Givers, Portugal. The Man @ The Corner Hotel, Melbourne (09/02/2012)

In an evening defined by contrast, psychedelic pop-smiths Portugal. The Man would play in support of the ecstatic indie quintet Givers, treating punters to a formidable showcase of international talent.

Sydney’s Guineafowl flew the local flag for the evening, the indie-pop troupe displaying a fun-loving edge in their craft. The band is to be commended for the diversity of their set; their shape-shifting impressions preserving a freshness for their fleeting time on stage. The first two songs proved indicative of their approach. Where their opener was a tight, atmospheric, delay-heavy epic reminiscent of U2, its follow-up, Little Fingers, offered a chirpy reggae-inspired groove, with front man Sam Yeldham spouting silver-tongued sentiments atop a delectable funk. Despite an admirable ability to adapt and transform throughout, it should be said that Guineafowl’s radio-ripe cuts were the obvious stand-outs, and the band stumbled in matching their form. Then again, with reference to the set’s finale – a melodramatic venture ideal for an Olympic Games video-montage – a key commercial opportunity may be waiting in the wings.

Within seconds of their exit, the band were ushered back to the stage with time enough for one more song. Forced to improvise, Guineafowl treated punters to a terrific rendition of The Cure’s Close To Me. Overall, Guineafowl proved they’re a fun bunch and an especially attractive live band. Could the band break the glass ceiling, so to speak, and nab a place as a premier indie-pop act in Australia? That, ultimately, was the question, its answer unfortunately ambiguous. What they have now is nothing less than promising, certainly, but time will tell if they can somehow make it all translate into something bigger.

A large crowd had amassed in anticipation for Portugal. The Man, and the Corner Hotel as ready and willing for a stellar performance as the band themselves. So American opened the set, John Baldwin Gourley’s brilliant vocals quickly buried beneath a formidable grunge of guitars and organ, each part-and-parcel of the band’s psychedelic rock. Portugal. The Man staged an auditory assault, the intricacies of their music occasionally obscured thanks to a gargantuan wall of noise. The band found numerous ways to electrify the Corner crowd, a comprehensive medley – including original material and The Beatles’ Helter Skelter – proving a masterful endeavour, stretching over a remarkably 10-15 minutes. It was a tireless, explosive extravaganza that deservedly won a rapturous response from the crowd. Meanwhile, something a little left-of-field emerged a key highlight of the set, the childlike glee of Jason Sechrist a joy to witness. The drummer playfully articulated each strike of his kit, his expressive performance a unique source of entertainment.

Notably, the band’s consistency proved as much a vice as a virtue by the end of their set. As the band powered through performance, it felt reasonable to grow weary of their sheer rawness, a potentially numbing agent for those only casually-acquainted with band’s modus operandi. It would take songs such as Floating (Time Isn’t Working On My Side) and Got It All (This Can’t Be Living Now) to restore interest in the band’s blistering nostalgia. It was a set where, for the most part, technical prowess and enduring tangents took precedent over anything fiercely memorable. Though astonishing in patches and amazingly accomplished (take the medley, for example), Portugal. The Man were somewhat exhausting.

Prior to the headline act, a noticeable portion of punters had bailed from the band room, with a lukewarm reception seemingly awaiting Givers. Fortunately, the Louisianans would defy the odds and stage an excellent show. The band instantly indulged in their playful, ants-in-pants stage intensity, conjuring a hybrid of the support acts’ best elements in the process. Their exotic afro-pop showcased an abundance of imagination, their craft crisp, calculated and performed to the letter. It was difficult to deny the band’s unique juxtaposition of cutesy, twee overtones with wholly ambitious, complicated arrangements. The stunning combination made for an entertaining spectacle, if a little obtuse at times for unsuspecting punters. Fortunately, Givers never lost sight of their infectious pop-inclinations, sure to eventually reign in any overly indecipherable detours.

The highlights were numerous, with the fluid, shape-shifting Meantime proving engrossing. Meanwhile, in spite of a palpable yearning for single Up Up Up – a fine finale in its own right – the beautifully tribal Atlantic prevailed as the set’s defining gem, Nick Stephan’s flute emerging as a dynamite addition to the band’s repertoire. Leading the charge throughout the performance were Tiffany Lamson and Taylor Guarisco with shared vocal duties. They pair gelled organically, their heavenly harmonies ultimately colouring Givers’ craft. Notably, the pair were the only musicians of the entire evening to openly engage with the crowd. Their friendly banter filled a void previously ignored, with hit-and-miss attempts to assimilate with Australian culture amusing and endearing. The Corner would willingly surrender to the band’s tropical vibe, spirited away. It made perfect sense – after all, Givers were simply sublime, each ecstatic release captivating.

On the whole, this evening at the Corner Hotel proved very much enjoyable. Guineafowl and Portugal. The Man staged good shows in their own right, while Givers managed to capture the best of both worlds, merging clean-cut pop music with an abundance of ambition to ensure an excellent headline set.

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