AU ABROAD

The Gin Club + The Maladies + The Stress of Leisure - Hi Fi, Brisbane (20.11.10)

GIN CLUB review header

I arrive at Brisbane’s Hi-Fi, straight off the end of a nine
hour shift and a six day week, to find the only appropriate physic for those
aching-feet blues. This is one of only two home town shows for The Gin Club’s “Choppin Wood” national
tour, tonight supported by The Stress of
Leisure
and The Maladies.

 

Brisbane locals The
Stress of Leisure
open the night with an energised blast of fuzzy guitar
and meaty rhythm. Think Sonic Youth on Quaaludes. Drummer Jess Seitz and
bassist Ben Moore deliver body blows throughout. This is a better than a double
dose of mainlined caffeine. Ian Powne’s voice is perfectly attuned to the music, a little
bit Robert Smith, though some of his lyrics are lost in the dissonance. Dressed
all in white (sweatband included) Powne looks like a malnourished cricketer,
jerking about the stage, trying desperately to fight the spirit of jazz. Pascalle
Burton’s sparse keys and synth effects rein in Powne’s growling guitar, a
balance between delicate and overblown that rarely falters.

 

With a back-bone of three-chord rock, and a powerful though
stripped back rhythm section, The Stress of Leisure deliver quite a punch,
nothing like the fey poetry collective I was expecting. Powne’s guitar sound is
impressive,  particularly on “All Australian
Punk Band 1979” pulling out some crunchy Ed Kuepper guitarisms, while Burton
strokes the organ with grace through “The Boy’s Got Issues”. The
despondent “House and Garden” finds me at the bar with a fistful of coin and a
sudden lust for restorative beer. They finish their set with the pulsing clean guitar and
fuzzy bass of “Sunday Afternoon”, the insistence of the movement building a
tension that is finally washed out in a crash of drums and a blast of the now familiar
stuff.

 

The Maladies are up
next and, goddamn, they are something to behold. With their anarchic brand of
rockabilly, these boys would be right at home in a Robert Rodriguez joint – the
absence of tooled-up slow motion strippers is conspicuous. Opening with “O Glory” they sound a little shaky on the
levels – the whine of a slide guitar has a few members in the crowd shrinking,
though things soon settle down – that, or the noise trauma to my ears has done
what damage it could. With some brilliant drumming and a whole lot of rhythm
guitar, they launch into a set that encompasses a deviant’s encyclopaedia of Americana. Frontman Daniele Marando parries about the stage like a
demonic Rick Moranis, a madmen slurring with sugary malice. So enthusiastic is his
performance that at one point he falls on arse with a broad grin. “We thought
that’d been lost from our set a couple years ago” says bassist Michael
Sullings. Lead guitar from Daniel Babekuhl is a wonderful mix of bluesy
overdrive and Chuck Berry rock and roll. It’s a shame that a lot of his
finger-picking is lost in the noise. 

“This Wood & This Wire” proves an amazing set-piece -
the chain-gang backing vocals from the rest of the band are a ghostly
counterpoint to Marando’s hound-dog vocals. The Maladies tie things off with “I
Feel So Fine,” spitting venomous good humour. These Luddite rockers have
brought a little piece of vaudeville to Brisbane tonight.

 

 The Gin Club (aka
The Hirsute Gentleman’s Brigade feat. Bridget Lewis) takes the stage with a
cheer. Tonight performing as an eight-piece, they fire up with the mournful
“Company Kept”, which I first mistake for Pink Floyd’s “Wish You Were Here”. The
Gin Club is a strange creature. They perform more as a collective than a band, taking
turns on lead vocals, guitar, bass, and keys – and still, with all these
changes, it never gets messy. They manage to preserve a cohesive sound in spite
of all the musical chairs.

 

For the heartrending “Dear Rose,” dedicated to a couple of
friends in the audience, most of the band leaves the stage leaving just an
acoustic guitar and two vocals that produce one of the best harmonies of the
night. Bridget Lewis lays aside her cello for country lament of “Milli Vanilli”.
Soon to return to Stockholm, Ola Karlsson is left to himself for a beautiful Tom
Waitesque rendition of “Minnesota” on the keys. Dan Mansfield’s “Shake Hands”
shows off the band’s 1970’s rock chops, with Mansfield fiddling in the upper
frets like a true guitar hero. Between Karlsson and Mansfield I find my second
wind and can only grin like an idiot when Ben Salter lights up with “Drug Flowers”.

 

Touring for the past month, The Gin Club is tonight a
well-oiled machine; however, something seems amiss. Everything is pitch-perfect,
the harmonies are sublime. However, for much of the show, that spark of energy
that possessed the opening acts glows less than brilliantly. I’ve seen them
perform a number of times and it has always been something special. No doubt
the tour has sapped some of the energy, but I hazard to suggest that The Gin
Club is, given the critical acclaim of their records, content to sit back and
let their songs speak for themselves. Of course, this could just be the filter
of work-related delirium and overpriced beer with which I have come upon them
tonight.