With the debut albums of both bands having occupied top 10 spots in my previous two year-end lists, the double bill of Australian rock acts Dead Letter Circus and Closure In Moscow at the Hi-Fi Bar in Melbourne sure looked like an appetizing gig. What would be unbeknownst to me at the time of entry however was that the third act on the bill – Perth outfit Wolves – would make the evening all the more attractive.
Playing a heavy, yet extremely accessible, brand of alternative rock, the quintet distinguish themselves via electric violin player Rachael Aquilina. And while she undoubtedly adds a satisfying sense of melody to proceedings, it would be foolish to overlook her colleagues, all of whom were accomplished on the night. Frontman Adam Burford has an impressive vocal range which can move from a soft croon to a harsh scream in an instant, while Russell Winter’s guitar-work was sporadically impressive. In fact, if there is one area of improvement to be highlighted, it was that Winter too often looked hesitant to steal the limelight from Aquilina. When they worked in tandem, the results were fantastic… As can be heard on Wolves’ lead single ‘Children’:
Often, the major concern with support acts is that they are going to bore the hell out of the majority of the audience who are there to see the headliners. With Wolves having done exactly the opposite, Closure In Moscow were next to step up and keep the crowd entertained. And of all the adjectives that could be thrown their way on this night, “boring” was not one of them. Emerging with a caped spandex jumpsuit & face paint that looked as if it took 5 seconds to apply, lead vocalist Chris DeCinque sure is one strange cat. With the setlist containing all but 2 songs off their excellent debut LP ‘First Temple’, there was no denying that the quintet had both the tunes and musicianship to pull off a stellar set. Michael Barrett’s melodic guitar lines were especially impressive, although he had the advantage of being able to take off his usual beanie & allow his long hair to block the view of his frontman.
Having a rather notorious reputation for being an inconsistent live act (amongst other things), Closure In Moscow were unfortunately off on this particular night. Maybe it was the fact that they prefer headlining and maybe it was the fact that this was the last night of their supporting run, but a fact is indeed a fact. There seemed a lack of cohesion evident and much of the blame must fall on the undoubtedly charismatic DeCinque. His singing voice was all over the place, his banter ridiculous and he just didn’t seem like he wanted to be there. The most disappointing aspect however was that it could have all been saved with the closing ‘Sweet#hart’, which is undoubtedly their best song. Unfortunately, that was not to be with DeCinque fluffing his lines within the first 30 seconds, before later throwing away his mic in disgust. It was borderline inexcusable, but kudos to his 4 colleagues who continued to play as if their frontman did not exist.
If I had any doubt as to which band should have received top billing at the beginning of the evening, I left the Hi-Fi Bar in absolutely no doubt. To put it simply, Dead Letter Circus blew away my expectations with an outstanding performance of atmospheric alternative rock. The Brisbane quintet were on song from the get-go, with all 5 members undeniably pulling their weight. Out front, the range & strength of Kim Benzie’s vocals pleasantly surprised me, as he put absolutely everything into his performance. The energetic Stewart Hill’s bass-lines were mixed to perfection, Mr. Do-It-All Tom Skerlj moved from guitar to keys to percussion as the track required, while Rob Maric was a picture of concentration laying out his delay drenched guitar work. When these 4 got in the groove, they drew the entire audience in with them, and quite possibly the highlight of the evening was at the beginning of EP track ‘Tremors’ when practically everyone in the building were convoluting their bodies in similar fashion to the compelling rhythms of the song.
Despite the praise I have heaped upon Dead Letter Circus thus far, I am still to mention the MVP of the night; drummer Luke Williams. To say that he bashed the absolute crap out of his instruments would be an understatement, as his work literally boomed out across the venue. Animated, yet oh so precise, Williams was unsurprisingly called into action for a drum solo towards the end of the main set. How he found time to occasionally add backing vocals was astounding in itself, although he did seem to have a comedic running battle with his swivelling mic stand. Such was Williams’ energy reserves tested out, that there appeared to be a wise one-up/one-down nature to the setlist, with almost every 2nd song emphasizing his insistent pounding. Great examples of this were ‘Reaction’ and ‘Disconnect and Apply’, both of which were right up there as early set highlights.
Searching for a flaw in Dead Letter Circus’ armor on the night, the only thing that comes to mind right now is the absence of single ‘Big’ on their setlist. For a band that has only released one album thus far (Benzie mentioned that they were targeting a mid 2012 release date for their follow-up), that is quite an achievement. One cannot help but get the feeling that there are bigger and better things to come for Dead Letter Circus and it won’t be long before the spotlight is well & truly shining on them. And while I can’t transport you to what I witnessed last Wednesday night, I can at least leave you with some live footage of the band, even if it is in the edited format that is the video for their recently released single ‘Reaction’: