FourPlay String Quartet @ The Judith Wright Centre, Brisbane, 10/03/07

It’s been written that when you see the FourPlay String Quartet you should forget anything you ever thought about string quartets. Tonight’s performance at the Judith Wright Centre is further proof that this Sydney-based foursome’s electrified sounds bears as much relation to the soothing tones of a classical quartet as a sabre-tooth tiger does to a domestic cat.

Over two 45-minute sets, they thrill with an eclectic selection from 2006 long-player Now to the Future – and surprise by throwing plenty of new songs into the mix. Stylistically they defy categorisation, fusing genres with virtuoso ease and generating the most fantastic sounds from their instruments.

Radiohead’s 2+2=5 showcases cellist Peter Hollo’s deftness in recreating Phil Selway’s drums simply by tapping the body of his instrument while Lara Goodridge’s violin mimics Thom Yorke’s crooning vocals with uncanny accuracy.

A take on Sufjan Stevens’ The Predatory Wasp of The Palisades is Out To Get Us! wavers between verses of delicate cello pizzicato and trilling violin and a dramatic chorus of stabbing viola. A new tune called Venus Underwater echoes softly, somehow mimicing the ocean, sounding as though it’s being played inside from a sea grotto.

Later still, sitar-like violin anchors Bollyrock while Peter and Tim Hollo tap out gentle indian drums in the background against their cello and viola. Eventually, the song takes off into the stratosphere, culminating in soaring, distorted shredding and mad arpeggios. It’s rapturously received.

Yet if half the joy is witnessing the array of noises they wring from their instruments through bowing, tapping, slapping or plucking, the other half must be listening to Lara’s rich, slinky vocals. Her softly drawled cabaret style dominates lush songs such as Evolve or Decay and Trust. And even if she suffers a brief memory lapse or three with new songs But a Girl and Billie Holiday’s Loverman, the audience proves generous and forgiving. She seems not-so-forgiving of herself, telling the us all she ought to be forced to write out lines as punishment.

Tim Hollo offers the evening’s political moments, introducing another debut tune – Where the Sun don’t Shine – as an ode where “John Howard can stick his nuclear power plants”. The looped, dissonant beats of his viola, coupled with the edgy, alien noises emanating from fellow violist Shenzo Gregorio feel as impassioned as Tim’s introduction.

Things crank near the end and Rage Against the Machine’s Killing in the Name Of is so intense that the Strokes’ Reptilia, when it arrives, is almost an anti climax.

As an encore, FourPlay pluck and strum their way with disarming ease through Robert Johnson’s blues classic Drunken Hearted Man before rounding out the night with the Beastie Boy’s ever-cacophonic Sabotage – re-affirming in just two songs how broad their talents and influences are.