The NEO, Andrea Kirwin

Column: Gig Reviews   |   Date Published: Tuesday, 16 July 13   |   Author: Amy Dowler   |   3 years, 11 months ago

Andrea Kirwin, The NEO @ The Polish White Eagle Club, Friday July 5


Darwin-based ‘powerfunk’ band The NEO (Near Earth Objects) opened the night with their incredibly good natured blend of funk, ska and lounge music. They probably aren’t the tightest band in the world, but The NEO clearly enjoy doing what they do and that delight is infectious. With their colourful clothes, rotating menagerie of instruments and beaming smiles, The NEO struck me as The Wiggles for grown-ups.

The NEO’s two sets sandwiched a set by Andrea Kirwin and her band. While The NEO make the most of modest talents, Kirwin is still working out how best to use her prodigious musical gift. Her voice is simply, and apparently effortlessly, beautiful. It is rich and soulful, and a world away from the cutesy or breathy vocals that are currently fashionable for ‘alternative’ female vocalists.

Kirwin opened with three solo acoustic songs from The Andi and George Band era. (Now disbanded, Andi and George were based in Canberra; Kirwin has since moved to warmer climes.) Those songs were compelling and Kirwin had the crowd in the palm of her hands as the band joined her to play their new album. Quite quickly, though, the audience’s interest seemed to dull. This was not due to the playing – the band was excellent – but the songs themselves, which, at least on this night, came across as bland and unadventurous. There were engaging moments – particularly when the impromptu brass section joined the stage – but the set ended with a whimper when Kirwin pulled the plug because her acoustic guitar could not be heard in the mix.



Spartak, A Drone Coda:

Spartak, A Drone Coda, Oxen @ The Phoenix Bar, Thursday July 4


This past Thursday, Spartak crashed into The Phoenix – along with A Drone Coda and Oxen – and reminded every one of the vintage clothing-clad 20-somethings why they love The Phoenix.

I should start by saying that due to a mishap with an Action Bus I arrived a half-hour late and missed the first band, Oxen. I ran all over asking everyone about them to try and see what I had missed. The best answer I got was, ‘Oh yeah! The one with the girls that yell heaps!’ It didn’t help me too much.

Luckily, I managed to catch A Drone Coda – a three-piece that sits somewhere on the fringes of punk and prog-rock. The guitar rings with distortion while the bass holds the slow driving beat of the drums, and somewhere off in the background are the screaming vocals. It all blends together into a hard-edged rock performance that left me feeling lucky they hadn’t been the ones to play first. I'd have missed them and been none the wiser.

Around 11:30pm, Spartak took to the stage. I had made some effort to prepare for this article by listening to Spartak’s third release, Nippon, which, for the unfamiliar few (or many), is a swirling piece of eclectic synths, guitars, broken and sporadic drumbeats, and various elemental atmospheric recordings.Being that we were in The Phoenix, I was happy to hear that they had moved on and sat somewhere on the verge of post-punk, while still maintaining their improvisational roots and their solid use of synth beats and effects, leaving them with a sound reminiscent of bands like The Faint. They also unveiled a new track, Mystique – a much heavier track that left me excited for their next release.




Gangbusters @ The Polish White Eagle Club, Saturday July 13


Saturday July 13, Gangbusters made its triumphant return to Canberra, hosting two handfuls of the best bands that Canberra, Melbourne and Sydney have to offer – but, let’s face it, you already heard about it. I’ll flag now, seeing as this is a local review column, that I’m only really going to be talking about our homegrown acts – just because that’s where my focus was on the day.

Kicking off the show at two was local band, Cold House, usually a two-piece but on this occasion a three-piece. Utilizing looped and distorted guitars and synth beats, coupled with the talents of the young woman and her stunning but haunting pipes (which she chimed in, seemingly improvised, to be used for loops), Cold House conjured a somewhat haunting ambience that made me suddenly remember nightmares from the night before that I had since forgotten.

