Local legends The Kill Devil Hills returned home from a European tour this month to launch their new album Pink Fit on the salty home soil of Western Australia. The show at Badlands Bar last Saturday also boasted a wealth of local talent old and new. This made it all the more enticing for the crowd of fans that made it down to the obscure corner of the CBD, on a brilliantly mild and sunny Perth weekend that deceivingly felt like spring 2018 had shown its face for the first time.
Despite the uproarious crowds clamouring around the outdoor heaters, it was relatively subdued inside as Leah Grant opened the bill. It did seem, however, that for those laced around the exterior of the indoor room it was something they were glad they didn’t miss. Grant serenaded the audience with a fragile yet wholesomely rich voice that wavered over the tones of her electric guitar. There were moments it was reminiscent of seeing Angel Olsen standing in the same place a couple of years ago, with breathtaking vibrato vocals blending elements of country and folk with gripping sincerity. The chords were simplistic with a capo providing most of the key changes between songs, and there wasn’t so much of a riff in sight but it allowed her voice to be the main attraction. Having said that, it was hard not to imagine just how good the songs would sound with the elements that a full band can bring. Add a bit of slide guitar, some harmonies and a bass-line, and you have yourself a killer act that would be headlining shows like this in the future.
Next up was Denise le Menice. It was exciting to see the first performance from Ali Flintoff’s new project – Flintoff has made waves in recent years fronting popular local acts Dream Rimmy and Boat Show. It was fairly clear from the outset though, that the jangly five piece didn’t exactly have their live set settled into a groove just yet. The songs themselves were great, the catchy shoegaze guitar hooks rich with dreamy chorus and character. However, there was a little too much of members looking and shrugging at each other apologetically and following Ali’s lead. It was still beyond a pass mark for a first ever show and there were definitely the ingredients there for them to be a great live band with a bit more time playing together in the future.
Maurice Flavel’s Intensive Care were up next and you could tell they were a band that has really found their element as a seasoned outfit. There is something engrossing about the band with their cryptic and hard-hitting lyrics over effortless and energetic musicianship. In an age where every kid is trying to make their pedal board look like the dashboard of the starship enterprise, there is something truly ballsy and reverential about a guitarist that just backs themself and plugs straight into a modestly sized amp, letting their knowledge and nous shoulder the load.
Their songs channeled that sound that is somehow warm and dark at the same time, with shades of The Triffids and Nick Cave. That the band would stop dead just to let Maurice Flavel pronounce a line a little more emphatically showed maturity and poise. Not to mention on the keys the ability to use a double decker of Roland and rein in the beast that is a Gaia synthesiser to fit neatly into the mix was pure maverick expertise. They closed out the set with probably their best track, repeating the line “If you want to move a mountain, move it yourself” with Paige McNaught (of the Paige McNaught Experience) on the backing vocals, lifting the song to an intoxicating cult-like chant in the realm of Tropical Fuck Storm and Arcade Fire.
The homely and irreverent nature of The Kill Devil Hills was apparent from the first moments as they warmly gestured a “cheers cunts” to the audience awaiting their arrival onto the stage. It didn’t take long for the band (or the crowd) to settle into the tempo and disposition that they were here to provide. Right from the first tracks their clean yet rustic harmonies coupled perfectly with the tones of Alex Archer’s battle-worn violin, while the light flayed off its neck with resigned strings frazzled off the head like a troll doll. The multi-pronged guitar display was both commanding and nonchalant, with the Dux brothers never missing a beat. Frontman Brendon Humphries dedicated their song Ghost Story to the Liberal party, which was a perfect way to sum up a tumultuous week and emphasise how the character of the group coloured the show almost as much as the music did.
Timothy Nelson was clearly considered about his choice of tones on the Nord keyboard, not being drawn into the wealth of sounds that could have disrupted the earthy and timeless sound of the band as a whole. He opted for Rhodes style in stripped back parts, with a bit of tremolo thrown in to add a fresh dynamic while also complimenting the songs flawlessly with his contribution of starkly clean higher octave harmonies. The Kill Devil Hills delved through a variety of moods and methods without ever sounding like they were outside of their natural habitat. From songs that ranged from the sensual groove of Timber Timbre to a cover of one of Perth’s most criminally underrated songwriters Kevin Smith, there was depth in the music that only felt enhanced by the fact they clearly looked like they’d done shows as well as this enough times before to not be too circumspect about it all.
They followed with You’ll Never Die In This Town Again which featured a cameo on the saxophone and Humphries’ quivering drawl at its best. They also played new song Helsinki off their recently released LP Pink Fit which shows the catalogue of the group continues to grow not just in number but also in quality.
The Kill Devil Hills simply sound like a band should, but it is still hard to explain what makes it so special. When they all took it back a notch to harmonise crowd favourite (and admittedly still their musical high watermark) Lucy On All Fours The Kill Devil Hills had the audience immersed and somehow well past midnight still keen for more. It was a great line up even from the early evening and those that caught the full line up of acts hitting the stage on the night had plenty to go home with.
Photos by Jenny Gaunt