Thursday, 30 January 2014

Gig Review - Half Moon Run

Live @ The Corner Hotel, Melbourne (19/01/14)
Supported by: Tigertown and Louis Spoils
Review by Lou Endicott

Just over a week ago I had the absolute delight of seeing three fantastic music acts at The Corner Hotel in Richmond.

The Corner Hotel is one of my favourite places to see live music in Melbourne. It has the capacity to hold over a thousand audience members but also allows for intimacy for smaller audiences with the shape of the band room stretching out longways. Having said that – I always try and stake out a place as near to the stage as possible to get immersed in the live experience.


First up was solo act Louis Spoils. For those not in the know, Louis Spoils is the aka of singer/songwriter/guitarist Jake Rush. 2013 saw him release his first EP under the pseudonym of Louis Spoils. The EP was a collaboration with many a who’s who of the Australian music scene. It was a stand out of the year for me personally and is still on high rotation in my car.

Louis Spoils took to the stage with just an electric guitar. His first words had the crowd laughing. “Come on down closer. I have a hole in my pants. Take a look.” Anyone who can start a set with honesty and humour is off to a good start winning an audience over.

The first song was one of my favourites off the EP. 'The Fixx' has a rhythmic edge that discloses Rush’s experience with bass and drums. This song (like many of Louis Spoils’s numbers) has various sections to it rhythmically speaking. Stripped back with just guitar and vocals this version showcased the nuts and bolts of a great pop song. Unfortunately, half way through this first song the guitar lost volume completely. Fortunately, however, to his absolute credit (and to the delight of the audience), Rush kept singing and even changed the words something to the effect of: “I have no idea what had happened but I’ll just keep singing anyway.” The audience although at first feeling the tension of a live awkward moment were quickly on his side with his improvised singing. And to prove this, when his power came back on the crowd whooped and cheered. The song rocked back in at the right point. Now with added confidence, Rush joked, “Come closer! Or I’ll walk off!” and those at the back of the room drew in. This is live music after all. This is why I love it. It’s uncertain, it’s dangerous and it’s a communion between performer and audience.

Louis Spoils' set was brief but had impact. After a song about share housing Rush advised, “Get a drink. The next song is very depressing.” This song was about the perils of substance abuse. An intense subject matter like this might have been a downer on the audiences buoyant mood but somehow due to his banter and sense of joy to be playing for us, Rush again got us laughing. I really enjoyed this song and the lyrics: “If you need me, I’ll come running. Pull me from this burning car.”

The next song was a bright upbeat gem that had the crowd nodding along to its catchy chorus: “When push come to shove my heels slipped. I will dig myself a hole and crawl into it.” This song cried out for a drum to be added. A deep rolling echo action on pedal added an element of drama in a little instrumental break. At the end of this little section Rush said, “Well, that was my guitar solo.” This got the crowd whooping and cheering for both his humour and showmanship. It was around this point that I overheard a girl next to me say, “He’s pretty adorable isn’t he?” It’s refreshing to see a performer not hide behind any pretensions and be just completely themselves on stage. And Louis Spoils has charisma galore.

Before his last song Rush again had us laughing with his explanation of a “program” designed to help artists fix holes in their pants and in their shoes (both of which he had). He called it “Buy their CD from the merch stand for $6.” The last song was his tribute to those working in department of human services houses. Rush told us a little of his experience working as a carer for the physically and intellectually challenged. There must have been a couple of people in the crowd who knew this job well as they cheered when he mentioned this song was dedicated to his fellow workers. This song features an 80s ska sound and some killer liquorice black satirical lyrics: “We all live together in a million dollar house, watching strangers come and go and we can’t get out.”

Louis Spoils no doubt has a bright future ahead. I would love to see a full line up here as the energy of these songs led by Rush would ignite a crowd.


By the time Tigertown took to the stage the crowd had grown in size considerably. I had not seen this band play before and, to be honest, I did not think I was familiar with their music. The sound created by this five-piece outfit won me over immediately. The opener was a hint of what was to come: with a super tight beat, beautiful light Rhodes sounding keys, gorgeous swelling harmonies and catchy lead vocals, I was left wanting more. They have no doubt got the comparison before, but Fleetwood Mac (one of my favourite bands) kept leaping into my mind as a major “sounds like”. The first track included a delicious “oh-whoah” vocal hook and with the acoustic guitar mixed into the sound I couldn’t help but stamp “vintage deluxe” all over Tigertown.

