Gig Reviews

Feather Fest, Annandale Hotel – 15th May 2010

Has it been only a year since last year’s Feather Fest? It seems like ages…

With the local prog rock scene growing in leaps and bounds, The Bird’s Robe Collective presented us all with the second edition of Feather Fest, its annual one-day showcase.

Kicking off proceedings with a 1:30pm start were two-piece band The Bznzz. Drummer Alon Ilsar (Darth Vegas, Gauche) and bassist Josh Ahearn (Squat Club, The Bakery) proceeded to deliver the most highly technical set I have ever seen. With a single, thirty minute piece of music (including frequent stops and verbal jousting between the two), the band expressed their personalities through their music. The drumming was laconic, sharp and versatile. The bass playing was relaxed, introverted and humble. The short set left many of the day’s bands watching with their jaws firmly agape.

Sydney post-rockers Solkyri were a late addition to the bill, replacing Mish. It was perhaps a little early in the day to really get into the mood of their slow and melodic passages, however when the band kicked into gear with thumping drums and a wall of sound, it was a pleasing performance. A guest appearance by Holly Harrison (ex-Space Project) was a welcome sight and a sign that the band seem intent on taking their sound to a new level – with further development, they probably will.

International touring fools Godswounds hit stage two next, as a small crowd began to file in. Showcasing a variety of tunes, their enigmatic singer/keyboardist ensured the audience was well entertained. Another band who successfully translated their personality into their music; their interesting use of sounds and willingness to experiment was captivating. Kudos for a worthy stab at the Terminator theme. With a bit more of a stage show, these guys will rock their own headlines one day.

Another last-minute replacement were next on stage one – Nobody Knew They Were Robots (replacing Lumiere). Blasting a heavy prog rock vibe with plenty of screaming and double kicks, the band were appreciated by the eclectic audience and delivered a tight show. Equally fascinating were front man Clay Segelov’s attempts to find his band mates a suitable girlfriend from the attending crowd.

Stage two threw up local instrumental rock trio Buzzard, who played a more classic-rock set, with shades of Iron Maiden, albeit instrumental. Their preference to sit on a groove for minutes on end was pleasing to some, but a tad repetitive for this reviewer.

As the day wore on, the crowd fluctuated, with some early comers departing for evening commitments, whilst the headliner’s crowd arrived early for dinner. Anubis brought their own following, to watch them playing through their seventy minute epic ‘230503’ in full. With so many revivalist bands around, it’s a wonder that no one has revived the traditional classic prog rock band until now. Since I last saw them, Anubis have improved significantly, with the vocals a clear stand out. Hitting all the harmonies, the melodies captured the essence of the band perfectly. The synth and guitar sounds were impressive too – classic prog, but with a modern enough delivery to keep it interesting. The band’s rhythm section were tight, the band as a whole professional and energetic. A few more shows under their belt and they could build a solid fan base if promoted to the right markets.

Stage two then gave us another highlight, in the form of Sydney post-rock band Panzer Queen. It is often a test of a band whether they can sound good even when put on a smaller stage. For a post-rock band, who rely so much on the power of the relevant sound system, it is perhaps an even greater test. Panzer Queen definitely passed. They were loud, but so good that it didn’t matter – and received an appropriately enthusiastic response. As far as Sydney’s post-rock artists goes, between Panzer Queen and sleepmakeswaves, there are none better.

With a decent following in attendance, Melbourne’s Toehider burst onto a Sydney stage for the first time in over six months. Ripping through a set of wailing vocals, melodies like ear candy, crunchy riffs and sweet drumming, the band provided everyone with their just desserts. Ironically, playing a more pop-oriented set to a prog crowd did not diminish the response, as the band displayed enough technical prowess and mastery of 7/8 time to impress the onlooking chop wizards (including Andy from LORD). Whilst their song ‘I Must Say Yes’ includes thirty seven utterances of the word “yes”, when Mike Mills asked if the crowd were enjoying themselves, there were far more responses than that!

Captain Kickarse and the Awesomes approached the second stage like a second home, quickly whipping the crowd up into a dancing flurry of colour and excitement. Mixing new material with that of their last two EPs, the band put in a fun set that pleased their faithful following. While the tracks from their latest EP offer their most accessible and pleasing material, the band continue to mix it up for long time listeners, exciting some and perplexing others with energetic psych-prog excursions.

While Darth Vegas initially took to the main stage in front of a sparse few people, it took only a few seconds of their opening tune for the room to fill up with eager and interested punters. Their mix of jazzy lounge music meets speed metal, usually within the space of a few seconds, was a repeated formula, but one that never got old. After a few aborted attempts at new material, which came off as an in-joke rather than anything solid, the band provided a memorable moment by inviting the onlooking Jay-Katz for a guest vocal performance. Wide-eyed and screaming amongst the punters on the Annandale floor, it was a fantastic juxtaposition with Darth’s masked troupe. When Darth Vegas played their songs, rather than relying on their sound, they were truly awesome. Hopefully one day we will get to hear that long-awaited album in the works.

Nearing the end of the day’s proceedings, while some punters were wilting, others perked up to hear Pirate blasting on stage two. Like Panzer Queen earlier, Pirate didn’t just pass the stage two test, they set the new standard, with a ripping performance leaving other bands in awe. Pirate have played many Bird’s Robe shows to date but continually impress with complex grooves that nevertheless elicit rave responses much in the same way a Captain Kickarse show does. Pirate however have a sound all their own and with alternating features for sax, bass, drums and guitar, they put in a cracker show and the day’s stand out performance.

Finally, headliners Shanghai delivered a wonderfully presented stage performance, full of colour, quirks and their sardonic humour. Whilst they have a definite cousin in the schizophrenic mix of Darth Vegas, their approach to song writing leant more towards the rock side of things. Possibly their best performance to date, the band were energetic, professional and engaging. It has been a long wait for their debut album, due later this year. Let’s hope they translate some of their trademark quirk to the recordings.

After the ‘dale show, I made a hurried exit to get to the Lansdowne Hotel, for the official after party. I arrived back at 12:15am, only to find the previous band still playing… and playing… and playing… finally, when Sicaria took to the stage around 1am, I was suitably worn out. Lucky, their three-piece psychedelic prog rock was angular and energetic enough to keep me awake.

By 2am, when Squawk went on, the audience had faded and only a dedicated few remained to see their excellent heavy math rock. Alternating parts amusing and intense, it was a good gig.

Overall, a lovely day of all kinds of interesting experimental music, amazing value for money and plenty of memorable moments to take home. Recommended further listening? Everyone on this bill, it was that good.

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