Heath Cullen, Doctor Stovepipe

Column: Gig Reviews   |   Date Published: Tuesday, 23 April 13   |   Author: Rory McCartney   |   4 years, 2 months ago

@ The Street Theatre, Friday April 12

There’s no more encouraging a vote of confidence than a sold out show, and Street 2 was full to the brim on Friday night. In a special touch, both bands were introduced by Sam Cutler, former touring manager for Janis Joplin, The Grateful Dead and The Rolling Stones. Now residing in Australia, he’d come along especially for the show.

Local band Doctor Stovepipe started the night, describing themselves as the ‘fluffers’ to get the audience going. They practice a unique brand of medicine which seeks to cure all ills through the revitalising power of music. Dr Jill the phrenologist was on fiddle, able to check out the bumps on your head between sets. She was partnered with Dr Jim the herbologist on guitar and Dr Ed the proctologist on double bass.

Their lively, fun gypsy-swing style was a definite cure for a bad mood. Themes swung between the frivolous (about enjoying a giant reefer) to the poignant (about love and desire in the last days of a long life). They threw in some very fast instrumentals; real foot-tappers that were some of the highlights of their set. The fiddle and double bass ruled the stage, slowing or revving up to suit the mood. Dr Ed impressed, making his instrument sing, irrespective of whether the strings were plucked or slapped. He also demonstrated that a double bass makes a very effective drum. Full of humour, they raised plenty of giggles from the punters with songs like Beef and Black Bean, a song of romance and Asian food. Their set included a cover of Get Along, a trucking tune, which was the last song ever recorded by Slim Dusty.

Singer-songwriter Heath Cullen from sleepy Candelo, near Bega, came on with his band to launch The Still and the Steep. This, his sophomore album, had been recorded over three months in LA. He was wearing an indescribable tan and brown mottled suit, commenting on it that, ‘You can get some pretty cool things on eBay.’

Dr Stovepipe was a lot of fun, but Heath’s performance was on an entirely different level. The whole tone of the night changed from light and fast to move into darker spaces, with songs that moved at a slower but more intense pace. The opener and album single, From Father to Son, charged the room with the vibe of the album with lines like, ‘You’re far too young to be this old’. The song typified Heath’s style, with striking lyrics that captured social commentary in domestic vignettes. There was a whole conversation in every line of song as, punctuated with lightning flashes of guitars, the music exuded a gripping pressure. There were old songs too, like Trying to Stay Afloat, with its words delivered like whispered asides at a public bar.

It was striking the way the band played together to generate the right atmosphere. Contrast a soft ballad with the lightest touches on skin and cymbal from gently wielded mallets, to the full blown interplay between guitars in Kitchen Song, one of the more up-tempo numbers in the set. The mid-set solo saw Heath feeling brave enough to play the piano in Small Town Story, after a six-month break from the keyboard. He sounded amazing doing a cover of Springsteen’s Highway 29, with long, long-held chords. The last bracket saw the band really rocking out with an intense delivery of Paper Boy and Heath served up Break My Heart in the encores. It was a very special show, after which Heath would catch some sleep before heading off to the Candelo Music Festival.


Ainslie Wills:

@ The Front Gallery and Café, Wednesday April 17

On a balmy Autumn eve, myself and another 100 or so excited patrons packed The Front Gallery and Café to capacity and settled in for the launch of Ainslie Wills' new album, You Go Your Way I'll Go Mine. For those who have never been to The Front, it is probably best described as 'intimate', so at 100 patrons it could be fairly described as 'full', with punters on pillows at the feet of band members. The crowd didn't faze Ainslie or her band though, who seemed to relish the atmosphere of the venue. This professionalism is no surprise as Ainslie has been on the music scene ever since she released her first EP and won triple j's Unearthed competition to support Missy Higgins back in 2007. This was followed up by a second EP in 2010, the release of the current album at the start of this year, and most recently she was on SBS's RocKwiz performing Johnny Cash's Ain't No Grave alongside rapper 360. This gig was part of an east coast album launch tour and, by her own admission, Ainslie's first time to Canberra.

The night started with a minor hiccough owing to the support, Evan Buckley, apparently getting his dates wrong (though time was easily killed with a few quiet beers in the interlude). Before too long, Ainslie and her four-piece band took to the stage for an hour of melodic and soulful alt-pop. Ainslie started the gig with songs off the new album, including Mary, a melancholy ode to a relationship past, before diving into the driving chorus of Lemon Japan, apparently named after a synthesizer setting. Some banter about Northbourne Avenue and doing burnouts along main streets and we were straight into This Is What I Write, with the precise guitar being juxtaposed by the airy harmonies of both Ainslie and her entire band (sans bass player – nobody got time for fat bass lines and singing harmonies).

