Thursday, 6 March 2014

Gig Review - Millar Jukes And The Bandits

Millar Jukes And The Bandits
Live @ Fitzroy Workers Club (27/02/14)
Supported by Matt Glass and Michael Fein
Words and pics by Lou Endicott

Last week, I was delighted to get the chance to see one of my new favourite Melbourne artists perform. I recently reviewed Millar Jukes latest single ‘Maryanne’ and late last year his single ‘Love me All Night’. With both songs I was instantly smitten upon first listen, so the chance to see Millar Jukes and the Bandits live was an opportunity not to be missed.

The first support of the evening was Matt Glass. Although the crowd was small, their appreciation for Glass’ sound was obvious. The room was quiet as Matt Glass sung his songs on acoustic guitar (backed by lead guitar played by Samuel Humphrey). Glass' sound is Aussie folk rock with a big country flavour. This was the first time Glass and Humphreys played together. The sound was welcoming and warm.

For this kind of folk music it’s always nice to hear where the songs inspiration grew from. As Glass’ stage presence was comfortable and chatty we got to hear a few stories. Most of Matt Glass’ music is inspired from his feelings and experiences around having a separated family with young children. Glass’ kids are obviously the centre of this musician’s world and many of his songs performed are tributes to his children. This inspiration was behind one of my favourite songs of the set, the single ‘Apparition’. This song was written while driving up and down the south west coast on his way to see his kids. The sound reflected the feeling of driving by the water with the sun on your face, the wind in your hair and hope in your heart.

The other highlight of the set for me was a great rhythmic little bluesy pop song. I’m not sure what the title was but Glass prefaced it by saying "This song is not a come on but I hope you all get lucky tonight!" It was filled with promise and playfulness and gave Glass a chance to really showcase his vocal power and versatility as well as his capability with guitar.

The set was friendly and warm and a nice way to begin the evening. I couldn’t help but be reminded of Paul Kelly throughout a lot of Glass’ set.

After Matt Glass my partner and I temporarily left the band room to seek dinner. So unfortunately we only saw a small section of Michael Fein, the second support act for the evening. I would say that the music Michael Fein and band made was bonafide pub rock with lots of oomph and grunt. Male and female lead vocals, electric guitar, keys, bass and drums provided the playground of this sound. Michael Fein’s voice had a gravel that had a touch of Eddie Vedder somewhere in it. The song that we came in on reminded me of Aussie band The Screaming Jets with its ragged rock edge and pub anthem feel.

Just after eleven, Millar Jukes took to the stage with his Bandits - Jazzy Fiske on bass and backing vocals, Ty Noble on drums, Matt Sandilands on lead guitar and Si Facius on keys. By this time the crowd had grown in size and packed out the little band room and were waiting with much anticipation.

Millar Jukes and the Bandits launched straight into their set with a tight and rocking upbeat rock groove. The audience were at first a little shy and kept their distance (although the room was nearing capacity) and left a little half circle of space down the front. It wasn’t long however before the infectious rock wooed the audience and drew them in closer.

I was immediately in my happy place. I have mentioned in past reviews how certain music makes my nose scrunch up. It comes I think from a combination of the musicians passion and the created groove. The effect is a stirring deep in the soul. When I hear music that really rocks me, my body (apart from needing to dance) can only handle the sounds intense goodness by scrunching my face and furrowing my brow. Yes. Not my finest look but I care not. The whomp and stomp of the first song matched with electrifying lead guitar and a catchy vocal hook embodied all I love about the sound Millar Jukes and The Bandits make.

I didn’t have to wait long to hear the tunes I came to see. Second up was the deliciously addictive ‘All Night Long’. This song has been on repeat in my house, my car and on my ipod since I first heard it. There is a distinct vintage feel to it that has me hitting replay again and again. ‘All Night Long’ - apart from being just catchy – is an uplifting and expertly laid out song. It was played so well live I couldn’t help but stake a spot next to the bar and dance my heart out. Jukes’ voice was in fine form as he soared out into the room. I was so happy to hear that Millar’s voice live holds the same dynamite power as his recordings. His voice is real and raw and embodies the emotion needed for this brand of alternate country rock. Straight after this song was the other track I wanted to hear – the new single ‘Maryanne’. Again, to hear this song live was such a treat. The sound created by Millar Jukes and the Bandits was tight and dynamic and expertly layered to create a full authentic Americana rock feel. If possible, these two songs sounded even better live – with the energy and talent of the band giving them the power to electrify the room.

