In memoriam: City Calm Down exit a band at the very top of their game

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In memoriam: City Calm Down exit a band at the very top of their game

City Calm Down - photo by Josh Braybrook
Image by Josh Braybrook
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Words by Chris Lewis
Photos by Josh Braybrook

Following an emotional farewell tour, it’s time to say goodbye (for now).

This was the band that reminded us that dreams can come true. This was a band for every 14-year-old in their parent’s garage, whose fingers were sore while they struggle to play an F-chord; dreaming that one day they’ll be playing a sold-out show in their hometown with their best mates.

We’ve all had that daydream in some shape or form; whether it be practising your falsetto during karaoke or shredding an air guitar solo whilst listening to Spotify in your bedroom. But for most of us, watching Almost Famous for the 17th time is as close as we’ll get. And that is what made City Calm Down so damn special.

As high school jazz-band dropouts come good, CCD formed so young they still had more swagger than songwriting nous, yet they instantly set themselves apart from the indie landfill through Jack Bourke’s sonorous boom of a voice. And whilst it took Matt Berninger three albums of mumbling and screaming to confidently hit a note, Bourke was a natural frontman who owned his baritone with confidence.

Too often we see the predictable rise and fall of young and talented Australian bands due to the chew up/spit out nature of the Kingsmillian mega-factory and it’s a lesson worth noting that City Calm Down succeeded in spite of this environment, not because of it. They always received the healthy airplay they deserved, but they never saturated the zeitgeist and this determined avoidance of any flavour of the month title not only stopped their star from burning too quickly, but it allowed them to craft and mature their sound in their own time.

This resulted in a path of genuine artistic progression that we rarely get to enjoy in a country that so often loves a band to an early death. From their debut In a Restless House to their sophomore Echoes In Blue and this year’s stellar third album Television, what we are now mourning is a band who created art for art’s sake, unperturbed whether their single was the sound de jour. What did matter to them was that their dedicated fan-base was growing with every release, as Sam’s synths became spikier, Jez’s guitar playing became more indebted to David Byrne and Armstrong’s percussion found new ways to build up to Bourke’s soaring vocal crescendos.

By 2019, City Calm Down was one of Australia’s most interesting bands, at once artistically progressive and hopelessly anthemic. You can hear echoes of Robert Smith’s melodrama, choruses that call back to early Tears for Fears, the tempestuous moodiness of Echo & the Bunnymen and a penchant for cheesy saxophones that belied their oh-so-serious, media-shy brand.

So when the news arrived on Facebook three weeks ago that the band were going on an indefinite hiatus, they joined an illustrious group of artists exiting stage right whilst still at their creative peak. Their show this weekend at the Croxton Bandroom was their wake; a celebration of their 12-year journey with 1000 of their most rabid fans. The emotional energy from the moment the opening chord of ‘Television’ rung out to the last crowd-surfing chorus of ‘In This Modern Land’ was crushing and bittersweet. But this was City Calm Down doing 120km/h on The Eastern and they ensured their swansong was an everlasting memory of a band swinging for the fences.

Let the legacy of City Calm Down be of a band that was uncompromising in their artistic pursuit. They proved that you don’t need to rely on or be held hostage to the heavy-handed machinations of the Australian music monopolies to succeed. We should hope more 14-year-olds master that F chord and join bands as brave and important as City Calm Down. Til next time boys, goodnight and good luck.

Highlight: Dreams sometimes do come true.

Lowlight: The long goodbye.

Crowd favourite: Dusting off the old gem ‘Pleasure and Consequence’ was an unexpected delight.