Monday, 6 January 2014

Gig Review - Lester The Fierce

Lester The Fierce
Live @ The Workers Social Club, Melbourne (03/01/14)
Supported by Eliza Hull and Al Parkinson
Words and pics by Lou Endicott

For those of you who read my Little May gig review last month you will know that I was absolutely floored by the talent of their support act Al Parkinson. So I was pretty excited to be given another chance to see this songstress again as a support for Lester the Fierce.

The venue – The Workers Club in Fitzroy - was the same as the last time I saw Al Parkinson and it still held that smell of bleach (which I omitted from my last review). I think the concrete floors at the venue get a good disinfecting at the end of every night as the smell is so overpowering that you need a couple of drinks to block it out. Perhaps it’s a way to get people buying booze? Apart from the smell, the barn-like atmosphere with its exposed light bulbs and tea lights perched high on the exposed beams of the wall provided a nice ambience. However I think that this venue could do with a couple of stools at the bar or even benches down the side of the room to allow for the audience to settle in and really take in the music – particularly when performers such as Parkinson deliver their performance with such intimate stylings.

The small audience of about thirty settled into the room as Al took to the stage looking casual and comfortable in a wide brim hat and jeans. Al opened the set with an a Capella song 'Story Song'. This was the same song she opened her last set with. I was happy to hear it again and hear a little more about its origin. Due to its sound and the powerful lyrics I had originally thought it was an old African American slave song. I was delighted to know that in fact it was an original and was written while Parkinson was living in Darwin. The songs inception was inspired by stories told while living there. The lyrics “Mama they took my baby, and you should have seen their faces as I was running by the train” hit the heart for me and reminded me of a stolen generation of Aboriginal children. The style choice of this song mirrored a plight of people that are not often talked about. A powerful, sad yet necessary tale to be heard indeed.

Next up was 'Rich Man’s Ring' which held Parkinson’s voice in that sweet syrup mode and rocked the audience gently in a vocal cradle of bliss. The audience were very quiet here. This was not an indicator of us feeling isolated or disinterested. You could see the people in the room leaning in and taking in every breath and nuance that Parkinson created. Due to the darkness of the room and perhaps the lack of chairs (or carpet to sit on) I am sure that standing up on the stage might actually make the artist feel isolated and far removed from us folk watching. When you are performing out to a darkened space I guess all you have is sound to know that your audience is still there - alive and listening! Al made mention of the fact that we were very silent and it was making her nervous. And due to this she told us she was switching over to ukulele.

Her first uke song was the romantic tragedy 'The One that Got Away'. Al told us that she wrote this song as some time ago she was in love with her best friend and never told him until it was too late – he got a girlfriend. “I’m over it now guys! It’s alright!” she joked with us. I really love this song for it’s timeless feel and almost jazz standard feel. And I have to say that (probably like gazillion people out there) I can relate to the feeling of being attracted to someone so close to you. But in my case (after much wailing and gnashing of teeth - and a couple of years) I won my best friend's affections. Parkinson obviously enjoys singing this song as she had little moments of eye sparkle with a few cheeky smiles going on throughout. The joy was hard not to be infected by. I stole a glance around the room at the end of the song and saw that most of the crowd were smiling along with her.

The next song was my absolute highlight, but I have to preface this as Al said “This songs for Lou”. Yes! Yours truly! Perhaps because I had shared this gem of a song on my social networks earlier in the day and Al had seen I was quite taken with it. The song was co-written with an old housemate Chas Jagger and explores the idea of an couple cooking together even though they both now that the relationship has run its course. The YouTube clip to this song features Jagger and singer Emilee South. It was obviously a different version played live as a solo piece – but still just wonderful. And I did mention it was sung for me right? Fan girl moment realised.

'Queen Na├»ve' was the next song. This piece reflects on the themes of unrequited love and being the only one who isn’t aware that the affections aren’t going to be returned. I love the start of the chorus of this in this song with Al soaring her vocals up high into an almost country yodel “you-deeeeeeeeee-doooooooohhhhh…. Have a hold on me”. Yes, Al you had a hold on all of us.

The second last song of the set 'Like This' is to be released in a month or so as a single. According to Parkinson it will include strings “and have a film clip and shit!” This got the audience laughing. Never pretentious, always down to earth, Al managed to make us feel as relaxed as if we were in her living room. 'Like This' features gentle rhythmic picking with a soft lullaby sensitivity. It was around here I questioned who needs to hear this kind of music. I decided that Al Parkinson’s sound is good for the broken hearted – where you can weep out all the bad stuff. But it’s also good for the hopelessly and crazy in love – you can sigh out that good blissful stuff that would otherwise burst you in two. It’s also good as a pick up on a bleak day or as a celebration of a great day. In short, I would tell everyone to listen to this.

