Vivid Sydney Day 7: The Temper Trap, Zola Jesus, Light Asylum, Forces
News posted Friday, June 1 2012 at 03:00 PM.
Related: The Temper Trap, Chet Faker, Vivid, Zola Jesus, Light Asylum, Forces.
Almost a week into the Vivid Sydney schedule, the big-name debut shows keep coming. While Karen O continued her five-night 'Stop the Virgens' run, CAITLIN WELSH headed to the Concert Hall to see the Temper Trap showcase their second album and KATIE CUNNINGHAM caught the FBi Radio/Penny Drop party with Zola Jesus, Light Asylum, and Forces. Photos by PRUDENCE UPTON and DANIEL BOUD.
The Temper Trap
CW: The thing about Vivid is that it’s supposed to be an outside-the-box festival. All the acts are - in theory at least - groundbreaking, achingly new and/or simply alchemical in some way. The Temper Trap are neither of the first two and the third is purely a matter of opinion. Along with Florence Welch, a cynic could argue that these summer festival mainstays are a stab at populism, an expansive net being cast from a position of massive high-culture cache to broaden an event that just a few short years ago was being curated by the elder statesmen (and woman) of esoteric art.
Chet Faker is achingly new, at least – I’m not sure he’s played 20 gigs yet (he wasn’t at 10 when he played SXSW this year). But that’s not why he probably shouldn’t be playing the Sydney Opera House Concert Hall – his style is intimate and small-scale, at least for now, and even with a band his understated soul is lost in the room and the chatter.
The Temper Trap stride on stage beneath apocalyptic red strobes and a literally chair-quaking bass rumble – before they begin playing it’s clear they mean to open with the Social Commentary Song from the new self-titled record, ‘London’s Burning’, as they play the same bleedingly obvious news clips from the album version over the intro. The new album paints with even broader strokes than the debut, and the band clearly also feel that the more paint you throw at the canvas, the better it will look. All of the epic tricks are used in this show, blinding beams spinning over the crowd and against the roof and blooming behind the band, and every self-serious sound is jacked up loud enough to give the nosebleed sections actual nosebleeds.
Musically they’re in fine form, the unshowy but terrifically precise drummer Toby Dundas in particular (although the kick drum is mic’d awkwardly, enormously loud but very thin-sounding). Everything is received by the crowd with a rapturous sea of recording iPhones, from new singles ‘Rabbit Hole’ and ‘Need Your Love’ to more varied Conditions material like the yowling, folky ‘Soldier On’ (no ‘Sirens’, though). The dreamy pace of ‘Trembling Hands’, the main highlight of the new set, lets everything breathe a bit – although it’s still oppressively loud. The best parts of the set are when they justify this noise not with the endless bloody soaring, but with guitar-heavy breakdowns – thick, twanging licks curling out of a dark cloud of rumbling bass notes.
Dougy Mandagi is their not-so-secret weapon and sounds wonderful, but from our point-blank seats he’s incredibly irritating to watch. He’s got what my better half calls “a case of the Wembleys” – dipping the mic stand, posturing and overacting like he’s lording over a stadium. It’s understandable when you’re playing a sold-out Opera House to feel pleased with yourself, and he does look chuffed – but he also repeatedly engages in hacky boy-band shit like the Lat Pulldown of Emotion (two fists, downward motion with the elbows, earnestness) and tapping his heart while singing about his heart. That’s some junior rock eisteddfod shit, dude.
His two best moments are near the end. One is during Conditions closer ‘Drum Song’, when he tips water onto the floor tom he’s punishing, thunders away in the resulting mist, and then tosses a drumstick up into the dark gold light to end. It looks good. The other is during ‘Sweet Disposition’, where the world’s most composed streaker wanders onstage in nothing but stripy boxer briefs, waving regally and throwing an arm around the singer; Mandagi cheerfully returns the gesture for a moment before allowing security to lead his new friend offstage. The rest of the set could have done with some of that levity.
FBi Radio/Penny Drop Party w/Zola Jesus, Light Asylum, Forces
KC: When I arrive at the Opera House Studio – a somewhat pokey basement-style venue a world apart from the grand nature of the concert hall or theatre – Melbourne act Forces are onto the last song of their set. The group’s reputation for a confrontational live show precedes them and, sure enough, it’s a higher energy start to the night than I’d expected, given the joint FBi Radio and Penny Drop party promised “an evening dedicated to a darker side of indie rock.” But from here we’re onto much more subdued territory, because while the event may be billed as a “party”, that’s not really how it feels. For one, it’s a Thursday night so the crowd (most of whom look of the full-time employment age) aren’t exactly in raucous mode and tonight’s music really isn’t of the ass-shaking variety.
Brooklyn duo Light Asylum are the second act up and I’ve got high hopes. Their style – industrial, synth-driven, atmospheric – should be perfectly suited to the contained and low-key nature of the Studio. So it’s a letdown that, in actuality, it just doesn’t really translate. Kicking off an overlong 30 minutes after the end of Forces’ set, the duo’s entrance to the stage is so low-key that no one really seems to notice that there’s been a changeover from the DJ. Certainly, no one seems that engaged: Shannon Funchess’ vocals don’t really carry in the room (or over the chatter), you can barely see Bruno Coviello on his Casio over the sea of heads and the audience interaction is minimal. But the set builds, and from the third song they’ve started to gain momentum. They move through one of their better-known tracks, ‘Dark Allies’, and to conclude the brief half-hour set they go with the absorbing ‘A Certain Person’. But unfortunately it’s only at this late stage in the game that the music finally resonates properly.
But the night’s big drawcard is Zola Jesus, and she takes the stage at a quarter to midnight. For a night focused on the darker side of music, Jesus (not her real name, obviously) is the perfect choice: you’d struggle to find a description of the 22-year-old that doesn’t feature “gothic” in there somewhere, and with good reason. On stage she’s just as foreboding as in her recordings: moving her arms in deliberately rigid robotic motions above her head, stark-white hair obscuring her face and bellowing into the crowd, her performance is a little spooky. But while this could all easily make for an unengaging performance, Jesus proves an engrossing and atmospheric performer. As the set moves on, the huddle around the stage gets tighter.
But like other Vivid leading ladies Florence Welch and Karen O, it’s the vocals that carry her performance. Before adopting the Zola Jesus moniker, Nika Roza Danilova trained as an opera singer. It’s fair to say it shows. As she starts working through material from her two most recent albums, Stridulum II and Conatus, her voice is so strong that she could probably get away without a microphone. And without anything much in the way of stage setup (just some sperm-like projections beamed behind the band), we’re free to focus on the strength of her vocals alone. Nestled mid-set is a slightly reworked version of ‘Sea Talk’, the tune that ‘broke’ Danilova, accompanied by somewhat epileptic lights that flash at every heavy drumbeat, adding to the thunderstorm feel of the song. Highlights from there include the more recent tune ‘In Your Nature’ and another Conatus offering, ‘Lick the Palm of the Burning Handshake’.
This far in, it’s safe to say Danilova’s debut Australian show (“first timer!” she reminds us) is going to be a memorable one. While there’s a somewhat anti-climatic finish to the set, Danilova comes back to the encore with what is for me the highlight of the night: an affecting, violin-accompanied ballad with Danilova on piano. After rounding out the encore to two songs, Zola Jesus thanks her audience and the festival: “Thank you, Vivid, for letting a poor little American girl play in such an institution.” I’ll second that.