Music

Sparkadia, Operator Please, Alpine @ Metro Theatre, Sydney (02/04/11)

Melbourne kids Alpine get onstage with minimal chit-chat and do everything within their power to lure early arrivals to the front of the stage. It’s not as successful as they might have anticipated, but those watching can’t help but be transfixed by their intricate, passionate live set. Upfront, the honeyed voices of Lou James and Phoebe Baker melt into one another (the pulsing rhythms of Heartlove ), before snapping away on separate tangents (the gorgeous shoegaze of Icy Poles and set closer Villages ). It’s a very unique sound, and one that’s certainly winning them quite a few fans of late. Put it this way: Alpine are bringing a touch of well-needed frost to the climate of Melbourne’s indie rock scene – and it won’t be long before it spreads nationwide and overseas.

Kids grow up so damn fast, don’t they? It seems like it was only yesterday that Operator Please were bouncing about stages all over on a Wizz Fizz high, barely out of high school and having the time of their lives in venues that they normally wouldn’t have been allowed inside. Tonight, violinist Taylor Henderson turned twenty years old – “We are no longer a ‘teen’ band!” announced singer Amandah Wilkinson with both a tongue-in-cheek humour and an apparent sense of relief.

The five-piece are seeking to dismiss the novelty attached to their name and establish themselves with a style of pop far darker and far more keyboard-centric than previous ventures. This new material settles into the groove quite well, as does some of the older favourites such as Back and Forth and a re-imagined Just a Song About Ping Pong. Their audience is loose and fun-loving, and although they might not be in their desired position just yet, tonight proves that they’re certainly on their way.

It’s been a bizarre couple of years for Sparkadia, with literally the entire band bar frontman Alex Burnett leaving the fold; and the plans to relocate to Berlin ditched in favour of London. For all the dramas surrounding the follow-up to 2008’s Postcards, however, it certainly seems to have been worth it. Sparkadia are playing a venue twice the size of their last headlining Sydney show, and have managed to fill it out twice over. Not only that, but the live band know their way around the songs perfectly.

As well as going through the dream-like soundscapes of newies like The Great Impression and Fingerprints, the band also breathed new life into the staples that brought Sparkadia to prominence to begin with. Up in the Air has lost none of the wind beneath its wings, while Animals brings out an unforeseen wildness onstage, particularly within the rhythm section of bassist Bluey May and drummer Adam Gammage. Some of the softer numbers don’t work in the band’s favour – Hurt Me and Ghost sadly fell flat – but it’s a minor quarrel with what was by and large a solid show.

Burnett is truly a born entertainer, executing his parts in workman-like fashion but never seeming unenthusiastic or despondent. He leads clap-alongs through Kiss of Death, swaggers about the stage like a demented preacher during Mary and even lets the crowd sing the final chorus line of Talking Like I’m Falling Downstairs. His performance is carefully crafted, but not a chore – clearly, playing these songs live is a labour of love.

As Alex looks out to a packed Metro, playing his most successful single in China and watching a guy crowdsurfing his way to the front, it’s not hard to notice him grinning like an idiot. Hell, he’s got every reason to – Sparkadia may be down in numbers, but it couldn’t be a hotter name in Australian music right now.