Tonight was my first visit to Spaceport1, for a show billed as ‘six innovative bands’, and despite the awful cold weather it was well worth the effort.
nkdlnch opened the night by slipping quietly onstage and slowly gripping everyone’s attention. Their first few songs were hypnotic, cinematic swells with little or no vocals that stood up well to comparisons with Rebel Astronaut (if anyone remembers that excellent naughties band?) or Godspeed You Black Emperor! As the set continued, their bare approach - almost absent guitars, very busy bass and restrained vocals – reminded this punter of a fuzz-less My Bloody Valentine. A great start to the night that introduced everyone into what would turn out to be an amazing immersion of light and space as well as sound.
The curators for tonight obviously put in a huge amount of thought and effort – entering through the slotted steel door leads to a massive warehouse space lit by UV lamps, the stage drenched in constantly changing projections of documentary footage, swirling lights and song titles from the bands themselves. Around the room lava lamps, fish tanks and plasma balls add to the ambience, while overhead a laser show is cutting through a layer of cloud from a smoke machine. Meanwhile the floor is smothered in confetti and streamers, which punters put to good use throughout the night making pictures, rolling around in it and hurling it up into the lasers, not to mention at each other and at the bands.
After the epic shoegazing of nkdlnch, electro duo Orca! Straight Ahead! picked up the pace immediately with a thumping blend of live drums, guitar and various electronic devices. In my electro-rock illiteracy the most accurate comparisons I could make are Daft Punk, Ergo B Bag and Bis, though the Daft Punk thing is probably due to perhaps a little too much talkbox (or vocoder or whatever it was – talking like a robot while singing about computers). As well as a party, Orca… brought us flashes of edginess, experimentation even, like when they broke into a muzak version of 'Girl from Ipanema' and declared “this room is now an elevator!”, or the rare but exhilarating moments when the drummer broke loose of the machines and went a bit wilder than expected, leaving me wishing they'd go even further with the elevator thing or otherwise further insist on transforming our reality.
There was an amazing vibe to the night, and the frequent streamer launches and confetti-snowball fights under weird UV and laser lighting combined with the icy weather to transport us to an unreal winter wonderland. As organiser and Spectacles singer Dave Carter mentioned when I cornered him for a moment amongst the madness: "It's a real community for us here; we had no idea what this place could be like til we started playing regularly, but it's just great!"
If you haven’t seen Spaceport yet, it is awesome: big space, good sound, comfy couches, cheap drinks, and clean bathrooms with hotwater! The only real downside was the lack of insulation and the very rare smoking punter getting close enough to remind me of the bad old days when going out to a live show meant coming home reeking like a saloon.
Nominally hosting the event, when they did take the stage Japanese beatboxing sensation Ettoman Beatbox captured the room in a matter of moments, launching into an improv that stunned, amused and amazed. Their skill and showmanship was nicely set off by their self-effacing banter and cute hats, and they kept the energy of the room pumping with excitement between band setups; a fine illustration of Rex Havoc's point in the Drum Media a some months ago about why all gigs should have an MC.
By the time Push/Pull took the stage tonight both punters and performers alike had been smothered in confetti; the aftermath of the ongoing fun on the dancefloor, at the bar, on the couches and everywhere the confetti goes (which is everywhere, in the end).
Push/Pull marked a shift towards more 'straight' rock – two guitars, bass and drums - singing expansive, slightly creepy oz rock with a dancy undercurrent. They were early Icehouse or Men At Work improved by Franz Ferdinand: soaring guitar licks and vocal melodies that have that ineffable yearning of so much good early pub rock, mixed with rapid busy beats and hooky bass.
Early in the night when things were still a bit quiet, the AU review overheard The Fires singer Archy Major saying "these people need to get up and do something! I can be calm at home!" Now he takes the stage and gets stuck straight in, demanding to know "Who's here to have a good time?" *mild cheers* "Oh that's bullshit! You can't come all this way in this weather and only give me two fucking hands! Who's here to HAVE A GOOD TIME!" Cheesy? Maybe, but he strikes a perfect balance of ardent enthusiasm and good humour, and the crowd love it. More people get up to join the dancing (and confetti fights), and from here til the end of the night the energy just builds and builds.
The Fires filled the room with their frantic psychedelic blues-rock, rightly sounding huge in this place, barely pausing for breath as they churned through their set.
The diversity of the lineup tonight is clearly double-edged, and at least once in every act's set there's a moment (several for Ettoman Beatbox!) where the bulk of the audience suddenly seem baffled, but at every turn whoever’s onstage rescues it, these moments quickly consumed by the crowd roaring with delight as they go from puzzled to adoring of each performance's particular bent in seconds.
Domino took up The Fires' cue and egged the crowd to greater fervour, urging them to rampage amongst the confetti while their 'arabesque' rock pounded people with a mix of System of a Down, Tool, Iron Maiden and their own unique flair. Though I’ve heard this band described as metal or hard rock, extremely heavy pop is probably a better descriptor, especially for lead singer Erica's striking style, which favours strong sustained blasts that recall both Bruce Dickinson and Melissa Etheridge, while the slick drums-bass-guitar get me thinking of CKY, Dizzy Mizz Lizzy, Tool again... Their attempts at crowd participation were valiant and paid off, even in the face of their penchant for weird time signatures, and they gave us one of the best highlights of the night with their live Britney Spears/SOAD mashup, "Toxic City".
Spectacles came on after midnight as the chill really started to settle in, looking supremely confident, not a flinch at capping off a night of seven high-calibre acts. The audience were already pretty rabid by now, deranged by the cold, the disorienting light and their relentless confetti fights, so when Spectacles opened with a couple of quick blasting songs in 80s punk style - rapid fire lyrics, 4x4 beats and bouncy bass – things really got wild. Then they cut to their dubby funk-rock epic 'Ghost town', which stalked along hypnotically before exploding, the crowd going with it every step of the way. Bleak but beautiful, 'Ghost town' seemed made for tonight, for this freezing weather in this bizarre dark and glowing space.
For all the eclecticism of the music tonight, Spectacles seemed to spend a moment or two in every other musical space that had been investigated by the previous bands. They leapt from frantic party rock to something altogether more delicate and no less intense with ease, and recent (late 2011) single "Prisoner's Skin" kept the crowd swaying and rocking as Dave sang about a “cage made of faces/chained to a name.” The whole strange night was well summed up by Spectacles and their apocalyptic warnings: "This is a ghost town, nobody's leaving"; “Did you forget? We are at war!" while the people danced, jumped, pelted the band with fistfuls of confetti and generally embraced the moment.
It felt like a party at the end of the world; so much joy in the crowd, so much rage and hope on-stage.
Photos copyright Liam Kesteven (flicker.com/liam_2501)