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harpoons review: melbourne music week

Image courtesy of the Harpoons

Image courtesy of the Harpoons

After Pony shut I vowed I would never step foot in that building again. I broke that vow last week to see Pronto play a cracking midnight set, and then again tonight for The Harpoons Melbourne Music Week jaunt. I am pleased to say that the choice to resist stubbornness based on nought but misplaced nostalgia has been greatly rewarded.

The night started with chilled out punters sitting round on the floor, which was an indication of what the crowd had come here to experience- seemingly, a whole lot of relaxation. As I watched the opener’s Monnone Alone’s set- a thoroughly wholesome six piece- I was wondering where people like these bright young things appear from? It felt as though they possibly sprung up through the forest floor like new mushrooms, hitched a ride to the big city to sleep in a pillow fort and eat delicious cereal while learning all their songs, just for you. So you’d feel special. If the keyboardist hadn’t been wearing a Gun Club t-shirt I’d swear this was the truth.Their big sound reverb, layered melodies and sweet harmonies worked well with the unassuming vibe of the whole band, and although this sort of folk has become rather twee and overdone of late, these guys played with such genuine humility they pulled it off well.

Open Swimmer didn’t manage to hit the same mark. The wholesome vibe of Monnone Alone as an act, combined with their forlorn love-lost lyrics made sense- the shoe fit, as they say. Open Swimmer had a disconnect, as the singer wasn’t bringing the right energy to the stage. His tense attitude, especially toward the sound guy made the saccharine sweetness of the love songs seem false or contrary. The music wasn’t bad, but perhaps it was a case of curating too close to home, as the structure of the sound came across as simplistic after the multi-layered previous set. They played one absolute thumper with a kicking bass line that featured two sax breaks and it made me wonder where that energy had been for the rest of the songs- it pointed to the vibrancy the band was capable of, departing from the well worn folksy love song tropes many bands of this ilk rest upon. More sax, more bass!

This brings us of course to the inimitable Harpoons. Bec Rigby could sing with a mouth full of marbles into a bucket over an ancient transistor radio and I bet it would still sound incredible. Seriously, she is in possession of one of those rare voices that stands the hair on the back of your neck and gives you shivers you can’t control. The timbre of her voice is delicate but powerful, giving her an air of fragility and strength. Listening to her is pure pleasure, and I don’t think it’s a stretch to say she holds her own vocally next to any of the great soul singers from past or present. The Harpoons sound follows through to the lyrics with themes of heartbreak, loss and woe dominating. When Rigby pulls out all the stops the feeling is intense- almost painful. They are one of those bands where all the couples wanna hold hands and make out and everybody single feels the pang of their aloneness. Even still, the feeling is never one of darkness, and the lightness of the instrumentation keeps the feeling buoyant.  Besides, as if to counteract any possible sadness, they ended the set with the fun and rollicking marimba jam/sing along, which involved much crowd participation and a sneaky horns section which emerged from the dark back of the room. It didn’t matter that nobody really knew how to play the marimbas- the occasionally off key clang seemed somehow celebratory and the room felt packed with good feeling. Apparently this was the first time they’ve had crowd participation, and I think it worked. It needs some fine tuning- it stretched probably a little too long, and at times was slightly too disjointed as the instructions of how to play the marimba interrupted the flow of the songs- but this is something that could develop really beautifully.

I didn’t stick around for the djs, but I’m sure the good vibes were stretched on well into the morning. If Boney keeps up this excellent programming, they may just well win me back yet.

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