Methyl Ethel, Reef Prince & Erasers @ The Corner Hotel (Richmond), Friday May 19
We move down the train platform and along a dark footpath, under a bridge, and finally come face to face with a hotel where two streets meet. The Corner, to be precise.
After following a few corridors we enter a large room with patterned carpet and tall, red curtains (very on-trend with the Twin Peaks revival, aye) which part to reveal ERASERS.
I’d actually watched the duo play a mere hour or two earlier at Polyester Records in Fitzroy - such is my appetite for what they do, I’m entirely happy to soak up the replay. Erasers (and second support Reef Prince) are joining Methyl Ethel on their entire national tour, and the slickness that comes with tour preparation and experience is already evident. Their warm-blanket, buzzy, warbly, breathy moodscapes are more seamless than ever; Rebecca Orchard’s vocals effortlessly precise with the ideal modicum of emotion. Rupert Thomas’ role is increasingly DJ-esque as he crossfades deftly between loops, field recordings and ambient drones - though his contributions are more evident, and more immediately gripping, when he performs a live layer of hypnotic undulating guitar or a deeply resonant synth-bass riff. They’re a band forever honing their niche, always finding ways to make it more immersive, sanguine and memorable: the project as a whole is a majestic slow-mo sculpting of style.
REEF PRINCE doesn’t necessarily exude the same patience, and you could be forgiven for thinking Stephen Bellair’s solo rap persona just emerged fully-formed from the hull of a magenta yacht. In truth, it’s been a long time in the chrysalis, insofar as Bellair has developed his rap, melody and performance chops over many years - with wild hip-hop posses like The Good Boys, Char Kway Pals and Outlordz, and rock bands like Doctopus and Electric Toad. While those things still stand tall in their weird, crooked way (especially the much-loved Doctopus), Reef Prince feels like an arrival, a vision that’s been waiting to manifest. Bellair seems truly joyous and liberated as he leaps and lopes around the stage, dropping both vivid and hilarious rhymes full of local and international references. Tracks like ‘Space Witch’ and the autotune-heavy, nautically-minded ‘Abalonely B0i’ are instant classics, all framed by the Reef Prince’s outlandish banter, pendulous tendril-hair and broad grins.
The ‘Prince got the room sweating and we’re all juiced up for the feature presentation. Methyl Ethel have now graduated from mere “band” to “phenomenon”; they sell out rooms around the world, play alongside the biggest acts in the alt-pop game, and have garnered hordes of avid fans. Methyl’s obvious comparison, although further along its trajectory, is Tame Impala: both are guitar-driven, catchy yet hazy psych-pop boy bands from Perth… both started off as lo-fi solo projects for their frontmen who maintain an auteur-style rudder. Each project commingles the weird and the quotidian in a big smoky cauldron, with lyrics erring towards the classic rock themes - relationships, introspection, fun substances (see: ‘Nangs’ vs ‘Drink Wine’) and a touch of the cosmic or occult.
Comparing the two is a fairly pointless exercise except insofar as it reveals something about their shared origins, motivations, and the zeitgest that has embraced them. I’d argue that the relative smallness (not isolation) of Perth leads to a situation where “weird” and “pop” music can’t readily segregate into sub-scenes, so the two have cross-pollinated with a shrug in many of our most successful exports (particularly since the era of digital natives making music, wherein weirdo influences have been more accessible, less shrouded in mystique). Existing against a conservative social backdrop, there are also interesting political impulses across Perth’s psychedelic scene. In the land of the bloke, Tame Impala and Methyl Ethel both thematise the “maleness” of their output: Tame by laying bare male fragility and failings in songs like ‘Cause I’m A Man’; Methyl, conversely, by asserting a kind of deliberate gender-effacement (“Ethel,” androgynous press shots, high pitched ethereal vocals, etc). Both are bands you can dance to, informed by radio megahits, but within the party is the spectre of the apocalypse.
Tonight, Methyl’s support base is tangibly huge and the band’s lineup has swelled to match - enter Hamish Rahn (Hamjam) on 2nd guitar and auxiliary keys. On balance it’s an excellent move, allowing the live renditions of songs to include essentially all the embellishments present on their new album, Everything is Forgotten. If there’s a point of caution, it’s that the sound sometimes risks getting too big, grandiose, in a “stadium rock” kind of way, which hardly gels with the band’s foundational, gently haunted mood.
For the most part, the arrangements boast an expert balance of restraint and billowing energy, whereby you can choose to dance and flail or sit back and appreciate the musical mechanisms. There’s certainly plenty of people doing both across the Corner’s spacious concert room, under the dim golden light, drinks splashing and ecstatic faces mouthing lyrics.
Methyl Ethel cruises, as only a tour-fit ensemble can, through breakthrough hits like ‘Rogues’ and ‘Idee Fixe,’; the gothic fuzz of ‘L’Heure des Sorcieres’ and fresh, Pink Floyd-esque 7” A-side ‘Architecture Lecture.’ We get the jubilant ‘Twilight Driving’ (with sax icon Jack Doepel on the solo bliss) and the hyper-poppy arpeggiation, highlifey guitar and syncopated snare-snap of the aforementioned ‘Drink Wine.’
My favourite thing about tonight hasn’t been any one song, or even a particular performance: it’s been seeing three so very different acts on one bill, conjoined by a light-hearted camaraderie, and that blend of pop sensibility and openness to the weird and wonderful. All three have very cool paths both behind and ahead of them. Keep both ears to the ground.