"It really does seem like the crowd tonight just wants non-stop soloing."
The Triffid tonight is a packed melting pot of music lovers, keen to get groovy with Melbourne multi-instrumentalist Harts on his final show of the Smoke Fire Hope Desire album tour.
There are guys and gals in festival attire, middle-aged rockers, tie-dye skateboarders, and others looking like they’ll be sinking cocktails at a rooftop bar, rather than a few schooners in the beer garden, after the show.
A staff member running around the venue with a ringing brass bell signalls that it's time for us to head inside to catch fellow multi-instrumentalist Yeo. Looking smart in a simple cap and a plain white tee, Yeo and his drummer instantly has the younger parts of the crowd dancing along to cuts from his 2016 album Ganbaru.
Bathed in geometric projections, the electronic neo-funk artist spurs his drummer, Andy, on for some short'n'sweet drum solos while he jumps between a computer and a synthesiser. The emergence of a keytar makes those loitering near the bar shuffle a little close to the stage, and Yeo becomes a ball of energy as he rips some epic '80s synth-rock-sounding solos. There must also be some rivalry between Harts and Yeo, as his keytar solo in a cover of Japanese Wallpaper’s Forces is nothing short of amazing.
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After a small team of roadies wheels Harts' many ‘music stations’ into place on stage, his drummer and bassist jump onstage and start jamming around When A Man’s A Fool. The grand entrance of a leather jacket-clad Harts invokes a flurry of screams and applause, and there’s some definite swagger in the way Harts slings on his signature painted Stratocaster. The Triffid is suddenly filled with a wave of heavy fuzz, and we reply accordingly when Harts asks, “Brisbane, are you with me?!”
Harts smoothly transitions into Lovers In Bloom, which sounds three times funkier live than on his debut album Daydreamer. There are somewhat subtle nods to his idol, the late and great Purple One, Prince, as Harts shakes his hips before hopping around the stage with his fingers seemingly smoking while sprinting along his fretboard. “He’s so fucking good!” says a nearby punter and, when watching a musician absolutely nail what they’re trying to achieve, it’s hard to say otherwise.
The opening fuzzed-up riff of Fear In Me is met with complete euphoria by the crowd, and some excellently timed strobe lights only add more ferocity to the ensuing mass headbanging. One male punter climbs onto his mate’s shoulder and proudly shows Harts his nips, which is appropriately ignored by the performer. With surprising viciousness, Harts crushes the rap section of the track. It seems Harts is just as quick with his tongue as he is on the guitar.
However, the vibe in The Triffid becomes strange as Harts attempts to “take it down a notch” with Unfamiliar, a track that would sound more at home on Childish Gambino’s latest album, Awaken, My Love!. Crowd chatter drowns out the brooding soundscape, and Harts’ complex layered vocals don’t connect with the audience.
Swapping the guitar for a black bass and having his bandmates leave the stage seems to re-interest the crowd. Harts aptly holds their attention by shredding and slapping like Seinfeld’s soundtrack but sped-up through slow burner Here I Go and Vampire, from his 2013 EP Offtime.
The energy is put back into the crowd thanks to funky tune Realize, and Harts finally gets some crowd participation through a breakdown clap-along. Another smooth transition, this time into Peculiar, results in a sing-along and action poses galore as Harts rips another scintillating guitar solo.
Fan-favourite Breakthrough allows the grooves to continue, as Harts unleashes a glorious wah-wah solo, during which he seemingly makes eye contact with the hundred closest punters to the stage. If three minutes of wah-shredding wasn’t enough, Harts drops in a sneaky funk rendition of Dr Dre’s The Next Episode before ending on a truly face-melting passage of guitar-playing.
After what seems like his 50th guitar solo, Harts’ lead breaks in Red & Blue and Tide feel a bit too much like showboating. In fact, it isn’t really until he plants the guitar behind his head that the crowd returns to shrieking and praising his name. He then turns 180 degrees to seemingly prove it is indeed his blurring fingers skipping along the guitar’s fretboard. Surely the only way he can visually top this is with pyrotechnics…
Returning for an encore, Harts and his bandmates burst straight into an instrumental jam of All Rise, sounding (in the best possible way) like a super-funky bull in a china shop with wah-wah pedals for hooves. Once again, Harts’ crowd interaction falls flat as he attempts an inspirational speech, which includes the line, "We gotta love each other and support ourselves." It really does seem like the crowd tonight just wants non-stop soloing. The explosive and bluesy Smoke Fire Hope Desire album closer Ain’t Too Far Gone then invokes mass swaying… and some serious French kissing between nearby couples.
As he swaps his colourful Stratocaster for a bright-red-and-glittered one, Harts thanks "each and every one" of us for coming and supporting him: "I’ve been doing this for eight years and it’s only now coming together," he says. Saving possibly his grooviest song to date, Power, for last, Harts makes sure we all sing and dance along to the straight-shooting funk-rock number. The strobes flash in time with Hart’s lightning-fast fingers. Hethen nonchalantly throws his shiny guitar in the air and walks off stage before it thuds to the ground.
It’s not the end to the set many expected, but as with anything that happens in a Harts show, every action has to be dripping with flair… and fuzz.