4ZzZ FM's Modern Love: Hungry Kids of Hungary, Rocketsmiths, Nikko, Mass Migration @ The Zoo (30.05.09)
4ZzZ FM have been striving to improve the services that they offer recently, and as part of this push we've started to see a wider range of 4ZzZ presents shows being organised. Branching out from the usual Zeds staple of punk/ska/dub, 'Modern Love' showcased two relatively high profile local indie pop groups (Hungry Kids, Rocketsmiths) and two more reflective, artier groups (Nikko, Mass Migration).
Mass Migration started the evening in front of a still sparse audience, playing their final ever show. When I first saw Mass Migration back in 2007 I thought that their take on guitar-based post-rock (of the Mogwai / Explosions In The Sky variety) was occasionally a bit one dimensional. Over the intervening years they've improved their songwriting considerably, becoming a more layered musical act in the process. Songs like 'Green' and 'Sepia' showed a band that had gained an understanding of dynamics, and also of the power of utilising traditional song structures to move a song along ('Sepia' is pretty much a pop song, despite being instrumental). At times their live shows have been a bit inconsistent, often due to effects settings that seemed to suck the power out of the guitars when things really needed to take off - this show had few of these issues, and as a result the inherent power of the songs was allowed to come through. The two new songs the band showcased indicated that things would have improved further, with one song in the middle of the set gradually swelling in a psychedelic haze before falling away and building up to even greater heights (and volume) than before. As far as final shows go, this wasn't at all a bad one to go out on, and the gradually swelling crowd seemed to agree.
Nikko are a band that I've enjoyed live a few times, but from whom I'd not yet seen a set where everything had gelled together to provide the kind of performance I've thought them capable of. Sometimes their guitars have gone way out of tune, sometimes the vocals have been gratingly off key, and sometimes their setlists have been uneven, resulting in the set dragging by its end. This show was the first I'd experienced where everything fell into place - the guitars were all locked in together and sounding suitably immense when necessary, the set was well paced and, crucially, singer Ryan Potter's voice was sounding good (although still far from pitch-perfect, but that's part of its character). Nikko fall somewhere in between a fairly straight-up post rock band (such as Mass Migration) and more atmospheric indie rock/pop bands (like Seaplane or The Rational Academy), with songs that are usually quite stretched out but that often still contain recognisable structures and vocals. I find them to be at their best when they mix these two sides of the band together in fairly equal amounts, with Potter's drunken baritone providing a steady emotional centre while the rest of the band rises and falls around him.
Oh, and the bass player is lots of fun to watch.
For some reason I when I think of Rocketsmiths (no 'The' anymore) I tend to think of them as a band that I like well enough but of whom I'm not really a huge fan. However, when I see them live I oftentimes reconsider this opinion. On their night they really are one of the most entertaining bands in Brisbane, and their songs are packed with so many turns and hooks that it seems unfair to deny them their kudos in the songwriting department. I'm not sure what makes me continually revert to my previously mentioned stance towards them, but perhaps this show will be the one that convinces me to permanently recognise that they're damn good at what they do (that being pumping out rockabilly influenced bar-room rock suitable for getting really really drunk to). Dom Miller is an unlikely rock frontman, but by the end of a show he tends to have the vast majority of the crowd paying attention to his every drunken between-song rant. Oh, and is it just me or have Rocketsmiths really ramped up the heaviness in their songs? It seemed as though 3/4 of their set was surging ahead at full pace, with guitars swathed in masses of distortion and playing some deceptively evil sounding riffs? Many of of their songs sounded like some soundtrack to a B-grade vampire movie set in the south of the USA. That's a good thing.
For a few songs it seemed as though Hungry Kids of Hungary were going to convince me to reconsider my opinion of them, much as Rocketsmiths had done. I've not really seen the appeal of this band previously (I've generally found them to be quite bland), but with many people whose opinions I respect singing their praises it seemed as though maybe I'd missed something. Certainly, for maybe three songs I was fully ready to change my thoughts on the band - their songs were bouncy, melodic and enjoyable. I began to think that maybe these people were right, and that they really were a great indie-pop band who were (at least somewhat) deserving of the hype being thrown their way. But then... they lost me. The songs started to blur into one another, and I found myself getting bored of the band. Ultimately I left the venue thinking that while they may have a handful of quality tracks they're also not the band that certain press clips would have you believe. For now I'll lump them in with Yves Klein Blue as a well regarded pop band whom I personally don't feel have justified themselves, as opposed to vaguely similar bands like The John Steel Singers and (as of this night) Rocketsmiths.