The Basics, Hot Little Hands @ Northcote Social Club, Melbourne (22/06/2010)

On a night when many Melburnians may well have chosen to stay inside in front of the fire, there was a great turn out at The Basics’ penultimate gig of their two-month Tuesday night residency at the Northcote Social Club.

Up first were Melbourne band Hot Little Hands, who had the chance to impress an initially modest gathering of punters. They began with a couple of very tight numbers, somewhat reminiscent of The Doors. Lead singer and guitarist Tim Harvey was allowed room to show off his considerable skills, before their set highlight, a cover of INXS’s moving ballad Never Tear Us Apart. Harvey’s soulful voice was perfectly suited to the song and the band performed an arresting rendition. While I’m at pains not to sound like an Australian Idol judge, rather than playing a karaoke version, they added their own unique, soulful touch to the tune and it was lapped up by those fortunate enough to be in the room.

Unfortunately this set a standard they couldn’t match throughout the remainder of their performance, which consisted of a collection of 80s soul/disco tunes. For some reason, I kept thinking of the Beverley Hills Cop soundtrack as quite a few of their songs wouldn’t be out of place on it.

They are a collection of very good musicians (particularly their statuesque and dapper lead singer and guitarist), produce some very funky bass lines and perform with enthusiasm, but many of their songs felt disjointed. Also, Harvey has such a strong voice but too often resorts to high-pitched and soft vocals.

On to the main act, and Melbourne trio The Basics began their set in the highly entertaining and excitable manner with which much of their show was characterised. Throughout the gig, they really enjoyed themselves and came across as very modest, funny and amiable chaps. Their opening number even included a choreographed dance from bassist Kris Schroeder and guitarist Tim Heath.

Having listened to their melancholy new album, Keep Your Friends Close, a number of times before the show, I was expecting a somewhat mellow and contemplative performance. However, what transpired over the next hour was surprisingly a master class in energetic, bluesy rock ‘n’ roll.

Schroeder sang most of the early songs with real swagger, and the concise country twang of Lovin’ Man, which was dedicated to Australian country music icon James Blundell, was followed by their latest single Wait For You; the first time drummer Wally de Backer’s extraordinary voice made an appearance.

De Backer is possibly better known as the ARIA-award winning man behind the eccentric pop of Gotye, and I’d be surprised if there is a more soulful voice on the Australian indie scene. While many of The Basics’ songs have a 60s pop quality, De Backer’s voice gave his numbers a silky smooth Motown feel.

While his voice may have been something of a secret weapon for the band, thankfully it was used sparingly to greater effect, and each band member was given a chance to sing, often combining to create terrific harmonies.

Tim Heath had his moment in the sun with a terrific cover of The Cramps’ Garbageman. He seemed to relish the impossibly dirty blues of the American punk band’s song, and the audience were equally excited. It certainly marked a change in style for the band, but not necessarily in tone as it was performed with tongue firmly planted in cheek.

De Backer’s other particularly memorable moment came on Better, a mournful and climactic ballad, on which his voice soared, assisted by Heath’s once-again dirty licks. This song, which was the highlight of a night that featured many, came out of nowhere, sandwiched in between a number of upbeat tunes.

Despite a few misfires, notably a three-song medley of songs from their first album, Get Back, which were just too Beatles, The Basics were very, very tight and it’s always a pleasure watching a band with such control over their sound.

The band fittingly ended with a stunning cover of Neil Young’s Old Man, from his seminal album, Harvest. Just like Hot Little Hands did with INXS earlier, The Basics, led by Schroeder’s robust vocals, performed a truly great song beautifully.