Both Key Out and The Electorate produced magnificent albums last year – ‘Anthropomorphia‘ and ‘You Don’t Have Time To Stay Lost‘ respectively made my list of best antipodean releases for 2020 and were shining examples of exemplary songwriting and impeccable musicianship. After 18 months of musical deprivation dry of live gigs, when I saw these two bands were playing together in Sydney, I couldn’t help but rouse myself from the warm cocoon of the Backseat Mafia regional office in the frozen southern climes of Hobart to make the first hesitant steps into the heady and masked world of inter state travel and live music. And what an untrammelled joy it was.
Someone once said trios were the purest form of rock – there are no layers of coverage or fancy accoutrements: you get the raw experience of three musicians exposed to the crowd. And so it proved on the night.
The venue at the Golden Barley Hotel is one of those iconic inner west art deco sticky-carpeted corner stages, absent of any tricky lighting or fanciness. The ubiquitous covered pool table formed almost an extra wing on the stage, the annoying buzz of background chatter was a drone-like accompaniment to the music but the stage was set, the room filled to post-COVID capacity from the start. This was a line-up that demanded and achieved full attendance from the beginning. I did feel out of times – since when did a roving iPad take over from the old mixing desk with its snaking cables crossing the floor providing an exciting occupational health and safety threat?
With The Electorate headlining, Key Out kicked things off and they were potentially hamstrung by the fact their normal bassist and back up singer Saskia Clapton was caught in the middle of one of those sudden lockdowns that seems to blight the poor southern neighbour Melbourne this past year, and was thus incarcerated. This lead to a slightly shortened set and no backing vocals, but her replacement, David The from singer/guitarist Paddy Haid’s previous band Ides of Space was brilliant – adding a touch of rock’n’roll glamour and excess with his swaggering moves and flopping fringe, showing no indication he was a last minute draft. Indeed, live, Key Out were far more muscular than on record. The dynamism of The and Rohan Geddes on drums provide a satisfyingly crunchy rhythm section over Haid’s fluid guitar and singing.
But even through this stiffening of the spine and the background dirge, the sheer beauty and grace of Key Out’s songs shone through. Tracks from the album such as ‘Bird’ and ‘Stray’ were delivered in a far more thundering style, highlighting Haid’s emotive vocals and his eclectic guitar style that moved from a shogaze thrum to a subtle delicacy. His lyrics were clear and evocative (I just love the line in the summers where the blinking lights don’t sleep). Two new songs seamlessly fitted into the set and Key Out closed with last year’s single ‘Chorus’: a song just as immense live as when recorded. The set list was:
In your own head
The Electorate’s history is steeped in the annals of Sydney music scene (with the band being The Templebears in the nineties and playing in The Apartments, Atticus and Big Heavy Stuff to name but a few), and this level of professionalism shone through. With a swagger and confidence befitting a stadium, their set was dynamic and forceful: magnetic to watch. Members Eliot Fish and Joshua Morris frequently swapped instrumentals and lead vocals and Nick Kennedy’s thumping drums were powerful and explosive.
Of course, The Electorate’s debut album proved last year that they were expert songwriters, and, again, live they brilliantly translated the recordings into a mesmerising and incandescent perfomance. Their harmonies were celestial – certainly as harmonic and subtle as anything by Crowded House and with a similar inherent ear for scaling melodies. But The Electorate’s songs feel far more earthy – covering themes that are close and immediate, real and tangible. The lyrics perfectly capture the ennuis of modern middle-aged life and wraps it into beautiful melodies, wistful observations of the inanities of life and yet manages to express the inherent beauty of existence at the same time. And live, this was put forth with dynamism and joy. The sheer expressions on the band’s faces showed their love for what they do: no poe-faced standing in the shadows (as, indeed, given the lack of stage lighting, there were many of those) but a shining infectious perfomance that buoyed the crowd.
‘Decades in a Day’ was glorious – atmospheric and haunting – ‘Skeleton’, at the bands most Beatlesesque, chimed gloriously. ‘Number 1’ was an anthemic gem – building up to its poignant refrain I’m just an old man sitting in my car driving around with my hat on. ‘Enormous Glorious Girl’ an explosive classic indie pop anthem filled with humour. Live, the textures of the songs shone through – a quiet/loud ethic, subtlety and strength and nowhere more evident that in the intricate ‘Peanut Butter Jars’ where Morris’s guitar playing was superb. The set list was:
A Good Man
Enormous Glorious Girl
Decades in A Day
Wrong Way Round Up
Peanut Butter Jars
No Turning Back*
Don’t Go Out*
If I Knew
Lost At Sea
All in all this was close to a perfect gig – two brilliant bands that complimented each other perfectly in a venue where the bands were the only stars: raw and exposed on stage without frills or trickery and only the song writing and musicianship on display.