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In The Pines

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Photos By Rachael Barrett     

Somerville Auditorium, UWA
Sunday, April 20, 2014

Another year, another convocation of fantastic Perth bands beneath the shady boughs of the titular trees. It’s like a family reunion, with RTR’s avuncular Peter Barr holding court in between acts and countless kids, ears safely clamped by those ubiquitous headphones, ducking around the legs of seasoned punters. It always feels good to be back.

Following Welcome To Country, the dreamy, delicate yet full-spirited Golden String kicked off proceedings, keys and violins anchored by a strong sense of rhythm. Lead singer Mai certainly took the old adage to dance like no one is watching literally and to charming effect.

With lead singer Moana Lutton resplendant in a kind of diaphanous, fur-fringed, electric blue housecoat and the rest of the band looking like they’d just survived a gas explosion in a Commedia Dell’arte troupe’s dressing room, Moana set the fashion bar impossibly high. They’re a mesmerising live presence, closer at times to freeform poetry, always with a tinge of darkness beneath the ethereal otherworldliness. Hypnotic like a snake about to strike, there’s an ever-present edge that lends their music some much needed weight to counter their sometimes indulgent experimentalism.

It was time for a change of pace, and who better than Pat Chow to bring some noise and tempo to the proceedings? Balancing sound a fury with carefully constructed melodies, the three piece dropped a tight and terrific set on the crowd, struggling manfully through a couple of – admittedly minor – sound issues.

Then a swing back to the avant garde with Mudlark. The experimental two piece drew an appreciative crowd, weaving a sweeping, swooping soundscape that skipped lightly from genre to genre, nimbly dodging even the broadest possible categorisation.

We dashed back to the noisier end of the spectrum with Leeches. The no-nonsense, no-holds-barred power punk trio delivered a blitzkrieg set. The self-proclaimed Lords Of Dullsville are clearly influenced by The Hard-Ons (Ray Ahn actually did the artwork for their album) but that’s no bad thing, especially when the results are this good.

Mt. Mountain explored the darker side of psychedelia, carving a slow, twisted groove through the middle of the day. Their music is the soundtrack to the tail end of a bad trip (don’t eat the brown Chupa-Chup?), spaced-out and surreal but still somehow intricately constructed, and the crowd drank it in.

Perth indie veteran Bill Darby gave us a rock solid half-hour built around incredibly melodic guitar riffs and complemented by precise electronic flourishes, which flowed quite nicely into the beautiful, primal soundscapes constructed by voiceless rock orchestra, Antelope, who eschew the focus provided by a vocalist in order to facilitate the birth of intricate worlds of sound and emotion.

If there’s such a thing as classical indie, then The Community Chest are its finest local exponents. Bandleader Adem K welds together a diverse range of influences, marrying rocky guitar to bold synthwork to create the kind of instantly familiar songs you could swear you first heard on a mixtape you swiped off an older sibling back in ‘95.

Having just returned from touring America, where their South By South West showcase was cancelled at the last minute, Flower Drums book ended the dream pop chapter. As Perth people were released from their Easter Sunday lunches, the crowd swelled and the Drums’ Birthday Girl took our hands, leading us through the pines and into nirvana.

Runner, a five-piece who play ambient shoe gaze, are tipped to release their debut album Cloud Kingdom any day now. Two singles have already been released, Spooking and Islands. After their set, which was perfect for a lazy Sunday afternoon with your buddies, we are begging them to release the goods.

Dianas are dream pop at its absolute finest, and Perth clearly agrees. People ran to watch vocalists and guitarists; Nathalie Pavlovic and Caitlin Moloney urged them to chill to meditative melodies Weightless and Origami.

Night had well and truly fallen when The High Learys took to the stage. It did suit them; there’s a darkened club feel to what they do, all that was needed was go-go dancers and we would have been set. Playing a good deal of their excellent Here Come The High Learys album of last year, it’s clear they have a dedication to ‘60s R&B style and craft, but their songwriting nous makes it appeal to a more general audience as it was here at In The Pines, than the devoted following they pull at smaller headline shows. That must be encouraging for the band, for while their look and sound might scream ‘60s at you, good music is always now. It seemed like the perfect birthday celebration for singer/bassist, Jamie Turner, too.

Speaking of screaming, some oafish malcontent (no, not Peter Barr) howled some hobo-like introduction for Scalphunter, who took to the stage and owned UWA campus for the next half hour. Led by the impressive stage presence of Steven Knoth, Scalphunter’s sound will tear your head off, but the band themselves would be the first to offer you a hand to help you off the floor. The whole band are excellent rock’n’roll showmen, the ambition is clear but not more so than their pure love of rockin’ out. They celebrated the recruitment of one Aarom Wilson as their new manager and it looks clear to be beers, volume and goodness to come.

The Morning Night were up next and display a consummate way with thought-provoking lyrics and melody, in spite of still-young years. That said, singer/guitarist, Adrian Hoffmann, is already something of a veteran and the mind boggles somewhat as to how much still lays before him. Stories were told, moods and memories conveyed, in a manner that recalls Hoffmann’s beloved Triffids but only by way of tipping his hat. The Morning Night were a counter-point to Scalphunter’s all-out assault and the fact the two could follow each other with an audience still enraptured says lots about both bands and everything about In The Pines.

The Floors are just an astounding band in any context but within this study of nature were an absolute force. Brothers-in-arms for a decade now, the trio have played their way into this blues-and-bruised beast. The rhythm section of Ryan Dux and Ash Doodkorte, weaving slow-burning, molten metal shapes across the (otherwise quietly-spoken) Luke Dux’s primal vocal movements and Gibson SG played like a virtuoso with hammers as fingers. From loud to lilt once again, Gunns impressed with a melodic set that had all kinds of gaze about it (except shoegaze, as guitarist Hamish Rahn’s socks-and-flip-flops foot combo should not be seen again). It’s hard playing a subtle set after such a bludgeoning, but Gunns stuck to their er, guns, and their way with songs, from the garage to the shore, appealed to their following here and surely won them a few more fans.

DM3 played their first big show since a European tour in 2013 and revelled in the circumstance. Vocalist/guitarist, Dom Mariani, was joined in this line-up by Toni Italiano (bass), Pascal Bartolone (drums) and guitarist, Killian Albrecht, who was in the band originally, at… well let’s face it, the turn of the century. Mariani’s different bands (Stems, Majestic Kelp, Domnicks etc) each swing into a niche of his musical heart, and DM3 are the power pop soul of it all. Some of these songs date back now 20 years and were perfect strangers to many – but you can’t stop good songs and great melodies played with excellence and pop precision. Irresistible!

The Kill Devil Hills are veterans of this Pines business, whether turning up or not (sorry, long memory – BG). In many ways they are our Bad Seeds – evocative, charming and a little bit menacing. That’s not to say the singer/guitarist, Brendon Humphries is Nick Cave, he is and has always been his own entity. But there’s something about the newer, ethereal KDH tunes that have a similar attraction to Cave’s Push The Sky Away album – heavy music played softly with strong hands. How can you look away? All hail the resurrection.

What’s amazing about In The Pines is that, for all the diverse, incredible talent on display each and every year, it barely scratches the surface of Perth’s live music scene. As a sampler, it’s beyond reproach, but the best message any punter can take way from this annual paean to pop is to get out amongst it – we really are lucky to have musicians of this calibre on hand.

BOB GORDON, TRAVIS JOHNSON AND MERRAN REED