Drifting into an open-ended evening in Northbridge: it’s been a while, and it’s a happy prospect. For a while I just walk, breathing in the dusk; I descend into Joe’s Juice Joint and spend ages eating the free peanuts, sipping rum and playing the Metallica and Elvis pinball; I skip over to Beaufort Street and try the Perth Draught on tap; I do a lap of Chinatown. Soon I’m at The Bird, old faithful, where although the advertised headliner has sadly had to withdraw from the night’s proceedings, an auspicious local lineup lies in wait.
The waxing moon ushers in GOLDEN STRING, an act that seems to be perennially just right and yet – paradoxically – ever-improving. This is the first time I’ve witnessed the project in its latest incarnation, a duo mode featuring mastermind Mai Barnes alongside local violin veteran Hayley Jane-Ayres, and while every Golden String set I’ve caught has been great, there’s something uniquely special at work here: a certain creative chemistry between the two performers that’s palpable. It’s thrillingly evident in the dynamic shifts and harmonic wanderings, the kinds of deft particularities that characterize Barnes’ songs. Each musician loops their respective instruments, building up parallel coils of warm resonance and euphony; and be it via technical nous or immaculate co-ordination, their loops play out perfectly in tandem. Barnes enacts an impressive choreography (as in, excellent marionette-like dance moves) while unfurling a set that, interestingly, seems more atmospheric than it is song-driven in the traditional sense. Whatever these observances mean for Golden String in the long term, they make for a spellbinding set here and now.
DAVID CRAFT now has the taxing task of not only following GOLDEN STRING but also effectively replacing Mary Ocher, the would-be headliner for tonight, who’d come all the way from Russia (via her haunt in Berlin) only to have her tour compromised by the immigration department. That’s a darn shame and a daunting void to fill, but Craft is the kind of performer who seems invariably unfazed and ready to play at a moment’s notice. That nonchalant dedication is evident in his songs which – from opener ‘Human Stain’ to the pensive, swelling ‘David’s Dead’ – are intricately constructed but tend to smirk or ache or sigh only in the most offhand, shrugging sorts of ways. In some artists it might seem like a foil, a means of hedging one’s bets and tempering raw emotions. With Craft it seems like just another facet of honesty – yes, he has lots of Feelings; no, he doesn’t owe us songs that lay those Feelings out in an unmediated, personality-eschewing way. New jangler ‘Melting Into You’ sits alongside a beaut Simon & Garfunkel cover and a version of ‘Boys of Summer,’ (a strange choice in the mind of this reviewer, who was hitherto unacquainted with the song beyond Brian Adam’s version, having picked up the latter on cassette for free on someone’s lawn many years prior…anyway, David’s version sounds ace).
FELICITY GROOM emerges with longtime collaborator ANDREW RYAN in tow and the pair launch into a spirited performance that’s surprisingly eclectic in its sonic palette, given the minimal setup. Groom minus ‘rock band’ backing has always been a distinctly different proposition, though once upon a time you could be right to expect a pared-back acoustic experience. More recently – and in particular since the release of her last longplayer ‘Hungry Sky’ – the variations are less predictable, and tonight the mood seems to be simultaneously erring towards both intimate keyboard-based songwriter territory and live beatcraft performance. In keeping with her trajectory it’s psychey-lush, sprawling in its vision but restrained in the delivery – it culminates in the Broadcast-esque, jubilantly driving ‘Higher, Higher, Taller, Taller,’ with Groom’s triumphant voice tracing the melody’s idiosyncratic contours and Ryan’s tastefully processed bass guitar zigzagging artfully below. One look at the crowd’s faces tells you how deeply appreciated these tunes are, and the set finishes with a sense of gratitude hanging in the room. I finish my last beer and carry on, filled up with all the right things.