Times New Viking @ Tone, Sydney, 25.08.11
By Tom Randall
Times New Viking aren’t here to set your world on fire.
They’re a nugget of gleeful intensity, confidently diving into rivulets, running head-on into currents and being turned upside-down by them. They don’t strive. They don’t look for big hooks. Their songs modestly amble and scamper across pop pastures and kick up whatever sweet dust that they may. The lo-fi thing is a way of eluding the shallow attentions of the self-styled party people. This is about fun; don’t examine it, don’t try to co-opt it for your brand, don’t even fucking look at it too hard, or you’ll break it.
As usual, I regretfully arrive too late to see the openers. This is especially unfortunate as it was recently announced that Tone would be closing in late September (on top of the fact that it was the awesome Bed Wettin Bad Boys). Tone is one of the few clubs in Sydney that is perfectly suited to bands like this: Pitchfork darlings turned cast-offs when the wind changed, released from the Vice-like clutches of mainstream-indie mediocrity back into the fertile, unlit catacombs. Tone is/was just the right size, had a mixed and dynamic lay-out suitable for eating and dancing, a small but thoughtfully-stocked bar, and friendly staff and management. Tone sparkled brilliantly for … was it even a year? It’s unbelievable and totally predictable how quickly Sydney was proved toxic to such a place (there is a much bigger story lurking, of course, which hopefully will eventually be aired).
Jared, Beth and Adam set up their shit, plug in and go. The crowd is a little more loose than the usual American Crew-lathered poseurs that frequent Sydney’s nascent small bar scene in the inner city and eastern suburbs, but people still refuse to dance apart from a bif self-conscious head nodding. The band seems more than a little perturbed by this lack of exuberance. Compared to other shows I’ve been to in the last couple of years, this crowd is positively fucking poppin’.
Interestingly, I noticed a much broader mix of ages than I would have if this show had been up the road on Oxford Street. This is why Tone is/was great. These were its denizens, and while they didn’t really shine in the full splendour and spirit of underground music, it feels mean-spirited to lay blame on the punters when there is almost nowhere to house and cultivate it. Or is it our fault for not wanting it bad enough?
If you know TNV’s albums, then nothing will surprise you musically from their live show. No fucking worries. For all their simplicity, each TNV tune is an internecine skirmish of rollicking thumps, crashes and buzzing. The band face the audience but are engaged in a continuous volley, parry and lunge between themselves.
You may have noticed that I am unsubtly tying the fortunes of this gig to those of Tone itself. As I arrived I overheard mutterings from many corners about what a shame it was that another club venue was closing in Sydney. The band came and played. The crowd watched attentively, on the precipice of joyous and spontaneous engagement. The band looked out over a narrow segment of Sydney’s music-going polis, overdue for a breakthrough, craning its head for a champion to make them feel OK about it all. TNV were looking at a city who couldn’t match their own absence of self-consciousness, who couldn’t live free because of it.
P.S. Times New Viking will be back opening for Marnie Stern on 6 October. They were supposed to be back at Tone. It remains to be seen whether something half as suitable can be found.
P.P.S. there are a bunch of shows going on before Tone shuts its doors at 16 Wentworth Avenue. If you live in Sydney, pick something and go (www.tone.net.au).
P.P.P.S. I was speaking to a friend yesterday about the direction I had taken for this review. She said that it sounded like I was hating on people for not getting rowdy and obviously enjoying themselves. I think there is always room for impassioned observance of live music. I also think a distinction can be made between that and the listless gaze of those who aren’t there for the only legitimate reason there is to be there: the music. Can I whittle it down to a neat definition? No, but I know it when I see it.