Mildlife performed at Phoenix Central Park, Sydney, on Wednesday, 25th October. Billy Burgess reviews.
The reputation of Phoenix Central Park precedes it. Everyone raves about this place. Amid the diffuse confusion of last week’s SXSW Sydney, for instance, the Chippendale art space provided essential wonderment for many out-of-town visitors.
There are only a small number of seats in the venue, which are situated within touching distance of the floor-level performance area. Everyone else stands on the staircase that wraps around the performance space on its way up to the venue’s street-level entrance. There is no bar.
The artist – in this case, Mildlife – performs not from a stage but on the venue floor. Everyone gets a good view of them, even my mum, who’s five-foot-not-much – that is, if you’re not distracted by the venue’s architectural novelties.
Designed by Sydney architects Durbach Block Jaggers, the ceiling looks like the inside of a psychedelic sand dune. The curvy, pine-coloured contours aren’t just for show, though – with the assistance of Marshall Day Acoustics, Phoenix Central Park’s billionaire owners have made sure it sounds bloody spectacular in there.
So, while Mildlife’s drums and amps were mic’d up, we mostly heard the sounds coming from the instruments and amplifiers themselves, rather than the mix through the PA. The Naarm/Melbourne outfit hadn’t played live in a while, they told us, but the four instrumentalists were in the zone from the off.
Mildlife’s stylistic lineage is pretty apparent – their songs are psychedelic and soulful, with shimmers of Kraftwerk and Daft Punk keeping step with a jazz-influenced willingness to ride a groove to the point of spiritual hypnosis.
There were moments of sweet, tasteful and inoffensive psych-disco, as well as funk-influenced guitar runs that recalled the work of Nile Rodgers, who was onstage just down the road at the Enmore. The dual efforts of a Nord and a modular synth generated sci-fi sounds that compounded the 1970s nostalgia alluded to by the band members’ flared suits.
Big vocal hooks aren’t really Mildlife’s forte. The robot voice effects were a playful addition to the sonic mix, but the vocals were the least interesting part of the performance. Everything else was bliss. The whole room moved in a friendly state of transfixion. Harmony prevailed.