Friday, 4 April 2014

Gig Review - Dear Plastic

Live @ The Ding Dong Lounge, Melbourne (28/03/14)
Review by Lou Endicott

Last Friday I was lucky enough to have a spot of late night music entertainment in the form of electronica pop outfit Dear Plastic. The venue was The Ding Dong Lounge in an alley off Melbourne’s China Town in the city. I’m a bit of a fan of this venue for its funky vibe, its intimacy and its two room set up. I have seen a few bands that have played here before being scooped up to bigger higher profile venues. The feel here is relaxed yet well put together with its large side booths, dance floor and raised viewing platform.

I staked out a spot on the edge of the raised platform right in the centre and waited excitedly for Dear Plastic to enter the stage. I have written about this band before – first with the release of their single 'Everything’s Coming Up Roses' last year and last week with the release of their new single 'Buck Up and Pay the Reaper'. This was to be the first time I was to see the band live.

Four out of the five band members of Dear Plastic started the set with the creation of a cool squelchy trip hop beat with dark and dramatic swells. With a mixture of synth soundscapes, electric guitar, drums and a Rhodes sounding keyboard the mood spelled theatrics. The crowd moved in and gave a cheer as the lead singer Scarlette Baccini entered the stage and took the microphone.

A friend I met up with at the gig told me prior to Dear Plastic’s set that Scarlette has the ability to make any venue she sings in feel bigger than it is. This remark was an accurate one and perhaps a good way to illustrate the presence and power that Baccini brings to a Dear Plastic live performance. Wearing a rainbow splattered mini dress and black and white striped tights, Baccini was very much a vision of the alternate pop star. She moved and danced along with so much enthusiasm in front of the microphone as she sung, that we couldn’t help but be entranced by her somewhat kooky gracefulness. Apart from looking and dancing the part, the energy and dynamic power that Scarlette brought into the mix vocally was immediately engaging. Her vocal prowess immediately had me thinking of the tone and delivery of Bjork; very unique, very original and for lovers of all things left of centre. For me that means fabulous.

The enigmatic Scarlette Baccini

The second song in had the synth player creating an almost sci-fi like space wind that could almost accompany an apocalyptic landscape. This dark and epic space is where Dear Plastic sits with most of their music. There is the saying that art is meant to comfort the disturbed and to disturb the comfortable. I think the latter might be true in the case of this band. The dark theatrics and flamboyant ebbs and flows of this trip hop mash up make Dear Plastic an awakening for those bold enough to let it penetrate.

The next song started with little drippy synth sounds, like a leak in the roof. Again the music in this track gave the audience a ride as we were almost lulled into a softer sound before being launched back into the abyss of explosive sound and energy. The sweet, quirky and eccentric little girl lost feel soon turned into an epic story of a woman turned warrior as Baccini let her vocals become an almost primal scream. The similarities to Icelandic pop queen Bjork could not be missed. The eccentricity of delivery reminded me of early Bjork music in its playfulness and intensity. This is not to say that Baccini left the notes or melody behind. Instead, like a trained cabaret performer, she chose moments to accentuate the anguish and the tension and moments to bring us back into the room.

The next song along was dedicated to Scarlette’s little brothers and sisters. She also added, “This one is not as horrific as the other songs as they would grow up and become confused.” I really enjoyed this change of pace (soft and a bit dreamy) and the lyrics in the chorus. “You’re little seeds, little seeds reaching for the sun.” This song also had a fantastic bass line throughout (played by the guitarist who had swapped instruments).

The mood shifted up a gear with the next song providing an almost tribal like beat with a spacey dirty synthy growl. It was around here that I started to think that this band really derserved a killer light show to accompany their performance. Years ago I was lucky enough to see Portishead play in Brisbane. The light show was just as important as the live music, as it painted a surreal landscape to visually accompany the sound. My imagination started to run away with me around this point as I imagined film clips for this band. I envisioned Scarlette dressed like the white face clown pierrot, dancing in between splashes of coloured light. The sad white face clown seemed appropriate (in my imagination anyway) as I watched Baccini carry her raw emotion with complete vocal precision and a whole catalogue of melancholic facial expression to accompany her standout voice. She played the part of the sad clown to a t.

The B-side of Dear Plastic's new single was next up. The drummer left the stage and left the sexy tripped up beats all to the synth player. This song reminded me a little of French electronica band Air with its delicate keys dancing skillfully throughout the song. Straight after this song the drummer rejoined the stage and an almost funk bass kicked in. Those standing closer to the stage started to move and swing their hair about around here. I was transfixed listening to Baccini hit the glorious top notes with the power of a steam train.

The second to last song was 'Everything’s Coming Up Roses'. Scarlette joked, “If you know the words don’t sing along.” I don’t think we could have even if we tried. The big belt required to hit the notes in this number are definitely not for the novice singer. The mallets used to create the drum heart beat in combination with vocals, keys and synth texture truly weigh this song as a clear stand out from the band. It was a joy to hear this live and a stand out of the set.

But the last song of the evening truly stole the show. Which was a good thing considering it is the new single. 'Buck Up and Pay the Reaper' is an epic journey that - for me - paints huge visuals. I imagine this song like a giant ghost pirate ship keeling and dipping over enormous waves under a dark and ominous sky. It was a fantastic way to end a set of aural theatrics.

Dear Plastic are not for the feint hearted. They are a flagship unto themselves and the genre of electronica. And what they do they do darn well. They follow no leaders and hold nothing back to create full, rich and melancholic ambient soundscapes. With their hints of pshychadelia, their nod to 90s trip hop and their stand out vocals, they have won me over as a fan.

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