SLANTED & ENCHANTED @ THE ASTOR THEATRE & THE BAKERY, SATURDAY DECEMBER 7
As the sun began to creep out of view, dipping below the tops of buildings and moving towards the sea, I was feeling a lot more slanted than enchanted. My body aching, my head pounding, my brow laced with sweat and furrowed as I squinted out those piercing beams of golden light that can screech just prior to dusk. Thanks to someone’s special genius, the Cultural Centre had been converted into a pseudo-beach, so I reclined on a deckchair for a few minutes. A blessing, though the noise of children and surf music prevented any real repose.
I’d read that the best hangover cure was Sprite and greasy food, so I ducked into The Moon for a little of both. The pint of icy sweet fizz went down like a cool elixir, and I nibbled on some fries. I was not winning, but I was back in the game.
I climbed William Street, distracting myself in the labyrinths of oriental grocery stores. At some point I sidled over to Beaufort Street and crawled into the Astor. In the dark main theatre, I found a row of seats with no-one sitting in it. I went and sat in the very middle of the row, and laid my head in the V-shaped gap between the seats in front.
And then, something amazing happened. My ill-gotten self-pity began to drain away like bitter tea leaves in a sinkhole. The darkness soothed me and as my eyes eased back to their fully open position, I saw four men and a dorsal fin. The fin belonged to jaws and it was cutting through the ocean’s surface like a knife splashed across the Astor’s far wall. The four men were a band called PERTH.
Perth (or as they tend to style it, perth) are back in Perth after most members relocated to the Victorian capital; an irony lost on none of them, especially (drummer) Matt Saville who started a project called Melbin’ in protest. Though the room is steadily filling, it’s a shame there aren’t more people here to witness this rare and beautiful set. It’s grooving, heavy, raw, processed, delicate – less lushly textured than on their recordings, though if you’ve heard the latter you’ll know that’s kind of a given. If I had to compare the set to anything, it wouldn’t be another band, but instead a record: the White Album, to be precise. Like the Beatles’ self-titled epic, perth manage to sound like a rock band and simultaneously sprawl into abstract soundscapes, long jams, intimate minimalism and mind-bending genre mashups. With pensive, post-rocky tracks like “Quantum Chronological” and “Original Food” sitting alongside the outrageous “Jilted,” they recall that record’s uncanny ability to oscillate between straight-faced beauty and winking jocularity without ever jarring. Nice work perth. Hometown pride.
The next band I see are CAVE, who I’d only heard briefly before but what I’d heard was enough to get me excited. They don’t disappoint. Bluesy, funky jams reminiscent of Holy Fuck make way for endless, dystopian vampings of single notes in the vein of My Disco. Warm, gritty guitar tones, heavy biting bass and crisp, powerful, intricate drums drive along the intoxicating, unpretentious throb and flow. You’d be right to call this music “krautrock-ish,” but only in the sense that it seems to embrace a bunch of that umbrella term’s common reference points: repetition, sprawl, Germanic precision alongside wild, free expressiveness. You won’t hear any Hallogallo-pilfering motorik cliches; in fact, the grooves commonly eschew 4/4 altogether, opting for motifs based around 6s and 7s. Nor will you encounter dusty mystic warbling synthesisers; the palette belongs to a rock band, indeed, a punk band. Whatever it is, CAVE is its own thing.
Now I catch COW PARADE COW in one of their last-ever shows, surrounded by cardboard mermaids, streamers, metallic jellyfish and other aquatic decor in the small upstairs Cool Perth Nights room. The music makes me outrageously happy, the band’s approaching terminus makes me sad. This is Cow as best I’ve ever seen or heard them, dense with buoyant percussion, all-killer-no-filler setlist, intriguing chord progressions, lyrics and – perhaps above all – feverish, majestic party grooves. Cow Parade Cow are talented and imaginative enough that they could get away with being a “serious” party band, but having fun and taking the piss is too high a priority, so we’re privy to bovine onesies, handlebar moustaches, matching white skivvy-trouser combos and other larrikinism. Consistently self-deprecating and yet consistently great, Cow Parade Cow are a local treasure.
Back to the big room it’s the JOHN STEEL SINGERS who pump plenty of sweaty energy into their metronomic, fuzzed out, harmony-laced explorations. The offbeat addition of ska-type trumpet into the psych-pool is fun and disarming, and despite technical difficulties (disappearing holdback, a silent microphone, keyboards vanishing from the mix to their point where their player opts to just dance around stage with a beer for a while), these guys are fast-paced fun and distortion-bathed goodvibe from start to finish.
Upstairs, well-dressed bodies are swirling and mingling in the well-lit art deco foyer, and RUNNER are eking out remarkable soothing sounds from guitars, drums, voiceboxes in the CPN room. These guys have a pretty blissful sensibility; they sing like choirboys grown-up (that’s a compliment in my books, see: Panda Bear) and play with orchestral deftness. My only criticism has always been a lack of variation, a tendency to play it safe; this minor concern seems to be growing irrelevant, too, with new songwriting approaches sounding more compelling than ever. Recalling the best moments of Midlake and Grizzly Bear, I’ve got high hopes for what will presumably appear on Runner’s next recorded offerings.
METZ obliterate the downstairs theatre. They actually obliterate it. Hot molten guitar with razors in it, vocal screeches, a Temple-of-Doom style boulder of a rhythm section and a tsunami of collective sweat leave everyone just completely annihilated. Destroyed. Flattened. Burnt to a crisp. My eardrums shatter into a million pieces, I pick them up and shove them crudely back in. I will never be the same.
