Matt Corby- Live at the Metro

Matt Corby

The Metro Theatre

June 14

There is a certain expression that Matt Corby pulls when he’s about to go for a big note. He steps about a metre back from the mike, grips the neck of his guitar and his face contorts and tightens. Then the almighty yell is released: a fierce, rasping growl that is torn from his throat whilst he shakes his head, as if he’s wringing every last scrap of volume from it that he can.

It is impressive. And he deploys it quite a lot throughout his set.

It’s the last night of Corby’s ‘Winter’ tour, which saw him hop across the country playing some major venues, a further notch on his belt after storming into the limelight with hit Brother last December. His transition from Australian Idol darling to indie cool kid is now complete, judging by the number of hipster beards in the audience tonight.

Supports We Are The Birdcage delivered a set of warm acoustic folk tunes, before Alpine gave a lacklustre performance of their peculiar brand of alt-rock.

It was packed to capacity by the time Corby shuffled on to the stage. Opening with Song For, he stacked up layers of guitar with loop pedals whilst spreading his voice thin over the acoustic hum. Joined by his band, they moved quickly into the thumping drums and clangy guitars of Winter, delivering his first guttural yells of the evening- his own vocal atom bomb.

The songs swung from his earlier EP’s to his most recent- Into The Flame– throwing the crashing epic of Brother into the middle of the set. Wolf yells were elicited from the audience as the familiar notes rang out. In what was the standout song from the set, the band raced to an incredible, furious jam amidst strobing lights.

Bringing it back with acoustic Big Eyes, featuring Bree Tranter (fromerly of The Middle East) on vocals, they then closed with the blistering jam of Souls A’Fire. The ending was frenzied, Corby screaming and shaking above an earthquake of toms and bass.

The band toasted the audience before their encore, taking a shot before blasting into My False, which saw Alpine jump back on stage for the last chorus before everything plunged into black and suddenly it was all over.

A brilliant set from a highly talented musician.

The Jezabels- Live at the Hordern Pavilion

The Jezabels

The Hordern Pavilion

June 9

The ending scene was carnal. Hayley Mary tearing through closing song Hurt Me whilst leaning over a swarm of hands that clutched and grabbed at her. Drums and guitar raced towards a fierce crescendo, a huge sonic avalanche that gathered up the space and everyone in it. Four quick beats of the drums and suddenly it was gone, the Hordern Pavilion plunged into darkness as The Jezabels left the stage.

The Sydney show was their last before they head overseas to continue their relentless touring schedule. It was a brief but blinding tour that saw them play the biggest Australian venues of their career to date. And deservedly so, coming off a summer in which they won the Rolling Stone Award for Album of the Year with their debut, Prisoner (which also reached gold status), packed out festival tents across the country, and scored no. 9 in Triple J’s Hottest 100. One gets the feeling they won’t be heading back to any smaller venues.

Melbourne band Snakadaktal cruised through their set of indie numbers, before Canadian support Lights shattered the frequency with some heavy dubstep rock.

A droning inched out from the stage, the bass thumbed a beat that shifted the smoke that cloaked the audience. Light bulbs blew as the band exploded into Endless Summer, singer Hayley Mary punching and twirling whilst the sound grew into a furious jam of clangy guitars, synths and drums. The sound was physical, it flowed off the stage and hit you.

Melting into the scattered drums of Easy To Love, they then burned through Rosebud and City Girl in front of a screen of flashing LED lights. Peppering the set with old favourites and working through their new album, they managed to recreate the depth of their studio sound with little trouble. The crowd lapped up the epics Mace Spray and Trycolour, whilst shimmery Deep Wide Ocean was played against a striking backdrop of coloured jellyfish.

“We just can’t believe we’re playing the fucking Hordern!” Mary yelled before they crashed into Dark Storm. Leaving the stage for barely a minute, they slowed right down for the encore with melancholic Peace Of Mind before closing with Hurt Me.

The house lights were up, house music was playing, but small clusters of people remained to get set lists and guitar picks from the stage crew, finally getting tossed out by security. Ears ringing, we picked our way through the crushed red cups and spilled beer and joined the thousands that poured out into the freezing night.

A phenomenal performance.

Janelle Monae- Live at the Sydney Opera House

In between the swarms of women dressed in black tuxedo’s, a young man was dancing to the warm up music. As a woman glanced at him, he suddenly pulled her in and shoved a glass of champagne in her hands.

‘Before we were strangers, now we are friends!’ He shouted gaily to the young lady, looking quite aghast but happy with her free alcohol.The doors opened behind him and he danced away into the concert hall at the Sydney Opera House.

