Big Strong Brute + Carry Nation + Scott Spark live @ The Troubadour, 19.08.10
Emaciated, agitated and wearing a Vegemite woolen sweater, Scott Spark was daintily poised at his keyboard belting out his lovelorn pop as I walked into The Troubadour. Over the inattentive crowd’s chatter, it seemed to be typical bedroom pop: a kitschy drum machine and a backing band that unobtrusively augmented the the dainty songs. I found myself liking the overall aural aesthetic of it, but where are the soaring poptastic choruses? As a self-confessed pop-sugar addict, I felt almost cheated by this aversion of a classic pop music facet, a conscious choice of Sparks or not. His set ended to the crowd’s general indifference, which seemed sadly disproportionate to the vigour he had put into his performance.
Follow up band Carry Nation have always been a conundrum for me: there’s a smack load of talent there for sure, but something about the way that talent is packaged seems off. Is it soaring, unaffected precociousness, pure from dirty mediocrity? Or is it mediocrity marketed as pretension? I’m really not sure, but I sit back anyway and let lead songstress Jessie Warren’s mournful folk drift over me, perking up especially when Warren mumbled something about a cover and launched into a heart-wrenching rendition of Womack and Womack’s ‘Teardrops’. While the literate delicacy (with a brush of country twang) of Warren’s own songs has been done before, his beautiful, gentle stage presence and whispering lyrics are conducted with utmost polite honesty. This makes me feel a bit as if the fully-garnished backing band was intruding upon Warren’s own private session with her guitar. Excitement of voyeurism aside, Warren still has to capture that intangible thing that’s going to makes her singularly special in a sea of guitar-straddling wide-eyed girls.
As headliners Big Strong Brute begin to set up, the crowd is roused to attention and begins to assemble around the band’s many members, sporting trumpet and flute among them. I’m sure every self-respecting live music attendee in Brisbane is aware of Big Strong Brute. Seasoned lyrical mourner and emotional articulator Paul Donoughue’s talent is rather astounding: his apparent relish for words, stirring arrangements and effecting voice are executed so deftly as to recall the rousing pomp of Canadian Spencer Krug’s vehicles, notably early Wolf Parade. What’s remarkable about Donoughue’s live shows is that nothing broaches upon overblown: the performance yields perfect symmetry which is quite remarkable for a brand of music which can be lazily lumped as epic, engaging country folk. Donoughue ends it all spectacularly with ‘Industrial Town’, a song which underscores a sad, beautiful irony in the fact that Donoughue writes such stirring American-rooted music with a definite lyrical thread about the town of Brisbane woven all throughout, so different as to what his musical style portends.
Big Strong Brute’s latest EP ‘We Can Sleep Under Trees In The Morning’ is out now