Sunday, 13 October 2013

Gig Review - Asta

 Live @ the Northcote Social Club (06/10/2013)
supported by Hayden Calnin and Second Hand Heart 
Review by Lou Endicott

“I need some answers tonight”

I admit it. I missed the first support act of the evening. But it wasn’t my fault. I swear!

I left home with a spring in my step all geared up to go see Asta . I was in such high spirits and so eager to go I left without checking the weather - which is almost a mandatory routine before going out in Melbourne. In one outing you may need a scarf, hat, sunblock and an umbrella, gloves and a beanie. Apparently I had everything I needed. Except an umbrella. I made it to the station only a little damp. But then my adventure truly started. My train stopped at one of the five city stations prematurely and we were told was going no further. So I hopped on another train and went back through the city loop of trains to get to my station. No problem. Just a wee bit delayed. But I left with plenty of time so no worries right?

When I got to the maze of entrances and exits that Parliament train station is I thought I would ask a helpful staff member for the best exit to get to my tram. “Go out that exit. Turn right. Follow the tram tracks. Easy”. Awesome, I thought. Asking is always better than getting confused and having to back track. For those unfamiliar with this Melbourne train station, the many different exits are spread out over about 500 square metres and you really need to be familiar with the station to know exactly which street you are coming out onto. Although I’ve lived in Melbourne for 8 years, clearly I haven’t visited this station enough.

She gave me the wrong exit. In fact almost the OPPOSITE end of where I needed to be. It was pouring down. I got saturated.

Eventually after back tracking and going around in a few circles to get suitably drenched, I found my tram stop. But there was a notice saying all the trams from this stop weren’t going due to roadwork construction.

By this point I had twenty minutes to get to the gig.

So I went back down to the train station deciding to opt for a train to the venue instead. I thought I would ask which platform and train (thinking this would be quicker then checking all the screens).

The man behind the desk said “South Morang. Platform one” straight away. I was about to leave for said platform when he said “Hang on. That doesn’t sound right. I think I gave you the wrong information. Please wait here a second”. So two minutes later, after him shuffling through his paper work out the back and triple checking he says “Oh wait. No. That information WAS right. And it looks like you have less than a minute to get to the platform”.

Of course I did. So I bolted. I realised that I haven’t truly run since high school. Not like this anyway.

I made the train by seconds heaving and sweating and a little dizzy from lack of breath. I jumped on got a seat and thought “Away we go!” But then the train didn’t move. We sat there for a full ten minutes. When we finally DID depart a voice on the speakers laughed saying “Sorry about the delay folks, looks like a door got a little jammed. Hahahaha!” Yeah. Hilarious.

Then of course we went back through all the city loop stations the opposite way again before heading off to my station.

I made it to the venue just after Second Hand Heart played. Which is a shame because after listening to them on Triple J unearthed they have a sound I think I would have loved to see and hear live.

Determined now to be the most diligent reviewer ever after my tardy arrival, I got myself a pint of brew, claimed a patch on the carpeted floor near the stage and pulled out my notebook pen poised.

Hayden Calnin claimed the stage with just himself and a guitar for the first few songs before being joined by a bass guitarist, drummer and lead guitarist. Calnin’s style is simple yet powerful: sparse and sustained accompaniment to showcase the smooth, mellow yet sometimes raw voice assured that the audience remained attentive throughout. I imagined this artist to sing like much like a warrior. Deep from the gut, crying out into the abyss before him with courage yet a deft lightness. There is an element of Jeff Buckley here mixed perhaps with a smoother, lighter Matt Corby. I particularly loved the moments when Calnin soared up effortlessly into his beautiful falsetto.

A highlight of the set was Hayden’s second song which was introduced as “...written when I was sixteen. About a girl I knew nothing about”. A moody and magical piece which unfortunately no title was given.

When the band was brought onto stage I had one of those double take moments. The bass player - I swear - was the waiter who served me and my girlfriends brunch earlier that day. I love how Melbourne is like that. Actually I love how life is like that. And let me just say although he made a great waiter - I hope his waitering days are numbered and this band gets more exposure and work. Unless he LOVES the coffee thing. Maybe he’s doing the band thing until the waitering thing picks up. You never know a person’s story right?

The band brought a delicious added element to Calnin’s moody sound scape. They were tight, organic and very humble. The song 'Not Good For Me' saw the drummer using a soft mallet which again reminded me of a warrior song much like a drum used to spur rowers on. A deep, almost ghostly heart beat. This song had added vocoda harmonies produced Calnin using a pedal. Goose bump worthy.

Another highlight was the song 'You' which had an element of newer Thom Yorke material. Again, a very simple in structure song, but a true showcase for Calnin’s gorgeous vocals.

Hayden finished the set by humbly thanking the audience for being respectful listeners. I love artists who understand the interplay between performer and audience and openly acknowledge that a gig is truly a team effort on both sides.

I hope to hear more of this artist in the future as his talent is undeniable.

