The annual Spectrum Now Festival made its way through Sydney throughout the first half of March, livening up the city, predominantly from its flagship location at The Domain. It’s a really cool idea for a festival, with food trucks, bars, a fun area for kids and so much more, making it an all-encompassing experience that appeals to the whole family. The musical lineup was diverse and excellently obscure, and I was particularly excited to catch two acts I’ve loved for a very long time – The Jesus And Mary Chain, and Godspeed You! Black Emperor. On top of the music, which also featured artists including local staples Birds of Tokyo, Something for Kate and Missy Higgins, the festival also boasted a stellar theatrical lineup, most notably including comedy trio Workaholics.
Jesus And Mary Chain – March 5
The Big Top at the Domain is a really gorgeous temporary gig spot, and one that could do well to become a regular staple for Sydney nightlife. The cavernous interior had plenty of room for a large crowd, including an internal bar to the side, and a really large stage, immediately making everything feel that much more dramatic. Particularly with the wonderful acoustics that come along with the tarp, it was a really ideal location for The Jesus and Mary Chain to perform their classic album Psychocandy.
Ahead of JAMC were local electro-indie trio Seekae, who I have absolutely adored for a really, really long time. Fronted by vocalist and percussionist Alex Cameron, it looked strange to see the three-piece spread out on such a massive stage, but that was probably because I’m just more accustomed to witnessing their shows in smaller, sweatier venues. Marred by a delay caused by technical issues, the set unfortunately ran really short – but it was no less sweet, and included many favourite Seekae tracks.
The trio also debuted a melodic new track, noted for Cameron’s falsetto vocals – a hop, skip and a jump away from his typically deep tone, probably most similar to 2013’s Another. Most excitingly, they announced that more new music would be on its way within a couple of months.
Following an intermission, Jesus And Mary Chain arrived on stage to thunderous applause. Many had been waiting years, if not decades to catch the five-piece in the flesh, and it was interesting to see the audience, wildly varied in age, come together for this really special one off show.
As though working hard to dispel their once-held notoriety for being too wasted to perform for long periods of time, the band first launched into an extended “best of set,” before launching into Psychocandy. Opening on April Skies, the tone was immediately set: richly melodic, with an air of darkness, even ominousness at times. Sombre at times, stompy at others, it’s clear that the audience were enjoying themselves.
After a brief moment of crowd interaction, the moment everyone had been waiting for was upon us. it was incredible to be in that audience for those opening moments of Just Like Honey, and from there on in, it was pure magic. The band, who were joined on stage by Molly Rankin of Alvvays on backing vocals, tore through the 40-odd minutes, performing the album back to back in its original sequence.
Time has of course taken its toll on the Reid brothers (Jim and William on vocals and guitar respectively), and while those who wanted a wild and energetic set were likely let down, I doubt that’s why people showed up. It was a really satisfyingly nostalgic performance, from a band who I’ve waited many years to see.
Godspeed You! Black Emperor – March 8
Godspeed You! Black Emperor are beasts. Absolute musical beasts, unique and powerful, equal parts obscure drone and stunningly melodic. It’s been a very long time since they performed in Sydney, and the crowd, albeit some of the weirdest folk you’ll find out and about in the music scene, were visibly excited. Last year, the Canadian band released their fifth studio album Asunder, Sweet and Other Distress. The entire album was performed on the night, peppered between a few other tracks from their catalogue – but of course, a GY!BE live song can go for twenty or more minutes, so it’s not exactly jam packed.
It’s not the kind of band you need to necessarily know all of their songs to see and enjoy, but it is the kind of band where you need to have a real appreciation for ambience, for improvisation, for slow progressions and for incredibly unique, beautiful and intense music. With that in mind, this was a breathtaking performance, both as a long time fan as for its sheer musicianship. The kind of show where you close your eyes and let the music carry you away; the kind of show that has a tangible emotional impact on you, in between the soft and slow progressions, the huge climactic peaks, and back again.
An interesting point to note is how well they filled the gigantic stage – and no, I’m not just talking about their immense backline and pedal boards. Mostly sitting on chairs in a crescent moon shape, facing the audience, it feels as though we were peering in on a late night improvisation session – and that’s largely what it was. I’ve seen the band in an almost identical incarnation about four years ago, at a really tiny venue over in Louisville, Kentucky. The venue must have fitted 200 people at its maximum capacity, and I was so close that I got a really intimate look at the pedal boards and everything else going on in front of me. This stage couldn’t have been more different – vast and distant, the band felt separated from the crowd, united by sound, not physical proximity. And yet, armed by their lush, immensely powerfully music, they filled the two stages – enormous and tiny – equally well, and that’s no easy feat.
This was one of the best live performances I’ve seen in a very, very long time. One that had an affect on more levels than just your average live show, their music is designed to be explorative, to induce contemplation, and at times, to rock you to your very core.