Live Review: Paul Dempsey, Olympia

16 August 2016 | 11:02 am | Benny Doyle

"He's always been an affable gent, but tonight he's on form."

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The punters doing bicep curls in the beer garden don't know what they're missing. Olympia is absolute dynamite, with mastermind Olivia Bartley letting her voice sail. A twin microphone attack allows her to vocalise colourful stories and emotions in a really dynamic fashion. Her inventive guitar work is pushing St Vincent levels and, like her American counterpart, she manages to take off-kilter nodes and shape them to create weird pop bliss - like the tropical This Is Why We Can't Have Nice Things.

The trio stretch their set out a little longer than expected, much to our delight, and are utterly magnetic during their last stanza. Blue Light Disco features far more weight than the studio version, while the vox looping during Tourists creates grandeur - putting four, five, six Bartleys on stage. Olympia close with the undeniable Smoke Signals, immediately giving the feeling they'll be back headlining this venue sooner rather than later.

Depending on the way you hear him, Paul Dempsey could come across as a wise oracle, an honest lover or your introspective friend. Pretty much, the bloke can't write a bad song, and tonight he's strengthening the live experience for us with some fresh talent from his Melbourne locale. By the time Dempsey and his touring crew have taken their positions, the hangar contingent has swollen dramatically - the only Queensland date on his Strange Loop album tour is a sell-out. Olympia pair Bartley and Pat Bourke are in tow as part of the four-piece backing band, and by the time Dempsey is questioning us, "What's so good, about being understood?", it's clear this collective are working as one.

A flick of the hair, a rub of his canary yellow shirt, the Something For Kate frontman has quickly got us smitten. Dempsey doesn't hold back with his songbook either - gifting us with stunning renditions of Idiot Oracle, Blindspot and The Great Optimist. He's always been an affable gent, but tonight he's on form, cracking jokes about burnt festival feet and pedestrian stage banter, before jolting back to reality with the wistful Volunteers.

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Some spicy guitar work at the end of Fast Friends adjusts the intensity of the set, before the brooding, left-of-centre Lifetime Supply captivates the room. Dempsey points fingers during the rollicking We'll Never Work In This Town Again, before turning those fingers on himself when he forgets a line during Out The Airlock - "a nightmare scenario", he laughs. Covers of Television's Elevation and Pixies' Dig For Fire are clearly as good for the band as they are for the listener - Dempsey and Bartley revelling in the songs' technicalities. Fan favourites Ramona Was A Waitress and Bats are received with outstretched arms and swaying torsos.

The high point of the night, however, comes in the form of The True Sea - the seven-minute lead track from Strange Loop. Dempsey loses himself in the passages, the band follows him down the rabbit hole. We get the privilege of riding musical waves generated by one of Australia's great songwriters. Simply brilliant.