May 17, 2008

Whitley @ Annandale Hotel

A bigger audience is not always a better audience. Sometimes more people, just means more noise. This seemed to be the case Friday night at the Annandale Hotel. I don't listen to the radio, so I have really no idea what is popular these days, Triple J wise or the more horrid commercial alternatives. But having seen Whitley's debut album "The Submarine" in basically every record store I visit these days, I am assuming he is getting quite a name for himself these days. So it proved by selling out the Annandale Friday night. Although that could have had something to do with the support act. But more about that in a moment. Having seen Whitley perform last year at various venues to small but enthusiastic audiences I was particularly keen to see them live for the first time in months, especially as "The Submarine" was my favourite Australian album of 2007. But I wasn't prepared for a packed venue, full of avid fans. Well, I assume they were avid. Hard to tell, when many seemed more interested in talking (loudly), getting to the bar and texting their friends. People, it's quite simple. Go to a show and LISTEN.

Anyway, despite this nearly ruining the night, the music was great. The band has recently been touring the US and they seemed tighter and more forceful then ever before. In fact there was serious rocking out during some numbers, such as in "Lost in Time". And although this was impressive, I think I actually enjoy these songs sung in a more softer, gentler method. Thankfully half through the set the band left the stage and Lawrence played 3 beautiful numbers solo. "Cheap Clothes", "More Than Life" and the Bjork cover "Hyper Ballad". All beautifully rendered, despite the incessant chatter. The band returned and the show flowed again, including a delightful "I Remember". After an extremely short break, Lawrence returned for a superb rendering of "The Life I Keep", his voice echoing through the old pub. That is a great feature of this band, his voice. Ranging from full throated roar to husky whispers, it shows enormous range. Believe me, this is a seriously talented band with a great future. But I believe the dilemma going forward will be two fold. To cope and please a burgeoning fan base and to attempt to straddle the line between being a rock band and delivering acoustic folk. Hopefully they can succeed in both areas. I think they certainly will.

Now, the support act was Howie Day. All the way from the US. Honestly I had never heard of him before Friday night. Apparently he has had a good deal of commercial success and there was a quite a fan base ready to see him perform. I will say this. His voice is impressive, in a strong forceful way, and he can play the guitar. But his songs were MOR moderate. Thin and transparent with flimsy lyrics and dull melodies. I guess this is what passes for music these days on commercial radio.

Before I go I need to say this. Seagull could be my favourite new Australian band. All I knew, before Friday, is that they were from Melbourne. Unfortunately I only saw the last two songs of their set. This I regret, for they were excellent. A masterful blend of driving melodies, robust rhythms and earnest and heartfelt vocals made for a shot of musical wonderment. They created an magical atmosphere in a short time, that augurs well for their future. I bought their debut album "Goodbye Weather" after the show and I love it. The two songs I heard were "Baby" and "Spear", but there are many more gems on the album. This is a band I need to see again.

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