Saturday, June 15, 2013
Perth-based indie swamp rock darlings The Chemist finished their nationwide album tour, Ballet in the Badlands, with a night of blues-infused psychosis, wild improvisation and bizarre cross rhythms.
The first few tracks – Silver And Gold, Heaven’s Got A Dress Code, Spray Paint Or Praise and Stripped Paint – combined interesting upbeat blues rock riffs and unusual soundscapes, with extended improvised sections from out-of-the-ordinary percussion instments (including a chain and a bucket) and drawling vocal melodies. Each of these songs had an impressive individuality to them and although the influences of artists like Nick Cave, Tom Waits, etc, could definitely be heard, they were and are individual tracks in their own right, with a distinctive and wholly unique sound to them.
At just about the time where we could take no more chain in a bucket, the band stripped it back, with frontman Ben Witt proving that he not only had a masterful blues drawl, but that knew his way around a ballad. Both December and Cold Water From A Pouring Rain (written, at Witt’s admission, four days before the gig) were stripped back and honest, with a rawness about them unheard in the bravado of the opening tracks.
Amping it back up again, the set concluded in the way that it started, in a cacophony of bluesy swampy goodness. Joining the lineup for the final few tracks – which included a cover of Young Girl by Little Willie John – was saxophonist Brett Smith, who lent a free jazz feel to the improvisations, and gave the few songs he played a much more retro vibe. The last track, Long Road Back, was probably the most conventional old school blues of the evening, with repetitive lyric structures and what can only be described as a really dirty, earthy bass riff.
What is striking about The Chemist is the overall musicianship of the outfit: their music is interesting, with unusual influences and complex rhythmic and melodic structures. They break away from standard song structures of verse and chorus, creating in their place improvised soundscapes with peculiar percussion instruments. Furthermore when they do perform songs of a more conventional structure, such as the four-day-old Cold Water From A Pouring Rain, the chord structures and melodic writing is interesting – there is not a I vi IV V in sight. This refreshing take on songwriting is genuinely exciting: I really actually want to recommend The Chemist to all of my friends.
Forever the bridesmaids and never the bride, for a long time now The Chemist have been a band that has constantly felt like they’re on the cusp of making it. Whether that time is coming now is hard to say, however it is a time long deserved. Do yourself a favour and go check them out.