Sisters of Mercy cornered in Melbourne

They weren’t, of course. I spied just the one fan hovering by the stage exit, and he was fended off by the driver, and then waved off through the glass, clutching his LP as the English trio piled into their escape vehicle.

Inside Melbourne’s packed and venerable shed, The Corner, there were two, perhaps three people wearing white. One was Andrew Eldritch, lead singer and founder and main man of the Sisters of Mercy. Through the constant fog, the bald, sunglassed figure looked astronautical at times; sadly, the image was belied by the reality of the terry towling hoodie. This was rock ‘n’ roll in gym chic. This was NOT GOTH, okay?

The crowd was, largely, so corseted and coiffed, a delight to behold, the goths and the rockabillies and the rock hounds, the veteran fans and the newest generation flocking to see the UK legends roll out 90 minutes of classic not-goth rock. Hm, perhaps best not to write songs such as ‘Lucretia My Reflection’ — an absolute winner tonight, holding up one of the two encores — if you don’t want the children of the night to bulk out your fan base.

Kyla Ward reports from the front line!

Points to Eldritch, his wonderful guitarist and so-active bassist: they changed the set list from last week’s Auckland gig, even whacking the instrumental into the second encore. The hits were still there, of course: ‘More’, ‘Detonation Boulevard’, ‘Vision Thing’, ‘This Corrosion’, ‘Dominion/Mother Russia’, ‘Alice’, the closing ‘Temple of Love’, and others. Unknowns were there, too, moreso thank in NZ if feeble memory serves, allowing the chitter-chatter to rise. My advice, should you be so inclined as to attend this Thursday’s gig, is to get up close, where you can peer through the fog and catch some of the action, and perhaps lip read the lyrics you know so well. Because from the back, Eldritch was largely unintelligible save for those occasional lupine howls, those particularly enunciated choruses.

He was, however, compared to the Auckland outing, verily loquacious, even addressing a couple up the front, and exhorting attendance on Thursday for the band’s second and last sideshow outside the Soundwave festival.

Kudos to the Corner bar staff; have I ever been so quickly, efficiently and politely served at any live venue before?

All of which isn’t to say I didn’t enjoy tonight’s gig. The Sisters are formative to me, comfort and mood music, and to hear them play, even in this thoroughly competent and enjoyable incarnation, is a delight. I like Eldritch’s onstage super-cool persona, I love the lights strobing out from the mist, I love the beats and the songs of decay and loss and displacement, the cynicism and world-weariness and the headbanging riffs. It’s rock ‘n’ roll to be lost in and taken away by and moved by. But yes, perhaps, live, best appreciated from up the front.


Advertisements

Sisters of Mercy bring it on home in Auckland

It was the gig I excpected it to be. The gig I’d waited 20 years or so for. The Sisters of Mercy — well, founder and main man Andrew Eldritch with a guitarist, bassist and laptop wrangler — live and loud at Auckland’s Powerstation on Wednesday night.

It was a no-nonsense set-up. A plain, industrial stage dressing of pipes, guitar, bass, smoke machines working so hard the band sometimes vanished. And holding court, Eldritch – bald, sunglasses, goatee, military blacks. Delivering virtual spoken word in uber cool style, cigarette in hand as he whispered and moaned into the mic. For an hour and a half. Song after song, notorious drum machine Dr Avalanche not giving a moment to pause.

They offered a playlist to die for: an assortment of hits, b-sides and a couple of unrecorded tunes including ‘Summer’, played to an ecstatic full house. A young crowd with a presentable smattering of overt goths. Not enough to rankle the infamous goth-shy Eldritch, or if so, he made no comment. In fact, he said barely a word that wasn’t a lyric.

‘Ribbons’ opened. There was ‘Dominion’, ‘First and Last and Always’, ‘Detonation Boulevard’, ‘Alice’, ‘Vision Thing’, ‘More’ (not the 12″!) … and two (albeit seemingly scripted) thumping encores featuring a highlight of the night in ‘Lucretia My Reflection’ and a strangely uninspiring ‘Temple of Love’ to close.