A stack of percussion, a myriad of synthesizers and four chairs were washed in lurid red light on the stage. Janelle Monae’s scene of android madness was set, pictures of her alter-ego flashed behind the stage as speakers blared James Brown’s Sex Machine at an ever-increasing volume.

A delicate string overture and a top hatted man’s introduction later, and the lady herself spun from behind a black cloak to piercing screams from the crowd. She burned through opener Dance or Die , drums scatting behind her. Rapping and throwing her voice around, she tap danced her way across the stage and conducted a frantic audience. Funky death eaters swarmed and danced around a backing band who were in sync with every note and dance move. They melted into Faster and doubled the pace before Monae broke out in a fit of dancing and freezes and stops. Hopping quickly from one section to another, it became a freight train of jiving madness before suddenly it plunged into black and the audience collapsed with exhaustion.

Guiding the audience through a fusion gumbo of motown rhythms, soul vocals, jazz hooks and RnB vibes, Monae was a vortex of charisma- sucking the energy from the audience and rolling it back out. It was not as much as gig as a exhibition of creative arts, she painted the image of the android whilst singing, staged a mock fight between the cloaked dancers before shooting them all, and strutted and tap danced her way through standouts Cold War, and Tightrope. Showing off her pipes, she purred and roared her way through a stripped back Smile, unleashing a devastatingly perfected voice.

Peppering her set with blinding covers of Goldfinger and I Want You Back, before finishing with single We Are Young, Monae’s gig was a non stop, epileptic fit of dance goodness for 2 hours. A strikingly talented performer.

The Red Queen

Dallas Frasca

5th May

Sandringham Hotel, Newtown

A deep wave of distortion snakes across the stage, rolling out across the small and smoky room. It rises and lifts and then starts to thump, a deep heavy kick that bounces off the walls and into human bodies. It’s a heartbeat that gets quicker and quicker as guitarist and drummer create a whirlpool that sucks the audience in whilst smashing them with the bass. Into the fray steps Dallas Frasca, fiery red dreadlocks pulled back. Clutching a cowbell with one hand and a drumstick in the other, she raises her arms above the surging crowd and smashes four quick notes. Then it’s on.

She burns through opener Better Without You at a cranking pace; the ground starts to shudder as the crowd pull on their boots and stomp the sticky floor. Frasca pours out fury and energy, clawing the audience down with her into a demonic jam of stomp blues. Slices of muscular riffing carve up the writhing audience. The two hour set is full of heavy oldies like Burnt Toast and epic 10 minutes jams of her new tracks- in Wonder she shrieks up her vocal register, screaming ‘Higher’ before unleashing sweet gospel vocal runs. Finishing on new single All My Love, a giant red heart thrashed its way through the crowd as Frasca roared her way through the track.

And then suddenly, it’s all over. 2 hours of intense blues have gone by in a tornado of distortion, vocals and relentless drums. A battering, bruising, brilliant performance from one of Australia’s most commanding artists.

Byron Bay Bluesfest, Day 5

Bluesfest

Day 5, Monday 9th April, 2012

Trying to sneak in an intravenous drip of coffee didn’t make the security guards smile, but by Jove I needed that caffeine. The fifth day of 4 hours of sleep a night had hit, and my eyelids were being held open by sticks until the Bluesfest coffee tent injected me with espresso.

Ray Beadle was showing off his chops with thumping blues/ soul guitar at the Crossroads. Flinging in ACDC licks over walking bass lines, he ripped his way through the set. Problems with the sound marred the set though, Beadle’s vocals at times too quiet to be heard.

The problems continued through Joanne Shaw Taylor’s set, as no lead guitar was

Joanne Shaw Taylor

projected through the front of house speakers, meaning that unless you were right in front of the stage, you couldn’t hear anything. The engineers got shreds torn off them by angry audience members storming out of the tent.

Justin Townes Earle appeared in a checked suit and tie next, and delivered the most bizarrely out of time, out of tune, and out of everything else performance. He stumbled his way through 2 minute long, plinky delta blues tunes, rolling out his oaky, deep voice.

Thunderclouds started to roll overhead and lightning flashed in the distance as John Fogerty took to the stage in the Mojo. Images of baseball and American past-times flipped behind him as he churned out a high energy set full of Creedence favourites. His curious habit of changing guitars every song (to prevent them going out of tune) is still going strong, as he switched from Telecaster to Rickenbacker to a cherry red Ibanez to an acoustic to a Les Paul and just about every other guitar in existence.

