The Mountain Goats @ The Corner Hotel 10/05/2011

Photo: Ben Christensen

With songs about dysfunctional relationships, child abuse and a decent sprinkling of biblical references, it would be easy to assume Mountain Goats shows would be a sombre affair. Instead Thursday night’s show at The Corner felt like a massive party dedicated to shouting lyrics back at the stage, great banter and swooning during each song. And I loved every minute of it.

Catherine Traicos and the Starry Night kicked things off, but failed to grab the restless crowd’s attention. Her mellow folk songs were nice but given the anticipation for the headliner’s set, they acted as background music. Despite her efforts to entertain the crowd with her between song banter, it was hard not to think that she would be better in a headlining show.

Opening with In Memory of Satan, the first of many from the upcoming Transcendental Youth album, the Mountain Goats completely captivated the sold-out crowd.

Photo: Ben Christensen

The setlist drew from a number of the band’s 17 albums, with a heavy emphasis on fan favourites The Sunset Tree and Tallahassee.

See America Right saw the former acoustic lo-fi band in full-blown rock mode and Birth of Serpents

A brief solo part of the set was extended at Darnielle’s insistence as the crowd sang along to Jenny, The Colour in You Cheeks and You or Your Memory.

It’s clear that The Mountain Goats have the ability to move people. Between the girl on my left gasping at the start of each song, the tall guy up the front who knew every single lyric, and the countless song requests, to the uninitiated it probably looked like a scene out of Jesus Camp

The band also seemed to be enjoying themselves and by the end of the night it was hard to tell if the audience or John Darnielle was having more fun.

The new tracks Transcendental Youth and The Diaz Bothers were both catchy and incredibly well received, with the former being a piano based ballad that caused maximum swooning up the front.

The final part of the set went well into singalong territory. Love Love Love got a great reaction and This Year went off completely.

The band’s no planned encore policy lead to a conference about how to play Never Quite Free and the most entertaining  tuning I have ever seen (Nobody would probably object if the band chose to release Guitar Explorations part 2).

The band left us with No Children and as we hurled insults at each other it was clear that there was no place anyone in the room would rather be.


Photos are by Ben Christensen. He’s a camera master and has a gig photography blog: bensgigs.tumblr.com

Will Sheff @ The Toff 16/10/11

Okkervil River has always been about Will Sheff. Even on their latest release I Am Very Far, the biggest sound record of their career, the music seems to exist only to frame Sheff’s detailed and often dark lyrics. His solo show at The Toff on Saturday gave fans the chance to hear stripped back versions of the band’s songs and the result was absolutely incredible.

A few people turned up early to watch Jimmy Stewart. Although he may not be household name he has toured relentlessly (he once played 51 gigs in two months). Beginning with a cover of Charlie Chaplin’s Smile, his gravelly voice and songs that boarder the country end of the spectrum were a hit with the growing crowd, who remained silent for the entire set, a rare occurrence for a support band. Despite not being familiar with his work before the gig, I left it as a fan.

Mike Noga had the difficult task of opening for Sheff and like the last time I saw him the set came with its own unique charm in the form of a nasty hangover. He greeted the crowd by asking if anyone else was disappointed with the new Gillian Welsh album before launching into a set of dark indie folk. After three nights of playing drums for The Drones at The Corner he was visibly wrecked at spent most of the time in-between tracks rambling about various topics and telling the crowd how nervous he was because of their silence.

The crowd were silent for a reason though, with everyone paying him the attention of a headline act. The wager to guess all four acts referenced in  Piss On a Butterfly went down well, even though nobody could guess correctly. One of the biggest highlights of the set was Irish murder ballad Eileen, its dark subject matter unexpected after hearing Noga talk about his cats for the last five minutes. Not only did Mike Noga make the wait for Will Sheff bearable, he made it thoroughly enjoyable.

Launching straight into Rider , Will Sheff left little time for formalities. Using little more than an acoustic guitar and harmonica, the acoustic setting allowed for the songs’ strength to really shine through. The clever Plus Ones was a highlight of the set, as was B-side I Guess We Lost which I prefer to some of the tracks that eventually made it onto I Am Very Far.

The best part of acoustic gigs like this one is hearing fan favourites that are rarely played during fell-band sets. Happy Hearts was a surprise inclusion and sounded great despite the lack of Daniel Johnson. Nobody expected to hear The President’s Dead or Red live, the latter causing audible gasps among the audience.

Sheff switched to keyboard for a few songs which gave a different take on some of the songs. For Real lost none of its intensity without the full band, while his performance of Your Past Life Was A Blast improved on the studio version by removing all of the noise the plagues the album it comes from.

