Live Review: Bigsound Live 2012

21 September 2012 | 9:20 am | Benny DoyleSam FisherEleanor HoughtonMitch KnoxBrendan Telford

Once again it's that magical time of year when bands from all around the country converge on Brisbane for a mid-week party of epic proportions, and this year we have 120 fine acts (including a solid contingent from overseas) strutting their stuff in 12 different venues. The streets are packed with smiling wristband- and lanyard-clad people rushing from stage to stage trying to maximise their experience, and what an experience it is. We can't cover it all, but here's just a few highlights from BIGSOUND Live 2012!


Jeremy Neale – more like Jeremy Neale and Co! It sounds less exciting than what it is but seriously; four sharp-suited Brissie kids thrashing around like it's a dexy-heavy swing party from the '60s – there's not much to dislike. The harmonies make the chunky riffing sound friendly and fun, while Neale has the stiff head-shake on lock, smiling cheekily at his reflection in the mirrors facing him. Did I mention Ric's is FUCKING JAMMED? No? Well it is. Cracking way to open the BIGSOUND account.

The salubrious vibes of Fishing permeate the room as BIGSOUND Live kicks off at Magic City. The duo delve in hypnagogic electro undercurrents, backed by blurry and warped VHS footage of the '80s Miami aquatic kind, and it's the perfect introduction to a fun-filled evening. The boys give a shy thumbs up to the enthusiastic crowd, eschewing the exultant set they present.

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Go Violets have everything you could want in a guitar pop band – incessant hooks that snag in the ear like a burr, incredible three-part harmonies, and an undying focus on marrying whimsy with ageless pop aesthetic. It's amazing they have slogged away this long without a multitude of zealous fans losing their minds over every narcotic-laced melody. But when they kill Teenager, it's clear that their time has come.

Sydney sound manipulator Flume is one of the most hyped acts here and a stuffed room attests to it. The kid opens with Left Alone and immediately starts slaying it. His drippy synth tone has that same texture as James Blake and backs up all the top-end warmth nicely. Possum drops and for four minutes not much else matters. Right now, Steve Jobs is looking down smiling.

The cavernous car park of the QMusic Stage is moderately full as Henry Wagons takes the stage sans his crew. He's in dry form, whipping through some country-fuelled numbers that are flecked with soul, carnivale grotesquery and gallows humour. He ribs the crowd, dedicating a song to a sole bearded punter called Keep Your Hands Off My Sister, whilst off ranting in a casino reverie sworn to “Las Brisbane”. His connection to the crowd is infectious, with revellers hustling to the front to take his rustic sojourns with both barrels. On a bill heavy with pop and garage rock, Wagons does more than “escape his fate” – he sets the bar.

Bearhug ignite the Press Club with their mixture of early My Morning Jacket and latter Dinosaur Jr pop, heavily featuring songs from brilliant album Bill, Dance, Shiner. The five-piece rip through the fast-paced Over The Hill, the jangling Angeline, the deceptively epic Cherry Red and the sanguine When I Shake. Guitar-heavy pop used to be Australian music's bread and butter – remember Bluebottle Kiss and Gaslight Radio? – and Bearhug prove that when done well, nothing beats it.

For a band called Winter People, they haven't managed to lower the temperature of The Zoo very well. Things are typically steamy and crowded, but the dark swagger of this music can only heat things up more. They are ridiculously impressive, with a sound that reeks of setting suns and dusty roads. The guitars are particularly strong, with the distinctive vocals taking a ride on the waves of sound before landing with a heavy thud that'll blow your little socks off. The violins lift the tracks to an almost epic level, giving this post-rock a shadowy beauty.

Cracking opener Half Of It introduces the crowd to production duo YesYou, fleshed out into a live quartet, and they deliver a set of warm synth-pop tunes that revitalises anyone finding themselves flagging from the weight of music present tonight. There's a small crowd milling out on the footpath transfixed, and new single Frivolous Life closes out the show in day-glo glory.

Watching hometown bands show no mercy on hometown crowds is always special. The 4122 cries are out early for Violent Soho – Luke Boerdam sounds like he's just pumped some JD down the gulp, James Tidswell is hoofing his way through his riffs while Luke Henery has a bass exorcism to the right side of the stage. Love Is A Heavy Word powers out early and Tinderbox is an utter steamroller late. With the pulsing lights behind the four of them it makes for a hell of a show. This new album can't come soon enough.

They might not need the showcase exposure, but ubiquitous local indie kids Ball Park Music sure do know how to draw a crowd. Despite being elbows to elbows as the precocious quintet begin their set, the amassed horde finds the room to jive and clap and sing along with gusto as Cromack and Co effortlessly – at times maybe a little too effortlessly – bring the goods and the good times, oh-so earnestly serenading us like old lovers with well-polished favourites (All I Want Is You, iFly) and new tricks such as the much-played Surrender. Hey, it is what it is. 

