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PICS: George Maple | Manning Bar, Sydney

All snaps by Brayden Smith AKA. BCS Imaging.

Blur

REVIEW: Blur | Perth Arena, Perth

Blur

Photo: Duncan Barnes

The 2008 reformation of English alt-rock heavyweights Blur never registered as a notably realistic prospect in the years preceding their lengthy hiatus. Be it other musical ventures, political leanings or (if you are Alex James) cheese making, the band were pursuing life outside of Blur, not to mention the members continually drumming home that there were no plans for Blur to reunite. My my, how things can change over time. Fast forward to 2015, and a world tour for the band’s latest offering The Magic Whip is in full swing. Perth Arena was buzzing upon arrival, and rightfully so. This Australian tour marks 18 years since the four piece have visited our shores. That is an awfully long time between drinks.

The night’s aperitif came in the form of Jamie T and his wonderful band. The five piece played a tight set and complimented one another to a (pardon the pun) T. It is worth mentioning that while T’s recorded material is impressive, his range as a musician in a live setting is truly where he shines. Set opener Limits Lie and 368 were especially good: the former a brooding indie rock anthem, the latter showcasing T’s freestyle skills, coupled with a soaring chorus. The catchy Rabbit Hole and a blistering paced Zombie closed the support slot in rather energetic fashion. Hats off to you, Jamie.

Emerging on stage to a riotous applause and following a number of short ice cream van jingles, the extended band including a brass section, four backup singers, and a percussionist, launched straight into Go Out. Frontman Damon Albarn paced the stage with a calm swagger, high fiving plenty of patrons in the process, while the rest of the band commanded on stage. Older track There’s No Other Way saw one of many huge singalongs for the evening, as well as Albarn sporadically jumping around like a mad man.

Throughout the duration of the band’s set, it appeared a rather difficult feat for Albarn to stay in the same vicinity for an extended period of time. He ventured off the stage and into the crowd a number of times, and he was very liberal when it came to sharing water with the front few rows. Stay hydrated, kids! Albarn’s band members were a bit more subdued however. Guitarist Graham Coxon thrashed about a few times, bassist James was content to groove along and Dave Rowntree kept perfect time behind the skins. Blur may not look the part, but they are rock stars in their own right. They know their craft, and they know it well.

The grungy Coffee & TV utilised the backup singers to perfection in an extended harmonious choral outro, while Tender’s country twang and lyrical content of love lost had the entire Arena swaying and singing with all of their hearts. For the swinging track Parklife, Albarn invited a number of people from the crowd on stage who he stated “looked like they were from 1994”. While the group clicked photos on their phones, one geezer who sounded suspiciously similar to Phil Daniels, assisted on vocal duties, and he did a damn fine job. The crowd were also in pitch perfect form, reciting each line with precision. Once the madness quelled, Rowntree pounded out the unmistakable drumbeat for Song 2, which garnered mild hysterics from the audience. Hearing “woo hoo!” shouted in unison from the thousands of fans was something for the ages. As the main set drew to a close, the band carried out the standard encore shtick. Entering the stage for the rollicking Girls & Boys, the bouncy For Tomorrow, and closing out with the emotional gut punch of The Universal was the perfect end to a fantastic night of good vibes, singalongs and plenty of nostalgia.

Albarn and co have devised a very even spread of old and new tracks into their set list, and despite the non-immediacy and sometimes more mellow nature of the The Magic Whip, its inclusion into the set doesn’t feel forced. Considering how diverse Blur’s back catalogue is, it is somewhat surprising that their set list flowed as well as it did. The show was a breathtaking reminder of how a band can reinvent themselves album after album without fault, all the while remaining absolutely relevant. A true testament to one of the class acts of the past near on 30 years. 

REVIEW + PICS: Mark Ronson + Friends | Hordern Pavilion, Sydney

There were two types of people present on Tuesday night at the Horden Pavilion – those who had been to Splendour in the Grass and those who hadn’t. The divide was clear as day, with the former having glazed over eyeballs and the latter flouncing about with Captain Morgans cans in each hand. Here at the interns we fell into the category of “just arrived home and can barely move our limbs” but there’s not a thing in this world that would make us willingly miss the legend himself, Mark Ronson.