Following Cold House on the lower stage was Beach Slut, that was possibly my pick of the day (alongside Waterford). These guys are bringing back rough surf punk with an angst-filled urgency. After releasing their first EP Lucidity back in January, they’re out to make themselves known for their hypnotic and borderline-psychedelic breed of punk; it brings to mind the likes of The MC5 and The Stooges, mixed in with Sonic Youth and The Velvet Underground. A special mention goes to the bands latest single, Teen Dream, which will certainly feature in many a summer mix-CD. It’s quick and poppy, while still holding onto the heavy hard edge, and sounds just like the beach.

After my fifth beer of the day, Central West was getting ready to unleash itself on the White Eagle crowd. The band started off with a haunting instrumental piece reminiscent of Pink Floyd. With nothing between songs but a lingering keyboard, they moved into a similarly slow but heavy track, featuring lyrics repeated over an ever-growing chord progression; it climaxed in a fit of heavy bass, crashing drums, a distorted and overdriven guitar, and a calamity of keys. They capped off their set with a cover of Wynter Gordon’s Dirty Talk, which they definitely made their own. Keeping to the style they had already demonstrated, they transformed the originally poppy dance song that you hear in every club in Civic into a dark, Florence and the Machine-esque plea for understanding. One of the greatest things about this cover was a Middle Eastern chant buried in the background of the introduction, which made the song sound almost spiritual.

Local favourite Cracked Actor was up next on the lower stage, with their ambient post-rock and hard beats infused with intricate, perfectly constructed guitar melodies. I would compare them to early Radiohead, with their fusion of traditional post-rock sensibilities and Spartak-esque ambience. As usual, Cracked Actor didn’t disappoint.

The last band I was able to catch before I was forced to leg it due to a bad headache (not because of anything I had heard that night), was another local favourite, Waterford. Now, I’ve liked these guys for a while – partly because they’re one of those bands that take the best parts of everything they hear and find a way to put it all together. They are the quintessential Canberra indie-rock band (alongside the likes of Cracked Actor).

It’s a happy sight to see that Gangbusters is back in town, and hopefully for good. By the end of the night (or, at least, by the time I left), I was walking away with the debut EP from Beach Slut (Lucidity), a Waterford EP, and a collection of recordings from Reuben Ingall – who played keys for Central West. All of which I highly recommend you go see if you find them performing somewhere trawling through the BMA Entertainment Guide.



Kate Miller-Heidke:

Kate Miller-Heidke, Franky Walnut @ The Street Theatre, Wednesday June 23


On the night that Kevin finally exacted his revenge on Julia, I left the political turmoil on the TV at home and headed out to The Street Theatre to see Kate Miller-Heidke. Was it a strange night to be playing a gig in Canberra? Kate and her support act, Franky Walnut, thought it might be. When I got to the theatre I headed to the bar to get a drink, as you do, and noticed that everyone around me seemed to be sipping hot chocolate or coffee. Why weren’t they drinking alcohol, especially tonight?

My seat was in the back row, in front of me the theatre twinkled with small white rectangles as every second person was checking their phone. But to no avail; Kevin was still Prime Minister. Franky Walnut wandered on stage in a flannel shirt, thongs and Akubra. He acknowledged it was a big night on the news and launched into a song about a family road trip, and then another which featured his best pick-up lines, my favourite being, ‘you could do a lot worse than a fella like me/I’ve had a lot better than you.’ The crowd were amused but muted.

A couple of punters trying to find their seats gave Franky the opportunity for some banter and with this he finally released the tension in the crowd. It turned out the theatre was full of Julia supporters. ‘Oh, so this is a sad night for you guys,’ Franky sympathised. After this the theatre got smaller, more intimate and the crowd came together to enjoy the night. Franky finished up with a couple of his classics; the crowd loved him. But when he left, the phones lit up again.

After a short break Kate came on stage, radiant in a white ruffled skirt, chunky black shoes and her bright blonde hair teased on the side. Franky was back on stage – in a different shirt and sporting glasses – dressed as his alter-ego Keir Nuttal. The two of them opened with The Tiger inside Will Eat the Child and a great version of In the Dark, featuring John Rogers on piano. The crowd were appreciative and captivated.

After performing Caught in the Crowd, Kate told a great story about a letter she received from a Year 7 kid, George, whose teacher made him write to her. George told Kate that in the first verse of Caught in the Crowd, she rhymes ‘school’ with ‘school’ and that’s not a rhyme; she should try harder next time!

