Live Review: The Red Paintings – Fowlers Live, Adelaide (14.01.12)

The Red Paintings returned to Adelaide on Saturday night as part of The Black Paintings Tour. The “orchestral art-rock” band appeared before a swirling star scape, at Fowlers Live, ushered to the stage by spacey science fiction sounds, to greet a crowd which numbered less than a hundred people. Numbers aren’t everything, however, as there were more than a few very excited fans out to see the band. Notable for their interesting and unusual live performances, the night promised to be interesting.

Let me set the scene: the string section were dressed as gothic geishas, lead singer Trash McSweeney was dressed as some sort of samurai cossack, and the two drummers were adorned with mirror-ball masks. A girl painted black in a bikini dances at the side of the stage, whist wearing a bubble over her head, and being body painted as a human canvas.

Okay, so things looked interesting enough, but what would the show be like? As the first few roaring chords ripped through the air, The Red Paintings were straight into it. Their set began with a two songs from their 2006 EP, Destroy the Robots.

It had been a few years since the band was in Adelaide, but every punter there seemed keen to see what the band would bring after their long absence. In 2009, McSweeney was discussing the forthcoming album which was being recorded in the US. Now, it’s the dawn of 2012, and the album, The Revolution is Never Coming is done. The album was crowd funded, back when asking your fans for hand-outs in exchange for art was a relatively novel thing to do. With this tour, some lucky fans were apparently even invited to hear the album before the shows.

The Red Paintings put on a vigorous and thrilling performance, and it is no wonder they have been chosen in the past to support overtly creative acts such as Saul Williams and The Dresden Dolls. However, The Red Paintings’ relationship with Adelaide is a rocky one. “I swore I would never come back to Adelaide. Every time I come to Adelaide, someone steals something from me,” McSweeney says early on in the night, referring to an incident which occurred when his band supported the The Dresden Dolls in 2006. The band had sadly lost all their gear to a light-fingered opportunist.

I am not sure if it is a coincidence or not that The Red Paintings are in town the same week as The Dresden Dolls’ first tour since ’06. What might also have been a coincidence was that both bands decided to include a cover of the Nick Cave classic “The Mercy Seat” in their set list. The Red Paintings’ version is rather more ferocious. The presence of two drummers on two drum kits really added to the drama of this number.

The Red Paintings definitely have a vast sound, which would be much better suited to a larger venue. They may not be ready to fill a larger venue, however, but it is clear that their Adelaide fans love them, greeting their rendition of their new single “The Streets Fell Into My Window” enthusiastically. One excited female fan yelled “I love you!” stealing McSweeneys attention half way through a song. He joked “You were singing along? You know the words? I didn’t know anyone in Adelaide even knew us.”

Amongst a collection of recent numbers and tracks from the bands earlier EPs, The Red Paintings performed their cover of the Tears for Fears classic “Mad World”, a staple of their set. Definitely a mouthy front man, McSweeney took a few pot-shots at JJJ for not playing The Red Paintings’ songs anymore. Explaining that, apparently, they are “too weird”. I’m not 100% convinced of this, though. Talented, yes. Creative, maybe. Weird, hmm… not really. The Red Paintings’ music is accessible, and would fit nicely alongside the likes of Karnivool. The band have been likened to Radiohead and Arcade Fire, which, in my opinion, is not accurate at all. Any punters heading to a TRPs gig expecting something akin to Arcade Fire would be gravely disappointed.

The Red Paintings finished their set with a great cover of Placebo‘s “Black Eyed”. This was a strange choice, but a welcome surprise. Unfortunately, some of the visual spectacle of the gig was lost, as the band like to do it with the lights off. Fowlers is a notoriously dark venue, with terrible lighting, and although the lasers and glow-in-the-dark costumes are fun, there is not much of an opportunity to see the band’s extravagant costumes or actually get a good look at the work of the artists who are painting during the show. Despite this, The Red Paintings put on a set of compelling and emotive rock, performed with a creative and captivating style all their own.


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