Listening to Satellite was reminiscent of Jeff Buckley's vocal range and fidelity which, paired with pared-back guitar and keyboard, all combined to provide a richly textured sound to lyrics that speak of sadness and longing. The winner of light-hearted track of the night was Weighing the Promises with its fun keyboards running across the track, and some Outkast-inspired organ (though I am not sure if these were technically present on the night). As an aside, this song was originally written for a short film, Perforation, and subsequently won Ainslie and her co-writer the award for Best Soundtrack.

The most popular song of the night was Liquid Paper. Whether it was the lyrical content describing trying to make a doomed relationship work, or the just the fact that it is a great song, Liquid Paper was played both during the main set and vigorously requested in the encore, which Ainslie was happy to oblige. There were threats (promises?) to play a cover of The Corrs Forgiven, Not Forgotten, but despite Ainslie singing the first few bars this never materialised (potentially due to the slight look of horror on the drummer’s face).

A taste of the gig is available through Ainslie's extensive Soundcloud account, which I thoroughly recommend as a gateway drug to her music. If you get a chance to check out Ainslie's music, either live or from her newly released album, You Go Your Way I'll Go Mine, you should jump at it. This is solid songwriting being executed by talented artists, with an entertaining live show to boot.


Golden Plains Festival 2013:

@ Meredith Supernatural Amphitheatre, Sat-Mon March 9-11

The Meredith Supernatural Amphitheatre is one of those hallowed, sacrosanct places that you have to visit at least once in your life. It may not be one of the Seven Wonders, but it's still pretty wonderful. And this was the seventh year of Golden Plains – the little brother of the original Meredith Festival. But, like cats or dogs, festivals age differently from us. In human years, Golden Plains is entering the tempestuous stage of development known as adolescence. Fitting, then, that this year's festival was characterised in part by sluggish heat and blazing sun — hot, cranky teenager weather.

Starting off the tunes for the weekend were Money For Rope. The Melbourne six-piece were far too energetic for the stuporous weather, especially the lead singer, who didn't let a leg-cast and wheelchair impede his ability to kick out the jams. Most people simply boggled at them through the heat; a trend which continued for the rest of the afternoon up until Kristian Matsson, better known as The Tallest Man on Earth. The Swedish songwriter won the crowd over with his quiet charisma and finished on a beautiful version of Graceland, performed with his talented wife.

Cat Power was average at best, playing an arena-style show without any audience interaction whatsoever (unless you count her throwing flowers into the crowd). Fans might have enjoyed the performance, but Ms Marshall put little effort into winning over the rest of the audience — a festival must.

The same could be said about ‘90s-harking grungers Dinosaur Jr. The raggedy trio laid down a brutal wall of sound and slouched against it, as if to say, ‘We're loud — so what?’ Frontman J Mascis was particularly casual, looking nonplussed as he ripped strange fearsome sounds from his guitar. Their cover of The Cure's Just Like Heaven was a definite set highlight.

Canadian duo Purity Ring definitely took the award for Best Set Design. Surrounded by faintly-glowing cocoons looking like props from a Tim Burton movie, the pair were the literal embodiment of witch-house. They wooed the crowd with their lush, swooning beats and dramatic stage presence.

Sydney's electronic wunderboy Flume was up next. Despite having put out a quintuple platinum album and winning over six thousand awards and trophies, he seemed fairly humble and genuinely stoked to be playing at the festival. He played Sleepless and then second single, TK, both to riotous crowd response. It's amazing what you can do with a little side-chain compression!

After a hot, restless sleep, lulled on by Post Percy's 3am rave anthems, we awoke in time for Mulatu Astatke. The legendary Ethiopian instrumentalist, accompanied by a vibrant ensemble of rhythm-workers, schooled us in the dancing arts. The lesson was repeated later in the day by the excellent Melbourne Ska Orchestra and their zany big-band antics.

But Sunday's peak was yet to come: George Clinton and the Parliament Funkadelic. For two and a half joyous hours, the amphitheatre bore witness to a funk-laden journey with a huge cast of ridiculously talented musicians and dancers. Epic noodling in the form of Maggot Brain; a hot-pantsed dancer on roller skates; Clinton's beautiful wife joining him on stage to blast our ears with near-operatic vocals; it was all there, with every bell and whistle and fanfare you could imagine. Truly mind-blowing stuff.

