The Horrors, Allbrook/Avery and Jack Ladder @ The Metro, Sydney (2/2/2012)

Sydney’s own Jack Ladder is always a palpable presence in any room, what with that deep brassy voice and definitive stature. On this night he filled The Metro with a resonating warmth that was almost enough to dry off the dampness from the deluge outside, and that’s something. Perhaps the old comparison to Nick Cave is too easy, but you can’t deny the vocal similarities between the two, as well as the slow-burning storytelling in many of their songs. Maybe the reason Jack Ladder is such a popular support act is precisely because of the sense of comfort he lulls you into with these songs that push gently forward while his reverb-drenched guitar and the gentle boom of his voice drive them along with a renewed sense of feeling at every turn. Although some of his songs do seem to lose it a bit around the halfway mark, the atmosphere produced by the man Ladder alone is enough to ensure repeat visitations.

Allbrook/Avery could be a good band. Unfortunately, there are too many things holding them back at this stage that are glaringly obvious in a live context. Probably the most obvious on this night was their drummer, who played an almost identical rhythm for every track and seemed to lack the kind of confidence or familiarity with her instrument that really is necessary in order to play in a live setting like this. It’s a real shame, because these guys have a nice lo-fi come grunge sound that could be quite accomplished given the right combination of parts. Among other things, you can hear Wavves, The Velvet Underground and The Brian Jonestown Massacre come and go here, as well as some cues seemingly taken from The Horrors themselves. The lead singer is a powerhouse of energy skipping and thrashing his way across the stage, and the way the band came together on this night both in three-part guitar and vocal harmonies was also quite pleasant to behold. This is a band with a lot of potential, but that just need to develop a bit more before they grow into themselves.

The first thing you notice about The Horrors ‘these days’ is how grown-up they now are, having moved completely and defiantly on from the days of goth rock and horrorshow monikers. This much is obvious of course, ever since the gaping gulf between 2007’s exercise in gimmicks, Strange House, and the artier, shoegaze tapestry that was 2009’s Primary Colours. Last year’s Skying also demonstrated a moving on and up further into postpunk/noise territory, and this seems to be what the band wish to explore in a live setting now.

Indeed, the set on this night consisted entirely of tracks from Skying and Primary Colours, and the band seemed in their utmost element as they roared through every track against a backdrop of muddy rainbow lights. They were somewhat of a vision – a collection of skinny, handsome young men who really seem to have grown into the big sound that they now relish in front of a live audience. Highlights of this night were Mirror’s Image, which sent the audience unexpectedly crazy, as well as the first single from Skying, Still Life, and the epic Sea Within a Sea, which suffered only slightly from a washing out of melody from the sometimes too-heavy distortion.

It’s just a shame that there were a number of other elements also missing from the sound tonight, not least of which was any strong guitar parts offered by Joshua Hayward, who really just trudged around the corner of the stage most of the night playing nonsensical chords that didn’t go anywhere. Instead, keyboardist Tom Cowan carried the majority of melodic weight and was the stand-out of the group overall. Unfortunately, Joe Spurgeon’s kick drum also drowned out a lot of necessary sound and Faris’ vocals were here and there, though mostly consistent. His sometimes atonal drawl does compliment the kind of music The Horrors play these days, and his somehow charmingly withdrawn stage persona is a good match to this too.

In a lot of ways, this is what The Horrors still manage to be after everything else – charming. Maybe it has a bit to do with their constant quiet development and experimentation in terms of style, as well as their seemingly modest stage presence, or maybe it’s the way their songs still lap at you like waves. As much as a lot of their material leaves you wanting something a bit meatier; a bit more daring perhaps, as with the last track they played on this night; the lengthy Moving Further Away, these boys really do give you the impression that they’ll get there in their own sweet, gentle time, and you know they’re going to take you on some kind of journey in the process.