First of the local bands were the inimitable Night Crash. This was the first full show I'd been able to see with their new bassist - I had caught them at Ric's a few months back but I only saw them play a single song as 3-piece before they reverted to their old 2-piece lineup for the rest of the show. On Friday the three members all played for the entirety of the set. The first song lead me to think that the new bassist (Luke, also from Shakes and Blank Page) would have a negligible impact on the band's sound, as he pretty much just strummed root notes while Dan riffed over the top. However, subsequent songs had much more involved bass parts, which (I'm happy to report) fit in perfectly with Dan's complex guitar playing and Leigh's insane drumming. The band played their usual Dan Caballero-esque hardcore-jazz-punk-math-rock as well as I'd ever seen them, with the Metro's boxey concrete walls not having a huge impact on their sound (although maybe that was because they set up on the floor in the middle of the venue and had the entire audience crowd around them, not giving the venue's poor acoustics a chance to adversely affect things). Their set was perhaps even more concise than usual, with it all being over within 15-20 minutes.
Next was Rialto Decibel Choir. Last time I wrote about them they were still playing as a 2-piece, however they have now been playing as a foursome for a few months (and I have actually managed to catch them in such a format previously). Where they definitely used to be a folk band, these days they have much more in common with a band like The National, who combine a folkish aesthetic with an almost post-punk band sound, all slicing guitars and intricate rhythms but still with Ashleigh's dramatic vocals over the top (sounding kind of like Marissa Nadler, but shifted down an octave or two). Theirs isn't a sound that is necessarily immediate or catchy, but that is nonetheless engaging. I would love to have a good quality recording of their music, as I imagine that it is the sort that gradually sinks in over time. However, that's not to say that they're not enjoyable to watch for someone who isn't intimately knowledgeable with their music, as they exude a kind of restrained energy from the stage, best exemplified in the song they closed their set with, where the music became its most urgent and straight out 'rock'.
Joel Saunders followed on from Rialto. Some people may know Joel as one half of 'junk-folk' duo Ambitious Lovers. In solo format, Joel is both similar to his band (musically ragged, occasionally emotionally devastating) and completely unlike it (backed by laptop beats with dancers from Illage, doing covers of hip hop hits in addition to his own songs). Sometimes it works brilliantly - personally I think that 'Porch Song' is the best (if decidedly rough) song I've heard come out of Brisbane this year. Sometimes it can be too much of a mess to really be 'enjoyable' - at least live. Mostly this is because Joel still seems to be working out how to pull off the 'live instruments with electronic backing' thing; sometimes the machines are working for him, and sometimes he's struggling against them. When it works, though, it's really cool.
Finishing things off was Shiver Like Timber, aka Bettony Dircks (who is also the band-mate of the three members of the Night Crash - along with a violinist - in Shakes). She's pretty much become the indie-folk songstress of the moment, seemingly playing at every second such gig. This is no bad thing, because she's pretty damn good at what she does. Her music is all stark, cleanly played electric guitar lines and her emotive voice. She's generally a reliable act, the only real difference between a good Shiver Like Timber show and a bad one being the degree to which her guitar can stay in tune. I saw her on a Sunday afternoon at Ric's a few weeks ago and thought it was among the best shows of hers I'd seen. The reason? She'd borrowed the headlining band's guitar, which stayed beautifully in tune. At the Lifted Brow Fundraiser she played well, keeping things at a good ratio of musicality to endearing rawness.
Ultimately, though, the thing about Shiver Like Timber is the voice, and the words that the voice sings. In the reverb soaked room of the Metro on Gipps her voice sounded as ethereal as ever, like some ghostly lost child (cliched description alert!). The words were kind of lost in the wash of sound, which was kind of a shame as I find her lyrics to be amongst the most interesting around, far removed from the stretched wordplay of many other would-be troubadours from around the place, and somehow managing to achieve an effortless gravity. Betony has often been compared to Joanna Newsom, and while there are certainly similarities in their vocal styles and tones, for me the main commonality between the two is the strange mixture of a maturity and wisdom coming out through such a thin, childlike voice.