops in the River
Helplessness Blues

May 28, 2017

The Smith Sreet Band @ Enmore Theatre

The Smith Street Band are a full on passion attack. Emotionally huge and ferocious live. They are truly a great Australian band. Having just released their fantastic fourth album Friday night was a victory lap in front of the biggest crowd that they have played to at the Enmore Theatre. They didn't let anyone down, playing a blistering set for over an hour and a half. It was, to put simply, blazingly good. There was such a huge energy in the room. But the night of the night the room was a happy, sweaty mass of enraptured people.

They ended up playing all of the tracks from their new album and to say they were well received would be a complete understatement. We lapped them up with total joy. It's hard not to when they tear into them with such effort and heart. "Suffer" was simply a perfect opener and the onslaught never let up from there. The beauty of this great band is that they a growing catalogue of great songs they are song along with gusto, whether it's an old cut like "Sigourney Weaver" or a current great like "Passiona". It was all great. I think my favourite was the epic (although aren't they all) "I Don't Wanna Die Anymore". Will Wagner is a true Australian poet and his band are creating quite a career for themselves. Formidable.

Set List
Suffer
Song For You
Forrest
Birthdays
Ducks Fly Together
Surrey Dive
25
I Don't Wanna Die Anymore
The Arrogance of the Drunk Pedestrian
It Kills Me To Have To Be Alive
Get High, See Mice
Young Drunk
Run Into The World
Passiona
Death to the Lads
Shine
Surrender
Young Once

Laughing (Or Pretending to Laugh) (Will solo)
Sigourney Weaver
Throw Me in the River

May 27, 2017

Camp Cope @ Sydney Opera House

Camp Cope have come a long way in a short space of time. This fierce Melbourne trio are huge on talent and about a year after releasing their splendid debut album they have graduated to playing the Sydney Opera House. Not the Concert Hall (Fleet Foxes were playing there Friday night) but the smaller Drama Theatre. Still a great achievement for a band that not too long ago were playing very small venues. Friday night was part of Vivid and they managed to cram in two shows in the one night. We went to the first and it was great to be sure.

Perhaps the venue wasn't best suited to their style as we sat and watched, instead of standing and shouting. Still, it was a great experience as the band tore through deep cuts from the self titled album to great effect. Lead singer Georgia has a voice to level small buildings. It is full of character and range and rage and emotion and heart. And the bass playing of Kelly is superb, with her bass basically acting as a lead guitar. It was also a delight to hear two new songs which were both great. The first was an 'ode' to men who think women can't headline or play large venues. I think Friday proved this is far from true. Camp Cope are brilliant living proof. 

Set List
Song for Charlie (Georgia solo)
Song for You (new song)
Flesh and Electricity
Jet Fuel Can't Melt Steel Beams
West Side Story
Keep Growing
Trepidation
Done
Stove Lighter
Footscray Station
Anna (new song)
Lost (Season One)

May 18, 2017

Allah-Las @ Oxford Art Factory

Wednesday night at the Oxford Art Factory was a night of sweet sounds and floating melodies. Courtesy of the four piece band from Los Angeles that goes by the name of Allah-Las. With three albums under their belt this was the band's first trip to Australia and it was warmly received, playing the first of two back to back sold out shows in Sydney. Allah-las are not cool or hip. That is not hyped in anyway. But to me they are extremely cool. They have that Los Angeles look and sound that screams song craft. Their songs float and romp with lovely understated melodies and great harmonies. Exemplary guitar work is augmented by a joyous attitude to singing and playing. It certainly made for a fun night.

Allah-las can churn through quite a few songs in a set because basically they have few songs that go for longer than three minutes. So if you don't like a song there is always one coming along that you will like. But judging by the smiles in the room the set of songs was a great hit. All three albums were well covered with perhaps the biggest cheer for the glorious 'Sandy' and the robust closer 'Catamaran'. All of the band sing with three taking lead vocals. But it is mainly Miles Michaud taking the lead on most songs. Another great feature was the lead guitar work of Pedrum Siadatian. The man can play a mean guitar. The night was topped off beautifully by a two song encore with some of the audience joining the band on stage. The band didn't seem to mind at all, adding another layer to a simply wonderful night.

Set List
Busman's Holiday
Follow You Down
200 South La Brea
501-415
Sandy
Warmed Kippers
Buffalo Nickel
No Werewolf
Tell Me (What's On Your Mind)
Had It All
Sacred Sands
Catalina
Autumn Dawn
No Voodoo
Could Be You
Calm Me Down (The Human Expression cover)
Catamaran

Long Journey
Every Girl

Apr 21, 2017

Strand Of Oaks @ Newtown Social Club

Thursday night was to be a bittersweet one. It was a total pleasure to see Strand of Oaks for the first time. But it was also sadly my last gig at the soon closing Newtown Social Club. It was so exciting a couple of years ago when the old Sandringham Hotel was transformed into a brand new venue with local and international acts. I had the pleasure of seeing Thee Oh Sees, Stephen Malkmus, Daniel Rossen and many others there. And even though the small venue was often sold out it could never make a profit. So the bottom line won and live music in Sydney lost out. Sadly.

But last night was a good way to go out as the soulful, boisterous rock of Philadelphia's Strand of Oaks filled the room with joyous effect. It was a short set to be sure, but Timothy Showalter's beast of a voice boomed out loud, ably supported by his very tight four piece band. The set was divided between tracks from their last two albums in 'Heal' and this year's 'Hard Love'. I was able to spot the set list before the show and the the encore song was going to be the wonderful 'JM', a tribute to the late great Jason Molina. Sadly for some reason they didn't play it as there was to be no encore. Still it was a night to be savoured as I lamented the loss of a wonderful Sydney venue.

Set List
Plymouth
Shut In
For Me
Kraut Rock
Radio Kids
On The Hill
Everything
Rest Of It
Goshen '97

Apr 14, 2017

The Mountain Goats @ Factory Theatre

The Mountain Goats are like beautiful old friends who every time they visit they are most welcome. Their wit, heart and humanity are self evident and warmly received. Such was the case again last Sunday night in Sydney. A sold out crowd enjoyed every second and it was certainly a room full of love and warmth. The Mountain Goats have a huge catalogue so naturally there won't always be songs you wish you could hear but there will also be surprises and delights. I do believe their recent albums have lacked greatness but it was still a great night. They actually played a couple of tunes from their upcoming release in 'Goths'. One song was a bit average but I really enjoyed 'Shelved'. I also learned its slang meaning later which added a different perspective to the song.

John Darnielle, their fearless leader, is an extremely erudite and intelligent front man and it's always a treat to hear his mid section of the set when he goes solo. He delivered an old unrecorded song in 'Shower' which was definitely the highlight of the night. Of course the classics came late in the set too, culminating in another spectacular version of 'This Year ', with every single person singing along in full voice. I first saw this band back in 2007 and I stated then that seeing them live was like an old school revival meeting. This opinion still holds true to this day. It's always a pleasure and a great experience to see them live. Always and forever.

Set List
In the Craters on the Moon
Harlem Roulette
Damn These Vampires
Animal Mask
Heel Turn 2
Steal Smoked Fish
Shower (John solo)
The Alphonse Mambo (John solo)
Thank You Mario But Our Princess is in Another Castle (John solo)
We Do It Different on the West Coast
The Diaz Brothers
Shelved
New Zion
Oceanographer's Choice
Broom People
Song for Dennis Brown
Up the Wolves
This Year

Amy AKA Spent Gladiator 1
No Children
Spent Gladiator 2