Paul Dempsey @ Fly By Night, Perth (10/04/10)

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Although there is nothing wrong with Pappa vs Pretty’s music, there is also nothing very remarkable about it. It’s a take on rock that is catchy and heavily influenced by pop music, with structure and instrumentation that is quite conventional. It sounds like a good example of the kind of thing you’ve heard countless times before.

However that’s not to say genuine talent doesn’t exist in all of the band members, particularly front man Thomas Rawle. They are well drilled and tight, the bass is refreshingly prominent and inventive, and all three can harmonise their vocals quite well. Rawle borders on virtuosic in terms of lead guitar, and on their upbeat, hookier songs like Ballad it all comes together nicely, with the result being easily fun and listenable.

But at a level beyond this obvious musical competence, there exists a niggling feeling that the sum of the parts is no greater than the whole. Pappa vs Pretty have no difficulties in playing well, or in sounding catchy and listenable, what they miss is in taking this capability and turning it into something genuinely original and their own.

Hitting somewhat closer to the mark in this respect was local four-piece band Umpire. Umpire played a sophisticated flavour of indie rock, and vocalist Geoff Symons lead the way in keeping things interesting, moving without difficulty from falsetto in more poignant parts of the set to gentle warm melodies on songs like Streamers. These vocals aren’t Umpire’s strongest facet however, for at their heart they are a guitar driven band, and they’re best characterised by their relatively intricate and layered melodies like those on Motel.

Still it wasn’t the easiest music to enjoy, not because of the musical intricacies, but because of the relatively downcast delivery. Bands don’t need to give half an hour of one liners and funny anecdotes in order to draw attention to the stage, but they do need to seem genuinely interested in the music they play, and at times Umpire seemed a little nonplussed. Even at what seemed to be the more dramatic and emotionally engaging points of their songs, front man Symons seemed to offer more of a pantomime of emotion rather than any real connection to the music.

But in Umpire’s wake, Paul Dempsey, in line with what you’d expect after listening to his new solo album Everything is True, gave a sincere and candid performance to the crowd gathered at the Fly By Night last Saturday. Dempsey is an artist who is honest about his song writing and musicianship, and his performance ran in parallel with this approach. On stage Dempsey can be charming and funny, and he can be exciting and extroverted, but he’s also not afraid to act sentimentally. With his honesty and straightforwardness, this spectrum of performance was represented genuinely, without it ever feeling overly contrived or put on.

The music itself continued much in the same vein, with Dempsey and his back up band never really missing a beat. They stayed more or less true to the recorded versions of the songs, mixing things up slightly with a new song written only a few weeks prior, and a dancy cover Miss You by the Rolling Stones. Obvious high points came in the delivery of singles Ramona Was a Waitress and Out the Airlock, particularly the former, its stripped back style fittingly complementing Dempsey’s new solo technique.

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