As if it wasn’t enough that I, A Man offered a killer sophomore EP, they also provided one of the best line-ups to launch it that inner-Melbourne has seen this year thus far. Namely, a handful of equally obscurely named bands, well, except for opening act Neighbourhood Youth that is.
They don’t have much visual appeal, dressed in plain shirts and shorts, they furrow the typical ‘heads-down’ mode of most fresh faced acts, but nevertheless sound far better than most opening acts should. Particularly given the small crowd, their tight rhythm section – all trebly bass and backbeat drums – suit their indie rock swell nicely. They even get some cowbell action in for Only One, with their other tunes characterised by stop-start dynamics and shuffling, danceable rhythms while frontman John Philip offers some yearning vocals. Their strongest tunes, namely the upbeat Home and hook-driven Stone, have a solid thing going, if not the performative aspect to sell them just yet. Elementally, they’ve got it going, but there’s still some gelling to go yet.
Electronic collective I’lls’ (said Isles) are the first to bring the ‘search-engine-proof’ vibe to the bill, but also some smart computer magic and compelling textures. Led by rakish frontman Simon Lam (formerly of Kins, AMR spotters), and flanked by the pair of flannel wearing Dan Rutman and Hamish Mitchell, they deliver some hypnotic glichtronica and spacious atmospherics; accompanied by a bassist who could be straight out of Scott Pilgrim (it turns out she’s Lam’s sister, Eliza). Though their origins are as a bedroom project, hinted at by their band name emblazoned with felt-tep pen on their core laptop, their dreamy sounds are far more ambitious. Effectively recreating their Thread mini-album on stage was arguably not for everyone, the chatter rising, but there was no denying their talent. Particularly set closer, When I Know, fleshing out guitar splashes and toxic keys against layered choral loops until the whole shimmering jumble is warped into a separate rhythmic texture by Lam flicking a killswitch. He then moves to a dormant drum-kit to fill out a final section as he plays and sings, band in full swing. If the rest of their set’s chillwave Radiohead via Burial sounds inspired somnambulism, their exit was a stunning wake-up call.
Bringing their own brand of attention-grabbing to the stage were Melbourne up-and-comers Tehachapi. Beginning life as a post-rock inspired act, they’ve since let psychedelia and blues mottle their sound to thrilling results. Their searing dynamic arcs are drawn out over stretching jams that throng with The Doors’ furthest trips on the fringes. Drummer Laura Christoforidis hippy-ish look of ecstasy as she grooves on her elastic time-keeping while bewitchingly cooing proves a magnetic focal point. Musically and visually, she provides a dynamic counterpart to the brassy voice of wild and wooly-haired singer/guitar-slinger Constantine Stefanou.
Opening with Her Body Is A Temple, But So Is Mine, a cut that’s as long and meditative as its title (if not more-so), they wind through sinewy grooves towards a four-part vocal harmony of “we all come/from love,” intoned like a mantra. They follow it up with a sprawling instrumental, swept with doom-metal worthy distorted grooves and searing crescendos. It’s a bit early in the set for such intensity, but it’s thrilling and competent nonetheless. With their songs lasting an average of eight minutes or more, they take their time to make their point, but the sonic scenery is really the purpose of the journey, not the destination.
With such strong and varied support, there was a sense of expectative pressure on the evening’s headline act, but just as with the very same EP they were launching, I, A Man gave a graceful performance. Opening with Chores, the four-piece quickly established their warm, enveloping sound to the room of enraptured lookers-on. It defined their lucid chord changes and Daniel Moss’ tender voice, distinct enough to cut through the music but equally able to camouflage itself as another texture between the shimmering washes of guitar. Big Ideas followed, equally demonstrating how the group seem to effortlessly balance intelligent musical acumen, its clashing polyrhythms and prog-leaning development blending with an accessible sense of hummable melody. Five Four proving equally at ease with its tricky titular time signature without losing its anthemic momentum.
Their swells and changes, mercurial shifts from hushed beauty to shimmering explosion, would be for naught if they didn’t have the discipline to carry them out, as a unit, they possess it in spades. Their brilliantly named drummer, Sumner Fish, is tasked with some intricate beat-making but never once loses his focus, meanwhile bassist Matthew Pinxt’s , is solely on his rubbery bass-work. Guitarist Ash Hunter, the beard-toting bushman to Moss’ cherubic visage, provides the essential dialogue to Moss’ guitar-work, bringing a variety of harmonic flourishes and deft fretwork to bear on their impressionistic alt-rock. For Haight, Ashbury he even migrates to a floor tom, thumping as if his life depends on it, then repositions back to the guitar to provide a singular, echoing note – pitching and yawing for contrast – over Holland, a plaintive, three-chord acoustic strum provided by Moss as they perform as a duo.
A splash of newer material illustrated the wealth of ideas in the band’s repertoire, including a driving upbeat rocker that allows Moss and Hunter to detour into some showy guitar histrionics. Another showcased some stunning four part vocal harmonies before Moss seizes some drum mallets and corrals the group into a big crashing coda around the drumkit, with an astral revelry within Sigur Rós’ gravitational pull. It’s the one time a patent influence can be strictly drawn to their sound, otherwise possessing a voice that’s unique yet distinctive It’s an achievement most young bands would kill for, and even if the Melbourne lads work very hard to accomplish it, the results should soon pay dividends if they continue to play such affirming gigs as this one.
I Ran My Ghoul by I, a Man
Her Love Is A Mountain, Truth In Her Fountain by Tehachapi
Take Higher Ground - I'lls by Way Over There
The Neighbourhood Youth - Stone by Face Studios