The Good China, Institut Polaire, Travis Marke @ The Empress Hotel, Melbourne (01/05/09)

The night was opened by Travis Marke, part musician, part kid’s music teacher, all charm. The centrepiece of Travis Marke’s performance was not his harmonica, his guitar or his music. The main things that captured the audience’s heart were his charming lyrics and his cute demeanour on stage. In the middle of a song, Travis stopped and said to the audience, ‘I feel like I need to explain that the next bit is actually the word ‘Home’’. He then wailed out an incomprehensible word for several bars (which we all knew was ‘home’ thanks to his generous explanation). He comes across as unprententious and sweet, and reminded me of my little brother (if I had a little brother, that is). His background as a children’s music teacher really came to the forefront when he decided to play the kid’s version and the adult version of the same song. The little one’s edition was so postively charming (‘We are kangaroos, eating grass is what we do, unless we are scared by you, and then we jump’) that he would give the Wiggles a run for their money.

Next up was Perth indie-rock band Insitut Polaire, who managed to squeeze their eight-person musical troupe onto the Empress stage. The best way to describe this collective of musicians would be as an indie-orchestra. Their songs aren’t typical indie-pop songs that are written to be catchy radio hits that are hot one minute and out of fashion the next. Their tracks are carefully thought out pieces, reminiscent of classical music that evoke moods and images. Their opening track Penguin was a soothing soundscape that made this writer think of lying down on a warm beach with waves washing over her. Where Travis Marke’s lyrics and stage presence were the main feature of his performance, the opposite is true for Institut Polaire, with their music craft being the definite focus. Their marvellous set included the MySpace favourite City Walls and Empires, America and Mayflower. By the time that Institut Polaire were finished, the punters were definitely hungry for more musicianship from the headlining act, and the tiny Empress venue was completely jam packed.

The background of The Good China’s MySpace is very fitting. It’s one of those old-school paper doll sets (for those kids whose parents wouldn’t buy Transformers or Littlest Pet Shop toys for them), with a male and female doll. There are face cutouts for each of the eight (yes, another eight-piece) members, and there are instrument cutouts. It’s so fitting, not because they sort of look like they’re heads don’t quite sit right on their bodies or that they resemble paper, but because they were swapping instruments during their entire set. Violinist Quyen showed off her awesome violin pizzicato skills whilst flirting with a tamborine between choruses on All Nothing, then skipped over to keys for the next song and sang a pitch perfect intro for another track. The keyboardist sang, and even jumped on the skins, whilst the drummer was down the front singing and strumming his heart out. One punter called it, ‘Musical incest, but in a good way’. The Good China also played 39 Black, Turn The Page and their encore, Maple Leaves. If FasterLouder had a star-rating system, this reviewer would definitely give The Good China a ten upon ten.

Travis Marke opened the night with his unpretentious and often comical set (he actually burped into the mircophone accidentally), Institut Polaire wowed the crowd with their musicianship and The Good China really rocked everyone’s socks.