Ernest Ellis + Paper Moon + Citizen of the Sea + Video Games - The Grand Hotel, Wollongong (23.07.10)


It’s been a tough week for Wollongong live music fans – on the 20th of July, it was announced that the beloved and historic Oxford Tavern had been shut down with its doors bolted and no prior warning. If anything, it served as a timely warning that even twenty-year-old live music landmarks in the area were not safe from implosion due to a financial lack. With that said, it has been great to see the rest of the week’s live music in venues such as the Five Islands Brewery and the Harp Hotel drawing in stronger crowds than usual. Tonight at the Grand Hotel’s weekly live music night, Night Eats Day, was no exception. Although a slow start, tonight’s show gave hope that there was a future to the city’s live music scene – and the local acts to continue adding fuel to the fire.

Up first were the newly-formed Video Games. There were several familiar faces amongst the six-piece to Wollongong gig regulars, including members of acts such as The Dawn Collective, Free Agent Crew and Bennie James and the Hesitant Few. The sound they were developing, however, was quite different to what any of them had been involved in previously – slower, more atmospheric and considerably darker; but no less enjoyable. Vocals were shared to great effect between guitarist Andrew Bennett and brother/sister duo Ben and Annaliese Szota, each getting their share of lead vocal duties. It was when these voices gelled together, however, that things really started to pick up – the harmonies would glide over their musical surroundings and rang out with the kind of power normally reserved for groups like Arcade Fire. Video Games are onto something here – and with a little fine-tuning, we may well see them proceed to the boss level.

Citizen of the Sea were a similarly large group – seven at a rough count. Elements of their sound, however, suggested they weren’t quite evenly-portioned. The two guitars followed one another’s progressions rather than differentiating their patterns; while the vocals, however pretty, came off a little lost in translation. The Christian folk group had plenty of ambition in their music – influences such as The Middle East immediately sprung to mind. However, at this stage, there simply wasn’t enough substance or dynamics to properly develop said ambition. They were incredibly polite and sweet in their goings-on, but their set needs considerable work - which they’ve plenty of time to do as they’re such a young band. Let’s pray that the best of this collective is yet to come.

After a brief hiatus in which vocalist/guitarist Ryan Nicolussi visited Japan, Paper Moon hit the Grand’s stage and delivered a set that showed nothing had changed in-between drinks for this exceptional trio of musicians. With each howled vocal, screeching guitar solo, slinking bassline and booming drum fill, the band edged closer and closer to impacting on their threats of being the best band in the city. Showcasing what was mostly brand-new material, the group’s love of early delta blues continued to shine through, as well as their refined approach to piano-forte contrasts that kept the song’s progressions consistently interesting and engaging. The three-piece – rounded out by bassist Anastasi Kotoros and drummer Nikolai Russo – were locked into one another’s musical instincts that suggested years of experience well beyond their eighteen-month time as a band. Always an enthralling pleasure to watch, it felt great to have the band back on the scene as they proved themselves to be the evening’s highlight. Many happy returns, gentlemen.

In contrast, headliner Ernest Ellis didn’t seem all too happy to be there. By the end of the first song, he was complaining about people not standing close enough to the stage. A few songs later, he was unhappy with the sound mix. To top it all off, he could only remember one of the names of the three bands that had just supported him. Bit rude, mate – especially considering the other acts had thanked you in their sets. Normally, the music would have made up for these faults but it wasn’t really the case in this instance. Ellis is the kind of songwriter who does the whole bleary, atmospheric indie thing without much of a change in energy levels – kinda like Doves, but a bit more like a discontent pigeon. It’s passable if you’re in the right mood, but it didn’t really work out in the favour of the increasingly distant audience. The vibe had been blunted, and some of us had homes to go to. If Ellis helped prove anything, it was that turning up early is always worth it for live shows – you never know what kind of lesser-known support acts will be waiting to surprise you.