The last song was prefaced by Al telling us that “All my songs are cheesy right? They’re very poppy. But this one is the cheesiest – like double brie”. The song 'All I Need' is about Al’s friends and what she would forgo just to have them. Personally for me, I have to say that this song (along with her others) never ever goes into cheesy territory for me. In fact I would say that all of the music Parkinson creates fits in the genre of timeless classic. Like an old blues song that breaks the heart or a standard jazz piece that puts it back together, Parkinson’s music is universal in its themes and just oh-so-beautiful in structure and delivery.

Perhaps it’s Parkinson stellar voice that sells the show. Or maybe it’s her engaging stage presence and her ability to deliver a simple story through song with candid honesty. But I think when it comes down to it it’s the music itself that she is a channel for that keeps me listening.

Second support act of the night was Eliza Hull. By this time of the evening the crowd had perhaps doubled in size. The music started without introduction. A simple “thump, thump, thump” accompanied by an electric lead guitar underscored Eliza’s beautiful soaring voice. We had firmly entered dream pop terrain with this set. Soundscapey swirls and sporadic “twoks” on the drum pad added a simple but effective layer to the power and prestige that Hull’s voice held. The track 'Head Above Water' is featured first on the EP The Ghosts You Never Catch and played live reeled the audience right in with its extended version. There was an unexpected build in the song toward the end that had me thinking of a flock of electric seagulls taking flight over a crystal blue ocean. I should probably mention at this point that (for me at least) Eliza Hull makes music that is visually stimulating. It’s a little like my ears and mind are getting a massage in some amazing deep forest day spa retreat when I listen to her music. It’s ambient, chilled, easy to sit and let wash over you, and reaches into the heart for a deep cleanse.

After the first track Eliza greeted the crowd and complimented Al Parkinson’s performance. We were then introduced to her guitarist/percussionist Dylan Hill. Hull let the crowd know that due to a New Years party her voice was in recovery mode. I assure you the audience did not notice any rasp in her beautiful voice. And this was proven as she launched into the dreamy track 'Ready for the Fall', also off The Ghosts you Never Catch EP.

The next track had more of a hip shaking groove underlining it and reminded me of Florence Welch with the vocal styling. Straight after this was a cover that won the whole audience over. Sinead O’Connor’s 'Nothing Compares 2U' is an iconic 90s hit and suited the emotional pull that Eliza creates in her voice. It also sits perfectly in her style. I often have thought that Eliza’s voice is reminiscent of Sarah McLachlan at her height of fame in the 90s with her emotional power ballads and her angelic mezzo soprano vocals. Eliza’s voice here hit the sweet notes square on with expert control and the emotional delivery needed to embody this classic pop tune. I loved that this cover used a big organ sample underneath to bring forth the drama and heart break that this song embodies. The simple drum pads with no other percussion added the necessary heartbeat to let the story of the song reign true.

After the Sinead cover we were taken back to a Hull’s previous 2012 EP Dawn with the song 'Hold On'. Around this point I noticed that about a dozen or more audience members had gathered in and bravely sat on the bleached concrete floor to really take in the sound and experience. And this song definitely was one that required an intimate connection to be understood. The stripped back nature of this track took those leaning forward into the heart space reminding us that tomorrow is coming and to hold fast.

Second last was the song 'Ghosts' (which is the last track from the 2013 EP). I really like this song and had listened to it quite a few times over the last few weeks. Eliza told us before starting the song that this year is the year of the horse and is about love and adventure. The adventure of this song is slow to start but brings in the change with a gentle trip hop style that got me nodding and stepping my gears down a notch. If this is the year of the horse then I am hoping to slow down into a groove like a galloping horse settling into a gentle trot. And this song trotted along beautifully with its simple but moody fills and high pitching of the percussive electro soundscape.

The last song of the set was 'Echoes'. Before the song Eliza thanked all the other performers, the venue and the sound guy. I love seeing artists acknowledge that they are part of a team and Eliza humbly and gratefully thanked those who helped make the evening an event. The song was dedicated to Dylan, the guitarist's girlfriend who apparently goes to every gig and is the “unseen member” of the band. The dream organ that filled the room was like swimming in an underwater wonderland. And Eliza’s voice ended the set with her emotional, dreamy and ethereal vocal styling’s.

If you haven’t already got the EP do yourself a favour and purchase it. Then late at night (or early morning) settle in with cup of something warming, turn the lights down low, light some essential oils, breathe deeply and pretend you are in an audio day spa as you let all your cares fly to the ether.

I had seen a Facebook post earlier in the day that revealed the stunning outfit Anita Lester (aka Lester the Fierce) was to wear onstage. A white lacy corset teamed with satin high waisted flares (worn under a billowing Japanese Kimono) could have easily stolen the show as Anita stepped out onto the stage but it was Anita herself who took the limelight and embodied the class and grace needed for star power as she begun with the song 'Bird' from her self-titled EP. This song has a Winehouse feel blended with a distinct psychedelic flavour. It’s one of my favourites from the EP and was a great choice to open the set. The drums, bass, guitar and keys all got a chance to warm the crowd as did Anita herself with her onstage dramatics of arms dancing and facial expressions that showed deep commitment to the lyrics and melody that she produces.