I was curious of course to hear more of what this outfit had on offer. I was not disappointed. The next song called ‘Be Mine’ was a gearshift into a cruisier mode that sparkled like a 60s classic rock song. I was reminded of Van Morrison with the romantic and sweet “Come on baby be mine” lyrics and the beautiful high guitar licks. Jukes’ voice again proved to be of another era. As my partner shouted over the music: “Like a lot of 60s rockers he has actual sound and presence and clarity of sound. You can hear what he’s singing. And he sings a lot about girls!” Yes. There is an apparent theme of love in all of the songs I heard. I’m not complaining. It’s a theme that is as endless as they come – so why not rock out on it?

The next song was an acoustic driven track with big beautiful bass which had me thinking of a cross between The Eagles and The Steve Miller Band. The vocal melody in this track – and the catchy lyrics – drew me right in. "Rock my mama like a wagon wheel rock my mama any way you feel. Say hey mama rock me. Rock my mama like the wind and rain. Rock my mama like a south bound train". This is the kind of song (like many of Jukes tracks) that I would want on a road trip mix. An apt travelling song that would kick-start any car stereo, this song had me imagining driving down country roads surrendering to the open air. If I knew the words, I know I would have sung along.

We had a shift in tempo for the next song. This number was more subdued with just guitar and vocals leading us in. The room quieted as Millar sang out: "I can't feel this heart of mine, left me reeling when you left me behind, I can't believe when you did me wrong" Juke’s voice really hit its power here with his raw and heart-felt delivery. The addition of keys joining the guitar added strength to the emotive drive of the song. Lyrically and vocally this song had a stamp of Bob Dylan about it: "Now I see you with another man, I hope he can live you just like I can, baby you aren't mine, baby you aren't mine, I can't hold on to you this this time". The sadness in the lead guitar pulled at the heart as the lyrics spoke of lost love, regret and much heartache. This is the kind of track you would want to put on to wallow with on a lonesome night - preferably with a whiskey or two on hand. The female backing vocals here were a gorgeous addition. I turned around to survey the crowds response. I love how music has the ability to shift energy. The audience were enchanted and so was I.

I think the name of the next song was called ‘Chase the Sun’. This had a tight yet organic feel with sweet keys holding a swell underneath the vocals and guitar like the tide under a wave. The drums created an important feature in this music also – much like bringing hope back with a steady heartbeat. The female backing vocalist again hit the notes right on the head with power and panache and complemented Millar’s lead vocals beautifully. It was around here that I really took in and appreciated the line-up that Millar Jukes has assembled around him. Each of the players add a gorgeous feature to this music without ever taking away the heart of the song itself. To write great songs is one thing. To attract other great musicians around you to add to those songs is pure magic.

The next song started with a fast and disciplined drum intro that sounded like it was born out of the wild. This song named ‘Old Paul Jones’ had an old west twist to it as it lyrically told the story of a man on the edge after a series of crimes. The 60s sounding twang of the guitar and the lyrics “Old Paul Jones you are a dead man walking” sounded so familiar to my ears. So much so I almost thought that it must be a cover of an old rock song. But then again much of Millar Jukes music has that classic feel to it. For a lover of vintage rock, it’s a joyous revelation to hear new music that sounds like this. I said it in a review of ‘Maryanne’ recently and I’ll say it again. This is “new vintage” at its best.

The last song held a swinging and driving rock beat that once again had me dancing away happily. It was obvious that the crowd at the end of this song (myself included) would cry out for an encore – which Millar Jukes and the Bandits happily provided. The bonus song was a foot stomping deep south rocking anthem. It was fast and furious and a triumphant end to a stellar set.

I was lucky enough to briefly meet Millar at the end of the gig to congratulate him on a wonderful set. I was happy to find him to be a down to earth and friendly soul with no pretensions – only passion for his music. This combination of qualities in an artist together with an undeniable talent to create great art indicates the makings of someone who everyone will no doubt want to work with in the near future. I obviously look forward to a full album from Millar Jukes and The Bandits. I love this sound. It's big. It's brash. It unashamed. It's vintage. It’s new. It's real. It's wild. It's rock baby. It's rock.

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