Revisiting for the second time in less than a year, Muse invaded Australia last November once again pledging to shatter all expectations, with an expanded light and stage show reminiscent of their monumental Wembley Stadium performances. Indicative of the band’s recent surge in popularity, the significantly large Sydney Entertainment Centre was sold-out in minutes. Muse would inevitably fail to recapture the scale and magnitude of their two-night Wembley jaunt but were quickly forgiven by the 12,000 strong in attendance. One and three-quarter hours after they began, the Brits disappeared to howls of satisfaction and a crowd hankering for more.
Dedicated fans began gathering outside the venue from early afternoon. In spite of this, the arena was not even half filled by the time, support act, The Checks launched into their first ballad. Borrowing heavily from classical rock riffs, such as Daddy Cool’s Eagle Rock, and with vocals not dissimilar to those found in garage rock, comparisons were made with, Muse’s January support, Ground Components. The Auckland natives left nothing in reserve with a high octane, energy sapping, routine. Lead-singer, Edward Knowles did his best to work the crowd although his dancing more closely resembled that of a schizophrenic puppet, or Thunderbird on crack. The audience, to their credit, tried to warm to the five-piece but their patience ran thin by the second or third song. The Checks, unfaultable for their commitment, were a poor choice by the tour promoter. Their tight jean wearing, waistcoat bearing, fluffy ‘surf’ hair sporting antics were better suited to opening for the likes of Jet. Does a group worthy of opening for Muse exist? That being said, the New Zealanders’ inadequacies only heightened the now insatiable hunger for the main course to come.
With the venue now packed to the rafters, the Teignmouth three broke into, the always climactic, Take a Bow. Never before has a more fitting opening song existed and the masses responded accordingly. Somewhat contradictory to the promises of grandeur and spectacle, Matt Bellamy was dressed plainly in a black t-shirt while Dominic Howard’s fluorescent green jeans and Chris Wolstenholme’s drab attire were not much better. Furthermore, the only noticeable difference from January was the addition of audience big screen participation, courtesy of roving cameramen. Regardless, the visuals were as all-consuming, demonstrative and overwhelming as before. Lustrous horizontal light formations illuminated the latter half of the stage with support from the usual bombastic and glitteringly theatrical red, blue, purple and white beams. Supermassive Black Hole and Stockholm Syndrome were, arguably, the two most optically stunning tracks, largely due to flawless manipulation of the big screens above each band member. The large marching robots and space invader pilots embodying the two songs only rivaled by the close-up of Bellamy’s hands dancing across the ivory during Butterflies and Hurricanes.
Musically the trio was inseparable, resisting the suffocating weight of expectation and demonstrating the unwavering competence so synonymous with Muse. Howard left nothing to chance, attacking his drum kit without ever looking strained. Likewise, Wolstenholme effortlessly ground into his bass guitar as though it were an extension of his body. However, it was Bellamy who, visibly at the peak of his powers both as a concert pianist and guitarist, led from the front. The capricious front man bossed Howard and Wolstenholme into numerous extended intros and outros, including Hullabaloo’s Hyper Chondriac Music, Dead Star and Map Of Your Head. Additionally, fans were given an insight into the legacy of Rage Against the Machine, Led Zeppelin and Queen when the young Brits adapted major riffs from Microphone Fiend, Whole Lotta Love and I Want to Break Free respectively. More astounding than the expert musicianship, Bellamy’s voice soared above all belief and expectation. His towering vocal harmonies, to which, former singer, Wolstenholme was a perfect foil, sent every fan into blind euphoria as each song reached a crescendo.
One of the night’s more surprising inclusions was the epic and earth-shattering, Origin of Symmetry effort, Citizen Erased. But if Citizen Erased was good, Ruled by Secrecy was better. A song every bit as beautiful as Sigur Rós' Hoppípolla and dwarfing the awe-striking trapeze artist aided Blackout (from Wembley), Ruled by Secrecy showcased Bellamy’s solo artist creditability. The track was a definite contender, but ultimately runner-up, for best in show. It was followed by the beautifully cry-worthy Invincible. However, the tranquil nature of mid-concert was to be trumped. Giant confetti-filled balloons fell from the ceiling during perpetually amazing Bliss. This was preceded by with the ever-brilliant song-of-the-night Time Is Running Out and continuing with, hailing the three-piece's departure from the stage,Plug In Baby. Muse left their legion of followers a breathless, sweaty, fusion of limbs and lust. However, they quickly reappeared, still full of vitriol, knocking over stage equipment and thrusting into Stockholm Syndrome. The group made the mistake of leaving the stage a second time, killing their momentum at the apex of the concert. Unfortunately, this left, the already greatly overrated, Knights of Cydonia weak in comparison to what had come before. As it had earlier for the lush Butterflies and Hurricanes, steam burst forth from the stage during the closing notes of the finale.
A band once confessed, “But I still want more, with the cuts and the bruises, don't close the door, on what you adore.” And after another night spent blowing minds and furthering reputation, it’s hard to shake the feeling that Muse were singing about themselves.
