Loene Carmen, Gareth Liddiard & Mike Noga – Annandale Hotel – January 18 2007


Gareth Liddiard of the Drones once said that “our audience is just alcoholics and depressants”. Conversely, I missed the first two bands as I was at home drinking and feeling sorry for myself.

The Drones are such a noise-filled and intense band that it is a rare treat to hear their songs laid bare and performed acoustically. The usually frantic front man left behind his manic wailing guitar and trademark howl to reveal a softer, more affable chap. The track ‘I Don’t Ever Want to Change’, which is a most bombastic bruising jolt within the Gala Mill album, was made almost pleasantly hummable. After a couple more pared back songs, including a particularly personal number that was about …”well none of your business”, he was joined on-stage by Mike Noga, the Drones’ drummer, who had also played a solo set of his own. Noga, not entirely sure of his role, surmised he would do what he did in the band ‘just hit things and blow randomly’. To which Liddiard retorted “yeah that’s all you do in the Drones…blow randomly”. The pair come off as very easy going funny buggers, parrying punch lines and scoring points off each other and our city in between the songs. “That’s what you do here in Sydney isn’t it – watch Ratcat and The Sharp?” The light-heartedness is almost necessary to counter-balance the raw starkness of the lyrics, as we are exposed to an even more aptly named version of ‘Shark Fin Blues’ and the sprawling ‘Jezebel’. With the layers of noise and sound peeled back, the ramshackle characters and situations at the centre of the lyrical narratives really come to the fore. The acoustic context is perfect for the folk, both lore and tone, of the murderous convict tale of their album and set closer ‘Sixteen Straws’, which is introduced with:

“You had better shut up and listen carefully to this song, there are a lot of lyrics, it’s the second longest song ever written… after American Pie”

“What is it about?”

“You’ll have to ask Don McLean”.

Thankfully, for every Toni Pearen or Stephanie McIntosh, a performer comes along with both acclaim and integrity in the fields of acting and song-writing. One such performer is Loene Carmen. With a swag of widely praised acting roles, including various Best Actor nominations already to her credit, Carmen has just completed her third solo album. Not surrounded by stylists or Stock, Aitken and Waterman types, she recorded the album with producer Jorden Brebach, who has previously worked with bands of the stature of The Church and You Am I. In her musical career, Carmen has collaborated and toured with numerous well-respected musicians ranging from the Dirty Three‘s Warren Ellis to Simon Day. This ‘one night only’ set was to preview tracks from the upcoming album Rock ‘n’ Roll Tears. Carmen was joined onstage by Mess Hall guitarist Jed Kurzel, the Holy Soul’s Sam Worrad and Paul Dunn of Slow Hand. The diminutive singer dressed in a stylishly demure shimmering silver dress, a garment more befitting a dim smoky basement. And if such a venue were still allowed, it would be one more attuned to her music.

She possesses a voice equal parts sultry and breathy, but also carries the depth and yearning of the best blues vocalists. Imagine Mazzy Starr’s Hope Sandoval after a few too many long nights in the pub. The performance has an almost unhinged charm about it. It was not an entirely well-oiled precise set of polished songs. A few rough edges present reflected the short gestation some of the songs had received, as the album was whacked together in a three-day recording session. The songs sway from urgent to hazy, from the particularly the haunting ‘Nashville High’ to the ramshackle ramble of ‘Don’t Let it Slip Away’. Carmen’s presence was always engaging, ranging from mesmerizing soul siren to aloof folk singer. Carmen delivered her new songs with an almost paternal pride and warmly thanked us, and her band, for the chance to let them be heard. Alas, Rock N Roll Tears won’t be released for a few months, but the songs, have stalked me so closely I may need an AVO against them.


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