Live: “Sans Vox” Instrumental Showcase, Esplanade Hotel, St. Kilda, Melbourne. 5th May 2012.
Photo by Robert Geary
There are few venues in Australia as good as the Espy
in St. Kilda for seeing live bands. Running three stages spread over three rooms at the same time, generally free or for a few bucks, it would be impossible to love live music and not end up in the crowd at some stage.
The prospect of seeing Tangled Thoughts of Leaving for $13 in the Gershwin room last Saturday was exciting enough, but having no less than five other quality instrumental rock bands on the bill meant it had the potential to be a highlight of my year. For me it was a case of three new and three I’d seen before – a perfect mix.
Presented by Welkin Entertainment, the show heralded the re-launch of the ozprog.com website (a must for Aussie prog fans) and single launch for Mushroom Giant. Things kicked off at 7:30 with Bear the Mammoth, a young Melbourne progressive guitar band, who gave the early arrivals a taste of their brand of atmospheric crescendo. With songs swinging from delicate quiet passages to screaming explosions of guitar their 30 minute set was over all too soon. Showing they offered more than the post-rock typecast, the last song bounced and rocked along with a bit of a smile – loud but not heavy. The guys have an EP release imminent and I recommend keeping an eye out for it.
Anna Salen followed up with chugging metal riffs that made the ancient wooden floors vibrate and thud like a building site. It was a great song and if you thought the metal onslaught would continue they proved you wrong by moving straight into a more intricate, but still loud, series of phrases and themes. There was plenty of funk and crazy arpeggios with some wicked distortion ripping through your body. If you weren’t dancing or at least doing a bit of knee flexing and bobble head, then you probably take yourself a bit too seriously. The fun continued and we were even treated to a little slap bass before the chugging was back for the closer of their set. It’s the first time I’ve seen them and I can’t wait to hear them bang the noise out again, hopefully with a full set. Full album please guys!
Photo by Robert Geary
By now if you still thought all instrumental rock sounds the same then the guys from Xenograft were sure to slap some sense into you, and with their usual gusto they came out swinging. To see them on stage, they look so different you might wonder if they all turned up at the right place at the wrong time, but timing is what they are masters of. The drumming is precise, dynamic and keeps the rabble under control throughout the ever-shifting time signatures and passages of impro. The apparent chaos is regularly brought into check with well-rehearsed synchronisation. The sax cuts through when it needs to and hangs back into the wall of sound when keys or guitar take their turn in the spotlight. Tom Martin (the only member who seems to have a surname) on keys, additional percussion and frying pan is in some ways the busiest and the band’s latest song is temporarily named after him until something better gets suggested by their fans. By the time you worked out how to jump or sway or dance to the infectious Xenograft it was time for another short break.
After a walk outside in the cold air and half a pizza, it was time to get back in for another band I hadn’t seen – Mushroom Giant. Dressed in black the four-piece signalled it was time to get a little more serious and they set on a 45 minute adventure of swirling soundscapes. Their live sound is a sometimes uplifting, often dark and sleazy post-rock post-metal delivering wave after wave of sound, with keys, a throbbing bass, strong chords and dancing guitar. Their songs are a good length and full of variation, rolling through a progression of feelings to tie the stories together rather than a continuous bass or drum line. Aesong was a highlight, starting with keys before moving to two guitars as they ran through different styles, playing off each other. Their single The Drake Equation started off calmly before building to a shattering eruption, sending hot lava flying through the band room. Closing song Woman Heroin bristled with intensity and you could have gone home at that stage satisfied you’d seen brilliance, but unbelievably there was more to come.
Phot by Robert Geary
Tangled Thoughts of Leaving were up next, having travelled to the East coast from Perth for a much-anticipated tour to showcase their record Deaden the Fields. If you’re not familiar, they play piano-led progressive rock that’s built on incredible songwriting and performing. Opening with Throw Us To The Wind it was immediately clear the live set was going to have a fuller sound than the record without losing the detail and nuances. Having drummer Ben Stacy at front of stage alongside Andrew McDonald on guitar, Luke Pollard on bass and Ron Pollard on keys meant an alternative view and greater opportunity to take in the work involved to create the drum line for music like this.
The energy radiating from stage was palpable with Ron screaming out as he smashed out chords and arpeggios on the keyboard. It was as though he had been wound up so tight the spring was going to break and in the closing minute or two of the nine-odd minute opener he abandoned his keys and stood at the edge of the stage screaming into the mesmerised crowd, unheard above driving guitar. The dramatic climax drew an awestruck response before the recital of the record continued with the now calm beating heart of …And Sever us From The Present.
Deep Rivers Run Quiet has some of my favourite piano, especially around the four minute mark and the band didn’t disappoint. I made my way to the back of the room to sit down and close my eyes for a while to breathe in the performance and was just hitting that special place where the music swallows you up when security decided I was obviously drunk and falling asleep and perhaps I should leave. I guess it shows that coming to hear a band play – I mean really listen to the music – is a bit of a novelty in rock venues. That confusion sorted I set my mind back to Tangled Thoughts as they drifted through the melancholic technical showcase that is Deaden The Fields before rounding out the set with the epic, and I mean epic, They Found My Skull In The Nest Of A Bird.
This was my first time seeing Tangled Thoughts live and they were everything I had hoped they would be.
With that it was time for final band Jarek to close the night. I’ve seen them before and their blend of acoustic and electric instruments with beautiful flowing compositions had me hooked. It was good to see a fair part of the crowd stay for a closing support after six hours and five other bands and the faithful were rewarded with opener Spank Fucker and other songs from their fine new record (reviewed by us here). At times mellow, at others intense and dramatic, these guys almost fall over themselves letting each other be heard. They were a fine choice to wrap up the showcase of instrumental bands and I look forward to seeing them again soon.
I can’t end this review without making further comment on the sound. It was clear from the outset that the sound guy was a cut above the average. All instruments were clear despite the high volume, and I’m talking across the board – not just for the headline acts. The impact this had on the night can’t be overstated given the nature of the music, so hats off to you sir.
If it isn’t perfectly clear by now, this was a cracker of a night. The band selection and order, atmosphere, performances were all spot on. I love instrumental rock – I can choose my own adventure – and I’d happily tell you if there were any flaws. Musicians will always worry about technical hiccups but any that happened on the night were irrelevant and interrupted no performances despite five fast turnarounds.
If a show like this ever happens near you, GO. Just don’t close your eyes.
Posted by Gilbert Potts
- Live: Progfest Melbourne w/ Ne Obliviscaris & many others. 8 September 2012
- Xenograft, Kettlespider, Bear the Mammoth – split EP
- Live: Laura, Meniscus, This Is Your Captain Speaking, Lunaire – Evelyn Hotel, Melbourne, 8 June 2012
- Live: This Will Destroy You – The Zoo, Brisbane 19th March 2013
- Live: Solkyri album launch – The Public Bar, Melbourne, Australia. 10th May 2013
Tags: Anna Salen, Bear the Mammoth, gig review, Gilbert Potts, Jarek, Mushroom Giant, ozprog.com, Tangled Thoughts of Leaving, Welkin Entertainment, Xenograft