If you’ve talked to a woolly mammoth recently, you know it has a thing or two to say about awakening from the dead.
As does the Fortitude Valley venue of the same name, where the art of live music has experienced a similar resurrection after lying dormant in the cultural glacier that is covid-19.
(I’m going to shout a little louder for those of you buried beneath mounds of snowdrift: LIVE MUSIC IS A THING AGAIN. GIGS AND DANCING AND MOSHING ARE ALL ALLOWED; so you can quit complaining that there’s nothing happening anymore.) Brisbane’s Woolly Mammoth Mane Stage has become one of the city’s prime venues for unearthing local talent -- of which there is an abundance, scouted and arranged in lineups like musical floristry by the canny Karen of MMK Music Promotions.
This Friday (Feb 26th), there’s an absolute doozy waiting for those who dare to crawl forth from the permafrost.
You might have heard of these bands from any other decade. If you were anything like me and spent your angstier years stripping down to the sounds of vintage glam rock, donning band shirts in hopes you’ll hear echoes from Empire Pool and the crackling static of illegal pirate radio, and taking the truth of the boomers’ classic “they don’t make music like they used to” as gospel, then have no fear: this lineup is worthy of anything you’ll hear coming out of Wembley.
Let’s start with the headliners, Street Pieces. Their musical CV is impressive, having collaborated and/or toured with the likes of Magoo (Regurgitator), Jeff Lovejoy (Powderfinger), Wolfmother, Shihad (NZ), The BellRays (USA), and Richie Ramone since forming in 2013.
The result is -- to put it simply -- pure ear sex. Lead singer Ben Tilney’s knockout vocals, like Jeff Buckley reincarnating into his body to personally retrieve your jaw from the sticky bar floor, melt into sync with Alex’s gnarly guitar riffs and Jon’s bombastic bass, and spiral up the quivering spine that is Marcus’ drumming to deliver a sound like a lover sticking their tongue in your aural canal.
As of today (Feb 24th), the band’s new EP Warcry has been unleashed into the public domain, recorded with Govinda Doyle of Dead Letter Circus and embodying “primal, unifying themes of intimacy, violence, and self-destruction,” in Tilney’s words.
Boasting fresh tunes like Bonnie and Clyde, “about outlaws and shooting guns and being sexy and shit; how the dude loved the girl’s violent side,” Sugar Soul, “187% about sex,” and How Lonely a Love Could Be, “is about being with a self-destructive person and how lonely the other person can become. Really fucking sad to be honest. But I love it,” Street Pieces is bound to deliver all your leopard print-tinted fantasies come Friday night.
Following hot on their heels is Nick Tart Band, fronted by the legend of the same name who cut his vocal cords touring the UK with Diamond Head, Megadeth, Metallica, and more. What emerges from their depths is like a pitch-perfect shattering of glass; a truly awe- and shiver-inducing experience.
Being a Brit (and therefore a cheeky sod by default), when Tart emigrated to Brisbane he surrounded himself with band members who could match him in both humour and talent.
Mark Saran, NTB’s first catch, went pro on the drums at 14 years-old -- “[Drumming] comes naturally to me, from my soul...it’s something I have to do; there isn’t a choice in the matter. I breathe, I eat, I play drums” -- and provides power and energy (“the right backbone”) to the band; not to mention a touch of irony. When recording this interview, Saran commented on Tart’s location on the darkening rooftop of his apartment block and asked if he’d forgotten to pay his power bill.
Jay Kleinschmidt came next, following a period of playing bass around Brisbane for nearly ten years and, at one point, disappearing into mainland Indonesia’s extreme metal scene, which included performing at a high school -- “They had to hide us out back because they thought the police were gonna bust in,” he says. His assets to the group, besides undeniable and eclectic musicality, are youthful onstage antics; “I can do a good high kick without having to realign my hips.”
Finally, there’s George Walton, whose debut gig involved opening for Eric Clapton during the King of Swaziland’s birthday party at the age of 19. Two decades later, he and Tart got talking at a JB Hi-Fi where Walton used to work, and promptly deemed Tart “a bit loony” after mentioning his association with Diamond Head. A speedy YouTube search and text interaction later, he became the final jewel in NTB’s crown.
What you see is what you get with this band: authentic, melodic blues blended with rock showmanship; a good stab at showcasing “that one song that’ll still be around when we’re dead and gone” -- a magnum opus Tart claims he’s still searching for.
“I write what I feel and what comes out. I don’t want to write lyrics and sound like a rambling parrot in a cage, all political and that. [We try to create] light and shade in our songs; don’t wanna go balls-to-the-wall like a bunch of 20 year-olds,” Tart says.
“The operative word is honesty,” says Walton. “If you play that live, people can hear it and feel it.”
Trailing behind NTB like an ethereal echo is Ella Vice, a female-fronted stoner rock powerhouse with more than a decent pinch of Nordic influence.
They’re further examples of musicians who pivoted hardcore at the onset of covid-19, experiencing their “most prolific songwriting period since the band formed.” Incessantly firing music at one another, seizing opportunities to catch live streams of bands performing in their lounge rooms, and making time to “just jam”, Ella Vice produced four full songs during covid time, two of which are now part of their regular lineup.
“Life stopped and we had time,” says Robbie Burns, guitarist. “First time I can remember having a rehearsal station set up in my house. [Every day] I picked up the guitar; actually practised for a change.
“We’re best mates as well as band mates...we persevere together,” he says.
Roxanne Jeynes, lead singer, wrote lyrics and narratives for each song in the new EP -- the title of which is under wraps for now, and alludes to the band members’ love of Nordic mythology, Jeynes’ Swedish heritage, and their “female strength/high priestess/sorceress approach” to creating music.
Listeners can expect radio favourites like Motor Running, which came in at #37 in 4ZZZ’s Hottest 100 of 2019, amidst “epic stoner songs” like Breathe Again and Liquid, clocking in at around six-to-seven minutes, with monstrous interludes, big riffs, and soaring vocals.
The final band in the lineup is The New Calm, who formed in 2017 and have been described as “groove grunge; like a cross between Karnivool and Tool.” They’ll open the night of the 26th Feb with some new tunes they’ve been chipping away at during the pandemic -- “alt-rock with a melodic atmosphere and splash of prog,” says Gary Summers, singer and guitarist.
What struck me most during my conversations with these musicians was their undeniable display of time-honoured rock sound -- minus the swagger. What’s survived alongside the classic hits of decades past are tales of debauchery, arrogance, conflict, and ego; characteristics that don’t register in the slightest here.
What transpires instead is facetious, heartfelt chemistry, both onstage and off; the earnest desire to keep calm and create amidst uncertainty, and see their fellow band members thrive.
The stars of this lineup go hell-for-leather with humility -- truly relishing the privilege of performing live music while the world is in lockdown, and watching the worries of their audience thaw and melt away.
Pretty sure that’s worth brushing the sleet off your shoulders and grabbing your ticket to Woolly Mammoth on Feb 26th -- you don’t wanna miss these high kicks.
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Written by Lauren Crabbe Synaesthete Media