Live Review: Jack Ladder & The Dreamlanders

9 January 2016 | 12:51 pm | Tim Kroenert

"Ladder himself is a six-foot-six emo cowboy, who doesn’t so much wear his influences as imbibe and regurgitate them."

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“We’re Jack Ladder & The Dreamlanders, and you don’t know what you’re in for.” Ladder and co. seem both out of place and strangely at home in the civilised surroundings of the NGV. Guitarist Kirin J. Callinan appears wearing a black beret, John Waters pencil-mo and what looks like a faux snakeskin jacket; bassist Donny Benet, with bushy moustache, bald head and red suit jacket, resembles Ron Jeremy playing a car salesman in a Tim Burton film. Ladder himself is a six-foot-six emo cowboy, who doesn’t so much wear his influences as imbibe and regurgitate them, reconstructed: from moment to moment tonight he’s Nick Cave, Robert Smith, Jim Morrison, Johnny Cash or Leonard Cohen. Meanwhile the faces of Andy Warhol and Ai Weiwei, the iconoclastic artists whose works fill the surrounding galleries, loom over the proceedings like a pair of subversive Big Brothers. Squint, and you could mistake the band for one of their exhibits.

The frontman’s introduction is strangely sinister, but it turns out that what we’re “in for” is an enthralling hour-long set of the outfit’s signature dark dream-pop. Most songs are drawn from 2014’s sublime and diverse Playmates LP, like the gleefully depraved crooner Come On Back This WayHer Hands — which rides a funky beat laid down by Benet and drummer Laurence Pike — and Reputation Amputation, a song that rocks like early Bad Seeds and features a noisy, Doors-y breakdown.

Ladder is either high or acting like it — at one point he appears to forget the name of keyboardist Neal Sutherland, which is a shame because the layers of atmospheric sound that Sutherland contributes make him one of the Dreamlanders’ unsung heroes — yet Ladder remains a captivating and unpredictable frontman. “We heard this song in the bathroom and thought we'd give it a go. In honour of the art,” he says. At first this comes across as a dig at the exhibition, but it turns out the song in question is Nobody But You, Lou Reed and John Cale’s touching tribute to Warhol. Only a few of us know it, which, Ladder observes, is pretty weird under the circumstances.

Next up is “a song you might like”, Cold Feet, the only song to make an appearance from the excellent 2011 album Hurtsville. Its stirring synth lines pave the way for “a special love song for a special person”: “She's here somewhere,” says Ladder, gazing futilely at the faces in the crowd. To Keep & To Be Kept is as close to U2 as Jack Ladder & The Dreamlanders get, but it’s closely followed by an older song, 2008’s The Barber’s Son, a noisy Bad Seeds pastiche that at once rebukes and echoes the preceding song’s populist pretensions. Warhol would approve. 

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