Underpinning it all were those familiar, at times repetitive beats, lashings of superb guitar, a stray wish for a drummer to help kick things up and around a bit. Eldritch was a little hard to hear early in the piece, but there was no denying the power of the constant battering to transport the listener. Twenty years in the waiting, and the Sisters did not disappoint, even if they didn’t surprise.

Bring on Melbourne, where they play two gigs at the Corner in their only non-Soundwave tour appearance Down Under!

Adalita: singing with ghosts

adalita self-titled album

I’ve been spending a lot of time with ghosts lately. They’ve been surfacing from old photos – some, not that old – as I’ve been digitising my negatives. Loss, it’s like a sea creature, isn’t it; a kraken, rising up when you least expect it, wrapping its long, sticky tentacles of lost love and missed opportunity and abject failure, all those dark tendrils that curl around your heart, your mind, even your lungs. And squeeze. It’s hard enough to face in the privacy of your home, let alone taking it on the road and singing it to faceless masses. Masses who chat over the top of your hearteache, who pay lip service to your craft … no, I can’t imagine it.

Which is why I found Adalita’s solo show at Melbourne’s Toff of the Town so damn engaging. I’ve seen her rock out before at the helm of Magic Dirt – I think the last time, maybe the time before, her lead guitarist stabbed his guitar neck through the low ceiling insulation at Brisbane’s venerable sweat box, The Zoo. Great gig. Great emotion.

And last night at the Toff, it was all about emotion, and there’s no better way to explain it than by starting at the finish, the sole, perfunctory encore tune, anything but perfunctory here. Adalita and guitarist JP Shilo duetted while MD guitarist Raul Sanchez slowly wound up a buzzing guitar, its recurring rasp slowly drowning out the singers as they backed away from the mics, until it was only the guitar, discordant, chaotic, howling. The guitar was loss and the crowd applauded as silence fell, because they understood enough to know that when Adalita dedicated that song to Rowland S Howard and Dean Turner, it was a eulogy.

The ghosts… Howard, an Aussie music legend of Birthday Party fame who had a big hand in Shilo’s career, and MD bassist Turner both died in 2009. The latter co-produced Adalita’s self-titled solo album, which she’s touring now. As if stepping out from the shadow of a band isn’t enough pressure; isn’t enough vulnerability.

In the absence of her band, Adalita had PJ providing effects and support on guitar and violin. Sanchez stepped up for an atmospheric dual guitar instrumental, and support act Amaya Laucirica played drums for one and later a guitar duet for ‘Good Girl’.

It’s a line-up you’ll hear on Adalita’s album, which provided the set list for the evening. She has a great voice, Adalita, and it was grand to hear her playing with form, breaking up the rock song formula to turn songs into stories with changes of pace and volume. It was a short and sharp set, a little melancholy, a lot hungry, a solid chunk of Gibson-driven rockin’ with backing tracks and effects pedals filling out the sound where needed. But that encore: such a powerful ending for a gig on a tour that signifies a new start.

I should think the ghosts would be happy with that.

WE got to the Toff halfway through Spencer P Jones‘ support gig, and apparently halfway through an argument as well. The one-time Beast of Bourbon was hurling insults and guitar licks at a section of the crowd in a performance that straddled the line between performance poetry and song; there was a certain air of Johnny Cash-style maudlin in there, between the shots of tequila (was it?) and slurps of beer and fiery glances. For the record, Amaya Laucirica played first support.

Evelyn Evelyn at the Evelyn, with friends

A late start to the morning, now listening to Kim Boekbinder’s The Impossible Girl album hot off the merch stand at last night’s gig at The Evelyn Hotel in Melbourne’s Fitzroy, and again feeling really sorry for her that last night’s late start resulted in her set being reduced to two songs.

