Spring Tones ’09

DOUG WALLEN* reports from Saturday’s Spring Tones, which saw The Dacios, St Helens, Aleks and The Ramps, Songs and Love of Diagrams perform across three stages at Roxanne Parlour in Melbourne’s CBD. Photos by *BEN BUTCHER.

Melbourne label Mistletone has long since perfected the art of the comprehensive yet manageable indoor festival, as proven in recent years with seasonal feats like Summer Tones, Spring Tones and Castle Tones. With a slew of bands playing simultaneously in the fairly intimate setting of the CBD’s tucked-away Roxanne Parlour, this year’s Grand Final-following Spring Tones felt alternately like a sampler pack of chocolates or some bounteous channel-surfing. Punters could move from seeing a band in the front bar to seeing one in the back in less than 30 seconds, while the ?Snowflake Room? offered more fringe-pitched electronic acts. Catching a dozen-plus bands in one night may seem a slog on paper, but when you’re moving between them so fluidly, the time just zips by.

The two-guitar-and-drums trio Woollen Kits led the charge by bashing out distorted little valentines about holding hands, haircuts, and pajamas. Between the singer’s low, limited voice and cute rhyming lyrics, there’s a real affinity for Beat Happening. That said, the set also displayed hints of garage and surf, including a few punky stabs of frenzied playing. A crippled kick-drum pedal halfway through slowed but didn’t dampen the set, and Woollen Kits closed with ?Teenage Love?, the title track off their new 7?.

Nothing grabs attention like all four members of a band drumming at once, and Rat Vs. Possum did just that, opening with an intense clatter of rhythmic might. Otherwise wielding two keyboards, guitar, drums and a female singer, the young band recalled, at times, Gang Gang Dance, Broken Social Scene and Architecture In Helsinki. Of their piecemeal and impressionistic songs, the highlight was ?Jungle Pills?, featuring three members singing in unison: ?I think I love you but it might just be the pills.? That line was then boomeranged backwards, lending another surreal level to the feverish mix.

Tighter and sturdier than ever before, Super Wild Horses were terrific playing in front of a lively, Lite-Brite-ish display of blinking colours. The duo of Amy Franz and Hayley McKee have really improved in recent months. Their brief splinters of garage and pop benefited from their shouting and singing together, and even the necessary swapping between guitar and drums didn’t curtail the momentum. Hopefully the band’s solidified live show will stave off criticisms of their glorious junkyard sound.

Sydney’s Kiwi-bred Songs kicked off with a long, droning tune forecasting the set ahead. Guy Blackman soon joined the quartet on keyboards and St Helens? Ian Wadley on third guitar, each staying for the rest of the set and adding a jammy, improvisational element to proceedings. Frontman Max Doyle’s voice was thinner and higher than on record, and departing from the more succinct jangle of the band’s earlier work, each entry unreeled as a shimmering digression that captured some of The Clean’s raga-damaged forays.

Aleks And The Ramps are still best appreciated live. Performing for a room suddenly squeezed airtight with punters, the colourfully dressed players glided through lots of songs from Midnight Believer, enlisting a backing track and doing a synchronised dance on the floor for ?Whiplash?. There’s so much going on in their songs, and yet the band handles such complexity with fluid precision. Closing with the triple j-approved single ?Antique Limb?, it was a set to remember.

Adding Mark Nelson from The Stabs on second guitar for several songs, as they had done at their recent album launch, Love Of Diagrams convincingly filled out the pedal-heavy peaks of Nowhere Forever. Highlights included ?Lookout?, the Luke Horton-sung single ?Forever?, and the dreamy kickoff ?A Part Of You?. Singer-bassist Antonia Sellbach’s mantra-like refrains were especially piercing over the band’s opaque, muscular dynamics.

Starting a bit late, New Zealand’s Bachelorette (aka Annabel Alpers) conjured the most hypnotic, lingering set of the night, setting her lucid, lovely voice against pulsing electronics and vintage keyboards. Two bulky, old computer monitors sat on either side of her, showing outdated screen savers and other moving images while similar images tied to the backing tracks played on a screen behind her. After the breathy ?Dream Sequence? and the danc-y, funk-washed ?Mindwarp? from her Mistletone-released second album, My Electric Family, Alpers revisited a few older creations, donning an acoustic guitar for a less adorned pair of final songs.

Smashing and thrashing through sloppy post-punk like some hybrid of Half Japanese and PiL, The UV Race spiked its guitar/bass/drums mess with a saxophonist and its divisive, one-of-a-kind singer Marcus, this time stuffed into spandex decorated with a plastic lizard, a boomerang and other items. Naysayers aside, the band has an obvious following, many of whom sloshed happily in the pit with beer bottles in hand. The Twerps? singer-guitarist and another bloke got on stage to dance and sing backup, adding to the huge, grinning chaos. It was a confronting and somewhat silly performance, exemplified by Marcus? hoarse, slurred vocals, but he and the band really sold it. They were in turn rewarded with pumping fists, banging heads, and a bit of crowd-surfing by the saxophonist (sans sax).

Boasting a short new haircut or two, St Helens seemed especially smooth and dark after The UV Race. Songs from Heavy Profession flowed generously, and the slippery five-piece nailed them all, especially the shivers-inducing ?Don’t Laugh?. Though frontman Jarrod Quarrell apologised for a ?weak guitar sound? due to borrowed equipment, the set was remarkably strong. There was even a new song in the form of ?Don’t Litter?. For the penultimate set of the night (from an Aussie band, at least), no one could have hoped for anything better.

The tables were cleared aside in the front bar for The Dacios, whose unrepentant rock drew only a small crowd at first, as punters were still watching St Helens and the one-man American band Hawnay Troof. The quartet’s requirements appeared simple: wear black, have tattoos, and rock the fuck out. Fronted by the no-nonsense Linda J, The Dacios were relentless and low to the ground, packing a real gut punch. Taking a break from the usual full-force gale, ?Monkeys Blood?, the title track from the band’s raved-about new album, started quiet and sad, with an almost Patsy Cline-like vibe. It grew louder and messier, finally nearing the shattering volume that defined the rest of the set. For those who didn’t linger for a pair of later DJ sets, it was the perfect volcanic blast to propel punters out into the unseasonably chilly night.