Kiwi come British band, The Veils, returned to Australasia this November promising to dazzle audiences with their diverse addition to the indie rock scene. Having toured Australia as recently as January, questions arose as to whether the four-piece’s traditionally devoted following would be out in force. Additionally, would The Veils’ ever-shifting line-up, with keyboardist Liam Gerrard the latest to depart, blunt the group’s performance and creativity?
Situated in the heart of Sydney’s gay and lesbian community, The Oxford Art Factory proved a more than adequate locale for a band so synonymous with alternative living that they have been implicated in three Japanese suicide deaths. The new venue, containing leather lounge suites, art deco illustration covered brick walls and an illuminated bar, resembled an industry inspired basement and home-away-from-home to Sydney’s trendiest nightlife. Needless to say, it was a far cry from last tour’s, and Surry Hills’ very own, Gaelic Club. The Lovetones lead, Matthew Tow, began proceedings around 8pm with a delightful 30 minute acoustic set. A journeyman of sorts, Tow was once associated with revolving-door troop The Brian Jonestown Massacre yet, like his band, does not appear to draw from his psychedelic roots. Reminiscent of New York’s finest Saturday night entertainment, Tow played from his stool with little more than a dull spot-light overhead. However, the soothing rhythm, slow tempo and soft chords resisted ambient-inclination and became a focal point of the club. Unfortunately, by the time the opening act had departed the stage only 50 or so onlookers had assembled, the hundreds late to arrive missed out.
After a brief interlude, Australia’s poorly chosen answer to the Arcade Fire, The Seabellies, burst forth from behind the curtain. The largely unknown Newcastle-based sextet drew a mixed reaction from the burgeoning crowd. Intriguingly the band utilised a plethora of instruments and electronica, with every member switching between at least two apparatus, during their recital (even mid-song)! Each change brought about howls of excitement from the audience, a stark contrast to the muted applause delivered at the end of most songs. The constant movement on stage led to a frantic but, to the music’s detriment, wholly unstructured performance that visibly lacked cohesion. The six-piece are still very young and in time one can only hope they realise that to be successful they will need more than the multi-instrumentalist gimmick. As can be seen by their recorded material, though, the raw talent is certainly there to be harnessed, especially if, lead-singer, Trent Grenell and, support, Stephanie Setz’s vocal disharmony is resolved.
By 10:45pm the masses, now an eclectic bunch of hipsters and alternatives, had swelled to a few hundred and were growing restless. The curtain once again retracted to reveal the London-based four-piece poised for action. Drums led to guitar which led to Finn Andrews’ bristling vocals and Nux Vomica. The climactic title-track, from the bands most recent album, proved a worthy opener although minor guitar problems mid-track dampened enthusiasm somewhat. Changing pace immediately, Calliope!, with its ragtime piano and lessening intensity, followed suit. Third on the night, the groove-laden hip-jerking Jesus For The Jugular, saw Sophia Burn shine as bassist. The beat-lead song had all her fans jamming in unison. Finn, undisputed leader and sole mainstay of the group, did not acknowledge the crowd until the conclusion of the fourth ballad. Ironically, his spoken voice, soft as a mouse, did not correspond with his famed emotionally intense stage presence.
Hailing the coming song as an ode to the police that took a “liking” to the band on their recent four month American tour, a cover of Bruce Springsteen’s State Trooper was the evening’s biggest surprise. The cover was not distinguishable from the group’s traditional style although a few spectators reacted with jubilation. Introduced with the type of staccato piano playing made famous in David Bowie’s Oh! You Pretty Things, Andrews embarked on a three-song jaunt tinkering on the ivory mid-set. Shaded in blue and pink for much of Pan and red for Under the Folding Branches. These were probably the visual highlights from an underwhelming lighting show. To much of the audiences’ dismay, The Veils spent much of Under the Folding Branches competing with the background noise of the venue, half-hearted fans doubling as talking hipsters. Equally disheartening was the performance of guitarist Dan Reishbrook, who like some of the fans he was playing to, was disinterested. He spent much of the gig drinking beer and was transfixed on the floor. On the other hand, Henning Dietz, obscured for much of the concert by Andrews, was solid behind the drums and on backing vocal (from which Sofia was inexplicable absense).
By now, Andrews mirrored a very sweaty Armish gentleman and, disappointingly, once again found his guitar needed a retune before One Night on Earth. However, he redeemed himself minutes later with a brazen, spit-spraying, all-consuming, impassioned, ‘song of the night’ rendition of Not Yet. Sounding more like the soundtrack to a John Wayne cowboy movie than the song from Nux Vomica, the crowd finally burst into rapture. Gripped by blue-light, and with the backgrounded yellow Christmas lights now noticeable, the band disappeared from view. Seconds, not minutes, later the foursome strolled back onto the stage to conclude with a two-song encore featuring another cover, later identified as Scritti Politti's Lions After Slumber (a song with no chorus that was, as Finn said, “merely a list”). More Heat Than Light, from 2004’s The Runaway Found, closed out the show. The climactic finale saw Andrews collapse to the floor and employ a coarse microphone effect all while being embodied by blinding strobe lighting.
