Well here we are again, at Melbourne’s Northcote Social Club, a venue that The Wandering Lamb is now considering building its own make-shift pen with the amount of times we frequent. Tonight, with thanks to Handsome Tours, we are privileged to witness what well may be one of the most surprisingly unexpected best shows in recent times, with a band from New Albany, Indiana, called Houndmouth. Melbourne/Perth quintet Split Seconds play their archetypal Australian indie rock along with, in our opinion, one of the best country/blues singer that Australia has to offer, Krista Polvere. A night where expectations were blown to high heaven.
The eve of Good Friday may have the religious ones sparing a moment to reflect on their faith but for the majority of Melbournites, it is the opportunity for a four-day bender and a some decent live music. There was a generous early crowd to watch semi-local boys Split Seconds, who played out an impressive set of indie pop songs. A melting pot of deep-rooted Australian pub rock with undertones of Brit-pop goodness. ‘She Hit Me‘, had us trying to draw comparisons to its similarities and we agreed on Blur’s ‘Coffee and TV’, with its angular sharp guitar playing and bass groove. Frolicking through a confident set, the band closed with ‘Any Minute Now‘, a new track (we think) lead singer Sean Pollard announced, immersing into the influences of early, The Cure, and seeing the band “rocking out” with energy and a little more power.
Krista Polvere graced TWL’s radar a few weeks back when she supported Calexico at Hamer Hall. It was a great performance armed with prolific songwriting and a lot of relaxed and jovial banter to a packed house. Tonight, with a very different and far more intimate setting, Polvere, looking effortlessly confident and charming, played through a beautiful entertaining set of heart-felt, warm and personal songs. Having the privilege to listen to Polvere again tonight affirmed what an amazing talent both as a performer and songwriter. Standing tall in a great set of heels, she wasn’t afraid to negotiate with the 3 drunk hipsters who chose to take position stage left and talk through her entire first few songs. With professional class, Polvere asked them to lessen their antisocial qualities and take their talking to the back of the venue.
There were moments when Polvere sounds a bit like Hope Sandoval from Mazzy Star as she sings about Bluebirds, Beat Hotels and Love Lost from a real life divorce. Continuing her banter with the crowd, we were greeted by yet another pissed punter who this time, sitting at the front of stage right, would clap out his own beat, distracting Polvere. Again, she politely and charmingly tried to teach him to clap in time while hinting that he should really be getting a glass of water. This time around she actually played up to an audience’s complete befuddled state, giving the odd wink during her song, adding a bit of humour to her set. It was another glorious set and a charming performance from this brilliant musician.
So where do we start with Houndmouth? To be honest, we knew little about the band but had recently learned that on completing their set at SXSW 2012 they were quickly signed to Rough Trade Records. Coined as bluegrass/alternative country/rock and roots. Having listened to their 2 full length studio albums a few days before tonight’s gig, we had a fair idea that they were a talented gang who sung with full harmonious force. Little did we know that we would leave nearly 1 hour and 45 minutes seriously questioning if they could well be one of the best bands we have seen in recent times.
Wearing a long faux disheveled fur coat and a glittered gold guitar, lead singer/guitarist Matt Myers graced the stage with his gang of chums Katie Toupin (wearing vinyl/leather overalls) Zac Appleby (sleeve cut t-shirt) and Shane Cody (an Adidas tank top and some psychedelic trousers). Here we had 4 individuals who would prove the importance of playing as a “band” and writing music that is delivered with heart and energy in every note played. Houndmouth, played through a full set that covered both studio albums (and an EP). By the end the band had somewhat dazzled and overwhelmed.
Houndmouth harmonise through most of their songs, each member layering each track like a chant, almost gospel in quality. On record it sounds great but live it takes the songs to another dimension, a celebration of sorts. You can’t help but think what a joy these friends are experiencing on stage. The soulful qualities of each song rides a wave of country swagger. Often, the band found themselves laughing at crescendos. Lighting the mood but also suggested that they were completely overwhelmed by the audience’s participation and support.
The super talented drummer, Shane Cody, provided funny banter between songs while swigging from a whiskey (we think) bottle. Sharing moments of philosophy, getting haircuts and various mumbles. His drumming held it all together and his energy brought the crowd to feverish applause. Zac Appleby took a few vocal leads. His voice was powerful and raw, it was goose bump worthy and had the crowd responding with a roar of delight.
The band mix things up a bit and swap instruments during their set and show the extent of their song writing collaboration, their commaradery and how important it is to be a collective on stage. You really do feel like you are watching a celebration tonight, it is quite difficult to describe in words the energy that was created. Pinpointing stand out songs is impossible as every song is boundless with vigour and passion, Honey Slider, 15 years, Black Gold, Say It and single, Sedona all from their latest album, are pure gems.
With the most worthy encore in recent times, Myers gets back on stage, to play a solo version of ‘For No One’, “Why don’t you wait a little bit, For the Acid to kick in, Learn to love, That old comedown, That’ll spread you so thin.” Singing out from his soulful and bluesy heart. It is powerful and touching. Even Katie Toupin, he then gets back on stage with the band, to say to the crowd “Wasn’t that great”. We agree in rapturous applause as the band play out to more songs and remind us a few things about the success of playing live.