I’d never been to the Manning Bar before tonight. It’s on the campus of the University of Sydney, and it’s a good venue. It’s small but not crowded, comfortable, with outdoor areas, lounge-y spots, and good views. Not bad.
I didn’t know who the supporting acts were until I got to the gig. The first act was Mosman Alder. They were just OK. A bit of Arcade Fire sound (there was a violin in there, but not enough joy) with Foals-like singing.
Second – to my great delight – were Melbourne rockers Stonefield. I’ve been fascinated with this band for a year now. They’re four sisters, all still kids – I don’t think the oldest is 17. But they play guitar, bass, drums and keyboards as though Led Zeppelin had been resurrected fifteen years ago. They even wear fringes and headbands and wear their hair long. They seriously lived up to my expectations live, stomping out some great rock. There’s a reason they won a triple j competition, and why they’ve been chosen to play at Glastonbury this year. “Foreign Lover” and “Through the Clover” are great tracks (I took some distorted video of the latter), and they even covered “Whole Lotta Love”. This seriously made my night.
Finally came The Besnard Lakes. They were following a tough act, for my tastes, but they met the challenge. Their indie post-rock songs are often guitar soundscapes a la some Broken Social Scene or Mogwai, but they break into melodies too (reminding me a bit of Black Mountain). They don’t dirge on too long, though, and achieve some strikingly beautiful moments when singer Jace Lasek goes falsetto (which happens a lot). The tunes are big and muscle-y but the lyrics stand up to the weight. And Lasek cannot be accused of holding back: he’s a wincing, grimacing, jerking, concentration of geeky rock honesty. Every face he makes is in the moment of the song.
Highlight songs for me were “Like The Ocean, Like The Innocent, Part II: The Innocent”, “Devastation”, “And This Is What We Call Progress”, “Albatross” (big hit with the crowd), and main set closer “And You Lied To Me”. In the encore we got “Disaster” and “Thomasina”.
Their crowd chat was fun. They called Australia “Upside-Down Canada”, and praised the 52 beaches in the city limits. They smiled and had a good time, quite unlike the moody demeanor you might suppose from the music. If I had to nit-pick I’d say they take too much time tuning up between songs, but I guess that’s probably due to all the guitar-thrashing they do during songs.