We Lost the Sea at Northcote Social ClubSupport: Dear Plastic| The Crooked Fiddle Band
January 14, 2017 at Northcote Social Club
Eighteen months since the release of their second album, Departure Songs, Sydney’s We Lost The Sea is putting the live play-through to bed with a trio of shows, the first of which was in Melbourne on Saturday night. After the Sydney and Brisbane legs it’s off to Europe to play at Dunk!festival, and the next time we see them here we should expect some new material. Which is sad in some ways, but it’s also a good time for the band to break orbit and not become defined by the album, as good as it is.
Continuing the practice of injecting variety into their shows, We Lost The Sea opted to have The Crooked Fiddle Band support them for this tour, and for this sold-out Melbourne show we also heard from locals Dear Plastic. The refit of the Northcote Social Club, a great crowd, and the best sound quality I’ve ever heard there (partly due to the refit, but mainly from some excellent work behind the mixing desk), removed any outside distractions from the performances of all three bands. It was a perfect pub gig.
Dear Plastic use vocals, keys, synth, drums and alternately guitar and bass to push out some finely crafted and beautifully smooth and glitchy trip-hop where nothing is overdone and interest is maintained. The instruments create a canvas of subtle but deep layers upon which singer Scarlette Baccini paints an emotional and expansive picture of life. There’s a bit of Fiona Apple, Björk and Beth Orton in her voice and in the music itself without feeling like a contrived copy. Moody without being depressing, angry without being aggressive, each song is a river that carries you along as it demands your attention. It was satisfying to see them play to a good sized and appreciative crowd who would have been quite happy to hear another couple of songs.
If you want some assurance that folk hasn’t been kidnapped by those who can’t play instruments on the instruction of TripleJ, then The Crooked Fiddle Band provides that assurance as they combine folk, prog and post-rock in mainly instrumental tunes. I’ve been dying to see them for a while and it turns out they were so much better than I had hoped. The enthusiasm of the crowd response to each song proved I was no orphan.
Consisting of drums, double bass, plugged in acoustic guitar, and violin/nyckelharpa, this quartet had everyone grinning, including themselves, as they bounced from one musical tumbleweed to the next, breaking now and then for some banter with the crowd. They teased the fuck out of their audience too by presenting something you want to jump around and dance to, but regularly throwing timing all over the place – opening tune ‘The Vanishing Shapes of a Better World’ being a great example.
At times it was metal unplugged through thunderous crescendos that saw bows and other sticks flying through the air as Jess Randall hammered those four strings with the horsehair. At others it was melancholic and minimal. And throughout the experience it was surprising, original and if the stage was big enough I imagine they would have ridden around it on steam-powered monocycles using a blunderbuss to fire bows at strings stretched across the ceiling.
And so we moved on from the glitch-laden pop of Dear Plastic, through the “chainsaw folk” of Crooked Fiddle, to the intense and layered crescendocore of We Lost the Sea.
Around the time Departure Songs was released the band had the chance to play a couple of the songs in various support sets. And when I say a couple I’m talking about the question every band that plays long songs has to ask itself: “What two or three songs do we play in this 30 minute set?” So we’d heard both parts of ‘Challenger’, or ‘Last Dive’ and ‘A Gallant Gentleman’ live, but what we wanted, what we needed, was to hear the album played live start to finish. That happened on their headline tour last year with packed houses in venues that showed their self-belief was lagging behind the belief of their growing fan base. The home-town final show complete with choir and cello was one I won’t forget.
Despite opting for a larger venue in Melbourne this time with a capacity a bit over 300, the show still sold out, which of course meant a good early crowd for the supports – something I always like to see. It was a good crowd too with most being familiar with the music and listening with their ears instead of their mouths.
Departure Songs is a great album, but I think it has a couple of minor shortcomings as a recorded work. It’s only when hearing it live that those gaps close up and everything comes together so brilliantly, even more so the closer you get to the stage. As you’d expect, each performance has made them better, tighter, and at least outwardly more confident and relaxed (broken strings and bleeding fingers sparking off the exception). One of their three guitarists, Brendon Warner, is leaving the band after the Sydney show, and was replaced in Melbourne by Carl Whitbread of Lo!. He played with a straight bat, getting the job done very nicely including the pulled-back call and respond of ‘Challenger Part II’.
You just can’t beat a three guitar setup for this kind of music. They variously bounced off each other, harmonised, provided counterpoint, sparkled gently, droned with a massive wall of sound or rocked out with a massive pummelling, driving, power-chord-fest. This is what we come to hear, feel and see, and it was loud, clear and free of unwanted distortion.
Also cutting through was the keyboard, an instrument that often seems to be the first to suffer in the mix. It’s the clearest I’ve heard it and it’s amazing how much hearing every instrument adds to a performance. The snare was loud and cracked like a whip, and bass carried the tunes as they rumbled and raced along their tracks.
When it all ended the crowd roared and the band looked pretty chuffed with themselves, as they should. It was a great night for the music of underground bands that choose making interesting, complex music rather than looking for earworms. Three genres so far apart, but a shared spirit that tied the show together and presented it with passion to an appreciative crowd. The afterglow will last for a few days yet.
I’m presuming if you’re reading this you’re probably familiar with the album, and if you haven’t seen it played in full, you have two more chances, and I can’t say this any clearer – sell your possessions if you have to, but get to one of those shows.