Live Review: PLGRMS

21 November 2016 | 2:52 pm | Max Higgins

"Occasional slip-ups are far outweighed by skilled musicianship."


The Woolly Mammoth is an enigma of a location. Part restaurant, part craft beer bar and part live music venue, at times, it can come across as a strange jambalaya of intersecting ideas. Sometimes, having tables where a dance floor should be can turn even the most sincere band’s performance into background music for the after-work drinks that happen or, alternatively, a nice meal can be thrown into chaos by an overly enthusiastic artist.

However, for the PLGRMS show, the audience is so captivated, it almost wouldn’t have mattered if there was a life-size prehistoric animal in the room... Oh, wait. The Sydney indie-tronica duo (plus one) can capture the crowd in the way that only some artists can ever hope to, and hardly an eye turns from the stage throughout their performance.

The wide, open drinking hall of the Woolly Mammoth feels like an intimate backroom when Jake Pearson and Jonathan Bowden, joined by a touring multi-instrumentalist, open their set to a small but attentive crowd. The opening pulses of the synthesised bass shakes the tables and pounds chests, but as soon as the thick and textured layers of guitar, electronica, and looped percussion fades into the mix, there’s an unavoidable sense of ease in the room. The samples and sounds for the tracks are interesting and unique, and they certainly send the audience on a sonically experimental trip, with many of the short drum-pad loops sounding like backmasked samples, or thick, digitally altered chords. Though there are many, these layers often combine to create an almost stripped-back sound. When you stop and break the sound down, you can discern so many individual parts and moments; however, when they are all taken together, it sounds like a thick, bass-heavy foundation for Pearson’s powerful vocals.

In each song, Pearson embodies a different vocal character, from powerful and full to a falsetto whisper, and at times his pipes reflect a whole spectrum of other vocalists, from a husky Matt Corby to a male version of the breathy Lana Del Rey. His impressive voice perfectly complements the handcrafted electronic beats and samples for each track, and his range means that there is nowhere this outfit can’t go. There are some slip-ups at various moments from the two instrumentalists - who, in fairness, are trying to juggle five different roles at once. Both are armed with guitars, drum pads, synthesisers and laptops, as well as taking on supporting vocal roles. Occasionally a drum stroke would fall just outside the beat, or a polyrhythm would fail to realign with the beat after a phrase, but these occasions are few and far between, and, with the depth of sound coming from the stage, don’t detract from the moment.

Don't miss a beat with our FREE daily newsletter

The occasional slip-ups are far outweighed by skilled musicianship as recorded soundscapes are recreated live onstage with minimal backing tracks, and maximum hand flurries. However, Pearson must be singularly commended on his skill; in Pareidolia, his solo guitar finger-plucking comes across as though multiple artists are on stage at once. Through the back end of the set, when singles like Gemini, Fools & Their Gold and Pieces ring out across the venue, the levels of layered percussion step up and, by the end of the performance, there isn’t a moment of rest or silence in any track; each filled by a small sample or loop.

It’s truly a strong performance, and, in a more intimate setting, could have been intensely moving and raw. If you’re a fan of the indie-electronica wave we’re in the midst of, with bands like Boo Seeka or MTNS, be sure to keep an eye on the up-and-coming PLGRMS.