At first, it's a little difficult to see the gothic element of The Preatures' '60s-tinged mix of “gothic soul and rock'n'roll”, but as soon as guitarist and co-vocalist Gideon Benson opens his maw, his low croon solves the puzzle, providing a booming bottom-end juxtaposition to Isabella Manfredi's impressive pitch range. Both recent single Take A Card and Pale Rider, in which Manfredi exercises her vocals to full effect, are highlights of a generally impressive showing. Not a classically catchy outfit, but solidly put-together and certainly worth checking out if it's what you're into.

Trying to describe the sounds of Teeth & Tongue without overusing the word 'sultry' is hard to do. Jess Cornelius sounds like David Bowie, were he more woman than space-being. Her songs fill the Press Club with ballads of emotion, and in turn fill the Press Club with people who can't resist what they can hear from the road. She stands tall and strong behind her keyboard, flanked by her guitar and bass players, her blonde hair reminiscent of other female songstresses who have owned the music world completely. We should be hearing more of her in the future, and if we don't, there is something wrong with music.

One part old RxBandits, three parts LCD Soundsystem, the Melburnian on-stage ruckus that is Northeast Party House are having no problems at all winning the hearts and bodies of their crowd with their upbeat, dance-inducing tunes. The band's primary vocalist, Zach Hamilton, occasionally wanders from where he'd like to be, in terms of pitch, but not to any great lasting negative effect, and to be honest he and his cohorts are just so damn endearing and seem like genuinely fun people that really, little else matters but the feeling. And it feels good, man.

There's a huge crowd at the QMusic Stage to see local party starters Velociraptor do their thing, and no one is disappointed as the more intimate ten-piece version of the band bring the fun times to BIGSOUND, people dancing and singing along en masse to tunes like Sleep With The Fishes, Riot and the eternally captivating Cynthia. We'll have to share them with the world soon enough, but for now it's eminently exciting that we can call this great band our own.

Melbourne seven-piece King Gizzard & The Lizard Wizard close out the triple j stage at Oh Hello tonight with some mental rockabilly garage nonsense that kicks the balls and steals the heart. There's crowd surfing from the beginning as they tear the place apart with Garage Lilliard, Bloody Ripper, Muckraker and others from killer record 12 Bar Bruise. A small pocket of the crowd loses their shit, the rest lose their minds and hearing in what is the most raucous set of the night. Harmonica solos, flailing guitars and reckless abandon reign supreme. The king is dead – all hail King Gizzard!



Newcastle duo The Gooch Palms take no prisoners as they kick off Thursday's Ric's Bar shenanigans in debaucherous fashion. Gold hotpants, full frontal (and back, lotsa back) male nudity, Theremin thrashing – nothing is left off the cards in a blasted performance that throws BIGSOUND straight into the deep end. The best thing? The shenanigans never gets in the way of the tunes, a heady mix of Ramones, trashcan gauche and, surprisingly, soul.

The Cairos are tight as hell performance-wise and sound on point from the moment they kick into fun-time anthem Shame. It's uncertain if drummer BC is keeping beat from the bounce of Reuben Schafer's mass of locks or if the hair is simply getting pushed around by the tight fills – either way the rhythm section are sounding all kinds of awesome tonight. Brand new track Nothing's Impossible has a dark Cure-ish feel to it before exploding out during the chorus, and the quartet get epic during closer We All Buy Stars. It's still a mystery why these guys remain somewhat under the radar. Fuck it though, from a punters perspective, we might as well enjoy these more intimate shows while we can.

Mosman Alder take a little while to get the crowd truly into what they're offering – it takes God Is Pissing On You and He Died For Our Olives at least before real dancing begins to take place – but they definitely deserve credit for soldiering on anyway. They put on a good show, too – frontman Valdis Valodze's baritone croon is kind of delightful, and their catchy songs are enjoyable in the moment – and their quirky almost-country-but-in-no-way-country visual aesthetic, complete with sufficiently quirky violin player, is endearing to all and sundry.

Hey Geronimo jump on stage at The Zoo, and continue to jump (up, back down, into one another, one leg at a time… the list goes on) for the entire rest of their set. They open with Carbon Affair, and the chords that are somehow intrinsically familiar get everybody else simultaneously lifting both feet from the ground in time with the beats. This music is the stuff of beers in eskys and people in Ray-Bans and shorts, and larrikin fun times.

Do Straight Arrows ever NOT slay? The Sydneysiders bash through a set that electrified the surprisingly (and pleasantly so) massive audience. Mind Control is an early highlight, whilst It Happened Again provides the sloppy dirge. Owen Pengalis and Co give a shout out to the Brisbane Bullets basketball team, and when they refer to Campbell Newman as “you disgusting fucking pig”, they know what they are doing. Upper echelon of Aussie garage rock, proving most others are pretenders.

Saskwatch are keeping a very important and impossibly cool part of music alive, introducing their lead singer to the QMusic stage with all the gusto of a 1960s jazz hype-guy. Nkechi Anele swings her hips like Josephine Baker, in time to the soul-packed songs the massive band behind her dose out. In some numbers there are horns and guitar riffs that would make James Bond feel at home, and others would prick up James Brown's ears.

