Melbourne's Have/Hold take to the stage with considerable swagger and immediately captivate a reasonably passive audience in the warm up proceedings. On a bill of post-rock acts, the band's melodic and vocal led alternative rock (and alt fashion styling of the band members) is by far the most straight up offering of the evening. If the crowd were a little too 'beard scratchy' they might not get much of an enthusiastic welcome - given the 'all about the music' ethos of post-rock doctrine. But almost immediately the room was lifted by their performance swagger and anthemic sound. With a healthy reverb led production, their sound was fittingly huge: wide screen guitars and soaring vocals resonating beyond the Oxford Art Factory's rickety walls. This lent their music a mountain-top epic quality - a sound not yet captured by the more immediate production values on their records to date, but one they would be well advised to pursue... bigger venues and radio play await.
Meniscus further ramped up excitement, producing a performance full of powerful spasms, balls out manic moments and head bouncing energy. With a musical palate that extends beyond post-rock into the math-rock picky flourishes of early Foals, and a superb command of rhythmic interplay and drum texture, its amazing hear such a large and complex sound come out of just three members. Daniel Oreskovic's command of guitar effects and delay cycles was something to behold - as were his erratic rock outs and riff-gasms. All of this was set to full stage visual projections from Martin Wong - something I wish any instrumental focused band would do. The whole effect was powerful and the most engaging of the night.
Evolving from the band's past as a more scattergun mix of post-rock and vocal led metal with proggy and doom overtures, the latest mesmeric record Departure Songs by the night's headliners We Lost The Sea, marks something of a refinement of their talents into a finely honed 'classic' post-rock outfit. A reinvention driven by the tragic passing away of former vocalist and close friend Chris Torpy, the record features a soulful sadness, pain and grace, that set it apart from the many bands that draw from the well defined post-rock sonic palate. Over patient, long compositions - even by the generous standards of the genre - that manage to side step the usual genre-tropes, they tell stories of sadness and light. Each draws you in hypnotically such that when a crescendo breaks, it really feels like a powerful release of angst, before descending into a delicate grace with occasional glimmers of optimism and light. Such was the achievement, the show was all about playing the record in full, flanked by VOX Sydney Philharmonia Choir to contribute the choral elements in the most epic of moments.
Following on from the vocal largess of Have/Hold and the energy of Meniscus, the introspective and gently-paced compositions of We Lost The Sea would always have some work to do, to forcefully captivate the attention of the exuberant Saturday night crowd. A common struggle at mixed billing gigs such as these - especially when the headliner plays a more graceful and slower paced fare - its always hard to bring the audience energy actively down and refine it into a trippy focus, but that is just what they did. Although the largest explosions of their music erupted in more of a withheld fashion than the force of the record, they played with soul, drawing you in on their introspective journey and bringing the record to life delightfully - a true celebration of their achievement.