Kenny Wayne Shepherd fuzzed his way through Hendrix’s Voodoo Child,power stances in plentiful display. It was a controlled mess of white noise and headache inducing distortion.

“How’s my hair?”, Dweezil Zappa asked the crowd before launching into a raucous “City of Tiny Lights”. Zappa Plays Zappa delivered a cacophony of sounds and off the hook dynamics. Tippity-tappity drums and scatting vocals underpinned and overrode the controlled chaos of Frank Zappa’s tunes. They flipped through a Rolodex of musical genres and stitched them into a quilt of psychedelic madness. “Motherly Love” evolved in “Dirty Love” , the band stopped and started and trilled and erupted to keep everyone on their toes. Playing his father’s guitar, Dweezil stood at the centre conducting it all, sprinkling tales of Frank throughout (“He comes in one day and says: ‘I’ve got a platypus in my briefcase!’, and I thought, what the fuck do you say to that??”). Finishing an hour later on Willy the Pimp , the razor sharp band had played just about everything but the kitchen sink, and had led the astounded crowd through a minefield of raw fusion.

And as if that drug trip of sounds wasn’t enough, Yes bounded on to the stage and crashed through a set of 60’s, LSD fuelled prog rock. Starting with “Yours Is No Disgrace” the new vocalist, Jon Davison, soared his counter tenor over thumping drums and twisting guitars. The graphics of album covers flashed behind them in an amazing display of kaleidoscope colours. The band peppered the set with some new tracks (which sound exactly like the old ones, funnily enough) but appeased the crowd with old classics such as the 20 minute finale “Owner of a Lonely Heart”. 

The last wafting notes of Maceo Parker’s sax echoed over the emptying grounds. The stragglers clutched steaming cups of miso soup at the late night sushi tent, shovelling the last of the rice cakes into their mouths.

Having never found ear plugs, my ears rang like church bells as I near face planted with exhaustion into my chai tea.

Byron Bay Bluesfest, Day 4

Bluesfest

Day 4, Sunday 8th April, 2012

Standing with nothing but a kick drum, a guitar and a harmonica slung around his neck, Kim Churchill is slamming and slapping his way through a stomping blues set. He twists phasing, sea-like sounds over his ringing slide guitar and punchy, gravelly voice. A trilling, salty harmonica solo kicked in over a thumping double time kick drum, as he let loose with a belted note that melted the chocolate in people’s mouths.

Easter sunday at the Bluesfest. Children wander around with chocolate smeared faces, parents clutch beers to alleviate the searing heat.

Mama Kin took the stage in a sailor dress with flowers in her hair, spinning her bouncy vocals and quirky lyrics above a 30s jazz and flamenco backing.

At the Crossroads, Vusi Mahlasela’s cello-like voice sang the bloody past of Africa and the Apartheid over pleasant and bouncy African reggae.

It was nothing, however, compared to the shear, gritty, pumping funk unleashed by Maceo Parker. In the slickest performance this side of the Gulf of Mexico, Parker popped and screamed his way through a near constant hour of funk and jazz. Dressed in a three piece grey suit, Parker squealed his way through his solos, popping up high then sweeping down low over tap dancing drums in the back and a heavy, slapping bass. Chucking in P. Funk covers for good measure, he steered his razor sharp band through waves of high-production funk.

Wandering away after the gig, knees still bending and arms crumping, the Apra stage was reeling in the stragglers with Eugene ‘Hideaway’ Bridges brand of satin-smooth, sultry blues. A voice like caramel, he rolled out “Stand by Me”, to a jumping crowd, then brought everybody down with an acapella tune belted by his youthful, strong voice. Finishing with the jittery “Jump the Joint”, the audience bounced and writhed.

Josh Pyke was in the Mojo, dolling out his pleasant tunes to a young, grateful audience. The John Butler Trio thumped their way through a set peppered with old favourites and new disappointments. Butler waahed his 12 string acoustic through blistering solos, whilst the backing thumped along behind.

Time to grab your Guinness’s and warm up your punching arm, because The Pogues were setting the Crossroads tent on fire with their rocking, Celtic ho-down tunes powered by squealing penny whistles and accordions. The raucous crowd spun in circles, stomped their feet and river-danced their way through 90 minutes of drunken, outrageous abandon. Shane McGowan gripped the mike stand for dear life, standing in darkness and clutching a cigarette for the entire set. A table set with his scotch and water (complete with straw) remained close by him. He powered his way through the vocal lines, although he speaking voice was totally indistinguishable. At one time he slurred “Where’s Brian?” before wandering off the stage and not returning for 3 numbers. It was a chaotic, Gaelic dance party of crashing guitars, accordions and penny-whistles.

