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BIGSOUND Live Review - Alan Boyle

BIG SOUND Live is a mammoth music event by any standards: Eighty bands performing in eight venues spread over two nights, concentrated in little over a square kilometre of Brisbane's Fortitude Valley.

Normally the sort of place to get your head kicked in on a weekend night, the mid-week positioning of these showcases means hipsters, indie-kids, punks, crusties and hip-hoppers are in a massive majority, safely swarming around Brunswick Street and surrounds like happy drunken lemmings. So many acts in such a short time-frame means lots of venue-hopping and an attention span comparable with your iPod shuffle function.

A multitude of lanyards and wristbands are flashed in the faces of disinterested security, and more cops than usual are hanging out at Pie-Face but everybody is out for the same reason. Music. And heaps of it.


Wednesday night kicks off in Ric's Bar with LULUC winding their slow and easy way through beautiful peasant folk. A complete anathema to the Ibiza disco shite pumping from the venue next door, Zoe Randall has an almost Nico-like quality to her voice and the Sydney two-piece send ornate postcards from the pure folk world. On and off-stage partner Steve Hasset doesn't takes his eyes from her for a second as she sways solo for "Little Suitcase". It's the courtly attention of a bygone age and it's entrancing....  Before closing with "One Day Soon" they announce that Nick Drake's old producer Joe Boyd has asked them to perform at the Way To Blue tribute at the Sydney Opera House and Melbourne Recital Hall in November, and that is all rather perfect somehow.

Electric Playground on Warner Street is a weird cross between church and strip-bar, pre-pubescent bunny girls wandering around with bereft drink trays while Canadian band Imaginary Cities rock out on the stained podium. If Coldplay had come from Winnipeg and moved to Detroit this would have been the band that took over the world a few years ago. Thankfully Marti Sarbet looks much better in a black dress than Chris Martin, and co-writer Rusty Matyas sticks to thrashing his Telecaster and leading the rest of the band resplendent in white. Despite suffering from the acoustics of a vaulted ceiling, they are obviously glad to be here, recently signing a distribution deal with Aussie imprint Shock Records and are touring with Sparkadia later this month.

New Zealander Hollie Fullbrook is Tiny Ruins, and Ric's is packed out from the first note that falls from her Martin guitar. She is unassuming and perfect in a very special way... singing the true (or perhaps not) story of a man who jumped from a cliff holding on to a bunch of balloons. "Did he seek Heaven, or the truth? Or did he just want to go out with a bang, so to speak".

Across the street Split Seconds ramp up the pace with "Paper Boy", a little flash-mob vibe out front of stage as they do their best to sound like the Kaiser Chiefs. There's sweat and blood and little cuts left all over the Black Bear Lodge when these lads finish up.

Stonefield are quite incredible. It's like a high-school disco at Bakery Lane with the best band the PTA could afford. Four sisters in cute headbands raised on a diet of 70's psych-rock hold a few hundred people twice their age mesmerised by skills you simply can't put on Australia's Got Talent. At such a collectively young age (bassist Holly Findlay is only twelve) the novelty-act aspect is hard to deny, but hearing Amy Findlay screaming "Through The Clover" while smashing it out on the drums, puts it all away - these girls are freakishly good, and can only get better.

Back to the Black Bear Lodge for Queensland's Most Popular Male Ben Salter. About to head off on a national tour for his new solo album, "The Cat", Salty and Co. open with the LP's title-track after bassist Mel Fraser does her make-up in the footlights. There's no artifice here, just strong and naked songs, pushed along by Dale Peachey's guitar and keys and the man's heavy world view. "Opportunities" is all handclaps and acoustic guitar and "West End Girls" gets us up for a hometown dirge that gives time and words to an atmosphere unique to Brisbane. This might be the first time the Lodge has had some major bass action since re-opening it's old Troubadour doors - it's enough to dislodge an archaic ceiling fixture and almost brain Salter before they jump into "I Am Not Ashamed". Anybody who has ever waited in the harsh and judgemental morning light outside a bottleshop will get this song. Perhaps it's what makes me sidle off for a cup of tea and fall into bed...

Twenty-four hours later, batteries are re-charged and first cab off the rank for Thursday's super happy fun times is JJJ Unearthed winners Founds at the Woodland Bar, setting the pattern for the night. There's initially only a smattering of folks wandering about sipping the expensive export gargle, but by the end of "Gypsie Horse" the room has instantly filled. Sounding urgent yet dreamy, Founds smash their way through a solid set of percussive magic under the framed landscapes on the wall behind...  Heavy-lidded and light voiced, by the third song hats are off and skirts are hitched, but it's time for us to move on.

To the Rescue Ships at Black Bear and the gorgeous piano accordion-wielding librarian Elana Stone and acoustic guitar virtuosity of Brian Campeau. They bring wow and flutter to a packed room with stunning arrpegiated layers, staggered vocal scales, and noisy climaxes all round. Big sound indeed - Andy Bull's loss is our gain.

DZ DEATHRAYS deserve their capital letters. They went off to the States as DZ and earned them like bloodthirsty tiger-stripes... Shane Parsons is easily the greediest guitarist in the world, running through two guitar amps plus a bass rig to make the most of the available backline and shake the mortar from the walls of the Bakery Lane. Lots of flailing hair and arms make them the Kali of DIY garage rock, and it's plenty who surge to the front to be beaten back by the sheer sonic ferocity of the two-piece.

We retreat to to the relative safety of the Black Bear Lodge again (yup, it might be a parallel-universe version of the Troub but it's still the best venue in town), and New Zealand super-group The Adults kick off. A constantly revolving collective of artists, tonight they are a strangely sexy disfunctional family with a virtual drummer who somehow manages to be bigger than the live players. Group founder Shayne Carter is the Gary Newman-ish Dad, perving across his keyboard while Shihad guitarist Jon Toogood plays a younger brother with massive style. Red-haired bassist Julia Deans moves like she's got "Addicted to Love" on her brain and it's all very convincing. Some mid-set instrument swapping resets the paradigm and Toogood admits he's "really fuckin happy" to be playing the bass before ripping into "Nothing To Loose", co-written with fellow NZ artist

The crowd at Bakery Lane are pretty loose by the time Papa vs. Pretty come on, but the Sydney three-piece are tighter than a cat's arse, grabbing our attention with "Wrecking Ball" before it's too late. It's pretty much the only showcase we see from start to finish. Perhaps it's because the night is drawing in, but there's less ebb and flow of the crowd here than previously. People are choosing the last acts of their night very carefully.

Last Dinosaurs are playing to a home crowd at the Aviary, a big room atop Birdy NumNums. There's stuffed parrots on every rafter and capacity jumps from comfortable to crammed within the first song as the punters pack into one of the last shows of Big Sound Live 2011. Honolulu" is a perfect jerky climax to the night, our elbows and knees marking time before the gilded carriage become a pumpkin.

The folks who kept it together go home and the rest of us head downstairs to the after-party. No more cups of tea for us...


Alan Boyle - AAA Backstage

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