Second song in launched into the drums with ghostly moody high harmonies and an exciting blend of male and female vocals. The stagecraft of this band became apparent as the set went on. The female lead vocalist, Charlie let loose as she danced about hyping up the crowd with whoops and squeals in between phrases. It was infectious. And every member of the band was in on it. This band love to play live, and once an audience recognises this they can't help but be affected.

Third song in we got an introduction. While Tigertown didn’t say much in between songs they made up for it with what they presented in their sound and their performance. After doing a little research after the gig it appears that the band members are all connected through family. Which perhaps explains the awesome dynamics that this team of musos create live. Apparently the two lead vocalists Charlie and Chris are a married couple. And the rest of the band is made up of their respective siblings. Coming from a large family myself (and knowing the creative shenanigans that we get up to when under the same roof) I can’t help but love this band.

There were a lot of highlights in this wonderful set, including watching the talented keys player engage in all kinds of percussion instruments in between dancing his fingers over the keys. At one point he even belted out a trumpet solo. My notes here read: “What CAN’T this guy play?” Another highlight had me literally jumping up and down with joy. When Tigertown pulled out the tune 'Go Now' I realised that I knew this song from their 2011 EP – and had had many a sing along over the last year or so. Note to self: when listening to music I love – remember the band's name who sing it!

Another highlight was a song called 'These Hands' - which we were told is hopefully to be on an upcoming full album. I have to admit here that parts of this song had me thinking of a theme song to some 80s sitcom. Don’t misread this as thinking it was cheesey or naf – it was just the joy of syncopated keys and a bouncy, bright rhythm that left me feeling as if I had just watched an episode of Perfect Strangers. It was around here that I realised there is a touch of delicious dagginess to Tigertown. I say this in the most respectful way. Let me explain. Before moving to Melbourne from Brisbane almost ten years ago I had to part with my vinyl collections. I loved to scour markets and record shops for vintage records. My collection was an odd mix of retro classics and obscurities (including a few Tijuana brass band albums, because – why not?). It was the daggiest/coolest collection (if I say so myself). I can imagine that Tigertown might have a similar collection hiding somewhere, as their sound seems to be unashamed mix of theatrics and old school grooves.

Needless to say I definitely will be keen to hear a full album from Tigertown soon. In the meantime, I would catch them live again in a heartbeat.

The crowd had reached its peak capacity by the time Half Moon Run emerged from behind the red curtain. The excitement in the room was obvious as the crowd moved in towards the action. I unfortunately had a tall man standing directly in front of me. I did a couple of quick manoeuvrers and got a new spot – behind a slightly less tall man. Tigertown’s Charlie came out onto the stage to introduce Half Moon Run. Which I thought was a little odd until later we were told by Half Moon Run that she had lost in a drinking competition with the band and so had to do the introduction.

Half Moon Run entered the stage with full support from the audience. They launched straight into the last song off their Dark Eyes album, '21 Gun Salute'. Dramatic red and blue lights painted the stage and set the tone for a bonafide rock concert. The crowd lapped it up and squashed in even closer to the action.

This was the third time I had seen HMR perform. I saw them a year ago in The Ding Dong Lounge here in Melbourne. The Ding Dong Lounge is significantly smaller than The Corner Hotel. And at that last gig there was plenty of room to walk right up to the front and dance wildly about. They even cleaned up the stage themselves after that gig while a couple of us audience members (me included) went to congratulate them. Standing in the squash of a crowd at The Corner Hotel a year later, I realised that this bands notoriety has increased dramatically over the last twelve months. I suspect they wont be bumping out their own instruments anymore. The fan list has grown – complete with screaming young groupie girls yelling out all kinds of declarations throughout the set. And it’s easy to see why. These guys are natural rock stars. They love performing. And they have talent to back it up. Their stage antics are the stuff that legends are born from. In just the first song lead singer/guitarist Devon Portielje began jumping wildly as the keyboard/guitarist/backing vocalist Conner Molander thrashed his long locks over the keys as if it were an instrument itself. Dylan Phillips on the drums kept the beat like a regimental soldier of rhythm.

Like the screaming girls around me, I lapped it up. Perhaps unlike the screaming girls, I was listening out for nuances of sound and rhythm and focusing on musicianship. Well that’s my story and I’m sticking to it. I have been a fan of this band since I first saw them at Woodfood in 2012. After purchasing their album as a Valentine’s Day present for myself last year I have spent many an hour enjoying the ebbs and flows of the recording. So although I wasn’t screaming or yelling out declarations of love, I was a little beside myself with joy to hear these guys play live again. And I was happy to see them gaining popularity and moving their status up in the music industry.