After 4 encores and an interesting demonstration of plastic tray bashing (McGowan’s head couldn’t get any rougher, really…), the crowd were frenzied; even when the 4th encore finished they were screaming and jumping for more. Irish flags flew as the wild dancing continued even when the house-lights came off and the sober people wandered off to their cars. Security guards ushered the wig-wearing drunks towards the exit, under a glowing, yellow moon.

Byron Bay Bluesfest, Day 3

Bluesfest

Day 3, Saturday 7th April, 2012 

Every patch of shade seems to be occupied by people munching waffles and sucking down black coffee. It’s the middle day of the festival, and this afternoon everyone seems a little…slow. Perhaps it’s the sweltering heat, or maybe it’s the slow, deadening indie tunes being rolled out by Yann Tiersen in the Mojo tent.

Tiersen scrolled through a catalogue of two minute soundtrack tunes, each one sounding like the one before, occasionally adding a glockenspiel or ukelele to distinguish one tune from another. The performance never really lifted above the ground, and failed completely to hold the audience.

Over to the Crossroads stage then, where the David Bromberg Quartet were slinging out free form poetry over a laid back blues shuffle. Bromberg railed against death and iPhones at a manic pace, with a speaking voice like Johnny Cash and a singing voice not unlike him too. An elderly lady and a young man with a cowboy hat began square dancing whilst Bromberg finished with a tinkly Mr Bojangles.

Everyone awoke sharply when soul diva Bettye LaVette strutted her way across the stage. Rollicking soul numbers were pumped out as she kicked and danced back and forth, ripping huge growls from her throat as she did so. Covering George Harrison’s Isn’t it a Pity , as well as numbers from Dolly Parton, Lucinda Williams and Renee Geyer, she flicked and roared her way through a volcanic set. Possessed with a cutting sense of humour (“Just be calm and meet me outside later, preferably with a joint, then we’ll talk…” , “All these songs were written by white guys who were high, now they’re being sung by a 66 year old black woman…who’s drunk.” ) she exhibited a fair and square, old school showbiz performance.

An atom bomb of African rhythms, jazz, bollywood and fusion madness detonated on site, with the African Queen of music, Angelique Kidjo, at the centre conducting the furore. Jembeh’s, congas and bongos whipped the crowd into a frenzy as Kidjo taunted them with dance. She spins and whirls, grinning freakishly as she brutally crumped and swirled her way through a vigorous set- “HOW YOU LIKE THAT?!” She yells. Her strong, warm voice surges forth, whilst guitar gets brisk on the upstrokes and the bass thumbs along. She dropped back down to a bare, blue setting and sailed out Malaika, whilst the acoustic guitar gently plucks along behind. Only for a brief minute though, then we’re thrown back into a group dance off, people swarmed the stage and battled with the jembeh whilst Kidjo flew her way through ‘Agolo’ and ‘Tumba’. A Sun-like presence with spicy grooves and vicious attitude, Kidjo burned up the tent.

People emerged, sweating and gasping, into the now freezing night. Whilst inhaling noodles at the food court, the sound of a dirty blues stomp shocked my brain. It sent the cutlery rattling, and the crowds flooding to the Jambalaya tent to see the damage.

Joanne Shaw Taylor, blonde hair whipping around her face, stood wielding a Les Paul like a battle axe, unleashing shredding blues solos above a cranking Chicago blues backing. Molten blues licks were poured into gaping mouths, whilst the bass and drums kicked you in the teeth and punched you in the chest. The audience swallowed it whole and clambered for more. The inferno on stage ripped through Hendrix’s Manic Depression, crunchy guitar riding the thundering kick drum, whilst Taylor’s coarse ‘rum and coffee’ vocals just managed to hold on. She swamped it up on the finale, Dead and Gone, the drums and bass attempting to break the stage. Fingers were blistered in the last solo, flying over the fretboard, bending every last note from the strings. Her hand could barely be seen as it rocked back and forth, gouging every distorted, tangy sound she could. It was an unrelenting, unrestrained performance.

After the audience had retrieved their jaws from the floor, shook their heads and reset their sternums, it was time for a nice sit down. It was welcome then, that Donovan was being thoroughly pleasant (is he anything but), microwaving old classics to a ravenous crowd. John Fogerty ripped up the Mojo with a fiery band and old Creedence Clearwater Revival tunes.

Three days down now, two to go. Remember to bring earplugs and mittens…and maybe some strapping for your jaw.