Crow. The Beautiful Few @ Northcote Social Cub, Melbourne (25/07/09)

The Beautiful Few leader Kieran Carroll is a strange cat. He has a pretty ordinary vocal and songs, as well as jokes and general band banter to boot, but he’s popular amongst his fan base and that’s all that should count for him and his Beautiful Few posse. Personally I just don’t like what they do at all in terms of musical sensibility and nothing changed my mind about them tonight, with Carroll, as usual hopping around on stage in his suit and suspenders pulling out that over-the-top artiste, theatrical approach that actually made me cringe a few times. It’s his style. Great. It’s not for me.

Carroll introduces a myriad of guest artists to play out the latest The Beautiful Few record, The Nights You Did Your Hair including Amaya Laucirica and Plastic Palace Alice’s Rob McDowell singing vocal on The Battle Of Edithvale and Big Softies respectively, before he himself takes over to give us Way Up The River – the frontman descending into the crowd for a warm embrace before stripping to some –  “long johns’ for The Grouch – this moment being my breaking point. Refusing to punish myself any longer, I exited to burn the memory from my mind and prepare for the main event that was to follow.

The best thing Carroll did tonight was bring Crow to Melbourne. Inviting the four piece from out of the wilderness and onto the Northcote stage. It’s been a decade since we last saw or heard them perform, with band members in particular vocalist and guitarist, Peter Fenton pursuing the thespian lifestyle along with his solo duties – but they’re back and looking to release a new Crow record this year, 21st century style! If the set list they laid on us tonight was any indication with both old and new Crow slow burn and art noise on display, then we’re in for a cracking record from these indie auteurs who enjoyed a cult following through the mid to late 1980s and 1990s with their brooding and darkly pop musical aesthetic.

Opening up with Mirrors Trouble from their 1998 release Play With Love, the band moved through Paper Eyes from 1995’s Li-Lo-ing and belters Ravine and Confection from a –  “from the vault’ 7 inch before an exquisite back catalogue run took in Little Scars, Kilkeel and Least Entitled from the aforementioned Li-Lo-ing.

‘It’s been ten years!’ says bassist Jim Woff. ‘You haven’t changed a bit,’ remarks Fenton sipping trademark glass of red before going to town on his axe in typical abrasive style, complemented by brother John Fenton on drums, who did more than just keep time. For it was his drum work that really drove the performance tonight with some punishing rhythm breaks on full display.

The vocal mix was laid through the instrumentation hard this evening. Fenton and guitarist Peter Archer pushing out many the indecipherable lyric, but it was nonetheless emotive and cut-through all the same with the band looking every part the professional unit in town to teach some new dogs some old tricks.

The Crow sound was just so tight, the progressions complex and their musicianship faultless. Woff telling the audience, ‘If we knew so many of you would show up we would have rehearsed!’ before his band launch into some new material then the timeless Railhead and Your Motive from the 1992 Steve Albini produced debut My Kind Of Pain – Fenton going into psych-out mode on guitar, there being a real swashbuckling edge to his own performance throughout the gig.

Crow dedicate Halo to Kieran Carroll. Peter Fenton thanking him for inviting the band to perform. Of course Carroll then proceeds to lose his shit going up to the mixing desk and requesting the band play until 1am, such is his fanatical love of the band, the relationship appearing to be a very Kathy Bates/James Caan type from where I was standing. Whilst there was no The Charley Horses or Sourpuss provided from their first vinyl Sunburnt Throats and Happy Thunderclouds, Crow delivered a riveting performance tonight with Mick Turner and Mike Noga, like all present, looking on in awe at this seminal Aussie outfit who have kick-started their career in the most empathic fashion.