Overall, the night was far from perfect but still a bargain at $25. The Veils have sung about such indifference before, “Not yet revived but not yet mourned, not quite denied just not yet born”. But with all that being said, The Veils on a good night, especially at a bigger venue, must be breathtaking.
Grammy award winning band, OK Go continued their dreadfully under-promoted tour of Australia and New Zealand this past Friday. An unexpected quantity on Southern shores, the Chicago natives were in the middle of their first-ever Far Eastern tour. On the same night as both the sold-out Arctic Monkeys and Sum 41/Yellowcard concerts, would Sydneysiders flock to see their treadmill stunt-busting heroes or would the group leave with nothing but a bitter taste in their mouths? Furthermore, could OK Go’s own brand of indie infused powerpop appeal to the over 18s in attendance?
In front of a disappointing, but expected, three hundred (or so) fans, little known Australian outfit, The Dirty Secrets took the stage awash in a sea green light. The Perth-based quartet’s brand of music, hailed as a mélange of punk, electronic and new wave stylings, soon had the half-filled Forum convulsing in unison. Adorning the latest and far from greatest clubbing apparel, the four-piece supplied their audience with more melody and enjoyment than was expected. Lead singer Jarrah McCleary worked up a sweat beating his keyboard into submission, somehow producing a tune in return. Support from his three counterparts was better executed but no more effective. Instrumentally, the highlight of their set came as, bassist, Waz Page ground a solo out of his guitar with dedicated fervor. Admittedly, the band did not possess the charisma of a headline act nor did they make much eye-contact with their new fans. This, however, did not detract from their gritty, yet captivating, performance. At the height of their powers midway through their set, The Dirty Secrets announced that their debut album is due in February 2008. Even though their recorded sound is different, less rambunctious and more akin to The Killers, it is still definitely something to keep an eye out for. Spectators buzzing with anticipation, the four-piece left the stage to rapturous applause with the best still to come.
Masked by a haze of red and yellow tinted smoke, newly appointed keyboardist and back-up guitarist, Andy Ross took the stage alone. Repetitively playing a solitary note of his keyboard to the wild roars and synchronised clapping of his admirers, he was soon followed by his remaining band mates. After a quick, “Hello Sydney!” the four-piece burst into a rollicking rendition of The House Wins, only let down by the sound crew’s coarse vocal audio. This was the only blemish on what was otherwise a flawless and intimate 70 minute set showcasing hits from not just, break-through album, Oh No but, self-titled debut, OK Go too. The wavering intensity of each song did not dash the impetus of the Los Angeles residents who surged from strength to strength.
After making an amusing tongue-in-cheek allusion to the similarities between Brisbane and Florida (“if you come to America you need not visit, because you’ve already seen it”), the band brimmed with energy and enthusiasm. The two longest serving and, clearly, dominant members, lead singer and guitarist, Damian Kulash and, iconic bald bassist, Tim Nordwind would continue to engage in humorous banter with the audience throughout the night. Topics ranging from Korea to fellatio with Guns N’ Roses were covered, only after Damian twice checked it was a mature age show. Their charming happy-go-lucky personalities were further accentuated by their clothing, a collection of swanky tweed and corduroy waistcoats, suits and flat caps. Such subtle touches perfectly complimented OK Go’s own suave and ‘cool’ music, not dissimilar to live We Are Scientists.
After The Fix Is In, the Americans’ loyal supports were given the choice of two covers. The Violent Femmes' Prove My Love proved the more popular although Electric Light Orchestra's Don't Bring Me Down would later be played in the two-song encore. Both covers not only signaled a chance for Kulash to take to the crowd but a heavier, not inferior, side of the quartet, perhaps hinting at a darker turn in coming releases. Later, flagged as the lighter part of the concert, flashlights were distributed amongst the crowd. To everyone’s amazement both Kulash and Nordwind once again ventured from the stage and, with a thronging circle of people around them played acoustic versions of both A Million Ways and What To Do. Lights were dimmed to give the torches maximum effect. It really couldn’t have been more intimate if they were playing in my bedroom. In what was a rather enchanting move, during acoustic A Million Ways, the fans, instead of the usual backing singers, were asked to chant, “one zero zero zero zero zero zero cruel”. Retaking the stage, the YouTube award-winners, who continually joked they were all about “love and unity”, once again made a request of those in attendance. During the second verse of Oh Lately It's So Quiet mobile phones and lighters alike were raised in union.
Best in show for the evening proved a mighty hard decision, although the swash-buckling Get Over It interspersed with Nelly's Hot In Herre just pips Invincible and Here It Goes Again for the honour. Buoyed by MTV recycled Do What You Want, a climactic ending fitting the cacophony of applause closed out the show. A concert, all about unadulterated fun, not only proved that OK Go is band for everyone but that they don’t need treadmills to continue advancing their career. Underwhelming? Think Again!
