Gig Review: Big Scary @ The Toff, 21st August

Last night, Melbourne’s own Big Scary played a deeply atmospheric and moving set at The Toff that fell well short of its potential but was nevertheless at times an enthralling experience.

I missed the opening act, arriving at The Toff just in time for the start of Big Scary. This show had been billed as a sit down show, which was definitely a first for me, however in reality more than half of the crowd ended up standing towards the back of the room, while everyone else sat in a range of chairs towards the front of the venue.

It was a very odd set up. Presumably it was done in order to give the band room to breathe, without the gathering of people right at the front of the stage. It made for a very unusual atmosphere however, and certainly gave some indication of the very chilled set that was to come.

Tom and Jo walked onto the stage, and broke into the sublime Winter, setting the mood straight away. The band are currently halfway through their Four Seasons project, which will see them release one EP for each season. This show was the ‘Winter EP’ launch, and it definitely showed in the music the duo opted to play.

I’m more familiar with Big Scary’s earlier songs, to the point where I didn’t recognise much of the first half of their hour long set. It was a strange half hour as well. For me the allure of Big Scary, who are probably my favourite Victorian band, is the contrast between their garage-y rock music and their chilled folk music.

I’ve always appreciated and admired the way they are able to balance these two sides to their music perfectly for their live shows, however for this set the band had obviously decided to only present one side of their music: the folk, keyboard-driven side.

This is fine of course, because it’s a great side to them, but it still felt like the band weren’t doing themselves credit with limiting themselves in this way. They don’t exactly have an extensive backcatalogue, and when Tom said “This will probably be the last time we play a lot of these songs”, to be honest, I could see why.

The instrumental piece At The Mercy Of The Elements made a welcome appearance and worked very well live. For me it was very strange though- this was a gig driven almost entirely by atmosphere, but yet the audience were constantly talking loudly over the music coming from the stage.

I could imagine this being a magical gig if the crowd had been completely respectful of the musicians on stage, but with the constant backing of voices the icy music lost a lot of its charm. Equally however I can’t really blame people in the crowd for talking, because there were times during this set where the music became a bit too monotonous.

Having seen the duo absolutely rock out opening for British India and playing as part of Big British Sound, it was weird to see them so restrained. It was weird not to see Jo bouncing up and down on her drumkit, pushing sweaty hair out of her eyes.

Thankfully, Big Scary saved the best for last. They closed with the wonderful duo of Autumn and Falling Away, two of my favourite songs of theirs. Autumn was simply blissful live, and the reverence it caused in the crowd was what had been missing the whole night.

Falling Away, which saw the end of the main set, was the highlight of the show by a long way. I don’t want to be overly melodramatic and say it’s my favourite ever song, but it’s definitely right up there, and ever since I first heard Big Scary it has been in very high rotation indeed. Live it is even more spectacular, transcending some of the more mediocre moments of the set to create an absolutely magical atmosphere.

“Every time I look at you I hope it’s your arms that I fall into.”

The band returned to the stage for a one song encore, featuring dual acoustic guitars, but there wasn’t much to write home about here, and they probably would have been better served by finishing with Falling Away.

As I left The Toff I wasn’t quite sure what to think. On the one hand you can’t really complain about a $15 gig, because we certainly got our money’s worth. And I actually really did enjoy most of the set. However ultimately I just constantly had the feeling that this show wasn’t all it could have been, and that Big Scary weren’t doing themselves justice. Maybe I’m just not suited to a sit down show.

Tom’s voice was of course absolutely stunning, and Jo was of course as cool and awesome as ever, but there was something missing from this set: that X Factor that Big Scary have had when I’ve seen them live before. To make this set really work would have taken an extensive backcatalogue of quieter songs, as well as an almost religious-like reverence from the crowd, and I just don’t think they are quite there yet.

I feel like I should have prefaced every statement in this review with “I really love Big Scary, but…”. I probably had unrealistic expectations of a sit down show called ‘Winter EP Launch’, but I feel I could have really got on board with the idea if there had been less monotone songs and therefore less chatter amongst the crowd.

I enjoyed most of this set, and Big Scary are still my favourite Victorian band. This show just didn’t demonstrate fully what the duo are capable of.

2 Responses to “Gig Review: Big Scary @ The Toff, 21st August”

  1. Hey Lachy, fyi, the encore is a modern day music stuff up. A band should NEVER save their best track for a planned encore. If the crowd thinks you were so amazing that you deserve an encore, then a b-side or new track is perfect for this. So I’m glad they didn’t save Falling Away. I hate going to a gig with these bullshit expected encore, which invariably is as long as the main set.

    • Yeah I agree, I like how Justin Vernon described the encore: “It’s such bullshit, everyone knows exactly what’s going on, but you all just play along anyway”. I wasn’t implying that they should have saved Falling Away for the encore, but rather that they shouldn’t have done an encore at all and finished with their main set.

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