Live: Confidence Man/A. Swayze and the Ghosts/King Stingray – Dark Mofo Festival 2021

I’m not sure I can remember such a brilliant triple line up in one night without attending a full blown musical festival. Three bands just about removed the roof of the Odeon Theatre in Hobart and I left with a rictus grin I couldn’t remove for hours. Actually, it’s still there.

Confidence Man and A. Swayze and the Ghosts have form – the latter’s album ‘Paid Salvation’ was in the Backseat Mafia’s list of fifty best albums of 2020, the former have a built a strong reputation for their studied cool, exuberant dance pop music and entertaining live performances.

All I knew of King Stingray was that they have famous relatives. Hailing from Yirrkala, a community in East Arnhem Land, Roy Kellaway and singer Yirrŋa Yunupiŋu (the ‘ŋ’ pronounced like ‘ng’ as in ‘ring’) formed the group as a means to make music separately to their family’s musical project – the legendary Yothu Yindi. Two original members of the ground-breaking collective behind the iconic 1991 anthem ‘Treaty’ are King Stingray’s relatives. Guitarist Kellaway is bass player Stu Kellaway’s son and Yunupiŋu is the nephew of frontman Dr M Yunupiŋu.

Genetic connections do not necessarily maketh an artist, but in this case, the genetic connection is neither here nor there. King Stingray were superb.

They opened the show and delivered one of the most exciting and uplifting performances I’d seen in a while. The stage was day-glo bright and the delivery euphoric – the band unassuming and humble yet powerful musicians with a five part vocal attack and a thundering rhythm section that fused together like molten steel. Yunupiŋu’s powerful vocals mix Yolŋu Matha and English languages: a unique fusion of indie rock and First Nations music. The sheer joy in the perfomance – both off stage and on stage – was infectious. The band clearly enjoyed themselves, a tight and precise delivery that exuded warmth and camaraderie. The band has a couple of singles released – go and check them out here.

I once described A. Swayze and the Ghosts as a love child of a three-way between The Clash, The Undertones and The Hives, and, live, they are in a class of their own. Lead singer Andrew Swayze is a mesmerising tornado. He paces the stage, gurning, sneering, pop-eyed and leering. He has such a forceful magnetism you cannot take your eyes off him. There is an edge of danger, of excitement and such a sheer force of delivery that is pulse-quickening.

And such a perfomance would be nothing without the slamming, thundering Ghosts: providing an implacable platform upon which Swayze struts, adding shouty backing vocals and a steadying presence. I’m told by Hobartian locals that Swayze’s performances have never changed from the band’s first gigs fronting a venue with no-one there, such is Swayze’s commitment and presence. He is a fully formed rock star, but above all, playing in a fully formed punk rock band that delivers some of the most exciting material: a full frontal no holds barred attack. Live, they lunge the power and the passion knob up by a thousand revolutions into the stratosphere.

Set List:

Paid Salvation
Nothing Left To Do
Mess of Me
It’s Not Alright
Connect to Consume
Evil Eyes
Smooth Sailing

I had seen a video of Confidence Man playing ‘Boyfriend (Repeat)’ live: it was a mesmerising perfomance enough to know that this would be a good gig. It was even better than that: it was an untrammelled joy to see this kind of perfomance stretch over a full set. The band consist of sister/brother duo Janet Planet and Sugar Bones (possibly not their real names) on vocals and the masked mystery men Clarence McGuffie and Reggie Goodchild on DJ desk and drums. Sheer unadulterated indie electronic pop it may be, but the perfomance put on by Planet and Bones was the most intoxicating and joyous show of theatricality I have ever witnessed on stage.

In a recent interview, Planet and Bones professed their admiration of Talking Heads’ David Byrne and his mantra that good music wasn’t just music being played – it was the performance and the delivery that accompanies it. They’ve taken this to heart. Confidence Man had a brilliant light show, changes of spectacularly brief costumes and hyper-active DJ interludes, but the performances of Planet and Bones were unbelievable. Dead pan, sensuous, self-deprecatory and over the top: the kind of embarrassing dance moves drunken aunties and uncles make at weddings but with such an impossible level of cool. Bones perfected a kind of dumb jock athleticism while Planet a baby doll flounce, both all wrapped up with come hither glances and a knowing smile. And that smile was infectious.

Confidence Man are about to embark on a UK tour in October – details here. Make sure you get tickets.

This bill is a testament to the festival organisers – three such different styles of band that formed a perfect whole: a showcase for the Australian music scene, for First Nations music and for diversity. Indie surf rock, punk rock and electronic pop cohabited under the roof of the Odeon in perfect harmony. And I’m still on a high.

Photographs: Arun Kendall

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  1. Gianni
    June 20, 2021

    Dammit, first Dark Mofo we haven’t been to since 2016 and they roll this out. Sounds like a top night out.

  2. […] a packed out Sydney crowd. We at Backseat Mafia have been fans since we first saw them perform at Dark Mofo in 2021 and it’s great to see them headlining a show in Sydney […]

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