Saturday, 9 February 2008

Joel Saunders, Night Crash, Shakes, Rialto Decibel Choir @ The Zoo (1.2.08)

The Lifted Brow may be one of the premier literature-related zines 'round these parts, but the wordy types involved in said publication also seem to know a bit about music. Exhibit A: the countless great bands who have been involved in the various launches and fundraisers for the zine. This particular show was no exception, with The Lifted Brow putting together a great local lineup to say farewell to a whole list of people who are soon to be leaving this city of ours.

Opening the night were Rialto Decibel Choir. This is a band who obviously takes pride in their craft. Their songs are polished, well put together and delivered with confidence (even when the band announces before a song that they don't know it very well and will probably screw it up). They've recently released their (quite fine) debut EP, and many of the songs from said release were given an airing on this particular evening, my favourite of which being 'Like Folding Chairs' with its drum and bass outro. Furthermore, many of the songs that weren't included on the EP are even better than those that did make the cut, and often displayed a sense of pop-craftmanship that isn't readily evident on the available recordings. Apparently there are plans to record an album soon, so that's something to look forward to.

Shakes were next up, playing their final ever show. Originally Shiver Like Timber was supposed to play in this slot, but since Shakes planned farewell show last weekend (at a house party) was shut down by the police it was decided to swap the two acts around. No major issue there, as Shiver Like Timber (aka Betony Dircks) also doubles as the singer in Shakes. Anyway... previously Shakes have been a band whom I've always enjoyed but have never been 100% head over heals in love with - always guaranteed to put on a solid show with some well written songs, but not really the sort of band to get you raving about how amazing their show the previous night was (then again I've only seen them maybe four times). This show was probably the closest I've ever seen to them getting to that level. With The Zoo's sound system they were really able to fill the room with the full volume of their twin guitar, bass and violin attack - they're a band who thrive on bombast and drama (much like Rialto), and on this night they were able to spread themselves out in full flight. It was probably the best I've seen from them, and it makes me sad that I didn't get to see any more of them.

The Night Crash. This was another final gig, and if you never got to see this band then I pity you. I remember at my first Night Crash show turning to a friend after pretty much every song and exclaiming something along the lines of 'holy shit!' or 'how the hell do they play that!?'. After a couple of years they can still have that effect, even after having to rein themselves in slightly when adding a third member on bass. As a band who spent the majority of their life playing D.I.Y. venues, being up on The Zoo's stage was obviously awkward. I know this because before they played a single note they announced as much on the mic, and invited anyone who was game to join them onstage. I gladly took them up on their offer (after an initial attempt at jumping up where I almost bashed my knee cap out of place... *fail*) and enjoyed watching the first song of their set standing right next to the band, along with maybe 15-20 other people. Unfortunately the venue staff weren't too happy with this arrangement, and security firmly ushered everyone offstage as soon as the band finished the song. While it was a damn shame that the Night Crash weren't allowed to play their final show in this manner, they didn't really let it affect their performance: it was a typically impressive show, with the players showing their ability to a) change dynamics on a dime and b) remember more parts per song than most other bands would have to remember thoughout an entire set. Truly, their hardcore-technical-jazz-math-punk will be missed.

Headlining the night was Joel Saunders, joined by his new band Crazy Hearse and the Illage dancers (who also took the spotlight for a rap song of their own). This is the third time I've seen Joel play with Crazy Hearse, and personally I think it's a sizable improvement over his previous setup. With a DJ in the band (Dan of Monster Monster fame) he can still include his electronic and noise elements, but the utilization of 'real' instruments (a second guitar, keys, backing vocals, accordion and live percussion) gives things a more organic feel. Additionally, using a DJ instead of complete backing tracks gives the band the freedom to extend sections for as long as feels appropriate. It also gives the band an added safety net when things don't quite go to plan.

Things didn't seem to quite go to plan on this particular night. While the first two Crazy Hearse shows I saw lead me to believe that the days of Joel struggling with his machines were behind him (and us), there were a few times at The Zoo where things definitely fell apart - I'm not sure what the reasons for this were, as their previous Zoo show with Girl Talk was pretty rock solid. I guess it's merely a case of getting comfortable with the new setup - it's only their third show after all, and playing along with live beats is pretty hard (oh yeah, full disclosure: one of my bands has played with Joel Saunders as his backing band a couple of times, so I know how hard it is to stay in time with those beats). In any case I don't want to make it sound like it was a huge problem, at worst it was a case of waiting through an out-of-sync chorus for the band to re-orient themselves with the programmed beats, while at other times it really didn't have much of a negative impact at all. Personally I'd rather see the band put their all into their performance and perhaps go somewhat 'off' than watch them rein themselves in to play more 'professionally'. I mean hey, they may well be playing covers of Top 40 hits but there's still a lot of punk rock in their methods - it's exciting to watch a band like them play. Oh, and don't forget that they play originals too - Joel Saunders can write a SONG (see: 'Porch Song', my favourite local song of last year).

So there you have it. Two bands who chip away with consistent performances and tried-and-tested songwriting, two bands who attempt to 'bottle lightning' with shock-and-awe displays of dynamics and noise. It's a shame that in 6months time only Joel Saunders will still be playing - the others are all breaking up or relocating. But hey, reunions are all the rage these days, right?

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