Gig review – Gruff Rhys, Newtown Social Club, 6 March 2015

Taking cues from the more muscular end of Big Star’s catalogue, Community Radio are a low-ley but accomplished jangle pop outfit with just enough light and shade in their work to balance out their generally sunny sound. Kicking off with the rough around the edges but tuneful ‘Real Transformation’, they’re easy to like and even B-sides like the chugging ‘Wildflower’ are catchy enough to lodge themselves in your head well after their short set ends.

The country noir of Jep and Dep is a real change of mood; the duo’s sombre and sardonic country seems descended from the great Johnny and June Carter Cash duets. While they seemed irked at times by people talking, the deliciously dark likes of ‘Wake Up Call’ and ‘Granted’ started winning people over and by their final (and best) song ‘Tears in the Rain’, the kind of heartbroken country that Lee Hazelwood might have covered, they were playing to an appreciative silence.

Gruff Rhys’ American Interior is an unusually engrossing concept album, based on John Evans, Rhys’ 18th century ancestor who made an ill-fated trek to the United States to track down a mythical Welsh-speaking Indian tribe. It’s a tragicomic marvel of a record that probably would have made for a perfectly arresting set played on an acoustic without any embellishment; instead the live show is more a multimedia extravaganza than a straight presentation of the songs.

Not only does Rhys introduce the show with a deadpan “safety video”, he offers a hilariously straight-faced commentary on black and white slides which show a John Evans puppet on various stages of his journey from Wales to the most remote areas of America’s river system. From the gorgeous looped pop ‘American Interior’ to the earworm ‘Iolo’ and the genuine melancholy of ‘The Last Conquistador’ the songs flesh out the tale, making potentially esoteric subject matter emotionally involving.

As Rhys plays along with seven-inch records and metronomes and enlists audience members to recreate a particularly tense episode in Evans’ adventure, it’s hard not to get wrapped up in the whole thing. One of the many eccentric touches involved him holding up signs with instructions for the audience. Not only was the “PROLONGED APPLAUSE” sign well-deserved, but there was a collective sigh when Rhys finally raised a card reading “THE END”.

Book review: Wolf in White Van by John Darnielle (2015)

The singer-songwriter and lone permanent member of the incomparable Mountain Goats, John Darnielle has established himself as a writer of great empathy and thrilling rawness, a singular talent whose work inspires feverish devotion.

The transition from writing lyrics to fiction has proved an unusually seamless one. Wolf in White Van, Darnielle’s first full-length novel (he previously contributed the excellent Master of Reality novella to the 33 1/3 series), sees him climbing into the lightless, almost unpeopled world of Sean, a lonely and disfigured man.

Always an outsider, Sean spent much of his life in hospitals and rehabilitation centres after suffering a debilitating injury in his teenage years. Speaking has become physically demanding and people are repulsed by his appearance. So he withdraws into the cold comfort of fantastical worlds to distract himself from his isolation and chronic pain.

Read the full review: http://www.smh.com.au/entertainment/books/wolf-in-white-van-songwriter-john-darnielle-makes-a-game-start-as-a-novelist-20150209-137537.html#ixzz3VGYc5ltL

Gig review – Spoon, Metro Theatre, 14 February 2015

To see Spoon live is to witness a band in complete control of their music. They’re a finely tuned machine where every part, from Britt Daniel’s nasally but appealing voice to Jim Eno’s drumming, both brutal and precise, work together in perfect unison.

The Texans may be indie rock’s ultimate sneaky good band; they can probably walk the streets unrecognised and have never rode a wave of hype but they have quietly compiled a catalogue rated by Metacritic as the most critically acclaimed of the last decade.

Tonight’s Metro set is a tour de force demonstration of their lean, economical approach, crisp sound and unfailingly foot-tapping tunes. New songs like ‘Rainy Taxi’ and ‘Do You’ are as tightly coiled as a spring, while ‘Inside Out’ pairs a typically muscular rhythm to a twinkling keyboard melody to stunning effect.
It’s a good natured affair, ranging from the krautrock-leaning ‘The Ghost of You Lingers’ to the angular rhythms of ‘Don’t You Evah’ and an irresistibly funky ‘I Turn My Camera On’, complete with perfectly executed interlocking melodies.

Even the rare chaotic moments feel perfectly controlled – Alex Fischel’s bursts of keyboard noise during ‘Don’t Make Me a Target’ are like a master painter throwing a splash of paint over a canvas to complete the work.

As a nod to one of their favourite Australian bands, they make a spirited run at Eddie Current Suppression Ring’s ‘Memory Lane’ before ending with an emotionally charged ‘Black Like Me’ as well as Spoon classics ‘You Got Your Cherry Bomb’ and ‘The Underdog’, the latter beautifully understated.

On the final night of their Australian tour, there seems to be some indefinable extra spice to their performance, or maybe it’s just the infectious energy of a gun band visibly enjoying their work. Either way, it’s pretty hard to fault.