Witch Hats, Sister Jane @ GoodGod Small Club, Sydney (15/06/2012)

Plain and simple, Eight Miles High was one mammoth of a live music affair. From an eight thirty sharp kickoff there was the onslaught of six bands scaling as many genres, with no towel thrown in til past two in the am. Named by organisers as a celebration of genres amassing psychedelic, surf, shoegaze, ‘60s and garage-pop, there was plenty of time and acts to indeed cover all said generic bases.

The volatile Atom Bombs brought along their stage commanding go-go dancer who was as fierce with her hip shaking as the guitars were in their riff shredding. Like an adrenaline shot to the heart, the drumming was tight, dynamic and hard hitting, and ensured early onlookers had all eyes glued front and center. The four piece did well in mastering the rock and the roll of guitars blazing surf rock, and fans of the genre will surely enjoy this lot.

Next up was Buried Feather out of Melbourne. It was goodbye to the surf slides and hello to the drone, as the four-piece spun together a sound of psychedelic proportions. The lead singer’s Black Angels tee was a clear tribute to the band’s influences, and as they shook through a set that ventured from glazy, dreamlike psych-rock to heavy guitar driven solos, it was hard not to be impressed with how well they managed their mix. There were few overbearing moments, and you had to hand it to the group for balancing their melodies that could quickly become a lost mess of fuzz.

The peak act of the evening was Sydney trio Bloods who impressed a now chock-full room of punters with their recipe for fast-paced fun. The melodies were sweet and the right kind of simple, the songs were short, and the tempo was fast with never a dull moment – this was music you had-to, needed-to dance to. Their sixties girl group harmonies of garage-pop persuasions are infectious, and inked in my mind as the act to seek out again. An outlier on the lineup sound wise no less, their variations on numbers like the Spiderman theme song had all bopping along.

Next up to the plate was Grand Atlantic. As a four-piece from Brisbane, Grand Atlantic have had deserved success through a considerable amount of international tour slots, and even a track on Gossip Girl. Despite their skillful blend of psych rock, the underwhelming set felt ballad heavy and lacked variation. Maybe it was the come down off the sugar high from Bloods.

Fifth act for the evening was Sydney group Sister Jane, of whom the undoubted highlight is keyboardist, flutist and vocalist Lauren Crew. While lead singer Dan Davey keeps things in check as the front man, luring the crowd into his palm with charm and guitar prowess, it was the vocals from Lauren that had me – particularly on number And That Is All. Raspy, sharp and stacked with power, those songs with Crew in the lead are powerful and raw folk-rock tinged numbers. The group has room to explore a diverse sound with their heavy song-writing approach and many members, so their switch between upbeat hand-clapped numbers to more somber anthems came off exquisite.

Last up for the evening were headliners Witch Hats. At well past midnight the Melbourne group took to the stage. Yet what remained before them was a littering of a crowd, a mere shadow of the night’s aforementioned capacity. A certain shame as Witch Hats’ mash of noise and psych elements is impressive from the get-go. Older songs were noticeably louder and aggressive, with a howl on lead singer Kris Buscombe that takes the group through such cathartic, bleeding numbers of post-punk colourings with conviction. The guitar work is often grinding, the bass stomach-droppingly low and gritty, and there’s an angular edge on the melodies that kept you fixated at well past the four-minute mark.

In The Mortuary was a standout, and despite not knowing the exact words Buscombe was growling, there’s an emotional slant of morose bitterness that is intoxicating. Judging by the glazed stares of those around me, they too were caught in the witch hat web. Such songs are the group’s strong point, and though calling a synth on stage for the final few songs brought a brighter life to their sound, it was the grittier numbers that stood with punch. A final cover of a Van Morrison inspired Baby, Please Don’t Go saw an enthusiastic whooping from all sides of the room, and was the perked-up and fitting ending to a night of niche exploration.