The biggest highlight of the set for me was A Stone. I discovered Black Sheep Boy as an angsty 16 year old that song in particular sound tracked many of my teenage years. Live it was incredible. Will Sheff has always sung like he is on the verge of a mental breakdown and thanks to the excellent sound of The Toff and the appriciative crowd, it was perfect.

That said, there were a few missteps. Using an iPhone to create a backing for The Valley was out of place, and seemed too much of a contrast to the rest of the set. Anyone else but Sheff would not have been able to pull it off. It was the final song, Our Life Is Not A Move Or Maybe that provided the set’s low point. Having heard some amazing acoustic version floating around the internet, I was particularly excited about hearing it. Instead Will Sheff played it on an electric guitar which didn’t quite mix with the rest of the set. That said, Will Sheff’s average is more than some musicians will achieve in a lifetime.

Overall it was an amazing gig that I am sure I’ll remember for years to come. The combination of the respectful crowd, intimacy of The Toff and the talents of all of the musicians involved made it something truly special.

Oh Mercy @ Triple R 09/03/11

Before they embark on a national tour launching their second album, The Great Barrier Grief, Oh Mercy played a short set at the Triple R studios.

Much has been said about the departure of guitarist and founding member Thomas Savage (who now fronts Kins), and his absence was certainly felt tonight. It’s not that the band’s performance was bad, but it felt like watching four independent musicians playing the same song. That said new guitarist Simon Okey adds a very different sound to the band that after a bit of time, could work really well.

New songs Mercy Valley and On The Run showed that Alexander Gow hasn’t lost his songwriting edge and they were more energetic live than on the album. Predictably, the incredibly catchy single Keith Street went down well with the crowd and was one of the highlights of the set. However it was the final track on the new album, Doldrums that stole the show. Bassist Eliza Lam took over vocal duties and it’s surprising that she didn’t sing on the album version, as her vocals were much better suited to the song.

The older tracks got a great crowd reaction with the band playing Can’t Fight It, Broken Ears and Get You Back. It was only during the off-air version of Lay Everything On Me that band seemed to relax more. The song itself was much rockier than the previous live versions I’ve seen, but it was nice to see the band change things up a bit.

Broadcasts are very different to seeing a band in a venue, and Oh Mercy put on a good set, considering. The lack of cohesiveness was disappointing and with all of the new promo photos showing only Alex, it felt like seeing a solo artist backed by other musicians. However in a different venue, when they aren’t being recorded, this might not be a problem.

The Quarry Mountain Dead Rats, Loren and Carus, NSC 9/12/10

Photo: Sabrina Robertson

December is a month full of eating too much, awkward work functions and hearing endless Christmas carols about snow when it’s thirty-five degrees every time you go shopping. Thankfully, it’s also the month of Christmas gigs.

The Quarry Mountain Dead Rats kicked off tonight’s show at the Northcote Social Club  with their infectious brand of bluegrass. While banjos and washboards are an odd sight at a city venue, most of the crowd seemed to be enjoying themselves. The dancing from some punters alone was enough to dispel the myth that Melbourne crowds are inattentive.

Loren’s set was very different to the Quarry Mountain Dead Rats, with many audience members sitting on the floor. This wasn’t out of boredom however, as crowd joined him for a sing-a-long. Instead of using a setlist, Loren asked the crowd to request songs and despite the shouting and confusion, it led to a set of old favourites with the odd new track thrown in. His cover of his sister Freya Hanley’s song Come Around, an ode to being stood up for a date caused a lot of cheering from the female members of the audience. While he comes from the school of lazy chorus writing, it lent itself perfectly to this kind of setting and tracks like Good Seed and Island Man went down incredibly well.

After a short wait, Carus and his band took to the stage. As soon as their first song started it was clear that we would get to see more of Carus’ rock side than his usual solo set delivers. Tracks like Burn and Doing Time went down well with the restless crowd, however the same cannot be said for the new songs and some of the quieter moments. While these songs were all of the same standard, it was clear the crowd just wanted to have a good time. As usual, Carus brought a milk crate and his band to the middle of the crowd to perform his tale of prison love Doing Time and one other song before making his way back on stage. He asked Loren back on stage and after retelling the story of how they met, the pair launched into Thrown, which tonight was dedicated to Shaun O’Callaghan, a sound engineer who recently passed away. They finished the night with a reggae cover of Men At Work’s Land  Down Under before Greg Arnold stepped away form the keyboard to lead a cover of Happy Birthday Helen.