It’s difficult to write anything eloquent about the Uptown Special live show because it kind of leaves you speechless. With a plethora of special guests constantly bounding on and off stage, a killer horn section and enough visual delights to keep your head swimming, there really isn’t time to stop and think. It’s immediately apparent however that Ronson’s impeccable taste and genius floods straight into his performances and not just his production. The set covered all the big numbers of Uptown Special and also the favourites from Ronson’s back catalogue too.

It was heart-warming to see a bunch of incredibly talented Aussie musicians taking up some serious stage time, with the crowd going absolutely bat-shit insane upon Kevin Parker’s arrival. Leaving Los Feliz was the clear highlight of the evening where Ronson, Parker and Callinan (Kirin J) combined star power for a crazy guitar-off. Callinan ultimately stole the moment with his effortless onstage swagger and general bad-assery and it was all too easy to see why Ronson wanted him to play on the album so badly.

Special mention must also be made to the ever charismatic Andrew Wyatt (of Miike Snow fame) who delivered his vocals smooth as honey, much to the delight of the “woo” girls to my left.

In a tender moment Ronson dedicated their performance of Valerie to the late Amy Winehouse whilst also explaining that it just didn’t feel right to get anybody else to sing the song so opting instead to play out Winehouse’s original vocal recordings, it felt like a perfect ending but of course things weren’t over until the whole crowd was screaming along to current smash hit and unstoppable juggernaut, Uptown Funk. And when we could no longer funk things up, each guest and band member took to the front of the stage for a final bow while no doubt every audience member was thinking the same thing, “#Squadgoals”.

Photos By Brayden Smith

TheWombats

REVIEW: The Wombats + Circa Waves | Margaret Court, Melbourne

Photo By Gwendolyn Lee / The AU Review

Photo By Gwendolyn Lee / The AU Review

New drinking game, stand in line for The Wombats and take a shot every time you hear the word ‘splendour’, you’ll be fucked before doors open. Obviously the crowd was still running on leftover festival vibes. A shameless eavesdropper, most of the conversations I listened in on consisted of comparisons between acts seen, and the quality of The Wombats own set. For an all ages gig, the drinks were aplenty and punters were perhaps too eager, with two medics being sent into the GA area before the show had even begun. It’s the kind of exhilaration you only catch at post-festival shows.

Support act Circa Waves mirrored the audience’s energy to a T the moment they took the stage. High energy feels like an understatement in describing their set, they had the arena thriving at less than quarter capacity.
Hits off their debut album, Young Chasers, were warmly received by the crowd, most notably So Long Fossils, which prompted an emotive sing along out of the audience. They eclipsed their set with T Shirt Weather, a song that had even myself, an avid winter fan longing for summer.

If there’s a better support act that The Wombats could have selected from the Splendour line-up, I certainly can’t think of them. The band was the ideal warm up, the audience even screaming ‘No!’, upon the closure of the bands short, but sweet set.

In the interim between the two sets, I was concerned that the switch over from The Palais Theatre to the considerably larger, and less intimate Margaret Court Arena bode bad news for The Wombats. The venue wasn’t empty, but there was plenty of space to be filled. My concerns were quashed as soon as I came back to my seat however, thousands of late arrivals had taken their place, and the show looked close to a sell out.

The last time I visited Margaret Court was for Demi Lovato (not by my own will, I assure you), and the audience tonight was triple the size it was for the Disney starlet. The feeling of ridiculous enthusiasm from punters was felt all through the arena, and the moment The Wombats took their place on the stage, a collective scream of joy ensued, and continued for the duration of their set. I had high expectations for the band, expectations that were met and exceeded within minutes.

