Deep in the heartland of the (apparently) hipsterville suburb of Northcote in Melbourne and the hometown of the Underground Lovers: there couldn’t be a better place to witness the launch of the band’s second phase second album, “Staring at You Staring at Me” (reviewed by Backseat Mafia here).
From the very start, it felt like the audience was in a best friend’s lounge watching their mates have a jam – albeit a very talented bunch of friends and not so much a jam as a blistering set. I read a comment elsewhere that there was a lot of love in the room and indeed there was. At times, singer Vince Giarrusso looked faintly bemused at all the fuss, which underlines the understated approach of the band. He stated at one point that the band does not do ‘banter’ and there was indeed little banter between songs. There is no greater sight nor sound than Giarrusso, his eyes closed, singing in a reverie.
Playing as a six piece, the band opened with the last track off the new album – “Unbearable” with a casual relaxed easy lilt underpinned by a subtle electric drum beat while all members played a variety keys and guitars. Glenn Bennie (guitarist) took a relaxed approach, sitting on the drum rise. A large video backdrop added atmosphere throughout the gig, illuminating what was a very sparse light show.
The pace picked up with “You Let the Sunshine Pass You By”, second track off the new album, and as with much of the gig – there was a degree of instrument swapping – Philippa Nihill, Emma Bortignon and Giarrusso all playing keys and guitars at various moments. Nihill’s vocals are gorgeous but sadly a little low in the mix this night.
The spine of the band, Richard Andrew (drums) and Maurice Argiro (bass), stuck steadfastly to their job. Andrew’s drumming combined a brutal powerful barrage with the most delicate syncopation executed with the most mesmerising, unhinged presence: a mad man possessed. Argiro’s fluid bass playing – on a gorgeous Burns bass – did more than provide a bedrock and rhythm: like Peter Hook from Joy Division/New Order his lines create their own distinct melodies. Agiro stands at the back looking like a refined gentleman who accidently stumbled onto stage with a bunch of ruffians. And the stage seems very crowded at one corner at times. In the other corner, Bennie is crouched over his much loved Ibanez Blazer guitars throughout the gig, overseeing a very minimal pedal set up – seemingly oblivious to the fuss being created on stage and in the audience. It could well be for him the term shoegaze was coined (and indeed the Undies could be argued to have developed the sound before it came to prominence in the UK). His style is very distinctive – lots of open notes and riffing patterns that help create a wall of refined noise. Unpretentious, humble but so integral to the Undies sound.
Heavily weighted towards the songs from the new album as you would expect, the Undies did draw songs from a very deep well such as “I Was Right” from 1992’s classic album “Leaves Me Blind”. Stand-outs amongst a stand out set were the perennial favourite “Las Vegas” – a beautiful and brutal song at the best of times, it was mesmerising, complete with Giarrusso mimicking the lyrics by lighting a real cigarette from an audience member. I suspect this had been done before by the same person on cue in previous gigs. I also suspect Giarrusso got into trouble for this breach of health and safety standards. “Au Pair”, the single from the band’s last album (“Weekend”) was astonishing as well – the first time I had seen this performed live and a clear favourite emulating the famous Pixies quiet/loud approach. “Can for Now” was another highlight – eliciting almost a stadium-like call and response between Giarrusso and the audience.
This gig was sold out, as are the gigs in Sydney. The Undies will be back in June in Melbourne for a two set show which I expect will include a lot of the older material that I really missed from this set.
I’ve often said that the Underground Lovers are one of the most criminally underrated bands in the world – both during their first phase in the nineties and now as much as ever. Their live performances underpins this. When they play live, you can see the strength of the musicianship and passion behind the songs and witness the bond between the musicians and the audience. A fine wine getting all the better after resting.
You Let the Sunshine Pass You By
St Kilda Regret
I Was Right
Take Piece of Cake
The Lie That Sets You Free
Can For Now
Dream It Down
In My Head
Feels So Good To Be Free
Conde Nast Trap