While the crowd may have been a bit restless, the gig showcased some of the best talent in the Australian folk scene. Here’s hoping the 2011 show will be just as good.

Ernest Ellis @ The NSC 16/07/10

Photo: Jack Crane

When it’s a ridiculously cold Melbourne night you really only have two options for entertainment: snuggle under a doona or head to your favourite live music venue to catch one of Australia’s most promising bands. The crowd that gathered at the Northcote Social Club to see Ernest Ellis in their first Melbourne headline show certainly made the right decision.

The choice to have the headline act start after 11pm was a puzzling one and left Goodnight Owl playing to an almost empty room for the first half of their set. This didn’t seem to deter them however, as they serenaded the growing crowd with their brand of lush indie pop. Beginning with an impressive remix of Seekae’s Void, it showed how the band have come a long way since the release of their debut EP last year, with the most notable difference being drummer Eric Moore who breathes new life into some of the older tracks. Unfortunately he had to leave halfway through Goodnight Owl’s set, resulting in the slower songs being played last, making the set seem a little unbalanced. The electronic glitches from the single Maps and Compasses worked surprisingly well in a live setting and would delight any fan of the Postal Service. The band’s final song was Red Wolf, about singer Eddie Alexander’s dog that died last year. While it was a bit of a depressing note to end their set on it showcased Alexander’s great falsetto. Judging by the number of EPs that flew off the merch stand, there is no doubt the band earned themselves some new fans.

Gosteleradio features members from Plug-In City and TTT who are obviously very competent musicians however it became very clear that many members of the audience were bored during their set, with many fiddling with their phones or sitting on the floor.  Their psychedelic folk tinged rock seemed to fall flat and many of the subtler moments of their music were lost in the live setting, which often left them sounding like little more than an Oasis tribute band. At times it felt like they were playing one long continuous song. There were signs of what they can really do shining through, such as their use of looping and their single Guillotine but overall it was a disappointing set. Here’s hoping it was just an off night, because given the right setting, they have the potential to be amazing.

After a short wait, the members of Ernest Ellis emerged on stage, to the delight of the crowd. On their stunning debut album Hunting their songs boarder on the atmospheric folk-rock side of things, however from the moment the band launch into Want For Anything it becomes clear that tonight will be all about showcasing their indie-rock side. Ellis’ voice in often hiding under reverb on record, but live it is a completely different beast, ranging from falsetto to pained screams. This is most obvious in Pulse that saw him transition from calm to completely insane in under four minutes. The pulsing bass from Ben Morgan was definitely a highlight, as was the steady percussion from Mat Gardner. After telling us that he left his acoustic guitar back home, he performed a solo version of Valley Song on electric guitar, which left the entire room silent, hanging on his every work. Morgan joined in for backing vocals, making it something truly special.

Dancing is not something you would expect to see at an Ernest Ellis show, but it’s exactly what happened during Taking Shapes and it didn’t stop until the very end of the set. Triple J favourite Heading for the Cold was a hit with the crowd and saw the majority of people clapping along. It sounded even better with a full live band behind the vocals and was a much faster version than what we are used to hearing. Loveless lost some of its restrained charm in the live setting, but the crowd didn’t seem to care. Ellis told the crowd that there would be no encore but invited everyone up on stage at the end of the set, before launching into Bad Blood which saw the band rocking almost as much as the crowd, however nobody took up the offer of a stage invasion.

Ernest Ellis have carved quite a name for themselves in the Australian music scene and it’s easy to see why. Their live show is both entertaining and moving and despite many missing the last tram home, the crowd would be more than happy to have them back in Melbourne.

Matt Corby @ The Toff 08/07/10

Matt Corby was only 16 when he was the runner-up on the 2007 series of Australia Idol. A lot has changed since then. He’s grown a beard, released an EP and has proved that it is possible for decent music to come out of a reality TV show. Tonight a sold-out, mostly female crowd braved Melbourne’s weather to watch him launch the debut single from his upcoming album.

Thanks to Melbourne’s wonderful public transport system, I managed to miss most of Ben Abraham’s set. What I did see was great. Joined by a guitarist, he played the kind of laid back folk music that would make Jack Johnson feel slightly inferior. He performed a great acoustic cover of Gotye’s Heart’s a Mess, complete with an enthusiastic crowd sing-a-long. If there’s one thing that has to be said about Ben Abraham’s set, it’s his brilliant knack at crowd interaction. And after telling us that we works with the Starlight Foundation, there wasn’t a woman in the audience who didn’t want to take him home to meet their mum. He finished with his track Going Crazy, which also featured a crowd-sing-a-long, with two sides of the room trying to out sing each other. There’s no doubt that the mostly seated crowd loved every minute of it.