Your Body Is a Weapon felt a fitting opener, picking right up from where Circa Waves left off. Their high pace and stupendous energy didn’t cease, not once, throughout the entire hour and a half. Creative interludes between songs allowed for not one boring moment, and as Matthew Murphy cried that ‘I’ve just had the craziest week’, in Moving To New York it was almost as though the crowd was nodding in agreement.

The love between artists and audience was felt by all, drummer Dan Haggis noted that Australia was like ‘a home away from home’, a statement Murphy later reiterated, ‘we should probably move here or something, it’s where brunch is the best meal of the day’.

The highlight of the night, at least for me, was surprisingly not the celebrated Joy Division, but Little Miss Pipedream. Fans held up their iPhone flashlights and lighters, while Murphy sung his heart out, it was a touching few minutes.
The time that we had with The Wombats felt like mere moments, an encore was inevitable. The band took off again with a cry of ‘why the fuck not’, and finishing off the night with a round of Emoticons, the never disappointing Joy Division and a surprising, but wholly enjoyable take on Killing in The Name Of.

If you missed out, there’s no need to stress, as Murphy proudly announced, ‘according to my inbox, we’re gonna be back a lot sooner than you think’. I know I’ll be there.

Photo by Gwendolyn Lee / The AU Review

REVIEW + PICS: Azealia Banks | Prince Bandroom, Melbourne

Yung Rapunxel, Miss Bank$ or Azealia Banks draws a strange kind of crowd. Everyone from hipsters to hardcore rap fans are here, but they’re splintered among Azealia devotees who have been waiting for her to return to Australia since her rather brief appearance two years ago.

Before Banks, Ivan Ooze bounces onto stage – literally – with Shadez Daddie in tow. They’re an unlikely Mario and Luigi type pair – one is entirely in white overalls and the other in black. Ooze, who bears more than a passing resemblance to Allday, fiercely spits out his rhymes while Daddie bounces and backflips, to the delight of the crowd.

The bouncer informs me Banks should be on stage by 9:40, but no such luck. Crew swarm the stage, fixing up microphones and wiping out a song from the set list, while the crowd grows more restless. Eventually, some punters begin chanting “Azealia” while a few half-heartedly shout “Iggy” or “Igloo” instead, hoping to provoke her onto stage. Thankfully, before the crowd can revolt or riot, her backing band appears. DJ Cosmo starts the opening bars of Idle Delilah before Miss Bank$ herself storms on stage with three backup dancers, who sporadically prance back off and onto stage throughout the set. Dressed all in black, they’re not meant to be conspicuous – they’re just mirroring Banks’ moves, or to function as a montage while she raps her way through the first three songs of her debut album in order.

Yet, the crowd appears more interested in touching her hand and splashing their drinks to the pumping bass than actually hearing the subtleties in her songs, which draw from jazz, electronica and more. She whips through songs without too much bantering, and doesn’t leave much time for the crowd to respond to anything she says, moving promptly from one track to the next. Later, she hops in sync with her backing dancers, slaying both the choreography and the complex rhymes. Unfortunately, the lyrics, the centrepiece of many of her tracks, are difficult to make out because the bass and drums are turned up to dizzying heights. Her set resembles that of an underground club night DJ more than it does that of a critically acclaimed hip-hop artist – the balance between her vocals and the backing band was sorely misplaced.

Banks knows what she’s doing – the rhymes, the rhythm and the moves. She may be courting critical acclaim, but her shows are purely for a good time. It’s not as intricate or serious as her debut or mixtapes, which are flawless in their samples, loops and lyrics but she still manages to slay.

REVIEW + PICS: MS MR | 170 Russell, Melbourne

MS MR – otherwise known as Lizzy Plapinger and Max Hershenow, the odd-couple of indie pop – return to Melbourne at 170 Russell, formerly the sticky-floored party animal of Russell St, Billboards. Actually the floor is still sticky, which makes it hard to bounce to MS MR’s hardcore pop anthems.

Tigertown and George Maple, both promising local acts, welcome the jittery crowd who are visibly impatient for MS MR’s set. Tigertown panders infectious pop melodies with a harder rock edge, while Maple, backed by Touch Sensitive and Julian Sudek, draws in the crowd with her sultry hip-hop-inspired tunes.

