Dresden Dolls + Deerhoof + Sons & Daughters Review

International acts come toPerthall the time but I care little about the vast majority of them. Yet last weekend, three acts that I really dig visited within three days (or four acts if you count PJ Harvey, who I wasn’t able to see). Armed with plenty of caffeinated beverages (I’m old enough that staying up three nights in a row is a bit of a challenge) I embarked on my musical marathon weekend …

Dresden Dolls – Astor Theatre

The Dresden Dolls not playing Astor Theatre. This photo was actually taken during the free ninja gig they did on Saturday (more on that below).

I arrived during The Bedroom Philosopher’s set. Despite plenty of self-depreciation (or perhaps because of it) he had the crowd eating out of his hand. His set included the most impressively vitriolic rant about militantly left-wing vegan art students I’ve ever heard, and a very funny version of Northcote (So Hungover) comprised almost entirely of nasty Youtube comments from his own video.

Shortly after, once I’d taken a comfy seat up in the balcony, Amanda Palmer and Brian Vigilone came out to rapturous applause and launched into Sex Changes from the Yes, Virginia album. We were then treated to a set characterised by its spontaneity, professionalism and long-length (after almost 3 hours I was really glad the venue had seats). I’d seen Amanda at a fantastic solo show not long before and I didn’t think the Dresden Dolls performance could quite live up to it, but I hadn’t counted on what a captivating drummer Brian is. Not just for his skill and creativity on the skins, but also his chemistry with Amanda and the way he combines drumming with the art of mime – acting out lyrics and bringing a further sense of theatrics to the show.

Most of the Dolls’ favourites got an airing, plus a song or two from the solo albums and a bunch of choice covers. On record the moodiness of their songs can get tiresome, but they sure know how to make their live shows fun, as evidenced by a wild rendition of Fight For Your Right (To Party) complete with a bass player pulled out from the crowd.

One of my few complaints was how hot the venue was. The Astor is a gorgeous place for a gig, but it needs better air-con or ventilation for such hot summer nights. Still, it was great to see the band handing out bottles of water multiple times during the show.

Deerhoof – The Bakery

Greg and Satomi being awesome

Firstly, let me say I like what they’ve done with the Bakery (granted the changes were made a while ago now). The inside is set up much better for watching the bands and the outside is now actually a nice place to sit (thankfully without it looking too trendy – it is still a bunch of modified sea containers after all).

Again I only caught the last support act, namely local band SMRTS. I had reservations about them but was pleasantly surprised. It’s not easy to keep instrumental rock music interesting for a full set, but they get much closer to achieving it than most.

Chances are the members of Deerhoof could manage it too – that’s how good they are on their instruments. Drummer, Greg Saunier, is especially difficult to take your eyes off due to his impossibly high energy levels and the way he pulls off countless bizarre, unpredictable and impressive beats using one of the most minimalist kits around. In fact, all the band members are skilled in ways that aren’t obvious from listening to the records.

But lucky for us they aren’t instrumental. They also have Satomi, their tiny Japanese vocalist and bass player, whose sweet voice provides a perfect counterpoint to the cacophony around her while she throws shapes in a way that can only be described with words like “cute” and “adorable” (despite her being a full grown woman, and the fact that  if any other musician tried it they’d probably look like an idiot).

Despite the omission of my favourite Deerhoof song (+81 from Friend Opportunity), it was also a great set list that should have satisfied fans of the new and old. 

Dresden Dolls – Fremantle Esplanade “Ninja Gig”

I found out about this through a friend (thanks Chris!) and ventured out into the sweltering Saturday afternoon heat. The band had thankfully found a nice shady spot in the park to perform, and a ferris wheel provided a great backdrop (though the music it was pumping out threatened to drown out the performers a couple of times).

Amanda appeared without her signature instrument (keyboard/piano) but the duo managed to provide the 100+ people who gathered with great entertainment using just their voices, a guitar and a ukulele. It wasn’t exactly a polished set, but that’s hardly the point of an impromptu show such as this. It was a great opportunity to hear a few original gems that weren’t played at the Astor show (eg. Map of Tasmania, Good Day, Sing) and to feel like we were just hanging out with the band.

Sons and Daughters – The Bakery

Sons and Daughters. *Insert joke about the Australian TV show of the same name here*

Autumn Isles played a very solid set of pop-tunes but they were outshined by the high energy of Sonpsilo Circus. Plus Sonpsilo’s drummer fell off the back off the stage and disappeared behind the curtain (it looked like he was okay afterwards though) so their set was always going to be a bit more memorable.

But of course the night should have been all about Sons and Daughters. The band released one of my favourite albums of the noughties (2005’s The Repulsion Box) but their follow-up (2008’s This Gift) did away with a lot of what made that album special – meaning I thought it was overproduced and too poppy. I had little idea of what to expect from their live show, but I was hoping for a loud, hyperactive set featuring plenty of their old songs.

Unfortunately the reality was very different. The band looked tired and a bit sick. To be fair, it’s because they actually were. The band was terribly jet-lagged after jumping straight off the plane from Scotland and playing four nights in a row all across Australia, and they were obviously not dealing well with the Perth summer heat (like the Astor, the Bakery could do with improved ventilation). The crowd was also embarrassingly small, which seemed to bother them although they tried hard to put on a brave face. Lead singer, Adele Bethel, was the most affected and though we later found out she was feeling genuinely unwell, it was disappointing to hear her giving a lacklustre vocal performance.

The small crowd made for some very awkward moments – most of all at the end of the set when we wanted an encore, it was kind of expected that there would be an encore, but there just didn’t seem to be enough people to generate enough noise to invite them back on stage. After an uncomfortable silence that seemed to last an eternity, a pretty decent call for an encore was conjured up and the band returned for Dance Me In from Repulsion Box.

The few tracks from that album were the highlights of the set for myself and many others (judging by the crowd reaction) but the Mirror Mirror songs (their most recent album) also sounded great. In the end it was a decent show and (without trying to guilt trip anyone) the band deserved far more punters than the handful that showed up.

So the musical marathon finished on a slight anti-climax but I had a great time over all. I think I could get used to this. Hopefully next time it will be Radiohead, The Flaming Lips and The Eels!

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