Sunday, 15 December 2013

Gig Review - The Rush Family Xmas Party

The Rush Family Xmas Party
Featuring Jake Rush aka Louis Spoils, Darling James and Carl Rush
Live @ Bar 303, Melbourne (12/12/2013)
Words and pics by Lou Endicott

On an almost warm Melbourne Thursday summer night I headed off to Bar 303 in Northcote to see three music acts all containing a member that had “Rush” family member in them. Before reading on, know that this review will contain the word “Rush” many times over – and referring to different people!

I have known some of the Rush family members in varying degrees for over a decade through a mutual love of the arts and a community of misfit-artists-of-all-sorts who started in Brisbane and then migrated down to Melbourne. The Rush’s have many a musical talent in their family and I had often seen one or two of them on a drum kit or tearing out a guitar lick at mutual friend’s party jams. I was surprised to realise that I had never seen any of them play in an official gig capacity. So I decided I needed to see this gig.

And I admit, what really lured me to this event was that Louis Spoils – aka Jake Rush – would be performing. Louis Spoils released an EP earlier this year with a host of amazing musicians adding their ingredients into the mix. Probably the most famous being a certain Wally de Backer who the everyday music lovers would know as “that guy who sung ‘Somebody That I Used To Know’”: Gotye. Yes, the WORLD’S number one single last year. And the fact that he contributed to this EP is an indicator of just how Jake Rush as a musician, songwriter and a person attracts the good stuff.

Bar 303 is a warm and inviting little bar with tables and chairs out the front and a big glass window perfect for people watching. The band room at the back is a little dark yet cosy den down some steps past the actual bar. It’s unpretentious without much decoration. People often sit on the carpet in favour of the scattered chairs and tables.

To my delight Louis Spoils opened the set as a solo act: just the man and an electric guitar. Before starting the set Jake let us know he had been “coughing up green shit” and hence he wasn’t in his prime. I should mention at the point that Jake Rush says it how it is and always manages to get those around him laughing. First off the bat was one of my favourite songs off the EP – 'The Fixx'. It was a treat to hear a song I have listened to over and over stripped back to its original form of voice and guitar. This song, Rush told the crowd, was about working in a Western Carpark some years ago. Rush’s voice with its husky edge (perhaps huskier than usual) really hit the raw rock edge with its warmth and gruff tone. The simplified version of the song gave me a chance to appreciate the rhythmic flow of this pop piece and the delightful unexpected sections that all of Louis Spoils’ songs seem to have.

Again Rush got us laughing with his next comment: “I’m only going to do a wee set tonight because I’m a bit shite in the mouth”. The next song was a reflective song about living in a share house in the suburb of Brunswick (Melbourne’s unofficial capital of artists and students). I loved the lyrics “Living off government cheques down in Ashmore Street”. This mellow song had me thinking of my own share house experiences and the bonds formed with the people I’ve shared with. What I loved about this song was even though unwell, Rush still hit the high falsetto notes with enough power and prestige to serve the sentiment of the track.

There was a lot of casual banter after this song between Jake and his musician father Carl Rush (who stood at the back of the room) with more than a few references to Carl being a Dad of questionable values. The Rush men clearly have grown up together bonding over trying to make each other laugh. The laughter was infectious as the banter continued intermittently throughout the set.

Next up Rush explained that the next song was "The only sappy one I’m gonna do ok?” What followed was a beautiful bluesy song that had a touch of the sads soaked in a bucket of beautiful groove. Again, Jake's voice with its warmth and almost lullaby-like tone captivated the room. I think it was during this song that I realised that Rush’s voice reminds me of Sting in its sound. The rhythmic nature of all of this song could easily have been a cover of a song written by The Police.

After this song Jake told us how he used to work in a DHS house caring for people with disabilities. The next song in his set paid homage to this time that obviously opened his eyes to the world. It contained these no holds barred lyrics: “We live together in a million dollar house watching strangers come and go and we can’t get out. Our parents put us here out of love and out of fear. Some day…. I’ll disappear”. I really loved this song with its upbeat groove and lyrical punch.

