Kicking off the month that will be the East Brunswick Club’s last (*sniff*), was the double-heading Politely Awkward gig, a triple j presented tour of two of Unearthed’s most promising emerging acts. Namely Brisbane’s The Jungle Giants and Perth’s San Cisco. Supporting, suitably, was hometown act Buckley Ward.
Not the solo work of a mopey songwriter, but in fact a five-piece band, they quickly found their comfort zone with the lazy momentum of So Pretend then thumping along to the easy atmospheric bob of Into The Darkening Blue. The young audience, a sea of plaid shirts and top-knotted hair buns, conceded a gentle sway but were more content to chat. The tail-end of the set found some jostling for a better position near the front, mainly beer-toting fans with more enthusiasm than manners. It’s a young, hip crowd – but what else could you expect from three acts who are as young themselves, both age and career-wise.
Particularly San Cisco, hailing from Fremantle, WA – none of their four-strong line-up is over the ripe age of twenty. Frontman Jordie James rocks some scruffy facial hair, but don’t let it fool you, he’s fresh out of high school. Their age shouldn’t be a sticking point, and considering their knack for penning lo-fi pop ditties - it generally isn’t, it’s just a difficult fact to shake, particularly watching the diminutive Scarlett Stevens cut some tight drumming across her kit.
The twin appeal of James and Stevens is the band’s secret weapon, trading their scrappy but endearing lines over their latest single Awkward, was enough to catapult them to the top ten of the hottest 100. Oddly, given their spontaneous success ,they play second fiddle on the bill, but nevertheless deliver a snappy set of rough pop gems cut with a cute charm.
The twee pop of Lover and Girls Do Cry recall Vampire Weekend shorn of their collegiate references but none of their spry energy. All clean guitar lines, plonking keyboards and simple vocal hooks. Lover even contains a nod to New Wave with an arpeggiated synth solo from sideman Josh Biondillo. Many of their choppy guitar riffs dwell on the upper reaches of the neck, much like James’ distinctive twang, visibly straining for the upper yelp of his register. At their best, such the familiar riffs of Golden Revolver’s sparkle, they’re comfily accessible – two-chords, tight rolling drums, verse/chorus sing-a-longs and little room for unnecessary filler.
As a live unit however, they’re still a little green, yet to match the spit and polish of their records. Their stage presence is certainly forming, but despite some chatter with the crowd they don’t seem to connect with their crowd, let alone attempting anything even vaguely ‘out there.’ They don’t look nervous, just a little distant. Even Nick Gardner’s glances from his robust basslines to his bandmates looks less anxious than aloof. When they’re joined by their co-headliners, The Jungle Giants for some extra percussion on Rocket Ship, it’s the first time it looks like they’re having fun all night. The lighting, seemingly dormant all this time, finally takes a cue from the pumped crowd and brings some atmosphere too.
Finishing with Awkward, the whoop of recognition is deafening, almost every single voter who got it to number seven on the nation’s biggest music poll is lustily adding their ‘da da da’ to the song’s refrain, battling for volume with spiky guitars and the trademark call-and-response (but no cowbell! Christopher Walken would have something to say about that).
The rapturous response proves that San Cisco have the tunes, and performing some new numbers on top of their freshly released EP - no shortage of ideas. Just not quite the joyous show to match the sugar rush of their seemingly effortless indie pop, it’s early days though and there’s plenty of time to continue to hone their stage antics.
Regrettably, once they finish, a third of the audience evacuates after seeing their voted song performed live. It’s perhaps the fickle nature of their target audience but also a shame, as the Jungle Giants are more than a snug fit to San Cisco’s smiling summer indie. That and, it has to be said, they seem the more experience live act of the two.
Opening with the bright chug of No One Needs To Know, they quickly pull back the crowd and get them dancing. Bassist Andrew Dooris bounds about the stage popping away on his Rickenbacker, already possessing more fizz than San Cisco’s members combined, he spends much of their set leaping about with an intense grin plastered to his face. They even feature their own elfin beauty in the form of guitarist Cesira Aitken on lead guitar.
Eschewing much of their self-titled EP, they set about delivering a bunch of newly-recorded, well-rehearsed material that has sharpened their sound. Namely indie guitar rock with a touch of afrobeat, riding singer Sam Hales’ warm, yearning voice and uptempos that allow lanky drummer Keelan Bijker to pull out skittering drum lines and off-kilter beats. At one point Hales jokes, “here’s another one about girls.” Indeed, their agile cuts feature a wide romantic streak, either building to a crashing refrain of “you got something” or plucking bright chords Paul Simon would be proud of over a line like “you can take a chance on that other boy’s hand.”
It’s all very likeable if not ground-breaking. Rising with a wave of similarly festive acts from Brisbane (Jinja Safari and Hungry Kids of Hungary spring to mind), they don’t bring anything particularly new to the table to warrant heavyweight class yet. They’ve come a long way in a short time, but while they have lots of nice, shiny sounds and energy - they need sharper hooks to hang them upon. A fact made all the more glaring after following San Cisco, who live and breathe catchy songs.
You’d never think it was an issue however, from the reception that their closing number Mr. Polite receives. It’s light-hearted guitar jangle and punctuated ‘heys’ whip the crowd into a frenzy that outstrips Awkward earlier in the night. Rallying the kids to crowd surf before even reaching its genial chorus, the thrill of recognition is even enough to incite stage invaders, led by San Cisco’s Jordie James. For the electricity filling the front of stage, you’d think it was Mr. Polite that received hottest 100’s popularity blessing.
It’s a fun, love-in ending to the night and that the group maintain their rattling groove and composure as the stage swells with dancers is impressive; but you can’t help but wonder if this level of intensity outstrips the rising fame of the two bands. With neither yet to release a full-length album, are they peaking too soon? Though no fault of the young bands themselves – there’s no doubting the strength of their respective singles - the response to the titular songs of the Politely Awkward tour proves the problem of exposure is as much about their audience as the bands’ themselves. As keen for the thrill of ‘the next big thing’ and a tastefully rising tune to get excited about, than a career in development. Both groups have immense potential, but will eventually need to outgrow their audience, the kind that will reminisce “yeah, I like that one song of theirs…” but will depart as quickly as they can tweet about their gig experience.