Sadly, the same cannot be said for Tara Simmons. Emerging on stage in an impressive reflective outfit, she spent the set behind her keyboard playing a mixture of offbeat pop songs that varied between the sounds of Regina Spektor and La Roux. While here songs were good, she didn’t engage the audience and it was clear that many lost interest during her set. That said there were still some great moments. She introduced each song, and the story behind it, which worked effectively with the tracks Everybody Loves You, about her brother when he was sick and my personal favourite Rosemary a track a dedicated to a particularly unpleasant customer at work. Part of the crowd disinterest was probably due to her playing before Matt Corby and there’s no doubt she would be a million times better in a headline show.

After a bit of a wait and the heater being turned up to uncomfortable levels, Matt Corby and his band took to the stage and were greeted by a cheering crowd. As soon as he opens his mouth to sing it becomes instantly clear why he did so well on Australian Idol. His voice is amazing and manages to silence an entire room full of eager female fans, which is no easy feat. He sings over loops of his voice, much like an Australian Bon Iver and adds layers that make him stand out from the rest of the singer-songwriter pack. He launches straight into My False, a Mumford and Sons style folk song with a whistling solo that has the potential to get stuck in your head for days.

While the tempo did slow down from there, it was by no means boring. He told the crowd about getting lost on the way to Melbourne and having a pay for a parking ticket before launching into some more tracks. While most of the songs he played were not on his Songs For… EP, the crowd didn’t lose interest and he was met with thunderous applause at each song’s finish. One of the definite highlights of the night was Letters, a sweet acoustic song that was the public’s first glimpse into the kind of music that he could create. Switching to keys for the last two songs, he played a jazz inspired number that fit in well with the rest of the set.

As soon as he left the stage the chants for an encore began. He introduced the final track of the night as the song he wished he’d written before putting on a deep voice and launching into a cover of Amazing Grace, which understandably, had a mixed reaction from the crowd.

Matt Corby is one of those rare artists who have escaped the reality TV mould to create moving and interesting music and if tonight was anything to go by, we’ll be hearing a lot more from him.

You can hear some of his tracks on his Triple J Unearthed page.

Mezz Coleman Album Launch- Gertrude’s Brown Couch 20/02/10

The cooling system at Gertrude’s Brown Couch is known for being a bit crap and tonight it certainly lived up to its reputation. Most the diverse crowd were seated on the floor and tried to keep cool by making make-shift fans from showbags and albums from the merch stand. Luckily the live music on offer was well worth venturing into the heat.

Yelka is one of my favourite local singer-songwriters and she certainly didn’t disappoint. Joined on stage by Georgia Fields on ukulele and back-up vocals and Joel Williams on Keyboard she performed a great set. One of the great things about Yelka is that her songs can be both funny and touching at the same time. A large portion of the songs in her set were dedicated to mean boys (let’s face it, we all know a couple) as well as more unexpected subjects such as Joel getting parking fines on Ticket to Park and the old people in who live in the nursing home where her dad works. Her cover of Beyonce’s Crazy In Love was the highlight of the set with Georgia Field’s harmonies working perfectly with her excellent vocals.

As great as Yelka’s set was, tonight was all about Mezz Coleman. Joined on stage by what appeared to be half her family and a bunch of friends to launch her fantastic debut album Parts of You, Parts of Me, it felt like you were witnessing a really awesome family gathering. Bridging the gap between jazz and pop she delivered brilliant set that was entertaining and at times moving.  Beginning with album opener Personal(complete with a string section comprised of co-workers) it instantly becomes clear just how powerful Mezz’s voice really is. The songs on the album really come alive in the live setting, especially the sorrowful Sorry, Sorry and the jazzy Don’t Touch Me. She dedicated the infectious Found in Family to the Footscray crew and it was one of the most upbeat moments of the set. Yelka and Georgia Fields were invited onstage to perform a three-part harmony version of Don’t Leave Nobody But The Baby from the film O Brother Where Art Thou? The singers’ vocals worked wonderfully together and it was one of the set’s highlights. The best track of the night however was the album’s first single and set closer Circus. Inviting everyone who had played on the night back onstage, it really was a grande finale. The combination of horns, strings, backing vocals, the band and Mezz’s powerful voice was amazing and well worth braving the heat to see. As soon as she finished playing, the chants for an encore began and she closed the night with a soulful cover of The Beatles classic Oh Darling, leaving the crowd desperate for more.