There is something special about seeing a band play in their hometown. You just know the audience will be filled with family and friends and there is a special frisson in the air. Indeed, rather appropriately, lots of love pouring all over the place; in the venue, on stage, even after the gig when members played a DJ set.
I’ve been seeing the Underground Lovers play live since the early nineties – I was first blown away seeing them play as an unknown band (to me) supporting the Cure back in 1992 then regularly at venues like the iconic Annandale Hotel in Sydney. And they just keep getting better.
They are currently living their second life and living that second life delightfully better than they ever were before. Launching their latest album ‘A Left Turn’ (the third since they revived) at the cavernous and gorgeously grungy The Corner Hotel, the band were quite simply magnificent. Loose, relaxed, joyous. If you wanted to hear the recorded versions of the songs – stay at home. This was a band reveling in their live performance, interacting with the audience, putting on a show. Blown amps, the odd false starts, nothing phased the band or the audience. I’ve never seen the band more cohesive and enjoying themselves immensely. A joy that was catching.
There was a pleasing mix of material from across their career – opening with the gloriously uplifting and life-affirming latest single ‘Seven Day Weekend’, then going straight into ‘Your Eyes’ – in my opinion one of the best Australian singles ever off their magnificent 1992 album’Leave Me Blind’. That’s a stunning span of 27 years producing exceptional music.
The set list displayed the Undies at their muscular best – ‘Hooky’, ‘I Was Right’, a blistering encore rendition of ‘Promenade’, ‘Bells’ and the explosive anarchic drive of ‘Au Pair’. And yet when they turned to their dream pop alter ego – usually sung by the ethereal voice of Phillipa Nihill – they were just as mesmerising.
“Holiday’ made what I believe is a rare appearance – drummer Richard Andrew and guitarist Glenn Bennie left the stage while Philippa Nihill, Emma Bortignon and Vincent Giarrusso huddled in a corner over keyboards, drum machines and sequencers like cooks toiling over a hot stove. And indeed, this underlies what makes this band so special – the deft mixture of analogue and electronic, the electronic pop and bubble interweaving with the sonic blasts of guitar, bass and drums.
Underground Lovers mixes the brute force and delicacy of Bennie’s guitars, Maurice Argiro’s thumping melodic bass lines and Andrew’s euphoric and wild drumming with Giarusso, Nihill and Bortignon’s instrument swapping – guitars keyboards, drum machines – that adds an electronic golden spine to the mix.
There are iconic images of the Undies live in action – Giarusso’s eyes closed in concentration and his endearing Dad-dancing, Bennie hunched over his guitar hidden under his baseball cap, Nihill and Bortignon deep in concentration over keyboards, Aguiro stock still, fingers dancing over the neck of his bass, Andrew’s wild frenetic drumming.
And just when it’s over, you want it to begin again.
The Undies were more than ably supported by Sydney legends, The Lovetones: another iconic band that is about to release a new album after a ten year hiatus. The Lovetones mix a Beatleseque jangle and harmony with an Oasis/Brian Jonestown Massacre edge to produce an exciting set.
Singer, Matthew Tow, who had played in BJM and contributed songs to the BJM album ..And This Is Our Music cut an enigmatic presence with his 12-string jangling Burns guitar. Blasting out with the magnificent ‘City Meets the Stars’ and ‘Wintertime in Hollywood’, the band put on an exciting and dynamic set filled with heavenly melodies and an immensely enjoyable intensity.
What a night. The final gig of this year for Underground Lovers, supported again by The Lovetones, will be in Brisbane at the Woolly Mammoth on 29 November – details here.
Underground Lovers set list:
Seven Day Weekend
Dream it Down
I Was Right
All photos (c) Arun Kendall