Live Review: Methyl Ethel @ Northcote Theatre

22 December 2023 | 3:35 pm | Claire Dunton

Reminiscent of a mad scientist, Methyl Ethel's precision and concentration is such an intimate thing to witness.

Methyl Ethel

Methyl Ethel (Credit: Xan Thorrhoea)

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Methyl Ethel, the moniker of solo vocalist and instrumentalist, Jake Webb, returned to stages for the ‘New & Old’ Australian Tour. On Thursday, December 7, the weather was warm and the audience at Northcote Theatre brought a restless end-of-year energy that perfectly met the lively performance of Methyl Ethel and support act, Armlock.

Throughout the set, Methyl Ethel was joined on stage by a four-piece band, with the black-clad musicians playing keyboard and cello. Audiences were treated to a surprise guest, Stella Donnelly, who joined Methyl Ethel on stage as a vocalist and keyboardist. Donnelly finishes up her Victorian tour in mid-December, with her addition not formally part of the tour, but rather a Melbourne-only perk. With Proof one of my favourite tracks by Methyl Ethel, featuring Donnelly, to see the duo perform that together on stage was unforgettable, with Donnelly taking centre stage as Webb was in the back on keys.

One image that I have come to attach to Methyl Ethel over the years is Webb hunched over the keyboard, with the single light sources cutting his silhouette, with seemingly hundreds of cords curled on the ground and connected to the keyboard. Reminiscent of a mad scientist, the precision and concentration of Webb when he’s in the moment on keys, is such an intimate thing to witness and so unique to his stage presence.

Methyl Ethel’s classic tracks, Ubu, Drink Wise, Twilight Driving and Proof were peppered through the set, and the signature minimalist lighting for the slower, heart-felt tracks brought the audience in. As the tour name suggests, the show included new tracks that had never been heard, incorporating the newly assembled band. It will be interesting to see if these tracks are part of a bigger album or an opportunity for the group to showcase their sound and gauge the reception.

The crowd seemed to love the mix of new and old music, but that could have something to do with the audience tailoring the set list, as ticket holders had a chance to submit a setlist request when they bought tickets – a great way to build hype and engagement before the show.

Armlock was the support act for Melbourne, Sydney and Brisbane shows, with FELIVAND supporting for the last leg of the tour in Adelaide and Perth. Despite the slow, monotone pace of Armlock’s music, the indie duo were so captivating, with the seven-track set leaving us wanting more. Since releasing their album, Trust, in 2021, Armlock has garnered a cult following and even made it to one of the Music writer's albums of the year.

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