KUČKA'S BACK / GIG BELOW THE LINE @ THE BIRD, TUESDAY MAY 7
Tuesday doesn’t start too well. I successfully sleep through a symphony of alarms and awake halfway into a would-be shift at work. Wretchedly I writhe into the nearest set of clothes – unironed, mismatching – and jog like a ketamized mule to the workplace, where I’m met by chuckles and looks of bafflement at my pale, unshaven, uncaffeinated countenance. This Tuesday does not improve much. In my foggy state I ramble like a drunkard. My brain-to-mouth connection tangles like a bag full of skipping ropes. I drink Blend 43 for lunch. I spontaneously contract the flu and eventually stumble home.
As the sun descends, things start to pick up. I make myself a tasty sandwich and jump on a train to Perth city. I feel a lot cheerier, more clear-headed. When I arrive at the station, it’s raining, but I’ve got an umbrella, and I bump into my pal Claire. She’s got an umbrella too. As we walk past puddles she starts exclaiming at I-don’t-know-what and I half jump around to avoid whatever it is, and half stay very still to avoid whatever it is. Turns out it’s a frog, leaping jubilantly from puddle to puddle on the footpath. It’s a good frog too – about the size of a child’s fist and entirely adorable. This frog is a good omen, no doubt. Strolling past the burger place we encounter more friends; chinwag, then all-together slip into the Bird, which only sets us back a little purple note.
Tonight’s gig bears a certain significance. For one thing, it’s Kučka’s first gig back in Perth after their whirlwind European tour. That’s great news. Exciting stuff. It’s also a fundraiser for the “Live Below The Line” campaign, a global effort to raise awareness about extreme poverty and, in the process, collect dollars to help fight it. Participants must subsist on just $2 a day (in terms of food and drink, anyhow), in a bid to approximate the daily spend of billions of less fortunate folk around the world. Claire, who I ran into before and who noticed the frog, is doing “Live Below The Line,” and so is local musician/super-human Amber Fresh. Amber organized tonight, actually, and she’s playing first under her usual moniker, that is, RABBIT ISLAND. It’s a beautiful set and even though I’ve heard her play these songs umpteen times (umpteen – what a bizarre word, really, not sure if it’s okay), it still gives me the shivers. Amber’s guitar playing is cleaner and more reserved than ever; her voice pitch-perfect, restrained, captivating. Her touching humanist manifesto, “Adam’s Song,” rings out with extra poignancy given the theme of the night. Off to one side of the stage, Sugarpuss guitarist/singer Jake Webb (aka Methyl Ethyl) released harmonious strands of smooth sound from his guitar; they sound infinitely more like whale noises, or cirrus clouds, than steel strings – and they’re always delicately, unobtrusively placed. On the other side of the stage, a young man I’m unfamiliar with (Matt? Mark?) tinkles the ivories in an equally tasteful fashion. In a typically ad-hoc Rabbit Island way, Amber introduces the two guys to each other halfway through the set.
Local rapper extraordinaire spins tunes from burnt CDs between bands: he’s taped a handwritten sign to the front of the decks: DISCLAIMER – I AM NOT A DJ – I’M JUST PLAYING YOU MY FAVOURITE SONGS. <3 MATHAS. Honestly Mathas, we can forgive you, especially when you’re pouring such wonderful, satisfying electronic and beat-driven cuts into our ear canals.
DOCTOPUS appear and tear jovially through a sometimes fast, sometimes slow set of their wonderfully loosey-goosey tunes. John Lekias, who plays drums, had a migraine just before the gig started, but he seems to have made a miracle recovery. Such things are to be expected, I suppose, when your guitarist (ie Jeremy Holmes) looks so much like Jesus. Singer and bassman Stephen Bellair spots his highschool buddy Simon Cox in the crowd and addresses him directly over the course of the set, often making slightly unnerving amounts of eye contact, with hilarious results. I’m eternally warming to Doctopus. Their ultra-earnest, unpoetic lyrics might be reminiscent of Melbourne acts like Eddy Current and Twerps, but make no mistake, Doctopus is its own thing, and when it comes to the language employed, Bellair’s hip-hop roots (in days of yore he was one of the esteemed Good Boyz rap troupe) shine through idiosyncratically.