In the wake of, second offering, A Beautiful Lie and unprecedented success, 30 Seconds to Mars embarked upon a World tour of mammoth proportions. It was a tour that included time with, traveling circus, Taste of Chaos and encompassed Europe, the Americas, Asia and, lastly, Australia. In response to the band’s increasingly frequent airplay on Australian television, thanks to breakthrough hit The Kill and the novelty 13 minute video From Yesterday, they were summoned to partake in MTV’s Video Music Awards. The band won in two categories, “Best Rock Video” and “Video Of The Year”, and, subsequently, played three shows to their newly discovered Australian audience. A sterling performance of The Kill at the awards show had all those attending bristling with enthusiasm and expectation. Such was the demand that the show had to be moved to a venue with double the capacity of the original location. Could the Los Angeles trio, until recently a foursome, recover from the loss of bassist Matt Wachter and deliver ‘the goods’ after over a year on the road?
Fans began arriving outside the sold-out Hordern Pavillion from 9am; with substantial numbers not appearing until darkness began to set in. The mob surged through the gates and past the turnstiles the moment the clock struck 7pm with everyone jostling for a position at the front of the moshpit. The security staff, in vain, had to lift various patrons off the concert floor in accordance with their ‘no running’ policy. Within five minutes those in the first few rows, such as myself, were encased and unable to see more than ten metres back. Thankfully the near claustrophobia invoked was worth the amazingly clear view of the stage. Within an hour Angelas Dish, born out of the promising Australian Central Coast rock scene, took to the stage. They played an unmemorable but tight 30 minutes. For whatever reason the words, “Evermore on crack,” kept coming to mind. While this might be an accurate description of the four piece live, upon reflection it has little relevance to their recorded sound. Angelas Dish is a young band and, with time, hopefully they’ll develop the antics or tunes to ensure that not only does the crowd respond warmly but can recall their performance, not just minutes but, days after a concert.
After a hot and sticky wait, along with the unveiling of an insipid Disneyland faux-Chinese themed set, 30 Seconds To Mars took the stage to rapturous applause and the beat of operatic masterpiece O Fortuna. A sad reflection on a self-touted musically ‘epic’ band, Jared Leto and co. could not settle on an opening song of their own creation. The lighting and smoke effects, luckily, came to the rescue. Jared, imposing himself on the stage and audience, was draped in formal quasi-military uniform and would have looked the part in Hitler’s Youth Movement. In what was a common theme during the night, his band mates did not rival their frontman for centre stage (easy to see why Wachter moved onto a more unified creative approach with Angels & Airwaves). With the blue-lit smoke clearing, the group launched into A Beautiful Lie and the concert reached a fever pitch. The crowd swayed and moved to every chord; with many ‘fan girls’ already having to be dragged from the crowd, overcome by euphoria. The loss of, arguably, the most passionate fans to fatigue over the duration of the night meant the crowd was progressively less electric with every song. Meanwhile, several violent male revelers in the heart of a fairly tame moshpit did their best to ruin it for those who stayed. Several times security threatened to stop the concert so the self-proclaimed ‘roid-ragers’ could be stopped in their tracks. All of this was lost on 30 Seconds To Mars who dared to suggest this was, “the best live show we have ever played.” Typical of many American bands only the most avid of their fans were fooled while the rest were left to ponder why Leto would fall back on such meaningless banter. From Yesterday was probably the most disappointing song of the evening as it did not come close to the crowd reaction most would have expected nor did it translate well live. Furthermore, Jared made the cardinal sin of pointing his mic at his loyal followers rather than his own mouth for large portions of some songs. If we had wanted to hear ourselves sing we would have stayed at home! The frontman did work hard to maintain his onlooker’s attention and insisted they help him with the lyrics to The Fantasy while claiming “you rock more than Melbourne!” before The Story.
The visual affects continued to impress as the concert progressed and the audio improved as well. The lead singer grew accustomed to the instrument in his hands, the microphone, and delivered vocally as a result. The band’s signature ballad and magnum opus, The Kill, was best in show. Everyone in attendance knew the words from start to finish and sung accordingly. Midway through the song Jared flung himself into the front row of the standing crowd with such relative ease no one predicted it. Given he broke his nose in Texas only this past March, throwing oneself across a 10 metre gap into adoring fans truly is a leap of faith. I was lucky enough to be temporarily squashed by Jared’s heroics and had the privilege of a good fondle. He even let those around him, including I, sing into the mic for a few priceless seconds. The dialogue between the band and audience was strained at best. Jared did all the talking and insisted on calling the audience “crazy mother fuckers” despite having no prior knowledge of their sexual history. Alright, a little facetious perhaps but he need not have sworn to illustrate his anarchist viewpoint – stand up to authority and don’t let other’s control your life. Perhaps I miss the point, after all no amount of young children or parents were going to stop him from speaking the way he wanted to. He was trying hard, but a little too hard.
