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Gig Review: The Aussie BBQ Showcase

Last night the ‘Stage Mothers’, two Melbournian music fans, put on a showcase of up and coming Aussie indie acts at the Corner Hotel.

It was the first time the two had put on one of their shows, known as South By Southwest, in Australia. The Stage Mothers’ main game is taking Aussie bands and touring them in the States in a series of minifestivals, giving these smaller bands huge international exposure and touring experience that they would otherwise never get so early in their careers.

Past beneficiaries of these showcases include The Temper Trap and Yves Klein Blue, both of whom now have a dedicated international fan base. This show at the Corner acted as a kind of fundraiser for the upcoming shows in America, so it was a rare opportunity to see a who’s who of Melbourne indie bands all at the one gig.

Opening the gig were Pets With Pets followed by Summer Cats. I’ve heard music from both of them before, but neither of them were inspiring enough to persuade me to arrive on time, so we entered the Corner Hotel at about 8.30pm, ready for a night of great music.

I was incredibly excited to see Paul Dempsey listed on the playing times schedule in the venue. Paul, the frontman of Something For Kate who recently released his first solo album, is one of my favourite Australian singer/songwriters at the moment. He also previously toured with the Stage Mothers in the States, and rumours around the internet before the show pointed to him making a guest appearance at this show, despite not being listed as an act. He previously played two headline gigs at the Corner, both of which sold out with tickets selling for nearly $50, so seeing a set from him here for $15 was an absolute honour.

The Corner Hotel was set up like I’ve never seen it before. I had no idea that it was capable of housing two stages, but that’s exactly how it was set up, so as to allow the gig to alternate between stages and therefore lessen breaks between acts. It would work perfectly across the night, with virtually no time at all when a band was not performing. It also meant that we arrived just as a band was finishing on one stage and Paul Dempsey was about to come on the other stage, allowing us to get literally front row positions on Paul’s stage.

Sure enough, no sooner had the earlier band finished than Paul Dempsey arrived on our stage. I saw him previously at Homebake where he was impressive despite being plagued by sound problems. There he had been accompanied by a full band, however he took to the stage alone at the Aussie BBQ Showcase, armed only with his acoustic guitar.

What followed was a short but sweet set from the master himself. Paul played songs exclusively from his debut solo album ‘Everything Is True’, and pulled them off without a backing band perfectly. Indeed, in the small venue, surrounded by fans of Aussie music, and with just his acoustic guitar, he seemed like a man in his element.

The double hit of Out The Airlock and Ramona Was A Waitress was phenomenal, and I particularly enjoyed the acoustic version of Ramona. Closer Theme From Nice Guy was simply beautiful, with that amazing wordless chorus. I believe his set also included Bats and Fast Friends, both of which were great.

His banter was proficient enough from a very skilled performer (Paul honoured the traditional owners of the guitar he was playing, The Boat People), but his music really did just shine. Once again I would have really liked to hear his magnificent cover of MGMT’s Time To Pretend, but it is probably too much to hope for at anything other than a headline show. His set was of course too short, but there’s also something to be said for that, because it meant that there was absolutely zero filler in Paul’s show.

Paul Dempsey was the perfect guest performer, and seeing him at the Corner, in his element, was a very enjoyable honour, and a wonderful surprise considering that I was perfectly happy going to the showcase for the original lineup.

Next up were the main drawcards of this gig for me (at least before I knew about Paul Dempsey playing), The Boat People. I saw these guys opening for Red Riders and they were truly impressive, so I was eagerly anticipating seeing them again. By this point the crowd in the Corner Hotel was really building up, and having been in the front row for Paul it was only possible to make it to a few rows back from the front at the alternate stage.

In no time at all, the three Boat People appeared on stage. They play such incredibly infectious, happy music, and theirs was a very impressive set that I probably enjoyed even more than their Red Riders opening set. How are these guys not an international act? With two very solid albums under their belts and an impeccable live show, they really deserve to be bigger than they are.

But I’m not complaining if it means I can see more sets like this one. Songs from their second release, ‘Chandeliers’, were the most recognisable to me: Awkward Orchid Orchard was as fun as ever, and the band seemed genuinely appreciative to be at this showcase.

Their set included a few newer songs from their upcoming album (“We have been spending way too much time in the studio”), but notably no Echo Stick Guitars, their newest single. When they said that they had one song left I figured that it was probably a toss up between this and Light Of Love (You Got A…). Personally I was thrilled that they opted for the latter- it is my favourite song of theirs and just works so perfectly live. “We might see each other just this once tonight and never meet or hear news of the others’ life…”. That energetic keyboard is just perfect as well.

They departed the stage to loud applause, and their performance cemented their position of one of my favourite live Melbourne bands. I can tell that I’ll definitely be seeing much more of them than just that night.

Next up was Oh Mercy. I had seen them live twice before but was fairly undecided as to their live performance, being at times underwhelmed and at other times quite impressed. However they were very tight at Laneway Festival, so I was more than willing to give them another go at the showcase.

They left me still fairly undecided however. They certainly don’t have the most impressive stage presence, but perhaps I was hindered by the fact that I don’t know much of their studio stuff. Regardless I certainly enjoyed their set, even if it was mostly from the bar.

The Crayon Fields were next to take to stage. Having existed for around five years they were definitely one of the more established acts on the bill, but that’s what the South By Southwest shows are all about: giving international exposure to bands that would not be able to get it by themselves.

I really like their recorded stuff but I was fairly tired by this point and was more than happy to retire to the steps at the back of the room for a bit of a rest. I thought their songs kind of blurred into one another, but they were quite enjoyable. Just like Oh Mercy I thought they were good but not great.

Final act of the night was the one and only Wagons. They have been around for more than ten years but have never really received the attention they deserve, for they play a fairly unique blend of old-timey music and more modern pop. We managed to secure a spot right at the front again, and we were in for a real treat.

The band were absolutely brilliant, with amazing stage energy and surprisingly infectious songs. Goodtown was the definite highlight of their set, “Have you heard about, heard about goodtown? Everybody’s happy and you never see a frown, there in goodtown”. Their cover of Elvis Presley’s Never Been To Spain was also great.

The bassist and drummer swapped roles masterfully, and they really were a cohesive unit as they ripped through some of their more country numbers. They were fun, clever, and just plain entertaining. They were the perfect end to a great night.

The Aussie BBQ Showcase was a resounding success. The Corner Hotel was the perfect venue, the crowd was sizeable and friendly (especially the one girl who keep on grabbing me  by the neck and telling me to “rock out” during Wagons). The bands were on the whole very impressive.

Paul Dempsey was definitely my highlight, but I also absolutely loved The Boat People and Wagons. It was a night of phenomenal value when you consider that the price of a ticket was only $15. The event was well organised, and thoroughly enjoyable. Best of luck to all the bands travelling overseas!

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