Thursday, 21 November 2013

Gig Review - Paper House + Georgia Fields + Second Hand Heart

Live @ The Toff in Town
as part of Melbourne Music Week
Review by Lou Endicott

I had the distinct pleasure of seeing three different indie artists/groups accompanied by a string quintet (supplied by the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra) on Sunday night as part of Melbourne Music Week.

The venue was the Toff in Town. For those uninitiated with the Toff, it’s located in Swanston Street smack bang in the middle of Melbourne city. It’s in a building with a variety of other clubs – all stacked up on top of each other. To reach the Toff you either line up for the very small (and old) elevator or do what locals do and haul yourself up the three or so levels via the stairs.

By the time you reach the Toff you are ready for a beverage to quench the thirst you created from said hike.

I have to say at this point that although I have a soft spot for the Toff – it has a cute little proscenium arch stage with a red velvet curtain, scattered tables with tea light candles, a little balcony overlooking the hustle and bustle of the CBD, and a general up-market bohemian atmosphere to it – I am always disappointed at the cost of a beer. The band room doesn’t have beer on tap. My first beer was the cheapest – a bottle of Coopers – which set me back $7.50. The second round – purchased by my partner - was even more disappointing. He was told that the bar had run out of cold Coopers. Which meant that the cheapest (cold) beer was now $9.50. Indie music and expensive alcohol really don’t mix in this girl’s opinion. I am sure that the venue makes their money on drinks, but we made the decision to stop at our second.

Apart from the beer crises (yes, I’m overly dramatic – years of being an actor), the seating was a bit annoying. There were not enough chairs for the capacity. Before the music started I noticed a man going down a corridor near the toilets and coming back carrying a couple of chairs. So I investigated. I found a hidden stack and helped myself. And so did a lot of the audience. Perhaps it is my theatre background, but I enjoy a venue that caters for the audience and doesn’t require them to be the crew. But again – that’s just me.

SECOND HAND HEART: Once we were seated with our very expensive beer after hauling our own chairs to a suitable viewing position (ok, I’ll let it go now) the first act for the evening, Second Hand Heart began their set. I was booked in to see this act last month but due to a public transport issue (see Asta review) missed out. I was lucky to see them this time complete with string section. Second Hand Heart launched straight into their first number, 'Days Like These' with no introduction. The crowd hushed as the string quintet warmed our ears and the very Sunday vibe of the opening song induced a relaxed state. The lead singer, Jess Carrol wore a light coloured floaty blouse which became a canvas for a live projection mixed with simple illustration that was used throughout the set . I love a good visual idea. And this worked well throughout the entire evening with each act.

The second song, 'The River Ophelia' gave this outfit a chance to show off their vocal skills with ethereal, warbling harmonies that moved like water ripples on a gentle river. Very fitting given that Ophelia (for those fans of Hamlet and Shakespeare out there) met a watery grave herself.

In fact I would say that a lot of the music that Second Hand Heart creates reminds me of water. Their sound is dreamy, soothing and warm. To immerse yourself in their sound is a little like stepping into a warm bath. You don’t want to move much. Just sit back and let it wash over you.

The third song of the night, 'Trouble' was a more percussive song driven by shaker and piano. This song apparently also has a French version. We got the English version which was appreciated as I loved the lyrics: “Give me a reason to love you, because you are trouble”.

Next up was the cleverly titled song, 'Damnesia' – an ode to not being able to sleep at night. After this was my favourite of the set (which dovetailed nicely with the theme of the previous song). This song was called 'We Dream Awake'. This song featured an exquisite string intro that left my heart in a melted puddle. In fact I think throughout the night the strings provided by the MSO had that effect on me. They immediately made the songs filmic, tragic and beautiful all at once. In this song in particular they married their sound to the piano (provided by Lily Parker) wonderfully.

The last song of Second Hand Heart’s set was a waltz called 'Spending my Time'. This one had an almost ghost town western feel to it with its twangy bass played with theatric sensibility by its player, Michael Hanley. The drums played were extra tight here but never overshadowed the piece. I was reminded of a showdown or a duel.

All in all this was a lovely relaxed set by Second Hand Heart. There is an album soon to emerge from this five piece, which will be interesting to hear. And perhaps one to pop on when a hot bath awaits.

GEORGIA FIELDS: Next up was the uniquely talented Georgia Fields. This set (and Georgia herself) was for me the highlight of the evening. I loved that Georgia let the strings and drums set a pace and a mood before she stepped onto the stage. Wearing a gorgeous white dress (again, a fantastic little canvas for the projector) and white face paint on her forehead I was instantly drawn in by her presence and theatricality. I am not overly familiar with Georgia’s music - which is a shame and something to be rectified (I’ve started today to go through her back catalogue). This first song saw Georgia providing soft, sombre and beautifully toned vocals accented by her playing a tambourine like a slow and steady heart beat.