Tomo Milecevic played the guitar competently and danced with Jared on the stage throughout the performance. Although, younger brother, Shannon Leto was obscured by the drums and, substitute bassist, Tim Kelleher struck the pose of an auxiliary figure, hiding in the shadows. Both, however, could not be faulted on their instruments and the only cock-up came from the mixer during Jared’s acoustic A Modern Myth guitar solo.
Only one song was played from the group’s self-titled debut effort (30 Seconds to Mars); the crowd was given a choice between Buddha for Mary or The Mission. The latter won and all were concerned this would be the end of the evening. Thankfully, there was room for one more hit. Attack brought the concert to a roaring, fast-paced conclusion and proved that the band really was getting better with every minute they spent on stage. The band departed with a promise to stay back, “as long as it takes!” to meet all their followers. After waiting in queue for around an hour Shannon barely lifted his head and grumbled. Tomo complimented me on my item to be signed, a sock, and Jared made a comment about being glad he was wearing his gloves. Tim was not present and none of the band members were particularly personable. The 35-year-old actor reeled off his great to see you spiel and within 10 seconds I was whisked out the door, in my hand a sock with three squiggles rather than signatures. To quote Leto himself, "Making music is so personal - I just write songs from the heart, the gut and the head." Remind me to bring a mirror to his next signing. I know I have harped on about the failings of this gig, possibly to the detriment of some of the positives, but don’t be fooled into believing this performance was anything more than “good”. “Great” is an over-statement. As Jared once sung himself, “Yeah I'm a selfish bastard, But at least I'm not alone”. Look for them to tour again in the near future and, hopefully, turn that “good” into that other word starting with “g”.
Evanescence concluded the Australian leg of their World tour this past Sunday at the Sydney Entertainment Centre. Renowned for their inconsistent live performance, ranging from the breath-taking to the downright disappointing, all those in attendance were consumed by nervous energy. Would the Arkansas group send their legions of black clad fans home happy or show signs of fatigue after a long tour?
New Zealand hard rock outfit, Shihad commenced the festivities around 8:30pm. Prior to this, and rather oddly, everyone in the standing area had been sitting on the floor. The reason for this decision was never relayed to the crowd, who eagerly jumped to their feet once the Kiwi quartet took the stage. Sadly, the initial enthusiasm was short-lived. Despite a riveting performance from Shihad the crowd remained rooted to the floor. Lead singer, Jon Toogood was a man possessed, a teenager trapped in a grown man's body. He flung himself from corner to corner of the stage, broke his microphone at one point and even concluding a few songs by hurling himself off the top of a speaker tower into a power-chord on his guitar. Continually thanking the crowd for being "awesome", some of the four-piece's compliments seemed disingenuous, however there was little doubt they were having fun. The most the crowd could muster in return was the odd clap and several fists in the hair, unfitting considering this was one of the most exhilarating performances seen by an opening act for some time. Ripping through most of their softer material, Shihad won over parts of the crowd during their 45minutes on stage, including this reviewer. Surely they are the first band to ever be asked to take their shirts off by the crowd! Few were pleased to see them leave the stage, even if the main course was still to come.
After the uninspiring lighting effects used thus far I was doubtful Evanescence would be much of a spectacle. However, as the black and white curtain retracted, and the American goth rockers launched into Sweet Sacrifice, I was gladly proved wrong. With glittering blue and pink lighting, accompanied by spot-light and halogen tubes, the show had clearly reached its climax. Paying back the faith shown by their supporters, Evanescence churned through a solid 90 minute set showcasing hits from both, break-through album, Fallen and, sophomore effort, The Open Door. The group started slowly but generated more momentum with every second that passed. By the gig's conclusion, the headliner's were bristling with confidence and laughing in the face of would-be detractors with a stellar performance.
Evanescence's Achilles heel was that, despite their best efforts, they simply could not draw a sizeable response from the crowd. Arguably, there was more of an atmosphere in the stands than on the floor, where couples and families were in abundance. What is the appeal of getting crushed and not being able to see if you're 12 years old? I have no idea! Apart from clusters of devil horn hand-gesturing fans, whom the band responded to, the audience was restrained, only singing to the most popular songs and never daring to dance. Admittedly, by all accounts, the other Sydney concert saw a much louder crowd response. Furthermore, Evanescence has continually denied the band promotes a Christian agenda despite, the two founding members, Amy Lee and, ex-guitarist, Ben Moody first meeting on a religious youth camp. All of which begs the question, should Lee really be peddling a satanic symbol during her live act? I highly doubt Lucifer is 'rocking out' to My Immortal in the depths of hell and it is clear some of the group's lyrics allude to biblical teachings. No more devil's horns Amy!
