The Corner Hotel is an institution for the rock aficionado in Melbourne. I think it’s the venue that I have attended most as a gig goer in this town. I have seen my best and my worst gigs here and it’s a room that has possibly the most polarizing PA system I have ever encountered. When in that sweet spot it can give you all the depth and kick a punter could ever want, but when it goes sour (which, to the credit of the in-house sound crew, is not very often) it can take the best of the best down with the ship. The system sinks out-of-towners with their own sound crew that don’t know how to treat that tumultuous and touchy desk with the love and care it deserves. Let’s start the evening with deep and meaningful conversation about what the gig’s sound will entail later. Perhaps, a nice bottle of red, some flowers and a quality box of chocolates wouldn’t hurt either.
It’s with this in mind that first support of the A Place To Bury Strangers gig, Pearls, may have been ‘up against it’ in relation to the PA. Nothing too heart breaking but enough to break their flow on a few occasions during their set. Their sound instantly reminds me of bands like My Bloody Valentine and they create an impressive wall of sound for a three piece creating with quite a simplistic set up, which included a very lovely sounding reverb unit. With interesting touches, like playing David Lynchesque musical interludes in between songs, they are clearly taking steps to set themselves apart from similar wall-of-fuzz-noise-indie-rock that is touted by others in the current scene. It is a great pity even with these carefully thought out touches, they took so long to unstiffen on stage and warm into their own performance. It took the lead singer until the last song of their set to loosen up enough in order to move around the stage a little. Their drummer, however, was both mesmerizing in her performance and fantastic at keeping her time in a sharp and exceedingly professional manner. I think it was because of the drummer meant they, as a group, were able to play some dreamy, slow fuzz, without letting the songs drag.
Professional is a term that can also be used for Harry Howard and NDE. It didn’t click to me Harry Howard was Rowland S Howard’s brother until he was onstage. Even then, it’s because Dave Graney was standing next to him. If you aren’t Australian, it might take to explaining, but The Moodists (Dave Graney’s first band) did some wonderfully experimental and ground breaking stuff in the late 70’s early 80’s Australian music scene. He has continued to make many styles of music since, with Dave enjoying a more sultry pop resurgence in the mid 90’s. The man has as much personality as he does polyester pants. Harry Howard and NDE are like a uniquely Australian supergroup with a lot of history. It was a pleasure to see such solid professionals onstage and their rock styling with slightly alt country blended overtones, plus many a fancy effects unit. They were all comfortable on stage and we enjoyed some comfortable and teasing banter from Howard with band mates, like “We don’t have a set list, we just have a strong minded woman”, after the female band member did a bit of a song switch. As their set progressed it became darker and more noise orientated, which meant the evening flowed a lot better than one had originally thought. To my discredit I did spend a time towards the end of their set privately ruminating on just how amazing it would have been to see Rowland Howard and A Place to Bury Strangers in the same line up, as Harry, after spending some time playing in the same bands with his brother, did his own take on the brilliantly metallic wall of sound that a guitar can make. Sadly, there can be no Rowland but we still have an excellent Howard.
The PA hummed and screeched a little when A Place To Bury Strangers took to the stage. It was hard to tell it was the PA, but they started the crowd easy with an arresting version of ‘I Lost You’. From there on it was no talk, all business and pretty damn fine business at that. Between the interesting light projections and ‘art’ experience, their set was like a vortex, sucking you into the whirling guitars and lights and then squeezing your brain until you had to shake yourself out of it. Some of the crowd clearly just let themselves go and did not pull back out. This manifested in crazy swaying, eyes closed in supplication or in the case of one gentleman, holding onto a pole and thrashing wildly, like he was completely possessed. The band members onstage also mimicked these wild and jerky movements with the added bonus of having a fantastic set of lights to enhance the motion. I recall a particular point where they looked like they were standing in blue and red flames. I promise that these visions where not assisted by any substance, so noise bands of the world, if you want to look like a god when throwing your guitar around (and magically not breaking it), get yourself a strobe light. That’s right there is the business. The hardcore fans in the crowd cheered and hollered at the beginning of certain tracks but an extensive knowledge of their catalogue was not required, so immersive was the experience with so much to entertain the uninitiated.
At the end of a gig, you want to come away with an experience, and these bands understood this implicitly. A Place To Bury Strangers at the Corner is something that I have experienced and enjoyed, even in the face of slightly strange musical bedfellows over the course of the evening and the bucking and braying of an out-of sorts sound system
Photographs by Kathryn Snow