WAM Saturday Spectacular: X-Press Launch

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Saturday, November 9, 2013

Well, it was certainly a beautiful day for it, with a bright blue cloudless sky arcing over a day redolent with the first heat of summer.

Five-piece garage rock outfit Apache were the first round to be chambered, tasked with warming what was, pretty much inevitably, a thin crowd at the 1pm kick-off time. Still, they gave it their all, with lead singer Timothy Gordon leaping and lurching around the stage as though he were in front of a crowd of hundreds – or in the privacy of his own bedroom, whichever you prefer. Apache certainly play better in a cramped club than a sparsely populated outdoor venue, but that’s not to say they didn’t play well, much to the appreciation of the initial crowd and more than a few slightly puzzled passersby.

Tired Lion followed and, in a similar vein, refused to let the lethargic energy of the hot afternoon set the pace. Singer/guitarist Sophie Hopes exhorted the audience to ‘Come up close and get sweaty with us!’ as they powered through an impressively tight set. Tired Lion do not sound like they look; if your only exposure to the band is their publicity photos where each band member cradles a cat, you could be forgiven for imagining them to be much more twee than they are in actuality. Live, they channel a lot of ‘90s-style indie-rock aggression, with Hopes’ little-girl-lost vocals nicely contrasting with the driving instrumentation.
Perhaps it was an odd choice to slot in an instrumental act after two fairly energetic indie-pop bands, but it worked a treat. Antelope don’t so much play songs as build sprawling, eerily deep soundscapes, layering traditional instrumentation with loops and samples to build up a strange but magnetic wall of sound. In practical terms, it resulted in a pretty unique background against which to medicate oneself against the by now quite harsh afternoon heat.

The sun was still high in the sky as Foam stepped to the stage. Packing an interesting, grungy aesthetic, a metallic edged tone hit hard even as the wind threatened to carry the sound away. While the lead singer and guitarist Joel Martin claimed that his voice may have taken on the characteristics of a bag of dogs, it’s harsh and wailing texture was a perfect fit for the band’s noise rock hybrid style. Cacophonous waves of feedback and hard, raucous guitars made way for some awesome melodic heaviness, proving that the three-piece that makes up Foam possess some solid songwriting ability. While there were times when the set seemed somewhat loose and lopsided with uneven vocal rhythms splashed out over the walls of sound, this seemed to be their intention and a decent crowd was held for the full course of the set.

The sweet and organic music of Husband was next to fill the amphitheatre with its lushness. Their seven-piece set up was well controlled and tempered with each instrument sitting perfectly in its place. Exponents of a relaxing and mellow approach, lead by the powerful masculine vocals of Michael Paolino, Husband’s offering was perfect for this time of the day with the sun still beating down mercilessly. The addition of a piano, sometimes swapped for a piano accordion, accompanied by a rustic and self proclaimed Americana style, inspired a thoughtful mood for the early parts of the set. As things progressed, overdriven guitars and a fuzzed out bass picked up the pace and really got toes tapping. Overall, this was a beautiful and nostalgia inspiring experience.

44th Sunset hit the stage next with their good time rock style. While certainly proficient musicians, the music was unfortunately a bit dry and the compositions often generic. While the intention was there, along with a decently energetic stage presence, there was a certain depth of experience lacking in the performance. A few attempts at coarse, scream type vocals were definitely out of place and didn’t suit their overall sound. Having said this, at the peak of their performance, a clean and friendly style was accompanied by clean and honest vocals. Despite their best efforts, there was also a moment of somewhat awkward crowd interaction as the lead man put down his guitar and wobbled over to a member of the pushed back audience and attempted some sort of jig. It will certainly be interesting to see this band again as time goes on.

The delightful Sugarpuss kept the ball rolling on the X-Press Launch Stage with their youthful exuberance. Sugarpuss really do have something special and they express a deep emotional awareness without over the top sappiness. The lead singer’s voice is truly something else, capable of hitting amazing high notes with perfect precision. Theirs is a well metered energy and each song encompasses a creative edge, eschewing the regulations of any particular scene’s sphere of influence. The build ups and drops were well formed and suspenseful and beneath their fun sound lay a mature understanding of structure and composition. An honourable mention goes to their hairstyles which are arguably some of the best in the industry. This was the perfect summer time music, as these talented lads moved seamlessly from clean guitar sounds and bright synths to heavy, body rocking guitar tones.

Sugar Army are all too rarely seen these days (unless you’ve managed to catch Deaf Boys, their three-piece configuration that features Pat McLaughlin on Sting-like bass/vocals). This set proved what a fine vehicle they are, with a four-to-the-floor set of tunes from both their albums, plus some newer missives, there is no substitute for class and their 8pm slot meant some uphill work was in-store for the following bands. Keep a look out for Sugar Army, they may have been quiet of late but they certainly haven’t gone away.
Sons Of Rico turned in a pearler; they’ve had a fine year and are ending it off in finery with a new single, Against The Grain, and some tour dates. Given Saturday’s performance, you’d be well advised to hunt them down, as their sweetness is all delish with crunch. Singer/guitartist Alex MacRae’s voice soars through masculine/feminine climes, dancing with and bumping against the melodies.

The home straight was set for Emperors and they burst out the gate, immediately taking the by this stage well-loosened crowd giving them what Saturday night in the city should be all about. Some bass amp problems interrupted the momentum for a short time, with self-conscious banter filling in for a time, but the band’s unrelenting pop/grunge won through and importantly left the punters wanting more. Some wandered off to the after-parties at The Bakery and Geisha; others wondered where home was. All would have agreed, it was a spectacular Saturday.


Photography by Rachael Barrett

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