Despite the aformentioned blemishes, the surprise of the night were Lee's solo piano pieces, namely Good Enough, during which her voice soared. Famous for hitting the high note, the frontwoman also showed an improved ability to sing deeply. There is little doubt that the group is, now, undisputedly lead by its remaining founding member. Although the charisma of, dread-locked head-banging sensation, Terry Balsamo and, scary eye-liner sporting, John LeCompt was infectious. Other stand-out tracks were the crooning Lithium, during which artificial snow descended from the ceiling, and Bring Me to Life. Draped in a black tank-top and pink frock, Amy concluded the concert with a two song encore, only joined by her jovial band mates for the final minutes of Your Star. Leaving the stage to sporadic chanting, Lee once lamented "So go on and scream, scream at me," however, perhaps it would have proved just the remedy this one night in Sydney. Bring me to life!
The Big Day Out festival surged into a 16th year with arguably its best, I use that term very loosely, lineup yet. The Sydney event, breaking the previous record of nine days, sold out in just twelve hours with all other shows on the tour following suit. One question remained, could Australia’s largest music festival live up to the hype or would thousands go home with little to talk about other than the $130 hole now in their wallet?
Rising at the ‘ungodly’ hour of 9am scores of Sydneysiders made the, surprisingly easy, trek to Sydney Showground. It was this reviewer’s first Big Day Out and, despite many warnings, the queues at the entrance were all but non-existent. This didn’t change the fact that, as always, I was running late. Brushing people aside with relative ease, and doing my best not to inhale the wafting marijuana smoke, I raced towards the main stage to catch the end of Sick Puppies.
Sick Puppies Admittedly, I saw barely enough of the act to pass judgment however the trio, playing in front of their home crowd, were disappointing. The music was unemotional and the lead-singer’s dialogue, a desperate attempt to inject passion into a stale performance, comprised of a few choice expletives and little more. It was very obvious that the band, still very wet behind the ears, had a lot to learn about live performance and was struggling to come to grips with their sudden popularity. Arguably, Sick Puppies biggest mistake was not concluding with, breakout hit, All The Same. The crowd, spoilt early, lost interest once they heard their favourite song. The learning curve is steep but if their latest studio effort, Headphone Injuries, is anything to go by this group has a bright future.
Originally I had intended to see The Spazzys on the main stage however my friends’ inability to tolerate female punk rock meant I was dragged on a whirlwind tour of Sydney Showground. It was only midday yet a vast majority of those in attendance, not all of legal drinking age, were drowning their sorrows (perhaps they were disappointed with the Sick Puppies too?). Glad I’d worn clothes you’d be hard-pressed to get African refuges to sport, most disappointing of all was the filthy state of the venue. Rubbish bins were, clearly, a foreign concept to most in attendance. After 45 minutes of meandering I retreated, now covered in refuse, to the main stage.
The Butterfly Effect I’d seen The Butterfly Effect once before at a small local venue and, despite their reputation as one of Australia’s hardest working live acts, was disappointed. Sadly, they proved to be no better second time round. The Brisbane quartet has an annoying habit of sacrificing melody for hard rocking beat at their live shows. I’m well aware they fall into both metal and hard rock genres but that should not be to detriment of audible vocals. Many of those around me, more concerned with violent moshing than the music on display, were, when they decided to pay attention, able to smother what little noise, lead-vocalist, Clint Boge made.
Something With Numbers Fleeing what had thus far been a fiasco rather than a festival I arrived at the local talent stage. I didn’t expect any bands on this stage to be particularly good, none had toured extensively after all. Something With Numbers had even less going for them, their breed of punk rock was unlikely to reproduce well outside the studio. You can imagine my surprise when upon arriving I had to clamber up a wall just to get a decent view. The arena was packed to the rafters, literally! At first I was perplexed but it didn’t take long for that to change. The Central Coast outfit were, unexpectedly, very good live. The crowd in a frenzy, despite not knowing many of the words, attempted to sing and dance to every tune. A few more adventurous spectators even climbed on top of the arena forcing the band to stop playing for a few minutes. The band, a little overwhelmed with their sudden stardom, did not falter and concluded with, breakout hit, Apple Of The Eye (Lay Me Down) to raptures from the audience. This performance was going to be very hard to top even though the day was young.
Expatriate Much of the crowd dispersed following the punk rock group’s climax however I stayed put for, little known, Sydney band Expatriate. In front of no more than 75 people the band poured themselves into their music. Their fusion of electronic, indie and rock influences came off a treat live, especially The Spaces Between. Without the charisma of rockstars, the Ben King led collaboration were a tad dull between each absorbing ballad. A blemish that has been attributed to such mega-bands as Coldplay and can be notoriously hard to shake. However, the boys show a great deal of promise. If you have the opportunity to see them perform don’t waste it.
My Chemical Romance I finally crawled back to the main stage to embrace my inner emo with smatterings of The Black Parade. The Americans have a dreadful reputation live, with Gerard Way’s vocals singled out for extra criticism. It is safe to say that not many in attendance, save for a few bikini clad 15 year olds, expected much. Amazingly, My Chemical Romance delivered! Apart from the usual amusing “it’s great to see so many of you wearing black and not being judged” banter reserved for most emo frontmen it was difficult to fault Way’s performance. He was emotional, sometimes possessed, driven and faithful to his studio recordings. The most polished on the mic thus far, the New Jersey group stuck the pose of a tour-hardened band that had cut their teeth on the back of horrible reviews. Relentless, the band didn’t miss a trick and were only let down by their fans, who amazingly let me push all the way into the front row. There was a clear distinction between the group’s new ‘operatic rock’ and old material. The former providing all the highlights while, despite sounding far better than before, Three Cheers for Sweet Revenge lagged behind.