Naysayer & Gilsun were up next. Sticking with the DJ/VJ format they'd debuted at last year's Golden Plains, the Melbourne duo delivered a quality set, with an early section of clubby Four Tet, Huxley and Scuba being a particular treat.

Julio Bashmore played a good-but-not-great set. In the man's defence, it's hard to do much in an hour. Highlights were the Bristol-born basshead's own Battle for Middle You and Au Seve, both of which resulted in widespread boogying.

Detroit techno wizard Moodymann led the weekend to a close with his two-hour set, leading us on an odyssey through his strange and singular psyche. A remix of Frankie Goes To Hollywood's Relax and the original White Stripes Seven Nation Army – played in full – were among the more interesting moments.

And with that, the music was over – or was it? An improv band of drummers, working with esky lids, broken camping chairs and empty soft drink bottles played funky beats for nearly 47 minutes. And so it was that the Rhythm Tribe, natives of the rubbish-strewn Supernatural Amphitheatre, provided the unofficial closing ceremony to Golden Plains 2013. Sometimes it's the unforeseen moments that are the most delicious.


Pharoahe Monch, Newsense, Words Eye View, Stateovmind, Scotts:

@Transit Bar, Monday April 15

First things first, let’s give a standing ovation to those in this sleepy little city tough enough to brave the autumn ice, and strong enough to overcome Monday night inertia. It’s been said before: when it comes to supporting live music and big name acts, Canberra ain’t got shit. This statement is only partially true, and becoming less and less relevant with every passing year. Yes, the crowd at Pharoahe Monch may have been smaller than befitted the rap legend’s status. Nevertheless, every last baseball be-capped one of them was there to party, and every last one of them showed Monch just how good a Canberra gig can be. Small crowd, small space, big love.

One of the best things about having a huge name pass through a small city is the level of exposure their presence affords local artists. A New York star may have been the focus of Monday night, but the Transit stage also spotlighted the brightest up-and-comers on Canberra’s homegrown hip hop scene, including local veteran Newsense, Scotts, Words Eye View and Stateovmind. Having already supported Sydney wordsmith Dialectrix and New York rap icon Jeru the Damaja, Words Eye View are quickly proving themselves one of the hardest working acts in Canberra. With their broad Aussie accents and bright beats, the four-piece outfit used Monday night to cement their status as ones to watch in 2013. Also of particular note was 2012 triple j Unearthed winner Stateovmind. Coupling sharp lyrics with intense ideas, the MC was understated, intelligent and engaging. His viewers may have been few, but they definitely paid attention.

By the time Monch took the mic, the crowd was thickly packed around the stage and buzzing with anticipation. The man did not disappoint. After being urged by his roadie to turn the sound up, the rap icon exploded into a high octane whirl of lyricism, banter, pseudo-political urgings and downright dirty beats. Monch was joined on stage by the X-ecutioners’ DJ Boogie Bling, who in all honesty deserves his own show (firstly, because no one scratches like Boogie, and secondly, because his name would look adorable headlining a promo poster). Boogie and Monch obviously enjoyed each others’ company, and each worked seamlessly to showcase the other’s work.

With an impressive back catalogue spanning three critically acclaimed albums, it would have been easy for Monch to rest on his laurels and churn out a set comprised entirely of old hits. Impressively, Monch kept his troops entertained and engaged by mixing classics with new material from his latest album, P.T.S.D. My personal favourite of the new songs, a rap delivered from the perspective of a bullet as it leaves a gun, was introduced with a plea to his audience’s intelligence. ‘If you’re an intellectually free motherfucker, you’ll feel me. Are you intellectually free motherfuckers?’ From the crowd’s response, they were all Einsteins.

That said, Monch could have asked his audience anything and they would have roared. These kids all looked like they wouldn’t listen to their mums (as my friend said, ‘I’d be scared of these guys if I was standing at a bus stop’), but when Monch told them to raise their arms, their limbs lifted like marionettes and bounced like baseball bats on a car.

Considering their blind obedience, it was fitting that Monch ended his Canberra show with his biggest hit, Simon Says. As he commanded his audience to ‘get the fuck up’, the sea of tiny badasses went B.A.N.A.N.A.S. It was the perfect end to a solid night.



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