Luminous Festival: Battles + Palace of Fire – Sydney Opera Theatre (31.05.09)

After months of hype and anticipation, Brian Eno’s Luminous Festival has finally arrived; the main feature of Sydney’s groundbreaking festival of light, sound and culture – Vivid. Late last week, the festival kicked off with the lighting of the Opera House Sails, and the opening of Brian Eno’s 77 Million Paintings Exhibit. I highly recommend giving both a glance before the festival ends on June 14th (alongside Eno’s “Pure Scenius”). And this weekend, we saw the first in the series of live concerts – here, featuring Sydney’s Palace of Fire and New York Cities’s Battles.

First up were Palace of Fire, playing what was only their fourth ever live performance – what a rush it must be to have been asked to perform inside the walls of the Opera House so shortly after forming. Indeed, the smiles on their faces could be seen from every corner of the Theatre. When it comes to their music, I can’t really sum up the band much better than how they’ve described themselves on their MySpace page:

“Palace of Fire is a brand-new sonic beast sired by three men. It is both a dynamic shot in the arm and a cinematic exploration around the perimeter of the human condition. A primal blend of dark invocations and ceremonious, melodic, heavy rock.”

Indeed ‘ceremonious, melodic, heavy rock’ sums up much of the material to be found within their diverse set. Many Sydney-siders would be no strangers to the work of Matt Blackman, whose projects, both solo and collaborative (including Charge Group), have been setting the smaller stages of Sydney alight for years now. In this, his most recent project, Matt is accompanied by Chris Ross and Myles Heskett, recently discarded from the Wolfmother lineup. Chris Ross’ signature keyboarding came through in many of the tracks, making many ponder – hey, this is what Wolfmother could have sounded like had they’d actually been original!

Original, loud, adventurous and hypnotising, Palace of Fire take on board the experience of their Wolfmother days, throw in the cinematic atmosphere of Blackman’s Charge Group, and add in an added mix of energy and creativity to create one of the most exciting projects Sydney has seen in some time. While there were a few songs which required a bit of work, on the whole this was an absurdly decent band, who for only their fourth live performance together, were nothing if not impressive.

With so much energy and skill thrown into a mere 40 minutes, you’d be forgiven if you forgot about the main attraction. But only if said distraction was for but a moment. The new gods of progressive/experimental/loud/electronic/math rock (such genre classification could go on for a lot longer), were here all the way from New York City to play a venue which was no doubt out of their normal scene (for one, they headlined the Gaelic last time they were here), but one they were honoured to play.

Four-piece Battles are a band that many probably wouldn’t be able to listen to twice. Indeed, if listening to the wrong track, I myself could have gone down that road. And there were even some “culturalists” who didn’t hang around for the full set at the gig itself! The set was obviously dominated by tracks off Mirrored, an album which can easily be described as a mixed bag, and the tracks which worked on the album, worked live, while the tracks which didn’t, caused the first half of the set to drag a bit… but rest assured, there was still more than enough talent on stage to keep you mesmerized.

Singles Tonto and Atlas were, as expected, the most well-received of the set, the latter causing the crowd to jump to their feet – some prematurely to dance (as we all wanted to), and others to rejoice in an already incredible song translated so well in the live environment. The 7-minute song was transformed into roughly 8 or 9 minutes, and was easily the highlight of the evening. As the best song on the album (obviously subjective), it was the obvious choice for the single, but it never had a guarantee of being a decent live track. Hell, they may not have even wanted to play it. But they did, and it was good. It helped, as well, that the sound in the theatre was so damn good too. Try to outdo that one, Sir Gaelic!

A few tracks from their earlier EPs were thrown in for good measure, but outside of Atlas, their newer material, including the final song played in the three-track encore, was the most impressive – showing a lot of promise as the band continue forward. While indeed hit-or-miss at times, this is a band of raw talent, and with such promise for the future, the prospect of a new LP couldn’t be more exciting.

In short, an evening of amazing music, presented in a fantastic environment, with a highly receptive audience in awe of such wonder (two standing ovations!) – no doubt a just example of the treats Luminous/Brian Eno has in store for the remainder of the Festival.

Larry Heath

Founding Editor and Publisher of the AU review. Currently based in Toronto, Canada. You can follow him on Twitter @larry_heath or on Instagram @larryheath.