Eskimo Joe Taking a seat in the stands for this one I didn’t find the next 45 minutes particularly invigorating. I won't lie and claim I’m a huge fan of their work. With every year that passes I listen to Eskimo Joe less and less. Nevertheless, I tried to maintain perspective and hoped that seeing the Western Australian pop-rock band live would give their music new life. However, the only word that could accurately describe Eskimo Joe’s performance was mediocre. Faithful without being awe-inspiring, tight without being flawless and catchy without being addictive. The group aimlessly wandered through their set, rarely involving the crowd who did their very best to sing along, most notably to hits Black Fingernails, Red Wine, Sarah and New York. The music was simply not amazing enough to negate the need for showmanship. Despite this, an injection of flash and glamour could easily see the group reach its potential in future performances.
Kasabian With the swagger and posturing of, Oasis frontman, Liam Gallagher Kasabian would almost have you believe they had redefined, and championed, a genre of music. Sadly, unlike their Manchester britpop cousins, they have no such claim to fame and this detracted from their act significantly. On the second main stage, the band managed to lose over half their crowd before even getting two-thirds of the way through their set. The sheer arrogance of the lead singer was not only off-putting but down-right outrageous given the impotent drivel fed to those in attendance. Save for, new song, Empire there was little to smile about. Arrogance is not a synonym for charisma! Forget stage presence though, the band needs to focus on their music first and foremost. Until they do that, see them live at your own risk.
The Killers After what I thought would be my last foray into the festival wilderness I returned to the main stage to see The Killers. I was one of the last people let into the mosh-pit area and seemed to have timed my ‘run home’ perfectly. The sun had set on a gloomy day and I was ready to be entertained, despite The Killers poor reptation in concert. Like My Chemical Romance before them, The Killers were shockingly good. Blazing through songs from both Hot Fuss and Sam's Town they drew a favourable response from the crowd, with the largest cheer, surprisingly, reserved for Smile Like You Mean It. Although it was, at times, difficult to see (I’m not the tallest bloke), Brandon Flowers was vibrant, colourful and enthusiastic. The Killers gave the type of performance that leaves you warm and fuzzy inside, the type of performance you never want to end.
Jet I spent much of Jet talking to a fellow Muse devotee after burrowing through hordes of people so I’d be in the second row once Matt Bellamy and company took the stage. While Jet weren’t brilliant, they weren’t bad either. Certainly not deserving of the chant, “Muse, Muse, Muse,” which took hold during their set, forcing the band to play over the crowd. The music is simple and, while Jet may pride themselves on being more alternative than they actually are, it’s still enjoyable. I’m not a big fan of, recent album, Shine On but the hits from Get Born are still as catchy as they were in 2004. There wasn’t a person in sight who didn’t, secretly, know the words to Are You Gonna Be My Girl and want to sing along.
Muse Eliciting the biggest response from the crowd yet, Muse took the stage to a cacophony of cheers. Blistering through hit after hit, the respond was unrelenting. I was, for most of the hour, crushed amidst a sea of people somewhere around row 2. Never before have I been so wet, clothes so sodden they tripled in weight. This definitely detracted from the act as I found it far less enjoyable than Muse’s gigs I’d attended earlier in the week. Don’t get me wrong, they were still very good but the sound wasn’t crystal-clear and the lighting average, both faults of the venue rather than the band. All Muse-icians have phenomenal control over their respective instruments, ever-impressive Dominic Howard being one of the few drummers to actually sing. Muse crammed about as much into their hour as was humanly possible but, sadly, due to the group’s large discography it was impossible for them to cover all their hits, let alone singles. Stockholm Syndrome was, arguably, the most convincing and powerful song of, not just the set but, the whole day.
Tool Thoroughly worn out I left the mosh-pit area and sat in the stands to witness Tool, an obligatory experience given the high profile nature of the international band. A friend described Tool as a religious experience. While I’m loathed to mention religion in two successive reviews, the only similarity between Tool and religion is the blind support they inspire despite being ridiculously mundane. The lyrics, which I’d heard so much about, were uninspiring and not complex. The music, equally as uninspiring and simplistic, was repetitive. Maynard James Keenan’s on stage performance was comparable with watching paint dry and he seemed to be merely going through the motions. After a dire 45 minutes I left Tool and their unwaveringly loyal fans for the Boiler Room.
The Presets I caught the end of The Presets act and was pleasantly surprised. I thought very little of their critically panned debut album Beams and, hence, expected even less from the Sydney duo live. Their DJ set, to its credit, even managed to get my tired feet moving despite the long day. I’d certainly be more inclined to go clubbing if they played The Presets’ brand of light electronic indie more often. Down Down Down deserves a special mention as, arguably, the best track of their set and a worthy finale.
