ECHOES In Blue released by City Calm Down in April will undoubtedly feature heavily on various “album of 2018” reviews by the time Santa Claus is tuning up the sleigh for his annual pilgrimage.
It’s wrought with brooding melancholy and cinematic drama. Its themes of marital collapse, work stress and cyber dislocation are real. Perhaps, frighteningly so.
The question was whether the Melbourne new-wave revivalists could replicate those feelings of paranoia and tension on stage?
After hearing City Calm Down deliver a 17-song set circumnavigating the best cuts off their albums In A Restless House (2015) and Echoes In Blue, plus Pleasure & Consequence from their 2012 EP Movements, the answer is an emphatic yes.
It was disheartening that the Bar On The Hill was only half full. The Socceroos versus Denmark World Cup match, which was projected on a screen near the venue’s entrance, was partly to blame. So too was the fact City Calm Down have never played Newcastle previously.
Critics often compare City Calm Down’s dark synth-driven indie sound to English post-punk heavyweights Joy Division and Echo & The Bunnymen, and just like Ian Curtis and Ian McCulloch, frontman Jack Bourke possesses a brooding charisma.
Vocally, Bourke was magnificent. His baritone was clear and strong throughout. He carried each lyric with confidence and intensity.
There was no bullshit rock posturing or exaggerated theatrics. No contrived crowd involvement. Every movement was carefully executed to befit the performance.
On the slower moments like Joan, I’m Disappearing Bourke simply stood still as he belted out the soaring chorus. The song spoke for itself.
Perhaps that magnetism even led to one punter yelling out something about Shannon Noll. It was enough to break Bourke’s serious demeanour momentarily and joke to his bandmates with, “Shannon Noll? Is that the bloke who got kicked out of the Crazy Horse?”
If you don’t know the story, Noll was arrested outside Adelaide strip club the Crazy Horse last year and reportedly told security, “I'm Shannon Noll, let me back into the Crazy Horse.”
Bourke was served by an able team behind him, who like their frontman, were men in black.
Bassist Jeremy Sonnenberg was the most energetic member in the band, while Sam Mullaly was buried behind his multiple keyboards to create atmospheric soundscapes.
An extra guitarist, plus a two-man brass section fleshed out the sound, especially on epic renditions of Pride and Kingdom.
The opening tracks Distraction/Losing Sleep and Blood were professional, but lacked feeling slightly, before the band found their stride and several of the slower tracks like Echoes In Blue and If There’s A Light On plodded somewhat.
But the highs reached greater heights. Older tracks Border On Control and Your Fix sounded more powerful live. But nothing came close to the anthemic In This Modern Land, which closed the set.
Part Bruce Springsteen, part Joy Division, it was euphoric and spine-tingling. With the stage awash with orange glow, Bourke’s voice soared in the chorus, backed by a wall of synths and brass.
It even made missing the Socceroos all worthwhile.