For the second song in the set, Conner exchanged keys for an acoustic guitar. The fourth member of HMR, Isaac Symonds entered the stage and took to the keys/synth. This song - 'Nerve' - saw Devon engaging in hand tapping on his chest – as if the song and rhythm were born out of his heart. 'Nerve' is one of the slower tracks on Dark Eyes. Performed live, it gave Portielje a chance to really showcase his beautiful voice (with gorgeous backing harmonies provided by the rest of the band). I’ve always thought it was a bit of a swoon worthy song – and looking around at the crowd I was not wrong.

The keys intro to the next song was instantly recognisable as the track 'Judgement'. This is one of my favourite tracks off the album with its squelchy almost talking guitar, percussive keys and the bright upbeat sound. HMR obviously enjoy playing this song with its interesting breaks and twists and turns, and to hear and see it played live was a treat. The boys threw themselves into it with much movement and fun.

My partner (who I took along with me) turned to me around this point and said, “Being a rock star - it’s all about the hair isn’t it?” I had to have a little laugh. The Half Moon Run lads all sport different hairstyles of varying lengths. And they know how to use it. Devon lets his flop in his face ala Kurt Cobain, whereas Conner lets his flip around like Jimmy Page. Isaac has a delightful head of bouncy curls going on that echoes back to a 70s funk era. And Dylan has a Dave Grohl mop going on that moves in time to his quick-stick drumming. Like any performer – you use what you have. And as mentioned, these guys don’t just have the good looks – they have the talent to back it up. But yes. Hair. Rock stars love to use it.

Hair aside, this gig just had so many highlights. So much so it was hard to pick an absolute favourite of the set. However, 'Call Me in the Afternoon' (another one of my favourite songs off the album) will stick in my memory. It features a repeated rousing section of drums – both played by Devon and Isacc simultaneously standing. This embodiment of the beat with the novel visual was one of the first things that drew me to this band when I first saw them at Woodford. There is almost a tribal, war like feel when the drums kick in. It’s primal in it’s heart but sophisticated in it’s delivery. I sung along to this song and danced about as best as I could in my 30cm square standing space as the drums kicked in with perfect timing and force.

I also loved the live rendition of 'Drug You' with its mantra like echoes and rolling guitar. The moment when Devon effortlessly soared up into his high falsetto voice (as the rest of the band provide three part harmonies) produced the right amount of goose bumps and had me grinning ear to ear. Other songs off the album such as the soulful 'Fire Escape' and the sexy 'Need It' hit the mark squarely.

Perhaps a crowd favourite was the single 'Full Circle'. We were invited to sing along if we knew it. Another goose bump moment was created when in the chorus the lights turned to the audience, the music on stage stopped and a thousand plus room sang out, “And I watch as your head turns full circle”. After the song Devon joked, “You guys should all start a band together. Come tour with us. We’d take you on for fifty cents a day. That doesn’t include drinks.” To which a young groupie girl next to me screamed out, “Ahhhhhhhh!!!!! You’re so sexy!!!” I don’t think they heard her – because the cheers and whoops and call outs like this were over the room blending into one big bundle of adoration.

I think a favourite moment for the band might have been in the song 'Give Up' as Conner and Devon moved closer together with their guitars and swayed inches away from each other strumming together as if to invoke some god of rock. These guys are obviously tight as brothers. I guess this closeness must be natural giving that they keep touring the world together and leaving their hometown of Montreal, Canada in the rear view mirror.

If I was to pick one moment that blew me out of the water though – and one that I had not seen HMR do before - it would have to be the first encore song. The boys all walked down to the front of the stage with just two unplugged guitars and a harmonica. I don’t know what the song was that they sung but it had the ilk of a country blues ballad with its harmony, heart and melody. I was reminded of the Coen Brothers film Oh Brother Where are Thou? during this song. If you’ve seen the film you might remember The Soggy Bottom Boys and their harmonies and energy when performing. In the bathroom after the gig I overheard a couple of girls saying that they cried their eyes out during this song (no, I didn’t cry). But it was incredibly beautiful and powerful to have such a raw and real delivery included in the gig.

I think I was left on a bit of a high for a couple of days after this gig. It was everything I had hoped it would be with some little surprises thrown in. Half Moon Run promised to return to Australia again next year. I suspect that the next time I see these talented men play live, the venue will be bigger and the fans a little more weepy and desperate. So catch them before they hit the stadiums if you can. And by all means, buy the album!

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