The last song of the set definitely had the Sting feel to it that I had previously heard. The bassy grabs that Rush created with his guitar combined with the falsetto scoops really made this this song a stand out in its structure and delivery. This song (called 'You Betcha Little Hands') included an awesome unexpected interlude toward the end which according to my notes were “interlude chord heaven”.

I would love to see Louis Spoils as a full band as his songs are so well crafted. It’s obvious to see why so many people jumped on board the EP to play with Rush.

If you haven’t already heard the EP do yourself a favour and purchase one quick smart. It’s a stand out of 2013 and really deserves more attention. (We reviewed it and loved it back in August and you should check it out on bandcamp!)

After a quick drink break we were met with the next Rush family member. This time Zac Rush. Zac is the lead guitarist in the new indie three piece Darling James (with James O’Brien on vocals/guitar and Tom Baker on percussion/harmonies). This relatively new outfit performed last month with Hey Geronimo on their Melbourne leg of the tour. I was told later that the line-up usually included Dan Parsons on drums. But for this gig we got a trio.

The first song was called ‘Holy War’ which was a folk pop 60s inspired sound. Both O’Brien and Baker sung a two-part harmony through much of the song. The harmonies created were featured throughout the set and really added a beautiful melodic element to their sound. The structure of ‘Holy War’ was simple and quite catchy. Half way through I felt like I could almost sing along. This was a good opener to start with as it warmed the crowd into their easy listening sound. The guitar lead played by Zac Rush (Jake’s younger brother) really showcased his skills as a talented musician. In fact, there was a distinct George Harrison flavour to Rush’s technique and sound and this added layer turned the simple song into a more complex and grounded piece with an almost classic edge.

Lead singer James told the crowd after the opener that it had been three days since his last cigarette and “I’m losing my mind”. This created a cheer of support from the crowd. Smoking’s bad m’kay? The next song called 'Antidote' had a cowboy twang to it. I enjoyed the lyrics “Hold your head up high ‘cos you’re everything that I need. You’re everything I need to escape. You’re the antidote to an ugly world”. Great lyrics. It about this time in the set that I started to imagine the sound that Darling James would create with a full band. I could even imagine a trumpet sound in here somewhere (suggestion boys?)

The third song in had a false start. A few bars in O’Brien suddenly stopped. “Anyone have a cigarette?” Which created a big whoop of laughter and more encouragement from the audience. Nothing like a dramatic redo of a song. This song called 'Pornography' was one of the highlights with its dreamy high noted guitar, bright rhythm and hopeful turnarounds. Even after the false start this song really grabbed me with its almost Neil Finn song writing feel to it.

The next song 'Reinvent The Past' was another highlight with some gentle “ooh and ahh” harmony action taking place amongst lyrics like these “I never thought I’d make it home so many times”. Around here I was reminded of one of my favourite 60s bands - Crosby Stills and Nash - with the intricate folky rock harmonies of Darling James blending so beautifully together. This reference point (once thought of) was hard to shake. But with a reference point such as this – why shake it? I’m a sucker for vocal play in the folk mix and it was done well here.

Perhaps my other highlight of the set and what really sold me on this band was the cover of 'I’m So Tired' off the Beatles White Album. It’s no secret that the Beatles are my favourite band of all time. I have to admit I can get a little precious with covers of their back catalogue. But Darling James handled it with ease and style. My earlier comparison of Zac Rush have a feel of George Harrison was brought back to the spotlight here for the obvious reason but also because he simply shredded out a killer lead in the instrumental. So much so that I was left a little disappointed as it could have gone on and on and he would have still had my ears. Also the classic lyrics “I’m so tired, I’m feeling so upset. Although I’m so tired, I’ll have another cigarette”. Very apt song to cover considering it was three days since James’ last smoke.

