It’s been a good few years for Perth heroes Methyl Ethel. Coming off the back of a slew of international shows and growing loyal fan base – evident by the scrambling for last minute tickets to Saturday’s sold out show – they kicked off their Australian tour where they started, in Perth.
The last couple of times Methyl Ethel have graced home audiences was as part of the Falls Downtown Festival in 2018, and most recently, Laneway in 2019, where they played in the later part of the afternoon. Having seen both shows, and being a bit underwhelmed despite being a huge fan, this reviewer was eager to see them in a more intimate headline show.
What a spectacle it turned out to be! Hues of aquamarine and green created an other-worldly atmosphere, while enigmatic mastermind Jake Webb did his best alien impression, dancing about on stage and gesticulating to the heavens, sometimes dropping his guitar and writhing around on the floor in a contorted trance.
And that voice! With the band occasionally taking a back seat, the acoustics of the Astor Theatre let Webb’s angelic pitch-perfect vocals rise above the din in what were some of the show’s most magical moments.
Touring their latest release and third album, Triage, the new material dominated, making up the majority of the set list. Highlights were Trip the Mains, Real Tight, Post Blue, Ruiner and What About the 37’, which sounded fantastic live. It didn’t leave much room for tracks from the earlier catalogue. Oh Inhumane Spectacle: Sweet Waste was a beautiful treat, and Twilight Driving (albeit sans sax player) was still a shining light. The highly-praised Everything Is Forgotten was mostly left till later in the set, although Hyakki Yako helped to start things off.
In an interesting choice, they went with an international support from Ada Lee (from Montreal), ahead of her upcoming debut album What We Say In Private. As a simple setup with a single electric guitar and synthesizers, the duo looked like stereotypical indie kids in mismatched 90s era wardrobe adorned with tinsel earrings and could have stumbled straight out of a cool New York City bar full of arty 20-somethings.
In contrast, her music sounded mature, hinting at influences of perhaps Patty Smith and Angel Olsen underneath. It was dark and moody, atmospheric, but somewhat hopeful, with a pinch of country twang. Unfortunately, the at-times off notes, mumbled banter and lack of real stage presence seemed to confuse the early crowd, who talked the majority of the way through the performance.
This was carried through a good portion of Methyl Ethel’s set. Whether it was the somewhat muddy sound or unfamiliarity with the new album, the constant drone of chatter rising from floor distracted from the performance.
It wasn’t until Scream Whole – three songs away from the end – that the audience seemed to finally pay attention. As the familiar synth line pushed through, the audience threw up their hands in welcome, singing and clapping along.
The dancing and great energy continued as the track morphed into Ubu, punters launching themselves onto shoulders to bring the music festival vibe. Proving that sophomore album Everything Is Forgotten is still the favourite, the show culminated with strobes and cheers for Drink Wine, a favoured closer for the band.
As the now amped audience chanted for just one more song, the gig was unceremoniously ended by the sound guy abruptly pulling out the amp, shutting off the fuzzy feedback and blasting the house music. The lack of encore was a disappointing finish considering it was a rare local headline for a band now three albums deep.
An early start with no advertised set times, and finishing before 10:30 pm on a Saturday night, meant there were a few disapproving voices as the drunken fans spilled out onto Walcott Street. Nevertheless, the consensus was strongly in favour of a great show and the feeling of having just witnessed something majestic (AF).
Photos by Alfred Gorman