Gig Review: Red Riders, Northcote Social Club, 28th November

Red Riders are one of the best things Australian music has going for it at the moment. In the leadup to playing at Sydney’s upcoming Homebake festival they have toured around the country to promote their latest album, the excellent ‘Drown In Colour’ (see writeup here).

Upon looking at the playing times for Homebake (see them here), I noticed that there was a clash between Red Rider and one of the other artists I was really looking forward to seeing, Paul Dempsey, so I jumped at the opportunity to see Red Riders headline their own show in Melbourne before deciding which act I headed to at Homebake.

The Northcote Social Club has become one of my favourite venues since seeing The Middle East there earlier this year. It’s the perfect size, has friendly door, security, and bar staff, and generally has great sound. It also has a habit of securing some of the more interesting indie gigs going around, such as this gig of Last Dinosaurs, The Boat People, and Red Riders.

As going to this gig was very much a last-minute idea, I unfortunately missed the first openers Last Dinosaurs, however I had seen them the previous night so I didn’t mind too much (review here), and I have the feeling I’ll be seeing these guys around plenty in the coming year. By the looks of things when I arrived they played to a much bigger crowd than they did the previous night, which is great and nothing less than they deserve.

I settled in to hear the second opening act, The Boat People, who have been touring around the East Coast with Red Riders. The fact that these guys were billed after Last Dinosaurs should have given me a hint as to how good they are, but I was thoroughly surprised to find a band that I would happily pay money to go and see headline their own gig.

The Boat People were promoting the launch of their newest song, Echo Stick Guitars, the first single from their upcoming third album, which is due for release early 2010. The song sounded great performed live, and is the perfect sing-along song, even when you’ve never heard it before. I had no idea what it was about, but I knew I liked it.

For me, the highlights of The Boat People’s set was songs that I would later learn are off their second album, ‘Chandeliers’, which was released last year. Perhaps my favourite song was Awkward Orchid Orchard, a wonderfully quirky and catchy pop song. This in spite of it being quite challenging to sing (try saying “Awkward orchid orchard” quickly ten times).

Light of Love (You Got A…) was the perfect finish to their set, as lead singers James and Robin sung “We might see each other just this once tonight/and never meet or hear news of each other’s life” over the quiet backing of electric guitar strums, before the song exploded into a instantly dance-able summer pop tune.

I can’t speak highly enough of The Boat People. They blew me away, and seem to really have the whole package: energy on stage, an infectious live sound, charisma and crowd interaction, and a brilliant and unique pop sound. I loved their songs that mixed acoustic and electric guitars, and I would be hard-pressed to name one song of their set that I didn’t enjoy.

For the first time in a long time, I remember thinking after The Boat People left the stage that the opening act will be hard to top. Enter Red Riders.

Instantly, I knew there was a reason that I had been looking forward to seeing these guys live for so long. They just had something about them: they seemed completely and utterly content to just be on stage, in front of a packed crowd, playing their songs. In the same way as many of their songs have a happy-go-lucky optimism to them, they seemed completely carefree live, which translated into a great performance.

But it isn’t fair to categorise them as optimistic pop music-makers anymore- some of their newer songs display a much deeper level to their songwriting, and it was interesting to hear this contrast between happy summer pop songs and darker lyrics throughout the night. Just like The Boat People, Red Riders recognised that a good gig is about so much more than good music, and interacted with the crowd throughout the night. It really seemed as if the audience and the performers were equal, and granted each other the same levels of mutual respect.

Predictably, for me the highlight of their set was Ordinary. I am absolutely in love with this song, and have been for a good time now. That surf guitar hook just never gets old. Thankfully, the song was not disappointing when played live, and immediately made me think of trouble-free summers spent doing nothing more than ordinary things.

Although I don’t own Red Riders’ first album, I was blown away when the band played the album’s opener C’mon, which has such raw energy that it strikes a hard contrast with some of the pop tunes of ‘Drown In Colour’. C’mon had the whole venue at a fever-pitch, screaming in tune with lead singer Alexander Grigg.

I also enjoyed when bassist Matt asked jokingly “Can we just play the song? I’m sick of this racist diatribe” in response to the band’s detailed discussion of how New Zealanders speak.

Other highlights included You’ve Got A Lot Of Nerve, the first single of ‘Drown In Colour’, which prompted Alex to wonder “Why was I so angry when I wrote this song?”. The Siren Songs, which included Robin of The Boat People joining Red Rider on stage, stood out, as did Feels Like Grace.

Red Riders reappeared after their set was over, telling the crowd humbly “Thanks for wanting more”, before admitting that “We only know one more song though”. As the crowd laughed, Alex added that “We don’t know it well… but that is what you have come to know and expect from us”, before launching into a perfect rendition of the song. Yeah, it’s hard to find a band more likeable than Red Riders.

The only downer of the night was having to walk back to the city from Northcote due to missing the last tram and my mate and I not having enough money on us for a cab. Turns out it’s a fairly epic walk, especially at 1am. But because this meant getting an extra 15 minutes of Red Riders goodness, it was well worth it.

The opening acts weren’t so much a bonus as an integral part of the gig to me.

I bought ‘Chandeliers’ by The Boat People after the show, and have since been thoroughly enjoying it, so expect to hear a lot more about them on Pluck. I feel slightly ashamed that I hadn’t heard of them before this show, but it’s better late than never.

I left the show realising that it hadn’t made my choice between Paul Dempsey and Red Riders at Homebake any easier. Despite having already seen them live, I could easily go another dose of Red Riders. Plus that would mean I get to hear Ordinary live again.

Have I mentioned I really like that song?

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