Live Review: The Whitlams, Battleships

14 September 2015 | 3:44 pm | Tim Kroenert

"The band seems unenthusiastic so we happily pick up the slack."

More The Whitlams More The Whitlams

First up is Battleships, mark two — frontman Jordan Sturdee having split from his fellow founding members last year. The current line-up of Sturdee, Kyle Shipton (drums), Rohan Nitschke (bass), Melinda Huurdeman (guitar) and Aled Humphreys (keys) has played only a handful of shows, but you wouldn't know it. They warm us up with 45 minutes of emotive indie-pop, elevated notably by Shipton's noisy elaborations on basic pop rhythms.

The Whitlams haven't had a new studio release in almost a decade, so we know what to expect from their set, and can't wait. After easing us in with 2002 hit Fall For You, inimitable frontman Tim Freedman declares, "A packed house at the Corner on a Thursday night. It's just like the old days." On cue, they launch into one-time Hottest 100 conqueror, No Aphrodisiac. Freedman looks his age, but his voice is pristine, his piano playing sublime. In Melbourne, the interplay between keys, Warwick Hornby's bass and Jak Housden's guitar exemplify the band's supreme musicianship. They bring it down a notch for 2002's The Lights Are Back On, Freedman's darkly discordant piano unsettling the sweet vocals, and then "power ballad" Best Work. "It's hard to sing, that's why I mimed it at the [2002 AFL] Grand Final," says Freedman. He predicts he'll "fuck up the first note" and does. Next, a pair of "neglected" songs from 2006's Little Cloud — the unremarkable White Horses and John Howard-inspired Year Of The Rat, with Terepai Richmond, whose jazz-infused drumming is excellent throughout, taking the lead on the latter song's catchy, rim-rapping bridge.

The nostalgia train keeps rolling: Housden and Terepai combine for a big-backbeat punch on Made Me Hard, which leads into the unmistakable piano intro and walking bass-driven verses of You Sound Like Louis Burdett. Ever the wit, Freedman dedicates Thank You (For Loving Me At My Worst) to "non-existent Melbourne taxis". Gough, another song inspired by a former PM, as of course was the band's name, from the band's 1993 debut LP, Introducing The Whitlams, is one of the night's rowdier numbers, its verses punctuated by some tight rhythm-section syncopation. The band "step out of party mode" and forward 13 years for Fondness Makes The Heart Grow Absent, a so-so big ballad that leaves the crowd momentarily listless. We're brought back by a routine rendition of 1999 hit Blow Up The Pokies (I Wish I...) — the band seems unenthusiastic so we happily pick up the slack. Freedman loses a line in Charlie No 1 ("We put the world on hold") but quickly covers with, "I put the verse on hold". He switches to piano-bar mode for Buy Now Pay Later (Charlie No 2) and the first half of Keep The Light On, before the band rejoins him for that song's big rock climax. They keep on rocking with Royal In The Afternoon, the Bennie And The Jets-inflected Peter Brown and, appropriately, I Will Not Go Quietly, to end their main set. For the encore, it's the psychedelic Been Away Too Long, after which Freedman wishes us a safe trip home and, by way of sustenance, gives us I Make Hamburgers — a fun, funky finale to an unabashedly nostalgic set.