I’m standing on the train and somewhere around Melbourne Central I notice two things: (1) Bibby’s coming to town and (2) I have $4 in my bank account. Not wanting to miss the man in action as he passes through this chilly outpost, I send him a message explaining my situation and he graciously bungs me on the guest list; I didn’t even have to tell him I was going to do a review. He’s just a high calibre kind of guy.
About 26 hours go past and now I’m in Fitzroy/Collingwood. It’s night time, there’s neon glowing and pints frothing. I eat a cheap plate of noodles at Ming’s, and stroll along the street, my eyeballs like blotting paper soaking up sights new and old. Soon enough it’s time to head into Yah-Yahs. I walk in off the street and it’s empty. Turns out the live music action happens upstairs nowadays.
Upstairs, a duo called LO VISION are emerging from the fog. At first, a dense improvised soundscape of rain sounds, high silvery formless voice, knife-edge guitar feedback and eyelid-clogging oscillator goo. This arrestingly abstract approach eventually gives way like a heavy cloud, and is replaced by songs with more structure: steady drum machines, verses, choruses, guitar riffs, thick and filthy gothic synth bass, loops, all commingling to create something a little bit trip-hop and a little bit post-punk-psych but generally quite singular. There’s clearly a special creative alchemy going on between the duo’s halves, Lucas George and Kim Little; Lucas bringing the rock influences, beats and grit while Kim contributes hallucinatory layers, lyrics and mercurial jazz-informed singing. My only beef is that songs helmed by one or the other member (on lead voice) can seem to exist in separate worlds - each carrying a sense of auteurship to their vocal delivery. In time, perhaps the dichotomy will collapse as songwriting tendencies converge; for now, more double-vox and deliberate habit-swapping could help fuse the moods.
From LoVision’s impressionistic portraits of doom and beauty we move on to the rather more geometric sounds of EMPAT LIMA. They’re a band that I remember particularly vividly from living here in 2014, and certainly a local favourite, though by the looks of things they’ve been comparatively quiet lately. That didn’t stop them from releasing some of their best tunes to date last year (slow glider ‘Passage to the Golden Sky,’ and no-wave-funky ‘Canteloupe,’) and tonight they bring their trademark energy and gleefully interlocking ESG-style riffs to an eager crowd. Drums plur and limbs wave, strings buzz and bark, vocal cords pile on with a hushed intensity. It all goes down a treat.
PETER BIBBY is in my eyeballs and ear-slots now, along with his DOG ACT incorporating “Dirty” Dave (drums) and “Strawberry” Pete (bass / singalong). The set is classic Bibby, in all the best ways: sloppy enough to feel unhinged but tight enough to feel electric, exciting, always deliberate. Dave and Pete can certainly take some credit on both counts, and with PB howling in the driver’s seat the whole trio moves as one big, loud hot rod. What’s always separated Bibby from other tight/loud/brash musicians though is the intellect, humour and weirdo creativity that underpins his songs. Thanks to a good mix and refined arrangements, all those elements are on full display tonight. ‘Goodbye Johnny’ - a heartwarming and simple ode to homosocial love in the face of the flu - gets a mass singalong from the packed room. Vintage bangers like ‘River Guts,’ ‘Medicine’ and ‘Fuck Me,’ get much-appreciated airings, with the latter featuring a hilariously theatrical breakdown, simmering down to near-total silence and drawn-out whispers before about four bars of full-throttle conclusion.
Particularly intriguing to me were newer, more bittersweet songs nominally about places. ‘Whyalla’ (which isn’t that new but I’ve only heard it a few times) praises the South Australian town and its civic facilities, but really comes into its own when it fixates on local heroes who set world records in pinball, or performed remarkable in the hammer throw. It’s a celebration of ordinary people doing extraordinary things, told with Bibby’s inimitable coarse enthusiasm and silver-tongued wit. ‘Craigieburn’ is superficially about how shit the outer-Melbourne suburb of Craigieburn is, but actually it tells of a confusing pregnancy and the anxieties of contemplating one’s less-than-glamorous future prospects. In mentioning all these things, I don’t think I’m divulging anything that otherwise goes unnoticed. Though a vocal minority might still perceive Bibby as some goon-obsessed slacker troubadour, it’s obvious to most (and I’m sure to the people in this room) that there’s plenty of depth in these songs, and the associated larrikinism is just one part of what makes them so compelling, so worth revisiting. With the Dog Act catapulting every tune with fierce resolve, the bark and the bite are both precisely as bad as is warranted.