The second track was the first track I had heard of Lester the Fierce – the driving 'Holland'. Anita took the electric guitar for this one. Complete with beautiful quick finger rhythms and a laid back beat this song hit the right notes. I love the lyrics “I knew this day would come around… Old man don’t hate me for it. We were young and in love…” This song enters the waters of rock ballad with its ebbs and flows and build builds. I adored the outro to this live version with a delicious three part harmony.

'January' was the next treat we were served. I really enjoy this track on the EP with its melodic rises and falls in the vocals and the yummy guitar slides that wash over my ears like a beautiful dream. This song also showed how tight Lester the Fierce is as an outfit. In fact, this is a band as tight as they come sound wise. The bass in this track really grabbed me with it’s smooth as butter flow. And the section of the song that has Anita mellifluously singing “la da da da da” brings a hopeful rise to the song. Simply gorgeous. To hear this live was such a joy.

After 'January' Anita made comment on her backing band; “Don’t my boy’s look handsome? They’re wearing the same shirt. I dressed them. Like their Mama”. I couldn’t help but laugh here. Mostly because I hadn’t actually noticed that the band were all wearing the same checked shirt! It’s clear that Anita Lester has a wicked sense of humour and so too must her band of men to comply with her vision of wearing stage clobber of her choice. Anita then went on to tell us that the next song was written in an American jail as she awaited deportation. No further explanation was given. But it definitely got the crowd intrigued (and perhaps lifted her status as a rocker). The artists as we all know are ALWAYS misunderstood (insert sly wink here).

After the “jail song” (as I called it) the crowd were given a great rendition of the track 'Volcano' which is the last track on the EP. I really enjoy the layers and the builds in this song and the lyrics: “Woman of the night your skirt’s hitched just too high… All of the men you had you never really tried… When you search yourself tonight…It’s just to hypnotise… Volcano falling on the sea…” Sexy, sassy and peppered with power belts this song is full of grunt and was delivered superbly live.

A new song was next on the set list. So new in fact in was about meeting a boy on New Year’s Eve. “Very timely” Anita told us. We were served another dish of hot rock with a tasty guitar lead and a big meaty bass (or should that be tofu – since I’m a vegetarian?) Either way this track was filling. And it made me want to dance. So I began to move about in my position next to the bar. I was probably the only one dancing but I didn’t care. The music had moved to a bigger beat and as my previous reviews might indicate, I’m an unashamed dancer.

A song called 'Oh Father' followed. This was a softer more emotional song with deeper notes that hit arrows straight to the heart. There was an almost Arabian sound/feel to the treatment of the song. I could almost smell (through the bleach of the venue) incense burning. Perhaps it was the hint of mystery that the song held that created these far eastern fantasies. The deep drums underneath Lester’s gorgeous voice beat like a tortured heart. The upper range vocally explored here felt like shafts of light pouring in on a darkened room.

The next song I think was called 'London'. I wish I knew the name as vocally it was truly a highlight as Lester continued the theme of hitting the higher notes. The song suggested the end of something with the lyric “goodbye” repeated throughout. There was a beautiful shift between major and minor in the chord changes that just made me sigh. I am a sucker for a major/minor turnaround as it usually produces that bittersweet effect like the sun coming out from behind a cloud. I would love to hear this song again and hope it might feature on a recording somewhere.

Another highlight was the next song 'Colours' which is also from the EP. It was around here I realised that the set was going from strength to strength. Like a preacher delivering their truth Lester let her arms tell a story as they danced high and higher into the air.

Second to last was a track called 'Anthem' that gave the drummer a chance to bring forth more of the 90s rock sound that Lester the Fierce appear to be more than hinting at on the EP. This song allowed the sassiness of vocals to dance in tandem with the saucy bass. And again, I was drawn to move about to its hypnotic beat.

I have to say the last song was the one I was waiting for. I first heard 'Howl' several months ago and it has been a standard in my almost daily playlist. Something about it reminds of Faith No More’s 90s hit 'Epic'. But this song (dare I say) I think I prefer. Like the aforementioned song, it’s epic in nature. The builds, the rocking guitar licks and the raw and real female vocals just uplift me like a jet plane. So as soon as it started I turned to my partner and said “I think I need to go embarrass myself and dance to this”. I ran to the front and let loose. In retrospect I think I should have been down the front doing this a lot earlier as half a dozen other people soon joined me. Lester the Fierce did not disappoint here. The song live meshed everything together perfectly. Lester’s voice soared up to the stratosphere and the band joined her with their tight rock and skilful musicianship. The crowd went a little bananas at the end. So much so that it was obvious we probably could have listened to more. Anita ran back on stage at the end and apologised with a huge grin saying “Sorry, we didn’t prepare an encore!”

I think in the future (if this gig is anything to go by) an encore by Lester the Fierce will become mandatory. Strap into yours seat belts ladies and gentlemen because this band is about to launch. Allow yourself to be one of the pioneers who first jumped onto the Lester the Fierce rocket before they orbited the world.

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