This article was written for www.fasterlouder.com.au
In a period when music venues are going through tough times, any sign of longevity for such important sites is something to be celebrated. For this reason, it was surprising to see anything other than a packed crowd at Manning Bar’s 11th Birthday, especially given the line-up was strong and entry was cheap.
Blissful beat-bringers Fishing opened the night, at a time when audience members were few and chatter was prevalent. The duo was missing a Chile-wandering member, so only one figure was hunched over a synth and MacBook. What could’ve been a disaster, given that the present band member admitted before the gig that he’d given very little thought to how he might do the show on his own, was instead an excellent start to the night. The omission of their best known track, OOOO, was a slight shame, but Fishing’s unique talent to consistently coerce infectious melodies out of multiple layers of sounds was certainly on show in their other tunes.
Friends of Fishing, Megastick Fanfare, debuted at Sydney University four years ago, so it was only fitting that they be back to celebrate its birthday. Players of an experimental pop that seems to be quite prevalent these days, their set definitely had its moments, but seemed to be lacking something at the forefront to really draw in the audience. The vocalist clearly has a strong voice, and pumps out more sound than most, but sometimes it felt lacking in substance. While their recordings give enough room for each instrument to breathe, and result in a tight blend of sounds, too often their live performance felt noisy. That being said, there were definite glimpses of quality beneath the surface, especially when the tunes were orchestrated by the synths. Although sometimes a chaotic vibe can be the goal of the band, Megastick Fanfare’s element of disorder felt disappointingly flat.
By the time Guineafowl took to the stage, the audience had grown considerably since the beginning of the night. They’d announced a few days earlier that they too had been born at that very university, when they were still a solo act. Possessing a clean, upbeat sound, their energy was welcomed with great enthusiasm by the crowd, and some members sang along to multiple songs. The desire to uphold this exuberance was clearly conveyed when a gleaming synth intro was interrupted by the frontman, who announced with a smile, ‘It’s too slow. You don’t want to party to a slow song!’ Although the restart interrupted momentum, the speed did feel vital.
Third song In Our Circles was their very first track to be recorded, and even here it still felt like the standout song. It did seem to have a deeper, fuller feel to it than on the recording, which added an extra dimension. Botanist was another highlight, with its clap-happy intro and driving beat greatly appreciated by the crowd. The vocalist’s on-stage presence was excellent through the set, and he clearly felt like developing some off-stage presence as well, shedding his guitar to dance with the audience for a while. Their music was very enjoyable, but one gets the feeling that they’ll need to add something uniquely interesting if they’re going to progress in the industry.
The Holidays began with their album opener Heavy Feathers, which perfectly showcases the cheerful grooves which shape their music. Second track, Moonlight Hours, was met with a louder cheer and really incited the audience into a state of dancing, who also sang along faithfully to the chorus. The song was interestingly ended with a guitar piece that wouldn’t sound out of place in a recording of a 1970’s stadium rock band. The bassist and vocalist were clearly enjoying themselves immensely, with the conga player giving his hands an intense workout. Announcing that it was ‘fucking good to be back at Manning Bar,’ the band then kicked into the undulating bliss that is 6AM. It proved to be one of the highlights of the night, although the audience was overly garrulous after the subsequent cheer, which went some way towards killing the party feel of the night. It did suggest that there were few audience members who were overly entranced by the simple but effective merriment of The Holidays’ tunes.
Indian Summer Anniversary fell short of the standard that had already been set, but 2 Days and Broken Bones were very well-received by the crowd, who were singing along to most choruses by now. Vocalist Simon Jones didn’t seem too confident about how Conga would go down, saying, ‘This is an oldie. I dunno, we like it.’ Afterwards, he commended the folks up the front who were singing along to it, one of their ‘non-singles.’ During an announced ‘party tune,’ which saw more crowd movement than any other song, one audience member was enjoying the strong, all-out jam so much he jumped on stage, danced, inadvertently knocked over a microphone, and tried to crowd-surf on an incredulous pack below. Hey, at least he had the confidence to try. The night was ended with an energetic flight into a Golden Sky, and a birthday greeting to the beloved venue.