I firstly heard Asta’s music a few months ago through Triple J unearthed. Asta won Unearthed High in 2012 and it’s no wonder why. Her music is sleek, pop, moody with a touch of 80s retro. The end product is a sound that is more sophisticated than expected for an artist who is still relatively young (she’s only 19). It was instant music love for me upon first hearing her.

The curtain closed (as it always does before the main act), the audience stood up and we all moved in closer the to stage. I perched myself quite close to the action. My notebook was put away and I decided to used my trusty phone for note taking instead. The curtain opened sans Asta with her fantastic band (drums, guitar, bass) pumping out a gorgeous beat. Our cheers signalled the entrance of the lady of the hour. Asta came out dancing in a long dark coat, glittery mesh gloves, blonde hair swinging and grooving like a true pop star before making her way to the mic stand (which incidentally was tastefully decorated with a soft curtain of beads).

I was like a kid in candy land when I realised the first song was 'My Heart Is On Fire'. This song has such a great vocal hook and has sound tracked my daily bike ride over and over in the last few weeks. I imagine that when Asta recorded this song she was doing a similar dance and grooving along in the studio in much the same way as she was on stage. If possible, this song was even better live. By the time she got to the lyrics “And the radio’s playing our favourite song, it’s the one where we know all the words to sing along” (clap clap). Guess who was singing along and clapping at the clap moments? And dancing like there was no tomorrow. It was around this time I realised I was the only one really dancing like it was a New Year’s Eve party. Most people around me had that head nod little thing going on but not much more. Did I ever mention I am a mover? I NEED to dance. I can’t NOT dance. If the beat is strong, the groove driving, then baby.... I’m pulling my best moves and dancing like no-one’s watching. Hands, hips, shoulders and legs. It’s all there. Including a wide smile smacked on my dial. This is my personal heaven.

Which is why I think I attracted a few people to push through and come and stand around me. Because before too long, our little pocket of audience had caught Asta’s groove and there was no stopping us!

Perhaps this is why towards the end of Asta’s set I was bumped by a member of my little dance entourage and accidentally deleted all my notes that I had been hurriedly typing between each song. I firmly blame it on the boogie. I made the decision then and there to just immerse myself and enjoy the experience of seeing this emerging artist live in the early stages of what is sure to be an incredible career.

A few songs in Asta put on an acoustic guitar and moved the set into a slower more laid back gear. When slowed down Asta’s sound has an almost Portishead sound to it. A gentleman grooving next to me (I say gentleman as he had very lovely South London accent reminiscent of the late Davy Jones from The Monkees) commented that he imagined these slower numbers with guitar to be that of a James Bond soundtrack. Very aptly noted. Sultry yet strong. Moody and just a little dangerous. And very, very cool.

Mid set Asta pulled out the fantastic song 'Escape'. Again the groove was picked up and sent back into dance territory. Although this song has another delicious melody and addictive beat it’s Asta’s lyrics that draw me into this song: “I’ve got no shoes, I’ve got no clothes, I’ve got no sheltered place to go. I’m running out of air. Is there anybody out there?” Asta’s thick and heavy vocals powered through this song as she took the mic out of the stand and strutted across the stage with confidence and grace. I should mention that at some point earlier, Asta discarded her long dark coat to reveal a tight leather skirt, long sleeved chiffon blouse and gorgeous blingy necklace. Rock sophistication done right.

Some of you might know that Asta covered Flumes 'Holdin’ On' recently on Triple J’s Like a Version. Unfortunately the radio/youtube recording of this didn’t quite hit the mark. But to be fair, for anyone to sing live on radio before 9am has got to be more than a big challenge. I have to say though, that Asta nailed it at this gig. She delivered it without trying to copy the original - finding her own style and humour with the right amount playfulness and this time hitting the notes squarely with finesse.

The last song of the night was the one I had been holding out for. I don’t know how many times I have listened to this song or watched the surreal video clip in the last few months. It’s a bonafide favourite of 2013 for me. Asta didn’t disappoint. 'I Need Some Answers Tonight' was the perfect way to end her gig. She obviously enjoys singing this song and really let loose. It also gave her band a different groove to say goodnight on.

I would not hesitate to see Asta again live. It almost goes without saying that I can’t wait for an EP or full album to be released. In the meantime, if you live in Perth or Tasmania Asta still has tour dates coming up this month. And she will be performing at the iconic Fall Festival over New Years. If you DO see her, just promise me you will dance your little heart out. Go on, pretend no-ones watching...

Friday, October 18 - Alchemy Bar and Restaurant, Launceston - tickets here
Saturday, October 19 - Mona, Hobart - tickets here
Sunday, October 27 - The Aviary, Perth - info here
Sunday, December 29 - Falls Fastival, Marion Bay - tickets here

1 comment:

  1. You've summed it up well Lou. The only thing I suspect you may have wrong is I reckon you would have been the one bumping into your dance buddy. I was standing nearby & you were certainly thrashing around. Not that there's anything wrong with that. PIZZA


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