Plapinger is the centrepiece of this disco pop duo – while she takes centre stage, her Mister sways in the shadows on the keys, joining her only for brief dance interludes. The lyrics, laced with dark and twisty elements, are constructed around anthemic truisms like “how does it feel” and “I just wanna be a criminal with you”. Hershenow didn’t have to try too hard to convince the crowd to sing along – the crowd rose to the occasion as they presented, for the first time, the live versions of their latest tracks.

The energy behind this act, Plapinger is equal parts spasm and grace. The pink flame-haired heroine behind the soaring vocals – often compared to Florence Welch – is destined to become an icon of stage antics, arriving with ladybug pom poms and fiercely dancing her way through all but the slowest songs. During these slower ballads, MS MR tends to wobble and lose momentum – they are at their best (and most powerful) when they’re bringing the crowd to their feet with their disco pop anthems like Painted.

Hershenow is trapped behind the keyboard but he could venture into the spotlight more often. After all, it’s MS and MR, and we’d like to see more of the latter. He grooves behind the keys, leaving the crowd to focus on his better half, matching her voice with pulsating electronic pop. They’re well-matched, save for the bass and drums’ propensity to dwarf the strength of Plapinger’s voice.

Catch MS and her MR at Splendour on Sunday, where they’ll be reviving the crowd with their new album, How Does It Feel.

Read our review of How Does It Feel here.

REVIEW + PICS: Golden Features | The Metro Theatre, Sydney

Temperatures may have been shatteringly low but the Metro theatre was already a sweatbox upon arrival last Friday night. Golden Features is on an absolute roll right now. Winner of In The Mix’s Breakthrough artist of the year, a new EP that is dominating the Spotify play count and a virtually sold out Australian tour. Seems an awful lot to achieve in such a short space of time, the bar has been set high and it’s almost time to see what all the hype is about.

First things first – one cannot stress the importance of a cloakroom on a night like this (ladies, they do exist. Please wear a jacket when you go out, we promise you can discard them at the door to show off your bralet and shorty short set). After shedding about eighty layers of protective warmth we delve into the crowd to await the arrival of Golden Features and within about 20 seconds I am covered in perspiration however at this point I’m not sure it’s mine.

Catching the last few tracks from The M Machine, the crowd were sufficiently warmed up (mentally and physically) for the headline act. The stage blacks out and you can hear the telltale signs of about 5 smoke machines working on overdrive. As our young faceless friend takes the stage the crowd emits a pleading roar and I hear a girl behind me scream, “YAS I AM SO READY”.

Whatever the hype is, within the first ten minutes Golden Features proves it’s well deserved. Connecting with a crowd when you’re divided by a large piece of fibreglass clamped to your face must be no easy task and yet the young producer takes it all in his stride. There is fist pumping galore and a lot of side to side arm waving but it’s all incredibly endearing and not in the slightest bit forced.

Golden Features delivers his signature blend of pulsating dark EDM and atmospheric Aussie-Electro (It’s a thing guys). The set showcases the new EP amidst some trap bangers and a little head-nod to his mate Porter Robinson. The set seems to be driven by an underlying bass that resonates through your very core and tugs punters along to the beat of the song. As tracks began to blur together it became clear that Golden Features was REALLY good at his job, which was making us all have too much fun that we forgot where we were. Before anybody was ready the young producer stepped down from the decks and disappeared momentarily while the crowed howled for his resurgence. Golden Features delivered.

As what felt like a real treat for everybody at the Metro, the mask was lowered and Golden Features (usually silent) grabbed the microphone to give a heartfelt thanks to his loyal crowd, obviously feeling all of the hometown love it was special to see the giant smile spread across the producer’s face as he smashed out a final goodbye track, mask-free and just as sweaty as the rest of us.

Golden Features will be appearing at Listen Out later on this year, make this the first set you lock in for the day or forever regret your terrible life choices.

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