High Highs, The Toff In Town – 30/1/13

Written by Fletcher Diamantis on February 3, 2013

According to High Highs’ last Fb profile, their major influence is ‘silence’. Judging by their live performance, I wouldn’t disagree.

“This is our first show as a band in Australia,” the frontman of High Highs, Jack Milas, explained halfway through his set at The Toff in Town. This may not seem so odd when you read that the band are based in Brooklyn, yet upon further investigation it becomes apparent that they are in fact Brisbane-born boys, who left sunny Brisbane to pursue music in a new environment.

The band are out here for Laneway Festival on the back of their debut record, Our Open Season. Brooklyn is a popular place for music at the moment. Grizzly Bear call it their home as well as Clap Your Hands, Say Yeah! and Dirty Projectors. The angelic synth-pop tones of High Highs comfortably catch the ear of any triple-j listener in a similar manner to Youth Lagoon or perhaps the xx’s new record.

City Calm Down opened the evening, for me, and pulled off a solid performance with their set containing material mostly from their two EPs. There was a clear crowd reaction for their triple j-approved single Pleasure and Consequence, as people stopped sipping beers for about three minutes. The album’s on the way, and the band are tracking it this year; keep an eye out, it’s gonna be a powerful release.

High Highs graced the stage at about 10:20, a little later than scheduled. Opening with album track Milan, it was clear where the set was going to go. High Highs don’t really jam in their sets, rather they stick to what they know, and they more or less played their album when I caught them. I don’t know whether that disappointed me or made me more content – what I do know is that despite the size of the venue, at times it felt as though High Highs were disconnected from their audience. Sonically it shouldn’t feel this way. Their songs are warm, and they wrap around you like a blanket that draws you closer and closer into itself.

The mix, at times, was a little unbalanced – vocals felt a little too loud in parts, and in others guitars were nearly inaudible. However, when the vocalists and the instrumentation were synergised, the band had an ethereal presence, which was both confronting and comforting.

Some of the songs blended into one another, which is probably more a criticism of the album than of the live performance, but it felt as though a lot of the crowd weren’t really sure whereabouts they were in the set. That being said, the band is musically beautiful and manage to conjure a presence similar to that of Beach House (albeit slightly less charismatic).

Their cover of Real Hero from the Drive soundtrack was a highlight of the set, and pleasantly surprised this reviewer.

As they closed with the title track, Our Open Season, the audience gave their first strong reaction for the night. Domineering synth lines were the flavour, as they were for the rest of the evening, but the hook was solid and confident.

Confidence. That’s what was lacking in High Highs’ set. It didn’t feel as though I’d seen a band that was of international standard – mainly because it didn’t feel like they thought they were ready.

Give these guys some time and they’ll be up there with the show stoppers in their field. Until then, for a band that I didn’t really have high expectations of when walking into the venue, I had a very enjoyable evening.

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