During the evening Kate tried out some new material; in one song she sounded a bit like a Swiss yodeller, which I wasn’t particularly keen on. Then she did a captivating instrumental song, again featuring John Rogers, this time on violin, which Kate described as bluegrass metal opera. For me, Kate’s music has always trod a fine line between being experimental, highly original and, well, maybe a bit overdone. I’m really enjoying her latest album, Nightflight, because it feels like she is using her powerful voice to good effect and not overdoing it. But these new songs I wasn’t so sure about. On the other hand, they gave me an appreciation of Kate’s diverse taste in music and the songs felt very organic, like they were pouring out of her. She finished the night with Sarah and an amazing rendition of Humiliation.

In the end, there is something very satisfying about the whole Kate Miller-Heidke experience. She is an amazing musician who bravely expresses herself and has brilliant execution; she is compelling.



Strange Talk & Hey Geronimo:

Strange Talk and Hey Geronimo @ Transit Bar, Saturday June 20


With no local support on the line-up for the Canberra edition of the Strange Geronimo tour, frequent ACT visitors Hey Geronimo were first on stage. Despite a late-ish start, the crowd was very thin, defying the barman’s optimistic advice that, ‘We’re expecting a big one tonight’. The five-piece, including new member ‘Little Billy’ on bass, looked decidedly Wiggle-ish with their blue, red and green t-shirts.

The crowd had ‘mushroomed’ to 25 (not counting the noisy pool players) when the band kicked off their set with Laser Gun Show. The indie poppers promoted a fun vibe, bright melodies, drenched with the summer sun and filled with homey, quirky lyrics in the style of one of their quoted influences, Custard. These involved a certain romantic wistfulness, with their longing for relationships expressed in pathos-riddled lyrics like, ‘I would love a girl like you’ and ‘sitting at a table for one’. Sounds as though they can’t win a trick when it comes to girlfriends! There were flashy hooks aplenty and the power and versatility of three vocalists provided plenty of opportunities for warm harmonies and enthusiastic shout-outs.

The punters were slow to warm up, but the catchy pop tune Dreamboat Jack got three people up to dance. Co-Op Bookshop lifted the pace, with people linking their arms around each other and leaping around as one body in time with the band members bouncing on stage. Hey Geronimo’s danceable melodies had half the audience dancing by mid-set. They closed with the radio friendly Why Don’t We Do Something which was just made for a audience sing-alongs. Those hoping for the Pizza song were disappointed, as that was a special item reserved only for their Presidents of the USA tour.

The instrument line-up then changed from three sets of strings and a keyboard to one guitar accompanied by a Moog synth, a Roland, an Akai and a Mopho x4 as the electro-dance-poppers Strange Talk got their gear ready. The switch in technology was accompanied by a style change too. Hey Geronimo’s shy, humorous songs gave way to the polished, confident vibe of Strange Talk. With whispering cymbals, rising guitar notes and swelling keyboards, the band opened with the title track from their new long player, Castaway. Keys purred and shimmered before making way for the irresistible pulsing rhythm of Wanted (Dead or Alive). Frontman Stephen Docker impressed with his powerful, emotive delivery, sounding very smooth above the writhing waves of electronica. Eskimo Boy brought the growling bass guitar in for a deeper sound to match the prowling keyboards.

There was an interesting interpretation of Regurgitator’s The Song Formerly Known As, giving drummer Travis Constable a chance to inject a solo on the skins. Another highlight was the new single Picking up All the Pieces, with all the sparkling keys and bouncy rhythm of a Friendly Fires song. The throbbing music with its striking interplay between keys and guitar ensured that the dancers on the floor had plenty of material to gyrate to, and the band got the audience to sing the ‘ooo-oooh’s from the chorus of Climbing Walls. While they don’t often do encores, encouragement from the floor was rewarded with We Can Pretend, from their first release.

The band ended with the oft spoken, ‘We’ll see you again soon.’ However, Strange Talk fans may be in for a long wait, as the band mentioned earlier in the gig that they were shortly off to the US for ‘an indefinite period’. Big things in the works for them? Let’s hope so.





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