Vivid Sydney Daily Report #7: Temper Trap, FBi Party

Almost a week into the Vivid Sydney schedule, the big name debut shows keep coming. While Karen O continued her five-night Stop the Virgens run (read our appraisal of night one) Caitlin Welsh headed to the Concert Hall to see local success stories the Temper Trap showcase their second album, and Katie Cunningham caught the FBi / Penny Drop party with Zola Jesus, Light Asylum and Forces.

The Temper Trap
Caitlin Welsh

The thing about Vivid is that it’s supposed to be an outside-the-box festival. All the acts are, in theory at least, groundbreaking, achingly new and/or simply alchemical, magic in some way – The Temper Trap are neither of the first two and the third is purely a matter of opinion. Along with Florence, a cynic could argue that these summer festival mainstays are a stab at populism, an expansive net being cast from a position of massive high-culture cache to broaden an event that just a few short years ago was being curated by the elder statesmen (and woman) of esoteric art.

Chet Faker is achingly new, at least – I’m not sure he’s played twenty gigs yet (he wasn’t at ten when he played SXSW this year). But that’s not why he probably shouldn’t be playing the Sydney Opera House Concert Hall – his style is intimate and small-scale, at least for now, and even with a band his understated soul is lost in the room and the chatter.

The Temper Trap stride on stage beneath apocalyptic red strobes and a literally chair-quaking bass rumble – before they begin playing it’s clear they mean to open with the Social Commentary Song from the new self-titled record, London’s Burning, as they play the same bleedingly obvious news clips from the album version over the intro. The new album paints with even broader strokes than the debut, and the band clearly also feel that the more paint you throw at the canvas, the better it will look. All of the epic tricks are used in this show, blinding beams spinning over the crowd and against the roof and blooming behind the band, and every self-serious sound is jacked up loud enough to give the nosebleed sections actual nosebleeds.

Musically, they’re in fine form, the unshowy but terrifically precise drummer Toby Dundas in particular (although the kick drum is mic’d awkwardly, enormously loud but very thin-sounding). Everything is received by the crowd with a rapturous sea of recording iPhones, from new singles Rabbit Hole and Need Your Love to more varied Conditions material like the yowling, folky Soldier On (no Sirens, though). The dreamy pace of Trembling Hands, the main highlight of the new set, lets everything breathe a bit – although it’s still oppressively loud. The best parts of the set are when they justify this noise not with the endless bloody soaring, but with guitar-heavy breakdowns – thick, twanging licks curling out of a dark cloud of rumbling bass notes.

Dougy Mandagi is their not-so-secret weapon, and sounds wonderful, but from our point-blank seats he’s incredibly irritating to watch. He’s got what my better half calls “a case of the Wembleys” – dipping the mic stand, posturing and overacting like he’s lording it over a stadium. It’s understandable when you’re playing a sold-out Opera House to feel pleased with yourself, and he does look chuffed – but he also repeatedly engages in hacky boy band shit like the Lat Pulldown of Emotion (two fists, downward motion with the elbows, earnestness) and tapping his heart while singing about his heart. That’s some junior rock eisteddfod shit, dude.

His two best moments are near the end – one during Conditions closer Drum Song when he tips water onto the floor tom he’s punishing, thunders away in the resulting mist, and then tosses a drumstick up into the dark gold light to end. It looks good. The other is during Sweet Disposition, where the world’s most composed streaker wanders onstage in nothing but stripy boxer briefs, waving regally and throwing an arm around the singer; Mandagi cheerfully returns the gesture for a moment before allowing security to lead his new friend offstage. The rest of the set could have done with some of that levity.

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