Boekbinder, who does wonderful things with loops and squeeze-squeak plastic crocodiles when she’s not simply enthralling with insightful snippets of love and life, backs up tonight and tomorrow, and is hanging in Oz for a while, apparently. Her album shows a wide range of musical styles and some quirky stuff to leaven the heartbreak and acerbic observations. Catch her if you can.

The reason for last night’s foray was Evelyn Evelyn, a concept act put together by Amanda Palmer and Jason Webley. Webley was headlining last night’s bill, which also featured the intriguing Jane Austen Argument (although it was only Tom last night, with support from guitarist-singer Gemma O’Connor whose voice was sensational).

It’s an amazing line-up of talent for a pub gig.

The conceit for the Evelyns is that they are conjoined twins: Palmer and Webely sharing a suit, the illusion given a delightful touch of the absurb by Webley’s beard (the other one should grow a beard, he reckons, to much LOLing). The Evelyns were much fun, though the theatrics did drag out the set a tad — moments of too little happening stretching an uncomfortably crowded room’s attention span, allowing the bar chatter to rise. I couldn’t see much of them when they were playing the keyboards, a hand a’piece and brilliantly clever, ripping out a cover of Lean on Me that was a highlight of the night.

They juggled an accordion, a guitar and then — with a sly wink to a third hand — Amanda’s trademark ukulele, and then did a bit of improv word-by-word Q&A with the audience.

Later, when Webley, ripping through Gypsy-ish accordion tunes (fave: Dance While the Sky Crashes Down), called Amanda back for some duets, the rapport between the two was centre stage. As was the rapport between Amanda and the audience; she strikes me as a natural cabaret star — the cellar kind, not the Vegas kind.

The gig dragged on a bit, given the crowding, the malfunction of Webley’s guitar undercutting his set, and the night stretching out past 1am, but you’d be hard-pressed to get better bang for your buck than this line-up offered.

Goldfrapp rock Melbourne

All kudos to Alison Goldfrapp, but let’s also hear a cheer for her band and sound team, who all came together with nary a missed beat to provide a thrilling climax to her Australian tour at Melbourne’s Palace Theatre on Tuesday night.

Goldfrapp, soldiering on despite the death of her mother (announced on her blog in July), headed a band as tight as her body suit: a keyboardist with a Chrissy Amphlett fringe who was either busy with one hand on the keyboard and the other on the synthesiser or boogeying away at the front with a keytar; a Sheena Easton lookalike drummer presiding over a hybrid electric-acoustic kit; a cruisy bassist who might’ve been Jason Statham’s little brother; and a ringmaster who bounced around with a certain impish glee with his wild hair and beard and pyjama style body suit as he added highlights with an electronic violin thingy, guitar or keytar – the double keytar attack on some songs was truly awesome. And then there was Goldfrapp herself, raising hairs with those high notes, and otherwise enthralling with a set to seduce, all breathy and note perfect as she strutted centre stage and reeled off an hour and a half of hits, including two encores.

The lighting was striking, centred on a silver doughnut at stage rear, with lots of strobes and smoke, but it was the sound that made the night: the keyboards were working overtime, laying the foundation with a huge sound complemented by the rhythm section’s driving beat.

There was little chitchat from Ms Goldfrapp, looking resplendent in her mix-and-match black bodysuit and makeup lifted from the Alive music clip – minimalist but for the dark eyeshadow that enhanced the silvery undead gleam from the stage lights.

Light and shade were provided by a range of songs (penned by the songwriting duo of Goldfrapp and Will Gregory) from the cruisy Utopia, from debut album Felt Mountain, to more wistful Black Cherry to the joyful dancefloor pop of recent singles Alive and Rocket. The band were sharp, stopping and starting in perfect sync, and the tunes arranged to provide moments of quiet for Goldfrapp’s high range to weave its magic.

It was an impressive display of slick musicianship that could only have been improved by having Tycho Brahe in support!

