Live Review: Divine Times

7 March 2016 | 1:49 pm | Andrew McDonald

"As great as the other acts were, this mini-festival was always about The Jesus & Mary Chain."

More The Jesus & Mary Chain More The Jesus & Mary Chain

There could hardly have been a better opening act for an afternoon of noisy pop music than the ever-changing Jonathan Boulet. Now well and truly settled into his post-punk obsessions, the Sydney local opened with a searing, droning sludge-psych-rocker before breaking into the skittish post-punk he is now know for. With every near abusive riff and heavy one-two drum beat, it became harder to remember the folksy indie-popper Boulet bizarrely was at some point. What grounded the entire set was that Boulet and his duelling guitarist, drummer and saxophonist punctuated the overall quite draining, heavy set with a number of lighter hearted, short instrumental jams. Despite the early set time, Boulet continued to show why we need to laud him as one of the best new artists in the city.

On the back of her wonderful sixth album under the US Girls moniker, Meghan Remy took to the stage accompanied only by a back-up singer turned occasional dancer, and a board of electronic miscellanea. Wasting no time showing off why 2015's Half Free deserved the critical acclaim it received, Remy busted out groovy electro-pop like only she can. Interspersed with flourishes of noisier experimental harshness, it was almost as if Remy was trying to undercut her pop songwriting ability. The set got increasingly dark and heavy as it went on, showing off how great a controller of mood the US Girls act has always been. Intermittent guest appearances of a guitarist cowboy brought a welcome shoegaze-style wall of noise to almost every other song.

Arguably the most straightforward act of the evening, Canadian jangle-pop rockers Alvvays nonetheless were the first group to really get their crowd moving. Ebbing, as they do, from dream-pop to rockier dance-ready numbers, the five-piece never lost sight of the aesthetic and frontwoman Molly Rankin deserves much of the praise for this. Her ideal dream-pop voice offers a fascinating change from the more indie-disco elements of the band's sound. The poppiest and most lush group of the night, Alvvays provided a welcome respite from noise.

Sydney's Seekae always deliver the goods live and on record, so it was of little surprise to anyone in the increasingly packed out Big Top circus tent that the trio brought the room down, fluctuating between the energetic pounding electro-pop that feels so natural on their records to more melodic soundscapes and ambient jams. What was most interesting about the group's set was the ease with which they were able to swing between the avant-garde and naturalist pop. Glitch-driven electronica and club bangers stood side by side with no judgement from the group. The pleasure that comes from watching the trio create live samples on the fly is only outdone by how great the samples work in the wider spectrum of their sound.

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As great as the other acts were, this mini-festival was always about The Jesus & Mary Chain. Back after too many years gone, the noise-pop pioneers are currently celebrating the 30th anniversary of their iconic groundbreaking debut Psychocandy, which comprised the second half of the night's set. What The Jesus & Mary Chain have always done so well is mask relatively straightforward and downright poppy songs under the aesthetic of experimental noise, and this comes across even stronger live than it does on record. Songs like Just Like Honey and You Trip Me Up, and absolute set standout, the deliriously noisy My Little Underground, sound like barrages of white noise at times, but close attention shows how utterly gorgeous they are, and singer and guitarist brothers Jim and William Reid were clearly revelling in this dynamic. Joined by Lush's Phil King on second guitar, the faithful recreation of Psychocandy 30 years on transformed the nihilist tone of the album into something ultimately more hopeful. Occasionally shambolic, and definitely overly noisy on purpose, the album live is still a remarkably confronting piece of art after these three decades. But ultimately Psychocandy serves to stand for a bleeding-heart-turned-heart-on-the-sleeve reckless abandon that is at the core of both rock and pop music. That the Reid brothers can still tap into these notions after so many years is a wonder...

In spite of the occasional sound bleed from other areas of the Spectrum Now festival, and a bizarrely egregious use of cell phones being held up the entire night, the night was overall a wonderful showcasing of the different faces experimental music has in the pop world.