What drew me even more to this artist was her warm and easy banter with the audience (musicians take note: talk to us! we love it!) . After her first song she joked that the carpet on stage was very sticky and probably, “had had a lot of good times on it”. An artist who is comfortable in their own skin always puts me at ease and turns the volume up in my ears for the songs that follow.
The next song had my partner lean over to me and say, “She’s really cool.” This song (whose title wasn’t mentioned) was a super quirky, and super cute song played at the keys: “Birds of a feather, feels so good when we are together.” There was an almost 60s pop edge to this track that reminded my of The Beatles 'When I’m 64' or 60s pop princess Melanie’s 'Brand new Key'.

Third song in we were treated to the Bowie song 'Soul Love' from the album Ziggy Stardust. This interpretation really brought a whole new slant to the song in Georgia’s stripped back delivery – with just strings and vocals expertly recreating the classic as a ballad.

After this track Georgia made a few jokes and then took a sip of water (eyes twinkling) as she giggled, “It’s water, not vodka! This next song comes to you from the moon.” Yes. Georgia definitely took us to another world with the next song which was a sweet, melodic ballad. But it was the next song that really sent me to the moon and back. I think it was called 'It’s You'. The piano chords really showed the audience Georgia’s capabilities as a player and arranger of turnarounds that pull firmly at the heart in a jazzy, uplifting yet heart aching way. The string section here was almost not needed. The voice and the keys provided by Georgia would have been just as beautiful had they stood alone. “It’s you, that I’ve been waiting for, it’s you, my breath is baited for. It’s you my heart was fated for”.

Unfortunately, it was just after the next song that I became very aware of the back of the audience. I had seen a few people in front during the song turn around and give disappointed looks to the back of the room. Perhaps it was the lack of chairs (or the expensive beers!) but the audience at the back had started to talk – very loudly. It’s disappointing when you are seeing an artist of such a high calibre lay talent at your feet and commit to it with their all heart when you have a small section of the audience who are obviously not there for the music. I was just writing this down in my notes when Georgia herself, very politely said, “I might just ask for a little bit of hush up the back. This is my recital.” I almost cheered. The 95% of the room who were there to LISTEN really appreciated Georgia taking back the power and the spotlight with grace and professionalism.

It seemed that this little interlude gave Georgia even more power and presence for the rest of her set. She blasted her way through the kooky and lovable 'Snakes and Ladders' (which I discovered today has a colourful and fun film clip that accompanies). The last song was another favourite of the set. And it just so happened to be called 'My Favourite' (see what I did there?) If this is an original, it’s absolutely brilliant. It almost carried a jazz standard feel with its romantic walk-down-the-aisle and let the tears spill feel. This song would steal a scene in any romantic movie. It was the perfect choice to end this set.

Needless to say, if Georgia is playing near you. Go see her. Go!

PAPER HOUSE: Our last act of the evening was an indie electronic band called Paper House who I had not heard of before. The singer, Emily Siddons followed suit with the other singers of the evening wearing a light coloured smock dress to pick up the projections. Again, the projections worked well here. Siddon took the microphone and began the first song accompanied by the soft finger pickings of the guitarist.

The second song had more of an uptempo groove that would have sat comfortably behind a sleek and dark car chase or action scene. In fact in general, I would say that the strength of this band is in fact their ability to provide this kind of spy like, Bond-esque underscore. Their sound is a dark and dangerous balance of slick grooves and sleek feminine vocals.

A few songs in, Georgia Fields came and sat in the audience (right in front of my partner and I). She obviously loved the music with its hypnotic dark groove as she swayed to its beats. Again this was, for me, another indicator of the mark of a fine artist to give her energy and lend her ears to other acts of the evening.

For the song 'Rolling Tide' a laptop was brought out, “because we couldn’t do a set without a computer,” joked the singer Emily. This sound produced a tight, slick groove that contrasted well with the little licks effects created by playing the top end of the guitar strings.

The song 'Motion' was my favourite in this set with its awesome, twisted little guitar turnaround and once again a return to the feeling of an action film underscore much like The Matrix. It almost made me want to stand up and dance. This song also gave the MSO quintet a chance to really get their play on. The enjoyment on all of their faces was infectious.

The last song of the evening, 'Day is Done' was played on one of the most underrated instruments there is: the auto harp (remember them from primary school days?). Soft and dreamy, and always hitting the mark automatically (of course) the auto harp was a novel end to the evening. With the string quintet opting for little raindrop plucks in their initial accompaniment, this song moved from a little shanty in the early stages into what felt like a progressive rock style with a full string soaring above that had me reflecting on my old 70s vinyl collection. It was also an indicator of the versatility that Paper House hold as an outfit.

I loved the collaboration that this evening brought forth. To marry the new and experimental work of indie artists with the tradition of an orchestra is one that I hope will be done again in the near future.

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