Everyone remembers their first time. For me, it was at the very start of 2009. The day was fine. The night was balmy. The mangos were ripe and plump. Yes, when I first saw POND perform they were launching their debut album (“Psychedelic Mango Vision,”) at the Norfolk Basement, and I raved about it using countless testicle-metaphors on an online forum, and that, children, is how I secured the job of writing for Cool Perth Nights. Interpret that how you will, but I like to think that our editor-in-chief was swayed less by the balls-humour and more by the fervour that POND managed to inspire in my recount. To this day, it remains one of the most recklessly, innocently fun shows I’ve ever seen; it left me in the absolute highest of spirits.
Tonight, I find myself back in Fremantle, a whole five years later (I only just realised how much time has passed; my jaw drops a little). Five years – that’s half a decade since I first saw POND; half a decade is a pretty long time in an individual’s life, let alone a band’s, given that most bands don’t actually last more than a couple of years.
I meet some buddies at a trendy restaurant called Bread In Common, where they bake their own bread, grow their own herbs, serve things with foreign names on share plates and pour beer into tall skinny glasses. We bump into Cam Avery (of Pond) out by the vergeside herb garden and follow him to the venue. He tells us they’ve recruited a new member, and will be playing new new songs (of the forthcoming unreleased album, “Man It Feels Like Space Again”).
We arrive. It seems I haven’t moved very far in five years – only a few metres across the road, from the hallowed Nor’k to Metropolis nightclub. Of course, there’s a big symbolic shift there: from the small, quaint, literally underground bar to the cavernous, hard-surfaced, big-budget venue. In that time, Pond have totalled five albums, written a sixth (probably a seventh too) released an EP and more: not bad eh, and their fan base has grown as ferociously as their discography. So while I feel a little odd entering this towering, dark space to see this band who seemingly only yesterday were howling “Mango, mango, mango” in backyards – I guess I should hardly be surprised that things are a little different now.
As we enter the hefty hangar, it’s to the devil-may-care strains of national tour support act DOCTOPUS. It’s awesome that Doctopus have assumed the role of opening act: they don’t sound anything like Pond, but they share their affinity for loosey goosey outrageousness. They’re kind of like Pond’s pared-back little cousin; despite having been compared to Eddy Current Suppression Ring and their ilk, there’s an anti-aesthetic, hyperreal cosmic weirdness to the ‘Pus that sets them apart. Tonight, the growing crowd stares on in a winning blend of bafflement and joy as the trio hurtles through their set. Stephen Bellair is at his raucous best, wearing his Thursday best (Lakers jersey), howling and talk-singing through beautifully matey lyrics like “Man, I think you’re cool.” Jeremy Holmes is on the ground, strumming his guitar with a businesslike perpetuity as if he were willingly grating a never-ending block of cheese. And John Lekias, ever the gentlemen, reins it all in with his raw but accurate beatings. Vintage Doctopus, sharp like good cheddar.
POND emerge to rapturous shriekings. We buy some rum and drink it. We’re a good ten metres from the stage and, tellingling, can’t get any closer: there’s a hefty barrier and then a densely packed wall of bodies. So it feels a little impersonal, but only a little. Nick Allbrook, at least, has a way of making himself feel like he’s infiltrated your skull directly, however far away he may be.
The band sparks up and from the outset it’s obvious that this is a thicker, meatier Pond sound than we’ve heard in the past. Like the difference between Tom Yum and dense, beefy Pho. This makes sense: we’re looking at a six-piece now, with all original members in the front-line, Cam Avery newly on bass, and former sound tech Matt Handley on drums (he adds another beard to the line-up, which surely adds to the manliness of the sound). Shiny Joe Ryan and Jay ‘Gumby’ Watson are free to deliver twin-riff assaults on their six-string squealers and Jamie Terry is still on hand to add another creamy layer on the electric ivories. So yeah, the sound is big.
What’s more, Pond are sounding as polished as a the proverbial Venus in Furs’ shiny shiny shiny boots. Everything is tightly refined and carefully rehearsed, though seemingly no energy is lost in the process. Naturally there’s a trade-off – slick precision, to some extent, necessarily curtails loose spontaneity. It’s a worthwhile sacrifice. The way I look at, there are plenty of bands out there capable of channelling the cosmic slop – far fewer who’d pull off being a finely tuned glam-psych explosion.
A green morph-suited Jeremy Cope with an X taped on his chest dances seductively around the stage, adding a surreal flavour to proceedings. Tunes like the hulking ‘Giant Tortoise’ come flying at you with the sort of fuzzy riff-driven vim that would make Jimmy Page weep into his Hermetic robes. There’s the surreptitiously motowny stomp of ‘Fantastic Explosion of Time,’ and – as a pleasant surprise – lush “Frond” cut ‘Torn Asunder,’ in which a melancholic rise-and-fall scale passage parries with feathery flute and Syd Barrett-esque twee before dovetailing into an all-in, all-consuming intergalactic riff.
The songs from Pond’s latest album, “Hobo Rocket,” seem to take the focused blokey intensity borne of “Beards, Wives, Denim” and channel it into something weirder, darker and more intriguing. Tunes that are both apocalyptic and funny spiral into longer formats and freakier melodies. So by the time they get round to ‘Xanman,’ this isn’t happy-go-lucky Pond so much as a full blown astral nightmare, and it feels positively thrilling.
The set closes out with a straight-faced, zoned-out one chord jam, a sort of high-intensity group meditation session, before the boys disappear and looping noise rings on.
It was a great set – I can’t fault it. But it feels like something was missing. And I think it was the chaos, the unpredictability – the exhilarating sense that everything could implode at any second. This is the closest I’ve seen to Pond on ‘autopilot,’ and while they’re still piloting a damn cool aircraft covered in fairy lights and tin foil, one yearns for that edge of danger.
Luckily for me, a fantastic implosion is just around the corner. Pond re-emerge, but this time joined by members of Doctopus, Richard Ingham (ex-Pond, Taco Leg et al), Felicity Groom, Kevin Parker (Tame Impala) and various other buddies. They dive in to the Electric Toad song ‘Ladies,’ and jam it out in a glorious tangled sprawl, howls, yelps, prosthetic frog’s heads and all. This is the pandemonium that completes the puzzle.
Five years later, POND are not the one-dimensional psychedelic party band they were born to be. Their catalogue twists and turns through light and shade, pop genius and bedroom experimentalism. Tonight they show they can tie it all up in a neat little package – and with a little help from their friends, still throw the caution of neatness to the wind.
Photo by Rachael Barrett