Augie March, Devastations, Laura Imbruglia @ The Hi Fi Bar, Melbourne (20/12/2007)

The annual Augie March Christmas shows may have only been around a couple of times in the past but there is already a feeling amongst fans that the duo of shows each year has become tradition.

The Hi Fi was especially lucky this time around because these shows were the band’s first headline shows since March, seeing as the band have been gallivanting – rather successfully – around the States the last few months.

Opening the proceedings was Sydney acoustic guitarist Laura Imbruglia. Her pop-fuelled folk tunes entertained the decent ring of early comers sitting around the steps with quirky story telling and stripped back instrumentation. Gaining laughs was one such tale about drugs and a magical washing machine.

Devastations were up next and delivered a solid arrangement of dark, moody rock perfect for the gloomy nature of the venue. Having based themselves in Germany for the last while, the band were back to promote their album Yes, U, following a stint at Meredith Music Festival the weekend beforehand. The high screams of frontman Conrad Standish throughout Rosa capped off the set in a fine fashion.

The audience didn’t need a warning from frontman Glenn Richards that there was flu on stage, because when he spoke between songs it was more than evident. However, it did not show through his singing as the Australian Music Prize winning quintet hit their stride early.

Surprisingly, the set immediately became a flashback to Augie March’s earliest work on Sunset Studies, with Hole In Your Roof, Maroondah Reservoir and Tulip all included in the first handful of tunes. This was no concern to fans considering many Sunset Studies songs haven’t been given high live rotation by the band in some time.

Richards joked about the set list he’d made, pointing out its obscurity to more recent shows, however, the list still included a handful of now regulars, including Just Passing Through and The Cold Acre as well as the rockiest of Augie tracks Song in the Key of Chance. Less common (nowadays) additions included Little Wonder, of which Richards warned the song really needed a trumpet, as well as The Good Gardener. Richards claimed The Good Gardener would be played for the last ever time. The inclusion of less common tracks into the mix isn’t that uncommon for Augie March, though the addition of hardly seen Gardener and Reservoir were extra pleasing.

After a brief interlude Richards returned with guitarist Adam Donovan for Bottle Baby, which was beautifully delivered. Donovan left and Kiernan Box returned with harmonica as Richards began a completely stripped back, acoustic version of Strange Bird hit This Train Will Be Taking No Passengers, which took many in the crowd by surprise.

Despite the track being so different – and also that Richards seemed to struggle more with singing the lyrics slowly than super fast – it still received perhaps the biggest applause of the night.

Mandolin and ukulele then joined forces with the return of the rest of the band on Sunstroke House, following Dave Williams’ rant about Donovan missing rehearsals and not knowing the set up. In fact, Williams was in fine form, joking throughout the night and purposefully distracting Richards’ singing during the conclusion. At one point, Williams claimed it didn’t matter what the crowd did because the band were the ones Richards would yell at after the show.

Whilst Richards is renowned for cracking it on stage, there were little such tantrums during the set. This is not to say that frustration wasn’t evident, but most instances (such as an awkward ending to Bottle Baby or losing track of the words due to a yelling girl in the crowd) were just laughed away. Such reactions ensure that no performance is labelled flawless, despite how well they are delivered.

The conclusion of the set was introduced for the ladies and included more oldies for fans to savour. A slightly re-jigged version of There Is No Such Place was followed by the track that Richards joked

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