Live Review: Underground Lovers, Jude McGee & The Soft Touch

12 March 2018 | 12:08 pm | Chris Familton

"The Australian kings and queens of hypnotic rock mantras and melodic psych-pop nuggets."

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The sound of the saxophone can be a polarising thing for people but in the hands of Jude McGee it sounded just right as her pseudo-jazz blowing wafted up the stairwell of the Oxford Art Factory.

Accompanied by Dermot Browne on guitar and a bassist/acoustic guitarist the trio played a set of songs that were part lounge jazz, part art-pop with distant echoes of post-punk. McGee was a member of Pel Mel in the '80s and with the Soft Touch she certainly recalls that band at times, but now the sound is stripped back and wistful, with little of the tension and drive of her previous band. They played to programmed drums, which isn't a criticism, but the sound person on the night didn't do the band justice with low volume and an inadequate balance between the drums and the rest of the band.

Underground Lovers have had a great run, both critically and with their live outings, in the wake of Staring At You Staring At Me. Tonight we were treated to two sets from the band, the first primarily based in the electronic realm, though still with guitars but no drums from Richard Andrew. It made for a tentative yet fascinating start, Vincent Giarrusso admitting the band's nerves. What it did do was highlight the way the band have straddled electronic and rock forms - highly competent in both and skilfully adept at blending the two. Rushall Station in particular sounded wonderful with its melancholic vocal drifting across the audience, while Philippa Nihill's rendition of Holiday from the Leaves Me Blind album also hit the spot nicely.

Returning for set number two, the full line-up went straight to the newest material with the heavily churning rock rhythms of Every SignThe Rerun and the beautiful keening strains of St Kilda Regret. Giarrusso was in his element out front and centre, eyes invariably closed and dispatching his chanted invocations as the band dug into heavy psych grooves, drawing the crowd in with them. They too experienced a less than perfect sound mix where it never quite came together, causing the band to never seem completely settled and focused on the music. Bass player Maurice Argiro in particular struggled with gremlins in his amp. Highlights were aplenty though with Au Pair sounding like Fugazi jamming with LCD Soundsystem. Las Vegas was as resplendent as ever, one of those songs that should've been a hit in a just world. Minor sounds issues aside, Underground Lovers showed they're as vital and musically adventurous as ever, the Australian kings and queens of hypnotic rock mantras and melodic psych-pop nuggets.

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