Two years ago I saw Art of Sleeping play a midday set to an underwhelming crowd at Splendour in the Grass. Their allotted half hour, which peaked with Empty Hands and Above the Water, was decent, but unspectacular. How things have changed.
I arrived at Black Bear Lodge on Friday night just in time to see Sydney indie rockers The Lulu Raes. Now, these guys know they’re not the next big thing. They’re under no delusions whatsoever about their musical ability, and to say that is refreshing is an understatement. Equally as welcome as their self-awareness was their sense of humour. ‘We are The Lulu Raes,’ frontman Eddie proffered matter-of-factly. ‘The Lulu Raes. The Lulu… Raes.’
Having successfully acquainted the growing crowd with their band name, the boys leapt into action. What followed was a set defined by eccentricity, enthusiasm and charming banter, capped off with the infectious The Way Life Runs. Their musical shortcomings are balanced by their visible love for what they do; it’s hard to care about average vocals or broken strings when a band are having as much fun as The Lulu Raes were on Friday night.
Shortcomings, however, are not something Art of Sleeping have time for. By the time they took the stage, the venue was packed with people eager to hear the mix of old favourites and new material that Art of Sleeping provided. I can’t remember having experienced a band that suited the space quite as well as they suited Black Bear Lodge. Their sound is rich and polished and, in the confines of the Lodge, it was all-consuming.
The only similarities with their Splendour in the Grass appearance were the popularity of Empty Hands and Above the Water and the passion demonstrated by vocalist Caleb Hodges. Otherwise, the two sets were worlds apart, although Hodges did refer to Splendour 2013 mid-set, as a preamble to a tremendous cover of Frank Ocean‘s Lost. What Art of Sleeping do best is what they don’t do; their music hinges on restraint. Crashing cymbals and the unreserved vocal stylings of Hodges create a sound that could easily be loose and frenetic. Instead, it’s measured and tight – almost miraculously so.
The live debut of a handful of new songs and an allusion to an imminent album mean 2015 could be a big year for Art of Sleeping. Stay awake.