Jeff Martin, back in Australia

Cool news to come from the Armada gig at the East Brunswick Club last night: Jeff Martin, Canadian songwriter of note, previously of Ireland, has landed in Australia as a full-time resident. Although the travelling troubadour said he didn’t know just how much time he’d get to spend here.

The gig itself, being recorded, was damn fine, although the amount of inane crowd chatter during and between songs could be a headache for the final cut.

Martin, with Wayne Sheehy on percussion and Jay Cortez on bass (and other bits ‘n’ bobs, such as mandolin and harmonica), was in fine fettle for the two-hour performance in a hot, cramped venue offering superb sound. Seated mid-stage throughout in black shirt and jeans, he paraded a host of instruments during the night, including a hurdy gurdy, esraj, oud (won in a Cairo poker game) and theremin, as well as mainstay Gibson guitars, a classic Les Paul and an Australian-made 12-string.

The set list, similar to last year’s tour with familiar banter, ranged from Tea Party favourites such as Sister Awake and The Bazaar, to his signature solo tune, The Kingdom (album review here), again dedicated to Victoria’s Black Saturday bushfires, and Armada tunes. He again offered crafty blends of NIN’s Hurt and Joy Division’s Love Will Tear Us Apart, and Led Zeppelin’s Whole Lotta Love.

One highlight was Coming Home, given extra gusto by his announcement of a move to Oz, and the closing encore song, Black Snake Blues, with Cortez on slide guitar.

In Sheehy and Cortez, Martin has found ideal complements, and, combined with the regularity of his touring, must bode well for the Armada’s future. Or so I hope.

Life, love and Ed Kowalczyk (live)

I almost didn’t go to see Ed Kowalczyk tonight. I figured I’d be tired. Maybe a little love-lorn. Probably, you know, … old. Turned out I was right, but thanks to the generosity of a friend, I did stumble down through the Ekka detritus crowding the Bowen Hills streets to the grand old Tivoli, and was stunned to be sitting, sardine-like but not uncomfortably, a mere four rows from the stage. Close enough to see the sweat on Ed’s bald head, the smears of moisture on the guitar, and a very large smile on his dial as the sell-out crowd went ballistic after every tune.

It was just Ed and a guitar, a few apologies for not having the full band, sheer delight at being heard and appreciated. He played one new song (from a solo album due out next year) — it was pretty good, in a Live kind of way — and one cover, and the rest of the 1hr15 set was made up of Live tracks. I’d forgotten, kind of, just how good those guys were when they were peaking, with Throwing Copper and my favourite album of theirs, The Distance to Here. Tonight’s set roamed the Live catalague, rocking out with I Alone, offering a delicious rendering of the remarkably apt The Dolphin’s Cry, getting a singalong with closing song I Want To Dance With You. And raising a tear with Lightning Crashes, which always reminds me of someone dear who should be here, but isn’t.

As such, the gig turned out to be a fitting closing act for a poignant weekend.

It began on Friday night with a dear, old friend at a favourite restaurant. So pleasing to see her happy in love, and beloved. And then there was that aeroplane, delivering me my own slice of the happiness pie. Saturday and a parade of friends and family and that bittersweet emotion of being happy for a friend while feeling the cutting edge of looming absence, in geography at least. Time and lost opportunities and golden moments, all rolled into one, and never quite enough time and space to say the words to the right people before they’re gone, through the door if not from our lives. Amazing, isn’t it, how friendships endure across time and space? And how watersheds and turning points can remind us of just how strong those bonds can be. And then today, welcome and goodbye and a milestone marked, a new year and a new life, but no beginning without endings, too, the shedding of old skin making way for the new.

Vague enough for you?

Birthdays are like that. Past and future colliding, cushioned by the joy of good company, the love of family and that significant other.

So thanks, Ed, for the summary: the pains and pleasures of the past, the promise of the future, the simple joy of the here and now.

Oh now feel it comin’ back again

Like a rollin’ thunder chasing the wind

Forces pullin’ from the center of the earth again

I can feel it.