I chat to buddies and drink ciders – the latter comes with a considerable pang of guilt, being freshly conscious of the fact that the beverage cost that same as some people’s weekly survival fund. Sobering perspective notwithstanding, it’s hard to feel too bad about drinking a nice cider under an awning in a courtyard while the rain tumbles gently down. Back inside, CAM AVERY plays an acoustic set – it’s Cam, a guitar, and plenty of good humour and soul. I reviewed Cam last week and so I’ll avoid the blow-by-blow lest I repeat myself, but suffice it to say that I certainly don’t mind seeing him play again a week later. This time, he swaps the lyrics of “You’ve Lost That Loving Feeling” for a just-penned verse and chorus about “tender chicken strips” from KFC and Chicken Treat. Ok, that bit isn’t so crash hot. But by and large, another superb offering from the mouth of the Avery.
Then it’s KUČKA and, wow, I don’t even know where to begin with this. So I’ll begin with what sounds like classic hyperbole: this is one of the greatest local sets I’ve ever seen. And it’s fairly high up the ladder of non-local ones too. See, Kučka was already a finely-tuned, otherworldly, wildly adventurous outfit long before they left for Europe. But it seems that the impetus such a tour brings has taken the whole thing up a few notches. Gone are any hints of shyness or uncertainty that might have ever flickered into Laura Jane Lowther’s onstage demeanour: she’s on top of every note, be it a hushed, elfish whisper, an R&B croon or an impassioned wail. Her composition is going from strength to strength; each tune is simultaneously accessible and elusive, pitting irresistible yet complex beats against skewed melodies and enigmatic tonalities. The rest of the band do more than earn their keep: Jake Steele’s bass and synth layers are warped and tasteful, creating seismic rumbles and crucial textures. Katie Campbell has stepped up from adding flourishes to performing many of the electronic beats live on APC, which she does with alarming accuracy and inventiveness. Rosie Taylor, with her formal percussion training, deftly provides the scant acoustic sounds: a floor tom (so goddamn tribal and ruthless it just makes me want to wage war on the nearest nation-state), bowed cymbals, brushed cymbals, gong. Such percussion adds a strong, disorienting visual aspect, as does the constant stream of psychedelic, fluorescent, glitched-out video projections adoring the backdrop behind them. But mere description doesn’t do this set any kind of justice. It’s the freakish alchemy of all these elements – a rare energy, a truly mysterious and invigorating soup of strange and inspiring sounds – that makes it so special. People are dancing harder here, now, on a Tuesday night, than I’ve seen at any night for a while. The rush I feel is the same as I get listening to bands like Gang Gang Dance, Animal Collective, Boredoms, Black Dice: electronics, curious melodic approaches, pounding rhythms and noise which fuse to take you to an unfamiliar, hallucinatory world. Really, really, really, really good.
I dash out to the train station and, grinning, begin the commute home. The rain splashes the dark windows. I feel elated. Turns out my shitty Tuesday was not so shitty after all. But here’s the thing: even my shittiest Tuesday is nothing compared to the everyday struggles of countless people living in extreme poverty. Sounds painfully obvious, but it’s so easy to forget that when you’re distracted by shows and bad coffee and good cider and surprise frogs. I get home, where there’s still some stuff to snack on, and clothes and tea and a shower and a computer and books and a watertight roof and light bulbs and floorboards and a place to sleep. To quote a new Doctopus song, written earlier today, and debuted tonight: “I got food in my fridge and sheets on my bed / I know my problems ain’t so big/ Oh yeah.” As usual, they hit the nail on the head.
[Amber Fresh and her buddies Matt Acorn, Alicia Annamalay, Kate Miller, Robert Mayberry, Mike O’Hanlon and Claire Maclean form a Live Below The Line Team called THE CHANTAYS. You can still donate to them here: https://www.livebelowtheline.com.au/team/the-chantays. Money donated will go towards providing education to children in Cambodia and Papua New Guinea, helping them to become equipped to break the poverty cycles prevalent in their communities].