Each step descending into Melbourne’s prime music venue, Max Watt’s, for the MMW: Anti Fade Records show felt like being pulled into a deep sleep only to awaken in a fever dream.
The audience resembled Seattle in the 90s with plaid shirts and light wash, ripped, blue jeans as far as the eye could see. In the audience one could find a Cherie Currie lookalike, a Britney Spears lookalike – à la ‘Baby One More Time’ – and at one stage I thought I saw my Year 9 Science teacher and I didn’t even think twice.
However, an unexpected era shift into the 1960s and 1970s occurred at the barrier separating band from audience. Songs ranging from one to ten minutes employed a plethora of unconventional instruments ultimately resulting in a prog rock explosion. Like I said… fever dream.
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Spiritual Mafia was the first band on the bill and the six band members on the stage knew what they were doing. That doesn’t necessarily mean that it was sonically pleasing, but they knew who they were, and they ran with it.
Unfortunately, a stark juxtaposition between the lacklustre vocals and lyrics – compared to the proficient musicianship of the rest of the band – created a disparity too big to seamlessly manoeuvre without exercised concentration and focus, two things that probably aren’t ideal for a Wednesday night gig.
Once again, the commitment was present and admirable, but it unfortunately also left the audience subconsciously choosing one side of a love/hate relationship with the music.
Smarts threw us into the deep end with a fast-paced set that reverberated through your whole body for each of the 30 minutes. Each song had a quality that asserted vibes of a vintage action TV show theme song – think Neal Hefti’s 1966 ‘Batman’ theme – and impressively held that consistency throughout. Although, the band did run into a bit of trouble when they battled each song bleeding into the next. Smarts did come out on top, but it was a close one.
Terry switched things up. A cohesion was evident not only sonically, but visually, with the band members playing off each other during and between songs, ultimately giving a joyful lightness that wasn’t present during the previous acts. There may have been a few false starts and slipups, and did it come across as slightly unrehearsed? Sure. However, instead of taking away from the set, it bolstered each moment with charm and playfulness.
The vocals started off slightly shaky, but by Drawn for Days the band had found their groove within a vintage, nostalgic sound. Oh Helen was even slightly reminiscent of The Clash’s London Calling, thus further leaning into the old school sound.
The final band of the night, Bananagun, put the ‘pro’ in prog rock. The band exuded experimental virtuosity in the 50-minute set, all the while navigating a broken drumkit, a Canned Heat cover, congas, and a flute all in style. It was good chaos. It was great chaos.
In a similar fashion to the previous band, Bananagun offered a nostalgic sound with Jack Crook (guitar and vocals) even radiating qualities akin to a young Paul McCartney. The balanced dynamic within the band was unwavering, with each band member having their moment in the sun – no easy feat with six musicians on the stage – with a special mention being awarded to a particular bass solo.
It was a moment that caused you to slowly turn to the person next to you and have the ‘wow, this is some good stuff’ conversation – all telepathically, of course. Bananagun ultimately captivated each and every person in the venue and left the audience on a high.
Check out the rest of the Melbourne Music Week program here.