Smol Fish @ Barbes
w/ Nika Mo, Airline Food, Medium Well and Hec
Wednesday, December 16, 2020
Hitting the town mid-week, particularly after numerous gigless months, felt odd to say the least. Strolling up to Barbes for Smol Fish’s single launch, you could feel the excitement bubbling under the surface for what was to be an impressive evening.
Observing Barbes for the first time, the venue had a small interior but extended out nicely to a generous courtyard. Vintage light fixtures hung on exposed brick walls, and a disco ball in the centre of the ceiling sparkled its light across the room. The band had painstakingly attached cute paper fish garlands all along the stage, and the merch table was already up and running; most notably selling their very own line of granny undies.
The DJs provided an abundance of pleasant tunes from their place at the side of the stage, with a noticeable 70s influence in a lot of the tracks, bringing to mind lazy days on the beach or casual nights at a wine bar. They were not so much danceable, but the downtempo feel was the perfect addition to a room of punters milling around and chatting.
Nika Mo was the first artist to take to the stage, accompanied by her equally talented band. Having seen her live a handful of times before it has been noticeable how she leaves audiences awestruck and moved – and tonight was no exception. Although the setlist seemed to be mostly composed of less familiar newer tracks, her signature emotive flair shone through, and the addition of violin and sax added another layer of complexity and complemented her sweet, clear voice.
This clarity was especially important in her lyricism, with lines like “everything changed when you moved to Claremont – it’s a dangerous place” and its accompanying monologue along the lines of “everyone wears vests, there’s not one person there who doesn’t wear a vest”.
After a brief interval and an extremely bassy warm-up, Airline Food got stuck into their set. Their psychedelic influences were immediately apparent, bringing to mind the music of both 70s pioneers like Hendrix and more modern incarnations like Tame Impala. Their use of electronic instruments like the drum machine and synth were a welcome departure from the usual analogue-based shows you often see.
Unlike Nika Mo’s set where the vocals demanded your attention, it was the instrumentation of Airline Food and the danceability of their tracks that drew you in. As they concluded their set with a super smooth slow jam, it was no surprise why they’ve become such a loved band in the Perth indie scene.
Smol Fish describe their music online as “cute and upbeat, expressing themes of love, loneliness, naivety, friendship and the mundane struggles of everyday life” and this description did not let anyone down. The quartet sprung into action around a quarter to eleven, gracing us with a polished set that was worth the wait.
Smol Fish are another one of those bands where the singer’s voice is immediately gripping. Effortlessly lovely with an endearing Aussie twang, it brought to mind the likes of Stella Donnelly.
The glockenspiel was used in parts and made for a neat addition, reminiscent of the good old days of primary school music class. There was plenty to be enjoyed in the lyrics too, particularly in comparing someone with a lemon, with the backhanded “sorry you’re so damn sour”.
The new single Cry All The Time went down a treat despite being quite the sombre tune. Its personal lyrics about one’s own overwhelmed emotional state was hard-hitting and honest. The track pieced together a pleasing mix of musical motifs; including spacey retro synth bits, clean guitar and slow drums.
It was particularly refreshing to see an all-girls band lead a show; something that is still unfortunately too much of a rarity. Women continue to lead the charge with some of the most incredible music and you only have to look at some of the most acclaimed albums of 2020 to see this in action. Kudos to Barbes, the talented bands and everyone working behind the scenes to make this a such wonderful evening.
Photos by Keith Mitchell