Live Review: Graveyard Train - The Hi-Fi

29 May 2012 | 4:44 pm | Steve Bell

It’s the strength of their songs and incredible Russian choir-like vocal harmonies that really set Graveyard Train apart, the band seeming like one multi-limbed beast with seven mouths but only one communal feral brain.

Melbourne death-country outfit Graveyard Train are booked into a far bigger room than their usual Brisbane haunts tonight – with this in mind it's not so much a surprise as a relief that a huge throng of people have turned out early to see Melbourne quartet Jackals go through their paces, and from the get-go it's clear that this band is one to keep an eye on. They smash straight into a maelstrom of swampy rock'n'roll that's intrinsically Australian – think The Birthday Party, The Scientists et al. – but immediately set apart because one of them is skronking on a huge fuck off clarinet, adding discord to the already dense atmosphere (he alternates between this and a strange homemade plank guitar for the rest of the set). No Heaven is an early standout but it's all solid, frontman Alex Burt leading the way with his raspy, emotive voice and cocksure swagger. They enter dark country terrain a couple of times but it's mainly primal rock that they deliver, and they finish a powerful and entertaining set with the driving dirge of VST.

Local deviates The Good Ship are about to release a new album and seem in high spirits as they kick off strongly tonight with recent single Seven Seas and old faves These Are A Few Of My Favourite Flings and rousing stomper Sea Monster. The large stage suits the ensemble as it gives them space to move around and relax into their ragged roles, their diverse instrumentation and period aesthetic as visually and aurally appealing as always. Jaunty new tune Ghost Ship moves onto deranged murder shanty Glory – their warped worldview seems to find characters either withering in the hull of some scurvy-ridden hulk or scouring dingy back alleys for sex during shore leave, a grubby vista indeed – and they finish their set with a version of the traditional Drunken Sailor that would make an inveterate seadog blush with its lyrics about doing nasty things with rusty dildos, but that's all part of their naughty nautical allure.

There's a huge crowd now assembled and slobbering to see Graveyard Train launch their third album, Hollow, and as soon as the band's taken up their instruments they're into the deranged One Foot On The Grave, co-frontman Beau Skowron going ballistic as be belts out the new tune at the bemused audience. The banjo-driven A Tall Shadow brings a moment of familiarity to proceedings, before another new songs is aired in the form of The Sermon – which sounds creepily like Modest Mouse at their most addled – and it becomes clear that this crowd don't care what they're served up, they're gonna dig it all. This is no ordinary country act – Adam Johansen smashes his hammer unrelentingly into the chain gripped firmly in his fist as Matt Andrews gives rhythm on his washboard, for starters – but it's the strength of their songs and incredible Russian choir-like vocal harmonies that really set Graveyard Train apart, the band seeming like one multi-limbed beast with seven mouths but only one communal feral brain as they power through the creepily catchy Even Witches Like To Go Out Dancing. Guitarist Josh Crawley nabs vocal duties for Hollow highlight Life Is Elsewhere, main-man Nick Finch taking back the reins for the gorgeous Mary Melody before the crowd kick in with live singalong fave Bit By A Dog. The lyrical fare is heavy – all mayhem, monsters and morbidity – but the vibe is of cathartic release and celebration, Finch fitting in a massive sincere shout out to Brisbane in between final tunes Mummy and Boneyard, the gang closing as they began in a cloud of captivating camaraderie and effortless charisma. Skowron whips the crowd up to beg for an encore and we willingly oblige, Graveyard Train returning to the fray and belting out live standard All Will Be Gone and it's shouted refrain of “You're all going to die!”, like some sort of depraved morality play (mortality play?) – everyone eventually leaving happy in the knowledge that death isn't something to be feared as long as you spend your time on earth in the company of bands and music this good as often as physically possible.