FABULOUS DIAMONDS – who I’ve reviewed glowingly in the past, and who I was looking forward to – don’t really do it for me tonight. Maybe it’s the unfair fate of being, if only unconsciously and viscerally, compared to the bone-melting onslaught of METZ. I mean, the set is good, I do enjoy it, but there are no surprises – Fab D’s are still frowning into their instruments, playing droning synth lines and persistent, thumping, yet faintly slapdash drum patterns. There are kosmische arpeggiations and some juicy moments of harmonic dissonance, but having seen the duo do two similar sets before, this does feel just a touch redundant. Is that unfair? The band is predicated on deadpan repetition and monotony after all. But the most interesting bit for me is an awkward one-minute song wherein Nisa Venerosa sings a sort of brief free verse poem over a lonely unison melody played by Jarrod Zlatic on the keyboard. It is, at least, a deviation from the formula. I don’t know if the formula’s run its course or what. Maybe they just need to smile once in a while.
Now DEERHUNTER. I’m sure that one of my fellow CPN writers will discuss them in some depth and/or poetic flourish – for my part I’ll just tell you how what goes on in my head. First it’s like, OK, taut anticipation then I hear the room’s growing cheers as silhouettes trickle into view – here comes Deerhunter. More specifically, here comes Bradford Cox, since he’s the only member people recognise, despite being the only one disguised by a blonde diva wig. The set begins with booming electronic bass drum that bellows through the sub speakers with enough force to make you forget what day it is. Loud, immense – but not necessarily aggressive – guitars and drums descend on the occasion, before Cox pipes in with his trademark wail. The whole thing feels grandiose and i m p o r t a n t, a real r o c k m u s i c e v e n t. But there’s no real sense of ego or pretense emanating from the band; indeed, there’s a burgeoning sense of fun. The punchy garage-rock of the band’s latest album didn’t really beguile me on record, but here in the live setting, it feels electric and vital and something to share in like so much communion wine. Halfway through the set, Bradford tells (improvises?) a truly hilarious story about he and bandmate Lockett Pundt growing up as puppy dogs in a cockney dog-fighting ring in Salford, which he caps off with – oh my lord – a faux-Hendrix guitar solo rendition of Star Spangled Banner. I laugh out loud for a solid minute. Who knew incredible comedy was part of the deal? In an amazing final act, they jam out the superb ‘Nothing Ever Happens’ for about ten intense minutes; Cox barks Patti Smith’s ‘Horses’ over the final stretch; and then it’s their recent LP’s title track, ‘Monomania,’ which proves euphorically huge. The night could end here, but it doesn’t, and thank goodness, because I’m now totally wired and rearing for more.
We opt to walk down to the Bakery rather than take the colourful Party Bus shuttle (still not sure if that was the right decision) and, despite having sadly missed KELPE by the time we arrive, we make it in time to see LE1F climbing on stage. I don’t really know what to expect from the New York rapper, whose reputation as an unorthodox producer, openly gay emcee and icon of freaky post-internet aesthetics precedes him. His music and performance style was something I’d heard far less about, and I’d only listened to a couple of tunes – but turns out he’s one of the most inventive and compelling rappers I’ve seen grace a stage in ages. His vocal approach is tight, clipped, at times warbling and outright ridiculous – but always delivered with skill and poise. Unlike many rappers I’ve seen, LE1F makes an effort to constantly engage the audience around him, chatting, hi-fiving, getting up in their faces – and however warped or dark his tracks may get, the dude is smiling, which is very reassuring. Not to mention his sultry contortions, DJ-deck climbing and gymnastic dancing, which is as entertaining as anything we’ve seen tonight. He constantly changes up his pace, rhyme schemes, and pitch, injecting each verse with a dynamism that’s impossible to ignore. LE1F brings charisma and talent in equal, hefty doses, and that is very promising indeed.
It’s 2am and here to yank me out of a brief energy slump is JON HOPKINS. The name has been uttered in hushed tones all night, often accompanied by such hallowed phrases as “Brian Eno” and “electronic album of the year.” Some had feared his set would be too weird or cerebral for the end-of-night party closer slot, but they needn’t have worried: Hopkins only dips his toes in the pool of abstraction and experimentalism here. Sure, plenty of the tracks (particularly in the set’s first half) sit outside the realm of mainstream convention, introducing noise, glitch sounds and arrhythmicality, but grounding it all is a constant progression towards increasingly sanguine techno-style beats. The room begins to swell and surge. I go and check out MATHAS in the adjacent room, and as always, he’s in fine form, flowing eloquently and musically about local and global concerns with wordplay and wit, yet I’m inevitably drawn back to the clamourous party agenda of Hopkins’ set as the night concludes. The crowd is already spraying sweat and kinetic energy like a giant lawn sprinkler, and by the time he pumps out “Light Through The Veins” (aka that instrumental that introduces that Coldplay album), everything is positively explosive. Not bad for 3am after almost 9 hours of non-stop music.
My metamorphosis from glazed-over, hung-over drongo wandering the streets to an enthusiastic sea-sponge absorbing and hopefully re-oozing party moods was quite astounding. I make no claim to any kind of self-realization there. I owe it all to the magic of SLANTED & ENCHANTED, the delightful vision and planning of Life Is Noise and (ok, vested interests, but credit it where it’s due) Cool Perth Nights. Most festivals make you pay three figures twice over and put on about a hundred bands, about ten of which you actually want to see, most of which clash with each other, and all of which you have to watch pushed up against some fluorobro’s sweaty bicep. Perth’s new album title asks “What’s Your Utopia?” and, when it comes to music festivals, mine is surely a little like Slanted & Enchanted: consistent quality, positive energies, music for the mind and music for the body. And projected videos of ocean adventures, and cardboard mermaids, because why the hell not. Tonight, the format was totally nailed, and the acts were beautifully selected. We just gotta pray to Poseidon that it happens again.