Live Review: Love Of Diagrams, Scott & Charlene's Wedding, Thibault @ Northcote Social Club

23 March 2024 | 3:45 pm | Andy Hazel

Love Of Diagrams prove that, despite all that has happened in the last seven years, they still sound like no one else.

Love Of Diagrams

Love Of Diagrams (Credit: Andy Hazel)

Much like Wilco's recent shows at the Forum and the prices at the merch desk ($30 for an album, $20 for a t-shirt), tonight's concert evokes an earlier time. The difference between Wilco's audience and tonight's sold-out show is that here, there are just as many, if not more, women than dads. 

But before we can revel in one of the great Melbourne bands of the 2000s comes the appealing assertiveness of Thibault. Multi-instrumentalist Nicole Thibault is a glorious presence on stage. Fingers picking out arpeggios and stabbing at chords on her Nord keyboard, dress billowing as she moves between instruments, her warm and piercing voice filling the room.

Thibault seems most at home when talking to the audience, which seems to be largely made up of friends or people she treats as friends. Sharing stories about demolishing the rider at last night's show, about a drunken Mac DeMarco inviting her to his house for Christmas (“I don’t know how he’s still alive. He really knows how to party”) and inviting people to join her band mid-gig (“I’ve asked people to join my band one has ever asked me to join their band,” she observes) she is joyous company. Thankfully, her songs are just as engaging.

Bright keyboard lines, fluid textures from guitarist Zak Olsen and the rhythm section of local legends Parsnip – bassist Stella Rennex and drummer Rebecca Liston – round out songs like the home cooking ode Spanakopita and glittering instrumental Treasure Trove.

“We're going to play a new song now,” says Thibault, picking up her trombone. It's a song that rips off all my other songs, but that’s how it works, isn’t it?” The band closes out their set with Later Expectations, a highlight from their 2020 album Or Not Thibault. They're a band so unassuming and welcoming that it is easy to forget just how great they are.

As Scott & Charlene’s Wedding arrive on stage, the room gets tighter and the mood is dialled to a gentle convivial euphoria. Everyone seems excited to be out and buoyed by memories of the last time they heard this music.

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Another soundtrack to many of these is Craig Dermody's project, now in its 18th year. Joined by bassist Jack Farley, lead guitarist and singer Gill Tucker, and drummer Joe Alexander, Dermody peals through some of the band's best songs, Scrambled Eggs, Bush, and Don't Bother Me. As with Thibault, it is easy to overlook the talent that exists in our midst, and Dermody stakes yet another claim as one of the city's greatest songwriters.

"'Cause I've seen days / Turn my world black, black, black, black, black / Now these little things, they don't bother me," he sings as he slashes away at his Telecaster. Meanwhile, Tucker – scarcely able to conceal her joy at performing – almost steals the show with her solos and fluid playing. It's a dynamite combination.

"Love Of Diagrams have been away for seven years," says Dermody. They mentored me. They mentored all of us." He adds to cheers from the crowd. Closing with "my favourite song”, Dermody dives into Footscray Station: “I think I lost my brain / I think I lost my soul / But I found it again in rock roll". Surely, another under-sung anthem.

"One of the thoughts I had after having a break was, I wanted to be less hectic about the way that I shared music with other people," Love Of Diagrams' Antonia Sellbach told Sam Cummins on his Triple R radio show Press Colour earlier in the week. "Essentially, you are communing together, and I didn't necessarily want to be passing on those feelings I had in a public arena."

Beginning as an instrumental band, Love Of Diagrams have always made songs open to interpretation. Full of power and moving along a spectrum that ranged from seismic exhilaration to mournful anxiety, the crowds they drew from their birth in the early 2000s was unusually broad for a band once described by Pitchfork as working "with mad scientific precision".

Asking people what they thought songs were "about" was a fraught exercise. This openness means that when the trio of guitarist and singer Luke Horton, drummer Monika Fikerle and Sellbach on bass and vocals revisit these songs, they, too, have the capacity to understand them anew.

Hearing this music played with the forceful intensity that was always part of the band's music but through a better sound system and a renewed confidence and intentionality is thrilling. Fikerle's militaristic drumming is still a thing of wonder. Constantly pushing the songs forward, her precision combined with Sellbach's melodic and often distorted basslines anchor the songs in a way that still feels new.

Album and live reviews in the past might have leaned on genres like shoegaze, no-wave and post-punk, but in full flight, it feels like no other band has dug as deep into this specific way of using guitar, bass and drums. Few bands sound this tight, this well-rehearsed and driven by personalities more content to express themselves through their instruments.

Opening with What Are You Waiting For?, the first track on their 2007 release The Target Is You, the crowd is instantly on board. Waiting, The Pyramid and Blast follow. Even listening to the way Horton retunes his guitars between the songs sounds transportive, but this concert is not just about nostalgia.

Songs like How You Run, Pace Or The Patience and Deep Sky still sound thrillingly visceral. Love Of Diagrams still sound like a band on the verge of being "discovered" by a new generation of musicians. As to why we have waited so long for a Love Of Diagrams show, Horton offers, "Our daughter is seven. I blame her."

Closing with the staggering Counting To Ten, Mountain and an encore of "that one that was in The O.C.", No Way Out, Love Of Diagrams prove that, despite all that has happened in the last seven years, they still sound like no one else.