Hungry Kids of Hungary, Skinny Jean, Edward Guglielmino @ Troubadour, Brisbane (12/03/09)

It’s a fairly packed crowd at the Troubadour, especially considering it is a Thursday night. The patrons have come early to see Edward Guglielmino, who gets the show going with his band, consisting of guitarist Matthew Redlich and keyboard player Nicoletta Panebianco. This is the first time I have seen Guglielmino with a backing band, and while I welcome the additional instruments – they make his songs sound fuller – it is quite obvious that they haven’t been together very long. Guglielmino is an awkward frontman; he seems very stiff when he steps out to the front of the stage, and appears to be out of place with an electric guitar. While his songs show intensity and depth, tonight’s performance does not do them justice. Guglielmino’s music is off-centre and eccentric, but tonight it is off-key and strained. There are certainly sparks of genius, and I find myself almost willing him to get the formula right, because there is so much potential there.

Skinny Jean’s raw energy is felt from their very first song, popular single Anhedonia. Lead vocalist, Shem Allen, is mesmerising. The music is so intense that his whole body spasms and convulses while he sings – it is as if it all comes from a place deep within him, and he cannot control it. Having only joined recently, Jemma Hicks does well in earning her keep in the band, sharing the vocals with Allen, whilst playing a myriad of other instruments, including a xylophone. One of the highlights of the night is when she leads the band in a bluesy, gospel number, which leaves the crowd awe-struck. The band creates an air of intrigue, taking us on a melodic journey: at times, the music is joyful, with Allen and Hicks weaving magic with their vocals; at other times, dark and brooding, channelling elements of Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds. They pace the set amazingly well, with carefully controlled dynamics showing light and shade – building up the intensity, dropping it back just in time for you to take a breath, before beginning a fresh onslaught. When they finish the set, there is a buzz in the room and I almost turn to leave, half-forgetting that there is still another act to follow.

Their name often induces giggles and smirks, but their music is sure to leave you with a smile. Hungry Kids of Hungary’s influences are varied, from soul to rock’n’roll, and hints of reggae, but they are nothing short of pure pop goodness. New single, Scattered Diamonds, an infusion of Vampire Weekend and The Shins, gets the crowd up and dancing early on. However, the middle part of the Hungries’ set seems rather flat, and I’m not sure whether the boys are a bit off tonight or because of the difficulty in following up Skinny Jean’s energetic performance. They certainly do have their moments though, with highlights including Stevie-Wonder-inspired China and crowd-pleaser Set It Right. They finish the set with the last track off their new EP Mega Mountain (I didn’t catch the track name), a Queen-esque song which gets the crowd moving again, before going offstage to await their encore. When they come back on, they treat us with a glimpse of their wide-ranging influences, going from a rocky, alt-country number to a fifties rock’n’roll gem.

Tonight is possibly a case of the support act Skinny Jean outshining the main act, but really, it’s a testament to the depth and range of the Brisbane music scene. A great night had by all.