After releasing one of the standout records of last year, Oh Inhumane Spectacle, Perth lads Methyl Ethel have been the name on everyone lips. Songwriter, Jake Webb along with his perfectly androgynous delivery, clearly knows how to write a song. He and his band, clearly know how to construct a record. The question for me though, is can these deeply personal, introverted songs translate from the studio and onto the live stage. I head along to Melbourne’s, Northcote Social Club, to catch them on the second stop of their sold out National Australian Tour.
Unfortunately missing opening acts Jaala and Benjamin Witt, I stroll into a jam-packed Northcote Social Club. The lights dim as the 3 members meander on stage like only a Perth act could do. So laid back and, after constantly doing shows for the better part of the last year, clearly comfortable to be on a stage in front of a sold out crowd. If there was any sort of nerves from being one of the more in demand bands in the country, you certainly couldn’t tell.
Opening with an extended intro to the dreamlike ‘Shadowboxing’, the first of many extended jams tonight. The mix was spot on from the first note and the chorus and reverb soaked guitar was the perfect complement to the more driving rhythm section. As the band hypnotically jam on the riff, Jake walks over to bass player, Thom Stewart, to tell him something. This is nothing out of the ordinary. What was out of the ordinary was that he stayed there and had a good ol’ fashioned chinwag for a couple of minutes. It’s the opening riff from the first song of a set that you’re about to play for a sold out NSC. I have absolutely no idea what could be that important.
Jokes and gossip column aside, the band was a clear force to be reckoned with. For such a dreamy, introspective album, they really hit you for 6 on the live stage. Their playing was faultless and Jake’s singing was second to none. It was a huge and, dare I say, welcome change to the more subdued sounds of the record. This time, the sound really commanded your attention, the guitars we’re heavier and the melodic bass was really at the forefront as they gave new life to album tracks, ‘Also Gesellschaft’, ‘Architecture Lecture’ and ‘Obscura’.
Content with letting the music do the talking, it took Jake almost 30 minutes to even address the crowd. Whether it was premeditated or not, it only fuelled the separation between artist and punter. Thankfully Jake’s audience banter clearly warmed up as the show went on. Even testing the crowds musical knowledge as he playfully launched into the opening few bars of the ’Kansas’ track, ‘Dust In The Wind’. One punter yelling out the track title after he stopped abruptly on the opening line. Clearly surprised Jake replied, “Yes man, Yes!, he then looked to the crowd, “See, there’s always one!”
As they made their way through the majority of their debut album, that introverted stage show began to wear a little thin for many people. While the songs we’re incredible and the execution world-class, the lack of anything to really look at onstage was struggling to hold people’s attention. The conversation levels rose as people’s eyes began to look everywhere except the stage. This was most apparent when they would break into their extended psych jams between each song. Creatively fulfilling for the band but for the majority of people, it was the perfect opportunity to hit the bar and refuel for the next song.
Musically, there were many standout moments. ‘Rogues’ and the mesmerising ‘Idée Fixe’ we’re particularly brilliant. The sets clear highlight though, came from lead single, ’Twilight Driving’. A song that got the entire crowd moving, no one was losing any attention here. Now being one of those songs that is completely in debt to the tasteful sax solo, it was brilliant to see a new temporary stage member wander on stage half way through the song, saxophone in hand. What ensued was one of those moments where the hairs on the back of your neck stand up. A truly beautiful moment, even if the sound tech forgot to turn the saxophonist’s mic on until the second bar.
Making the type of music that Methyl Ethel makes, it obviously wouldn’t make sense to bring a high-energy live show. Their laid back approach to playing suits exactly what the music gives you. It’s that close your eyes and drift away type of thing and they do it faultlessly. The only problem with that is that no mater how good the tunes are, people attention spans are always going to drift. They need something to fulfill them visually as well as aurally. With songs this good and a mix this balanced, some sort of light show to accompany the band would have done wonders to hold each punters gaze and turn this great show, into an incredible one.