Sunday, July 3, 2011

Review: BJ Morriszonkle, Bitch Prefect, New War, Harmony (album launch) at the Tote

The reason the Tote is a Melbourne institution is that it understands the value of risk: that it is precisely the ideas which are not yet fully formed that need a place in which to be developed and nurtured. In other words, if the Tote is precious – and a lot of us clearly think it is – it is surely because it allows nights like this one to happen.

Overall, I’m afraid to say, tonight is a disappointment. Opener BJ Morriszonkle, however, deserves none of the blame. His is without a doubt the zaniest solo act I have ever seen. Weird he may be, but make no mistake: this guy is an accomplished musician. Hunched maniacally over his double decker keyboards and thumping out frenetic rhythms on a lone cymbal by his side and the kick drum at his feet, the strangest sounds emerge: as if from a demented circus in your nightmares. This is precisely the kind of bizarre fare that both needs and deserves a forum like the Tote.

By contrast, Bitch Prefect are utterly bland. Their raw and raucous garage-rock, complete with appropriately abysmal vocals, holds very little interest in 2011. They’re a throwback. And fair play to them. Nothing especially wrong with that. No venue more appropriate. But to my ears it all sounds a little too much like a band doing an impression of a band doing an impression of the Velvet Underground. That might not be a problem if you’re Everett True, but personally I can’t help but think that particular gesture was already getting a bit old in the 90s.

New War have more than a hint of retro about them too. Only, it feels a little more urgent, more relevant somehow. Theirs is an intriguingly bleak yet pulsating dub-inflected and reverb-soaked spin on post-punk. That they pull it all off without a lead guitar is particularly impressive. And it’s a shame that the monitors bugger up just in time to ruin their last number.

Harmony, sadly, are far less impressive. The early signs were promising. A decent couple of recordings on bandcamp and a line-up which has had some eager commentators prematurely crying ‘superband’. But, at tonight’s album launch at least, the live act simply doesn’t work. It’s the concept that’s wrong as much as anything else. Harmony, it turns out, is precisely the wrong word. The band essentially comprises two utterly distinct halves. On the one hand we get a sort of blokey power rock thing from the lead singer and rhythm section. On the other, three girls provide a strangely inappropriate vocal accompaniment on top. Ok, so the sound system doesn’t do the ladies any favours. But even if it hadn’t conspired to obliterate any nuance that might have been otherwise discernible in their peculiar blend of doowop and gospel, I can’t imagine how the overall effect would have been anything other than bipolar.

As with so many nights at the Tote, then, this one is equal parts hit and miss. That is both part of what can make it such a frustrating venue, and a key part of its continued necessity and appeal.

No comments:

Post a Comment