My Disco @ The Toff, Melbourne (15/04/2012)
Sometimes it can feel that support acts provide little more than an opportunity for headliners to give their mates a boost, or perhaps to make an underhanded play for their fan base. While either of these scenarios may also have been true, the combo of Bushwalking and My Disco was like spinach and ricotta; from two different worlds, but nonetheless a match made in heaven.
Bushwalking (previously Zsa Zsa) was founded by Ela Stiles of Sydney band Songs, who evidently has a predilection for un-Google-able band names. Enlisting Melburnians Nisa Venerosa (Fabulous Diamonds) and Karl Scullin (Kes Trio), they put together an engaging performance, laying air-brushed vocal harmonies over chopped percussion. Like My Disco, they build their songs on a foundation of locked-groove drumbeats, overlaying sparse vocal lines to provide a sense of structure, then allowing the guitar to explore the remaining spaces. The set contained elements of their individual styles, most distinctively Scullin’s patented open-string riffs and thoughtful fermata (editor’s note: a note held for an indefinite length, at the performer’s discretion). Unfortunately, when critically evaluating a band that fails to put a foot wrong, it can be hard not to gush. I hope I did OK.
My Disco have been around the traps for a while, having played all over the globe from Mexico to Macedonia, and by now they know what to look for in a venue. It would seem that a key requirement is a good pair of heavy curtains. The thick smoke emanating from said curtains, along with the ominous sound of leaking gas, indicated either that a wall of fog was being erected on stage, or that the Toff in Town was in dire contravention of the Fire Safety Act.
Inspired by electronic composer and audio-visual troublemaker Robin Fox, whose vibrant projections were recently featured in the video for Turn, My Disco’s only discernible stage feature was a laser/strobe combo that caught the audience like a pack of bilbies in fluorescent headlights. Much as their minimalist style draws one’s focus to the minutiae of a song’s progression and arrangement, so too does their visual setup command more attention than watching the band rock out in 100 percent visibility. A flailing headstock here, a whirling drumstick there, Liam Andrews’ bespectacled figure barking into the microphone; all were captured as translucent silhouettes for a brief moment by the strobe, then just as quickly lost to the miasma.
Though it wasn’t obvious at what point My Disco walked on stage, there was no confusion as to when they started playing. When you are prepared to lug two Sunn amps the size of washing machines around the world, you clearly harbour the intent to be really fucking loud. Ben Andrews’ squalling guitar washed around the small room, transporting the listener into the epicentre of a particular deadly tornado. Rohan Rebeiro’s drumming can feel somewhat subdued on record, where My Disco and über-producer Steve Albini take a more cerebral tack, rather than merely turning it up to 11. However, in a live setting not limited by volume knobs, his role expanded from that of a regular heartbeat to that of an arrhythmic palpitation, most notably in the extended outro to Young. Fortunately, no-one was hurt.
Smoke crept off the stage and swirled through the room, caught in updrafts of heat from a sweaty crowd. Initially hypnotised by the bright colours and driving bass, the eye became drawn to the audience in the absence of a clear focal point. People were, but gradually attention did drift. While My Disco’s opening gambit of misty madness was undeniably excellent, it did grow old after a time. The crowd was always going to be glad to hear the first bars of old favourite You Came To Me Like a Cancer, or 2010’s Little Joy opener, Closer (haha). We are simple beasts, though, and when we go to see a band, it’s nice to see a band.
All in all, it was a tiring Sunday evening. The laser show and the decibels – combined with the clammy air, the sugary smell of body odour and the raw onion from my burger stuck in my back teeth – added up to an overstimulation of the five senses, which left one feeling exhausted well before the hour-long set was up. Fifteen minutes in, I thought I was witnessing one of the best gigs I’d ever seen. By the end I would concede it was great, but boy was I ready to leave. As I prepared to make my merry way home, I instinctively whipped out the iPod and put my earbuds in. The final note I heard was a clear, constant high B flat ringing over a muffled Swanston St. I put the iPod away; my ears were spent.