One of the hidden gems of BIGSOUND, Auckland thrashy trio Transistors tear through and exuberant set that leaves jaws broken on the floor. The youngsters are brutally loud yet a lot fun, intent on smashing eardrums and stealing the limelight from their vaunted peers. They said before jumping the ditch that they would destroy Brisbane – mission accomplished.

Step-Panther offer serious riot-inducing fun. It's the sort of music to destroy a house to, or push your mate down a hill in a shopping cart. Summed up in one word – reckless. D-Rad, drummer and general groupie slayer (theMusic BIGSOUND interviews do not lie people), is dynamite behind the skins. There's nothing overtly tech about his style – the guy just fucking gets it done. Out the front, meanwhile, Stevie and Jose are chopping their riffs up like surgeons, their energy matched by the slamming bodies in the front row. Fight Like A Night slays and the whole set makes you just wish someone would start a fire or something.

If nothing else, Melburnian MC Seth Sentry is charismatic. Very charismatic. Charismatic as balls. How many people do you actually know that can instantly have a room full of people eating out of their hand, singing the entire first verse of their airplay hit (The Waitress Song) for (not with) them, and reacting like a highly excitable Springer crowd to their freestyle rhymes and burns? Okay, so probably a few since hip hop's kind of popular these days, but that doesn't make the sheer spectacle of the Victorian's performance any less impressive. Whether you're a fan of rap or not, this is a hell of a show.

Music's lovable aunty, Clare Bowditch, delivers a performance that makes you want to jump on stage and give her a hug. Alhambra is packed, largely with females that have been spoken to by one of Bowditch's confidence-building tracks. Her anecdotes between songs are just as entertaining, and as always the messages behind her songs are well sung and beautiful.

Ric's has seen its fare share of great bands tonight, and Melbourne duo Super Wild Horses muscle their way onto the best-of list with an exuberant set filled with finely-calibrated tension. The tiny venue is rammed to see Amy and Hayley tighten the screws, offering coiled serpents of tracks that cut through. The efficiency brings to mind Sleater-Kinney at their most kinetic, with “epic” guitar, pummelling drums and those haunting yet barbed harmonies, flipped over halfway through for a sweeter-tinged pop whimsy.

If you were a robot, you would have a hard time making sense of We All Want To's Tim Steward and Skye Staniford – or, at least, their voices. As the pair front the local rock quintet's solidly executed setlist – just him, just her, together – it becomes apparent that one of this band's strongest points is the way in which Steward and Staniford's voices work with and against each other. They blend and stand distinct (the Staniford-centric We're Not Perfect is a standout), excellently complementing the surprisingly lush instrumentation, reaching an explosive apex in their wonderfully cascading ender, Shine.

You know what's funny about The Beards? The fact that they fucking rule. Who the hell told four blokes with rogue facial hair that they could write catchy-as-hell tunes, encourage the adulation of a whole carpark AND play their instruments like demons? Well, whoever it was, they need to be applauded. Frontman Johann Beardraven is dead-set Zach Galifianakis and just as entertaining, informing the crowd that You Should Have Sex With A Bearded Man while strapped in with a keytar, before inciting a mass singalong with Born With A Beard. Something as ridiculous as this always has the potential to get lost in translation, but even the hairless non-believers can't deny the power of the bearded four.

The dancefloor of the Mustang Bar gets a workout with the late evening set of Mia Dyson, her raspy country-esque rock loosening the collars of fans, old and new. She hasn't lost it, whatever it is, and she can still wield her guitar like an absolute pro. She is backed by a band that are flawless and edgy, and her songwriting proves as passionate as ever.

It's not a bad way to round out a couple of days of music appreciation and festivities: surrounded by the smell of freshly-cooked popcorn, within five metres of an operational bar, with a soundtrack provided by Art Of Sleeping. And, fortunately, the local indie five-piece more than hold up their end of the bargain, ably aiding the vibe with the dirty drops of Voodoo, the pitch-perfect gloss of Above The Water, and a whole ream of other, largely new, material that serves to dreamily rock its way into every heart in attendance and keep the flames of celebration ignited just that little bit longer.

Melbourne psychedelic punks Drunk Mums end the night ensuring everyone leaves deaf, dumb and covered in (fake) blood. The first couple of songs bleed into the garage rock throwaway realm, before they find their groove and the world is torn asunder. Their mullet-friendly garbage rock titillates the crowd, complete with their own dimestore Bez, whose schizophrenic, seizure-happy insanity is a sight to behold.

Completing proceedings in Black Bear Lodge are The DC3, the Melbourne band who share a remarkable resemblance to the much-missed TISM, perhaps because they share the same creative lynchpin. They sound great with a live drummer instead of the drum machine they toted last time, and tunes such as Henry Fucking Wagons (we couldn't spy the titular figure amongst the packed throng) and the surprisingly unhelpful I Was The Guy In TISM are among highlights, but generally it's just the constant interplay between the highbrow and lowbrow (plus an awesome rant about being at BIGSOUND) which makes this the perfect closer for two great nights of music.

And don't even get us started on the after-party...