“Hey man, how’s it going?”
“Andy, I’m reviewing your gig, what’s the name of that song…”
“I’m actually slicing cheese right now, can I call you back?”
Seven O’Clock. Ivor was a benevolent bus driver – or maybe he just had a few screws loose in his head. Whatever the reason, when I asked him how much it would cost me to get from I here to the North Perth Plaza, he just hummed, chuckled and mumbled for a few moments before telling me to pay whatever I wanted. Pay-what-you-want public transport. Radiohead’s influence knows no bound. A ticket curled out of the machine and I tore it free.
The seat was patterned, as usual, with those fluorescent zigzags and intersecting coloured shapes, some kind of Amiga Deluxe Paint™ acid flashback made not only manifest, but cushioned. When the wheels stopped spinning on Fitzgerald St, right near pizza joints and the Italian Casa del Disco, I soon saw a collared shirt that had a similar look about it. It was wrapped around the torso of James Sprivilus, the lead singer of the band DAVE. Upon realizing I’d forgotten my ID and wasn’t going to get past the Rosemount’s minotaur-like bouncers without a fight, I cornered Sprivilus and explained the situation. He kindly fetched a spare guitar case from his van – a particularly large one – I climbed inside (it stunk of beer and silica gel), and he surreptitiously ferried me through the Jack Daniels double doors.
Now, by the time I find a way out, BLUE LUCY are performing. They’re a trio, and they seem like good pals: their natural habitat, one suspects, is less the stage and more a bedroom or garden with iced tea and instruments, wholesome afternoon jams and sporadic skylarking. Which is not to say they can’t command the atmosphere in a pub room (though it might be to say that the Rosie’s disco ball and laser show proves to be overkill). Blue Lucy’s music is more like a thick Guernsey sweater than a Snuggie: yes, it’s cosy, but it doesn’t belabour the fact, and you don’t feel (or look) like a twat when you’ve got it on. They veer from rich Appalachian croon-a-longs to glimmer-eyed murder ballads, twee pop jaunts to rock-steeped storytelling that resounds with that Australian dryness. It’s pleasingly eclectic, and if there’s anything lacking it’s not in the songwriting or skill – occasionally, perhaps, in the arrangements, which are short on low end (cello, while beautiful, can only be so beefy) and percussion (same goes for handclaps and tambo). They’re joined by DAVE’s Max on drums on one track, and there is a sense that such an addition fills a genuine void. But hey, that’s not stopping anyone from honing and in vibing along.
Now in the same way that HEALTH take a gentle, agreeable word, capitalize it ominously and then spit its lavender-scented connotations in your face before slamming your eardrums, FOAM are everything their name is not. Hard, loud, dense, rough, loud, geometric, loud, dark, hefty, loud. FOAM are visceral, there’s no doubt, especially when blaring through the Rosemount’s notoriously skull-shredding PA. Their fastish grunge-punk hits you like an avalanche of bowling balls before turning around to stomp on your nose one more time. It’s clear that these dudes worship the air formerly breathed by Kurt, Krist and Dave, which is fine by me actually. Exactly the world they want to conjure, or the ideas they want to transmit: these things are less clear tonight, so greatly does sheer loudness overpower lyrical content or songwriting nuance. For that divulgence, we may need to wait for their EP, due out pretty soon.
Fast forward an hour or two and SUGARPUSS are supporting at the tail end of the night. It feels kind of full circle for me, since the first time I saw Sugarpuss was at the Rosemount, a few years back. It was an afternoon, the Room was teeming with chatter and beer fumes. I didn’t think much of Sugarpuss at the time – warning signals, look out, another power-trio born in the wake of Wolfmother, aping 60s/70s psych and peacock-strutting about the stage. But in the gigs that followed, Sugarpuss won me over, trading the more straight-up pastiche for genuinely rich songs, and by mid-2010 I was scared to share a bill with them because they were so tight and electric and animalistic on stage that. Fast forward a year or two and here they are again, once more a different beast, now a quartet featuring synthesizer, a band with a broader palette than ever. They flirt with chamber pop, dark moody art-rock and fried motown. Gone, largely, are the boyish rock star antics, instead a sense of genuine passion in those moments where it counts. While Jake’s voice still brings to mind Ozzy Osbourne and Robert Plant, his melodies traverse snakecharmer scales and folky high-register pirouettes. Meanwhile, Ben, Brian and Sam collude to produce the sort of tasteful wall of sound that would make Phil Spector’s hair stand on end – oh wait…
And, an hour prior, there’s a swelling in the crowd as James Sprivilus’ shirt takes centre stage. DAVE – who might have the most delightfully awful / ungoogleable band name in Perth since PERTH – always manage to bring a hefty number of friends along to their shows, but it’s not simply the rent-a-crowd phenomenon: these attendees are buddies who would have might have rocked up to the first few sets out of friendly obligation, but who are now firmly enamoured with the band’s tunes, and have attracted other buddies to see what the fuss is about. Which says it all, almost. This is a friendly band. Charismatic and eccentric, somehow dissolving the gap that can plump itself (atmospherically, conceptually, whatever) between ‘audience’ and ‘performers.’ They are friendly on the ears, too, without being beige – if they were beige I would tell you, because beige music is a cardinal sin. Nay, they just forge the sort of thoroughly satisfying and stimulating pop songs that remind you why words like “hook,” “verse,” “double chorus” and “bridge” are not necessarily evil. The sound is sure to please fans of The Smiths, The Cure, Josef K, Orange Juice (etcetera), but the appeal isn’t limited to 80s-Brit-Indie tragics – anyone who can appreciate a jaunty beat underscoring a crafty chord progression and witty lyric is bound to get something out of this repertoire. What’s more, the live incarnation delivers the tunes with a punk energy, roaring tempos and blurry wrists, which sparks up (and likewise feeds off) miniature circle-pits front and centre. Sweat beads form on countless foreheads as Dave pummel through grin-inducing tunes like fan favourite ‘RD’ and the silky, surfy ‘Surfacing,’ which sounds like what would happen if The Drums were less inane, and rivals James Teague’s ‘Naked Eyes, Deluded Minds’ for best local song of recent times in 5/4. ‘Tumbleweed,’ the A-side being released in an impressive gatefold sleeve tonight, trundles along with a lilting plod. It’s a song about awkward silences, tongue-tied exchanges, and ironically it’s a super-eloquent translation of that feeling. ‘Red Eye,’ the b-side, is even better: a sonically addicting tale of misguided teen infatuation with a dubious Thai lover (“Am I just a customer / or am I something more?”) It’s an earworm for the ages, and the delicately chorused-out guitar invokes Johnny Marr in his prime (yes, his prime!) These are underdog songs; songs for the socially challenged, the weirdos, and the plain unlucky folk, but delivered with life-affirming vigour. The gig, at last, finds it way back to a share-house, where the beer flows freely and smoke billows generously from a backyard log fire. Like local heroes POND, part of Dave’s appeal is non-musical, in that they are good-natured, jovial guys – and why not? That very attitude is discernable in their tunes, in the vibe that pervades their shows; though not without evidence of a fierce work ethic and serious pop smarts. Two things can happen now: Dave can get huge, with “the Jays” acknowledging their undeniable hooks and charms, with tween hipsters blogging gifs of their faces on tumblr, with NME hailing them as the “band that saved indie rock” before slandering them the following week; or they can eschew the glory and keep plugging away at crafting understated gems in the garage. Either way, they’ll still shout you a lager. Or stow you away in a guitar case. They’re that sort of band.