Birds of Tokyo, The Chemist @ Amplifier Sunday 18/05/08

A queue at opening time on a Sunday night at Amps is very rare indeed, and a testament to the dedication of Birds of Tokyo fans, some of whom had already seen the band twice that weekend. It meant that local support act, The Chemist had a packed room to play to, and they made good use of it.

The Chemist is an odd band. That is, their sound seems to focus on the odd decades, the 50s, the 70s and the 90s but fuse them into something mesmerising. Although it was clear that the majority of the audience had never heard of the band, they stood politely, oddly drawn to the sound of something old-fashioned and comforting -and yet new... and just a bit disturbing. It took two songs before we were transfixed; not just by the music, but in love with bassist Hamish Rahn’s rock-pig facial contortions and James Ireland’s inconceivably tuneful keyboard mashing.

Random conversations ended and a slack-jawed hush stole over the spectators, fighting ambivalence, as they were simultaneously drawn to, and repelled by, Benjamin Witt spitting withering vocals or laying them mournfully to rest. As if his haunting voice was not enough, he also fingered effects knobs, and played his guitar with his chest, or with his tongue.

Ben, it’s ok to love your guitar, but don’t luuurrve your guitar.

The Chemist’s music is a little bit early rock n roll, and a little bit psychedelic-porn, with a touch of jazz-wanker thrown in, offset by a punk disregard for propriety. Combined with lyrics that make you want to buy the album so you can study them in detail, and a sense that melody can be drawn equally from a feeding-back guitar, or a keyboard played with two fists, and you have an entirely new genre.

Let’s call it –  “Harold’.

Their song StaRs is the only one available on their Myspace page, and they don’t have any recordings available to purchase as yet, but after Sunday night’s performance, it won’t be surprising if we see big things happening for these boys in the next few months. If you want to revisit your Sunday night, or experience –  “Harold’ for yourself, they will be playing at The Reserves album launch next weekend, and have a spot supporting Kav Temperley in his solo shows at the end of the month.

After the quickest set changeover in the history of the Birds of Tokyo, the band was queued up at the side of stage, waiting for a final OH&S check by management, then Perth’s favourite Birds were on stage humbly acknowledging the roar of the crowd.

A kindly donated set-list confirms that there were 4 new songs on show, as well as the revamped version of Stay that they have been playing live for a while now, and it looks as though their second album will live up to expectations. The new songs are evidence of the band’s sound maturing and diversifying without losing any passion. In particular, the song with a distinctly eastern feel, labeled Turkish on the set list (though this may just be a working title) was particularly well received by fans.

Considering that a sold out crowd doesn’t fit terribly well inside the Amplifier, the empty courtyard during the set spoke volumes for the popularity of this band, whose fans are willing sardines, united in their love for the music. A Sunday night audience is a sober and therefore less enthusiastic audience, but sobriety did not stop these fans from enjoying themselves immensely. A serious nod must be given to the sound engineers who did a fantastic job of making sure everything sounded just right – a rare occurrence at this venue, but proof that poor sound quality has nothing to do with the building, and everything to do with the skill of the mixers.

By the time that Get Out was played, most people had forgotten any inhibitions, yelling out lyrics and joining in as best they could. Once they had got the mob started, the Birds just kept building the intensity, finishing with sing-along favourites; Wayside, Off Kilter then current single Silhouettic which, judging by the volume of the singing and the height of the jumping, has become the new crowd favourite in only a handful of weeks.

So far, The Birds of Tokyo have sold out their Perth, Melbourne, Hobart and Sydney shows, with Brisbane and Adelaide not far behind. When they finally tour their much anticipated, and as yet unreleased, album the Birds are going to have to find a much bigger venue to put their sardines in.