Dan Kelly’s Dream Band @ Ding Dong, Melbourne (27/07/2012)

It’s Friday night, and there’s a palpable sense of relief around Melbourne – that Splendour in The Grass has finally kicked off a couple of thousand kilometres north. It’s a relief spawned from the fatigued earholes and credit cards from all four corners of the metropolis in response to a week or so of almost wall-to-wall, balls-out phantasmagorical rock-a-thons; the modern phenomena of ‘side shows’.

A sense of morbid curiosity, then, as I await an exhausted, boogie-shy public, on what was billed as a bit of a going away bash for Dan Kelly’s Dream Band as he picked up his newly minted songs and rushed them to Europe for a spit polish – it’s hard to believe that his Bindi Irwin Apocalyptic Jamming is now a bubbly, annoying two-year-old screaming out for a big brother or sister. And right on theme, a mini-apocalyptic rainy evening relegated the gregarious Fraser A Gorman to the ‘next time’ pile – although his Junior Dylan tag was noted throughout the rest of the night, with his disheveled sandy ‘fro and and button-down threads beaming out as he adding some sweet harmonica interludes during Dan’s set.

Courtney Barnett turned the fears of a quiet night, with a raucously scintillating run-through of her debut EP, I’ve Got A Friend Called Emily Ferris. In a broad sense, Barnett blew the fucking roof off the newly-renovated room in a ‘where has she been all my life’-kinda way (Google knows all, however; she’s been hiding in plain sight among a swelling collection of Melbourne indie groups such as Immigrant Union and rubbing shoulders with, y’know, just your local members of The Dandy Warhols, no biggie). Jangly blues guitars provide a perfect bed for the singer’s slacker vocals. When unleashed, the band curls itself menacingly around a solid rhythm, with the guitarist letting rip with seven levels of murderous hell in riff form whenever allowed the chance. There are obvious comparisons to make among any number of influential rock chicks, but for my ears, take The Black Crowes and replace the bickering brothers with a lass who’s obviously got a pair, and you’re close to understanding Barnett’s wonder. Hell, even the homage to Nirvana’s Polly for EP opener Lance Jr gave me a woody.

It’s a tall order, then, for the bouffant-laden local lad (via Brisbane) to top such a support, and, pre-set, I have my doubts that he’ll pull it off. Dan Kelly has always come across as a likeable bloke, the funny friend-of-a-friend you bump into at parties every few months. You hit it off spectacularly; he’s funny, generous, interested and engaged. You spend the evening deep in enthralling conversation and you walk away with a pending Facebook friend invite from him, and the lingering feeling that you should hang out more. He’s more than the perpetual bridesmaid, but he’s also not the dude who’s getting tongues wagging in the playgrounds on Monday mornings.

Yet, as I Will Release Myself (Onto You) and Drunk on Election Night set the gig on its course, you can’t help but get swept up in those same feelings of monumental ‘rightness’ of Kelly and this impressive dream on which he’s been dining out for a couple of years now. It’s a rightness merely reinforced with a pared-back version of Bindi Irwin’s Apocalyptic Jam, complete with The Drones’ Dan Luscombe painting aural galaxies with his Korg tinkering and Kelly’s own song-ending guitar-face histrionics which, despite all efforts to portray them in self deprecating tones, actually come off spectacularly.

And it’s that mocking tone that has coloured Kelly’s career to date, and for some (this reviewer included), has stalled that Facebook friend request at the ‘pending’ moment. There’s something a little incongruous to fully taking to a singer who spends a fair chunk of his art dishing the shit on everything around him and taking five shades of piss out of himself. I mean, how can you love someone who doesn’t love himself, right? Those thoughts linger briefly as he confirms his new tracks won’t stray too far from those tracks – case in point, the exquisitely-titled new tune Guitar Tech Dreams Of The Superjesus – but they are quickly quashed as you get swept along in an almost unnerving energy and wide-eyed enthusiasm which belies the years Kelly has spent mining this vein.

The Decommissioner banishes any ill-will, as it devolves mid song into an experimental jam where Kelly’s studied deftness and Luscombe’s sublimely casual keyboard work bounces off drummer Dave Williams’ esoteric skins (he of Augie March fame, and appropriately renamed Peter Russell Clarke for the evening, thanks to his uncanny likeness to the cheese fiend). It’s a euphoria which cascades from the stage, through the band room and into the swiftly-filling bar area of the newly renovated loft-cavern (seriously newly reno-ed – the paint fumes are battling to the death with the odour of a thousand spilled drinks). The good vibes see Fraser A Gorman bolt to the stage for special harmonica highlights in Dan Kelly’s Dream, and Junior Dylan gives different sections of the room sly, knowing smiles through A Classical DJ At Dandenong Station and The Catholic Leader. The encore merely confirms that tongue is kept firmly planted in cheek on the new album, with an ode to the soundman in Anton The Goth Goes To Byron Bay. And you walk back into the frigid night thinking: “You know what? Fuck it. Confirm friend request.”