I was looking forward to seeing The Crystal Method live only to be confronted by a DJ set, which included few of their popular songs and nothing from, my favourite album, Vegas. I left after a mere 20 minutes of the electronic duo to make the long trip home. Overall, Big Day Out was a worthwhile experience and definite value-for-money. If the thought of being accosted by marijuana smoke and topless sweaty common folk gives you the cold sweats then stick to individual concerts. However, if you enjoy low-budget thrills and spills in a dirty environment then festivals are for you.
Muse have returned, at long last, to Australian shores bringing with them an arsenal of sound to appease an ever-growing mass of fans. This was no more evident than on the 23rd and 24th of January at a sold-out Hordern Pavillion where, supported by Ground Components, Muse exploded into a vibrant spectacle of colour and sound never before seen by most in attendance. It is not difficult to see why Muse have established themselves as one of the World's premier mainstream live acts. Dazzling arrays of light, mouth-wateringly faithful music and charisma oozing from every orifice permeate their act from start to finish. Two emotionally exhausting, bleary eyed, expectation shattering sets later the only disappointment was that the show could not continue.
The words of a Muse fanboy? I'd be lying if I said they weren't. Despite that, I have been highly critical of the band's departure from their traditional sound on Black Holes and Revelations. I arrived at the venue early on both days, 4pm and 2:30pm respectively. I was especially skeptical about how their new material would come across live. Trembling like a four year old on Christmas morning the doors finally opened at 7pm. Throwing myself into the back of anyone who dared to stand in my way, I charged towards the front of the arena securing the middle of the second row (or the first row in front of, bassist, Chris Wolstenholme on the second night). Electricity filled the air and, after a polite discussion with the person who I was just about exchange sweat with, the lights faded to black. Ground Components took the stage...
Fronted by the illegitimate child of Jesus Christ and Kurt Cobain, Ground Components seemed a little out of their depth. Their breed of 70's inspired Australian rock was not well received by the crowd on the first night. Very audible cries of "out of their league", "no more pub rock" and "we want Muse" filled the silence between each song. Adding fuel to the fire, the singer made the cardinal sin of removing his shirt just two songs into the act, exposing a body with the muscle tone of a 9 year old. The end of their act was met with a collective sigh of relief. However, like a fish taking to water, Ground Components were a vastly different, much improved, band the following night. Engaging the crowd and enjoying themselves, the troubles of the previous night were forgotten. The crowd, noticing this difference, warmed to the five piece, even cheering the lead singer's unveiling of his semi-naked body with two songs to go. After a solid half hour the band returned to their backstage sanctuary, not to boos, to applause. All in all, the vocals were clearer, the instruments sharper and the band, simply, better. After another excruciating wait the lights were dimmed once more to a thunderous ovation from the thousands in attendance.
Dominic and Chris took the stage first. However, the crowd reserved the loudest roar for Matt who, wearing an Evil Knievel style red jumpsuit, appeared last. Bursting into the pulsating, climactic Take a Bow the crowd was given no respite. Unrelenting for a full 90 minutes the band covered both old and new. Matt Bellamy's vocals, perhaps even better live than recorded, were accompanied by timely interventions from Chris and, surprisingly, Dominic Howard. All three tore through song after song seamlessly, with each as impressive as the last. The smoke and lighting were as amazing as the skill with which each member played their various instruments. Bellamy's finger work on the piano during Butterflies and Hurricanes earns a special mention. The performance did have a few minor blemishes, however. Such was the intensity of each song that the band was unable to converse with the crowd apart from the odd snappy remark. "Hello Sydney" and "You live in a beautiful city" come to mind. The boys also indulged in two encores, which is definitely one too many. Both times the audience response was deafening but it was apparent the band lost some momentum during the second break. Still, as other reviewers have said, who cares!? There is something a little greedy about leveling criticism at such a complete experience. Perhaps one of the most stunning moments from either concert came when giant confetti-filled balloons descended from the ceiling during Knights of Cydonia, an awe-inspiring conclusion to an awe-inspiring act. Song of the night was certainly no easy decision, with a tie between Take a Bow and Time Is Running Out seeming the most fair.
The second night was just as visually and sonically as breath-taking as the first. If it were possible, the band seemed to play with even more passion and verve! The crowd was louder. Bellamy's attire, now a stylish black shirt with bird-like sleeves, even cooler. But most importantly the set was better constructed. There was only one encore, the momentum was unstoppable and, much to my delight, a track from Showbiz included. Best in show was, once again, the irrepressible Time Is Running Out, sung by nearly everyone in attendance. The 24th of January was the night of the best concert I've ever attended. Overwhelming, as I'm sure the many passed out girls from the crowd can testify, is the word that best describes a Muse concert. And as Bellamy and his legions of supporters raised their hands during the finale there was little doubt that, not only were we all under his spell, but that it was Muse's turn to take a bow.