Gig Review: Tunng @ The East Brunswick Club, 22nd February

How many bands perform an optical illusion whilst on stage intended to cause an imaginary sausage to float in your hands, as pre-recorded instructions guide them? I’m guessing not many. But then not many bands feature a keyboardist who also plays literally a collection of house keys suspended in the air in front of him with his feet whilst also playing keyboard. Only band does both of these things: Tunng.

And they played an utterly wonderful set at the East Brunswick Club last night that had the under-capacity but yet very enthusiastic crowd enchanted by the UK ‘folktronica’ outfit.

Up first was Sydney’s Fergus Brown, who played a similarly great set to what was at first a disappointingly small crowd. It was a set full of inoffensive folk/pop love songs, but Fergus Brown pulled them off with such charm that I think it would have been impossible not to enjoy his set.

He walked the line between sincere and tongue-in-cheek perfectly, with the standout of his performance unquestionably being Nerds In Love, a great track that definitely leans more towards the latter. Thankfully the crowd grew significantly as Fergus Brown’s played, to the point where, by the end of his set, he was playing to a room pretty much full of people, albeit with everyone sitting down.

It was actually a pretty cool atmosphere to listen to chilled out music like this, and I greatly enjoyed Fergus’ set. It’s probably a case in point for organisers putting up playing times on venue websites, because a lot of people rocking up at 9pm-ish seemed surprised that the opening act had nearly finished by then. It’s unfortunate that more people didn’t witness the entirety of Fergus’ set, but those who did were treated to a thoroughly enjoyable and charming collection of songs.

The crowd was content to just sit down around the stage in the break between sets, which was a welcome change compared to standing and jostling for a good spot. It was a very chilled out atmosphere, and it will definitely go down as one of the better crowds I have been a part of at The East Brusnwick Club. And, given it was a Tunng show, everyone there clearly had impeccable taste in music.

After about a half hour wait the curtains parted and Tunng’s stage setup was revealed in all its glory. I had never seen anything quite like it. There were three front-microphones, indicating that the band would be sharing lead vocals as in their studio music, but of more interest was the electronic section set up to one side of the stage with all kinds of funky stuff going on, as well as the array of seemingly random everyday objects suspended from a string in front of the keyboard, including house-keys and bells. They would go on to be played by the keyboardist’s bare feet.

Straight away it was evident that this was going to be a unique and special show, and this was only reasserted with the wonderful opening double-hit of Don’t Look Down Or Back and Take. They were both fantastic, and the band had a surprising sense of power to their music, especially when a heavy drumbeat kicked it. They also didn’t take themselves too seriously, routinely playing off their use of electronic elements in the middle of songs by pausing and pointing towards the bucket-hatted electronic maestro sitting towards the back of the stage.

The slightly rearranged live version of Take in particular was wonderful, and provided the first taste of my favourite Tunng album, ‘Good Arrows’. The band have clearly moved on from the departure of once chief songwriter Sam Genders, and have rearranged their older tracks so as to take account of this. They didn’t miss a beat, and the crowd almost instantaneously fell in love with the band.

None moreso than the collection of girls in the front and center who took it upon themselves to take over lead vocals for various tracks. While at first it was cute and added to the experience of the show, it got rather tiresome pretty fast when they routinely drowned out the impeccable voices emanating from the stage.

Tunng played a set mostly consisting of songs from their latest album (and only album recorded without Sam), ‘…And Then We Saw Land’, including the highlights of With Whiskey and October. They constantly pulled out something special for pretty much every song, including a whole array of obscure instruments that I have never seen used in a live setting. The cohesion between the band and the smoothness of the sound they created with such an unusual collection of instruments was staggering.

Whilst the shared lead vocals were at times mesmerising, the show was actually stolen by an instrumental number, By Dusk They Were In The City. Not only did it see Tunng push the confines of music genres even more than they usually do, but it gave guitarist Mike a chance to show off his electric guitar skills whilst wearing a pair of almost Sufjan-esque novelty sunglasses. It was brilliant, and he received a rousing ovation at the end of his solo. It was just further proof of how diverse Tunng’s music can be.

The band’s banter was similarly spot on, especially when Becky joked that “We’re actually staying at the same hotel as that girl that’s blackmailing all of your football players… don’t worry, it’s not me”. They seemed genuinely delighted to be back in Australia, and were very grateful of the warm response they received from the crowd.

Before the final song of the main set a pre-recorded voice echoed out around the venue, instructing everyone on how to perform an optical illusion designed to make you see a sausage float between your fingers. Led by the band, everyone in the venue attempted to trick with varying degrees of success, making for what must have been a hilarious sight. It certainly wasn’t the type of scene you see at your everyday gig, but then this was far from your everyday gig.

That final song turned out to be Hustle, first single and my personal favourite from their latest album. It was fantastic live, and got everyone moving around just a bit more than everything else had done throughout the night.

“And in the dark, I wonder what you see. And we will hustle, hustle, hustle to be free.”

A short and token encore break later and the band were back on stage to perform two older favourites, Woodcat and Bullets. While I did greatly enjoy Woodcat, the highlight of the entire show for me was undoubtedly Bullets, a track I have listened to obsessively for the better part of three years. It was exhilerating to finally hear the song live, even moreso given that the band were impressively adherent to the studio version, abiding by the fact that you shouldn’t mess with perfection.

The only downside of the song was the lamest stage invasion of all time (featuring a couple of the aforementioned girls jumping on stage before immediately being ushered back into the audience by a very unamused security guard), but it paled in significance compared to the sheer awesomeness of Bullets, whose chorus of ‘Na na na’s was sung loudly by every single person in the venue bar none.

It was a wonderful conclusion to a gig that had been full of wonder. It just seemed so special. No other band in the world plays music quite like this, and even if they did, no-one could possibly pull it off with as much charm and grace as Tunng do. It’s not every day that you get to see one of your favourite smaller international bands at a venue as intimate as the East Brunswick Club as a part a crowd as chilled and cool as this, and I loved every minute of it.

Ultimately, the lyrics of Woodcat sum up the show better than I can: simply put, “we all had a lovely time”.

2 Responses to “Gig Review: Tunng @ The East Brunswick Club, 22nd February”

  1. I’m so shattered I missed this gig. :( Will it be 4 years or something until they come back? :(

    • Yeah they were last here in ’08 and probably aren’t big enough to tour internationally constantly, so it might be a while unfortunately. There’s always a chance that an Australian festival will pick them up on the back of their next album though, they did seem to really have a good time and joked about relocating to Melbourne.

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