The last song of the set was called 'Ashmore Street' and aside from the connection of Rush’s this song link O’Brien to the family as he had also lived in the same house as Jake Rush. This song made me think of road tripping out of the city with the windows down and the wind in my hair. It also contained a killer outro that belied the fact that the sound was created by only three musicians.

Darling James are currently in the studio recording their first release (due early 2014). You can follow the journey on their facebook page.

Last of the evening was Mr Rush himself – that is, the father of Jake and Zac: Carl Rush. For those unfamiliar with Carl Rush, well, that’s a shame. If you love intricate blues riffs, songs that tear your heart out and a voice comparable to dark chocolate syrup then you would love to hear this artist. And live if possible. With the same brand of Aussie humour and showmanship that his sons have, Rush took the stage with the ease of one well accustomed to performing live. I think throughout most of the set the audience barely breathed – not wanting to miss a single note or vocal lick that Rush presented us so beautifully.

The set opened firmly in blues territory and led us down the path of jazz, ragtime and original ballads with a dash of classic rock. All in all, Rush performed a total of thirteen songs - so I will focus on some personal highlights of the set. But I must say in advance highlights were a little difficult to choose of an artist of this calibre.

The second song of the night; 'Three Small Word' had me thinking of my favourite artist of all time - Tom Waits. Like Waits, Rush has a way of delivering his heart on a platter for his listeners (with a mandatory side of whisky). It was towards the end of the song when he moved his guitar a little that I noticed that Rush was in fact wearing a shirt with an image of Mr Waits on it. Aha. Comparisons justified. I was absolutely in music heaven later in the set when Rush pulled out a Waits classic ‘Christmas Card from a Hooker in Minneapolis’. Never having seen Tom Waits live, I relish the chance to hear his songs played live. Though I guess you could say just like Beatles covers I am precious of how they are interpreted. Hollywood starlet Scarlet Johannson some years back tried her hand at covering Waits. Hmmmm… yes Ms Johannson I understand you’re a fan too but kindly step away from the microphone. I had no worries here. Perhaps due to being a seasoned performer and his extremely high level of skill, Rush nailed it with sensitivity and finesse.

Another cover that had the crowd literally sighing was a cover of Led Zepellin’s ‘Going to California’ - which incidentally is my favourite Led Zep song. The intricacies of finger picking and gentle rise and fall of the melody of this song have my heart through and through. A friend and fellow music lover next to me leaned over and said “How have I never heard of Carl Rush until now? This is world class stuff”.

Jazz/blues vocalist Pearly Black made an appearance during the set which was a lovely segue into the land of jazz. The ease and natural rapport that Rush and Black seemed to have suggested two old friends with a mutual respect for each other out in the playground once again and this shone through in the delivery of the few songs that they played together. I love hearing capable singers handle jazz scatting and Black’s voice with its smooth yet powerful tone was at its most appealing when she did just that. Another highlight of this jazz interlude was an old blues song 'Baby you’re my centrepiece'. The sweet sassy goodness was increased by the killer lyrics “I’m a big mama shaking her bones. Every time I shake a skinny girl loses her home”. Gold.

Perhaps the other highlight of this set was when Rush said “I’d like to invite the rest of the Rush orchestra onto the stage”. And onto the stage they went: Jake taking drums (which was just a snare drum played with brushes suspended between two chairs) and Zac on lead. We were treated to a Johnny Cash cover: 'Folsom Prison Blues' and Bob Dylan’s very wordy 'Subterranean Homesick Blues'. The audience had to get up and dance around about here. You can check out a little of Carl’s music on his website.

There is a lot to be said of genetics and talent running in a family. But it’s another thing to actively take that talent and nurture it into skill and The Rush family have got a lot of it. Lucky for me that they are sharing it with the world.

1 comment:

  1. I played with Carl in Brisbane when his boys were just starting to learn to play. I would so love to see them play together.


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