Review: The Avalanches’ Falls Festival sideshow at the Melbourne Town Hall, January 3 2017 – Photo: Falls Byron Bay by Nikolai Pajarillo
At the risk of running an overused pun into the ground, when it comes to The Avalanches, the live music scene has been a very different place since they left us.
Having burst into the scene in the late ’90s as a funk and hip-hop outfit, a refreshing change of style saw them release the seminal Since I Left You. The rapturous praise that the album received saw it placed on best-of lists around the world, with its legacy still being felt today.
But soon after, they just sort of… went away. Sure, sporadic live performances occurred and occasional remixes surfaced, but these live performances and DJ sets basically ceased around 2006. Then, last year, after 16 years, the group’s long-awaited, almost mythical second album Wildflower was finally released into the world.
Needless to say, last year’s return performances at Splendour In The Grass and Falls Festival were greatly-anticipated events that crowds couldn’t wait to see, and their eventual return to playing headline shows last night was no exception.
Supported by Grandmaster Flash, the founder of the first hip-hop group to be inducted into the Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame, the night was clearly going to be memorable. One of the most famous DJs of all time, Flash first come to fame with Grandmaster Flash & The Furious Five back in the 1970s. His old school hip-hop style and ability to switch between genres and songs was clearly an early influence for members of The Avalanches.
Flash’s DJ set is a nostalgic trip down memory lane for the crowd, as he brings out plenty of classic disco, rap, and funk hits. From Michael Jackson, to The Bee Gees, to Beyoncé, and then to The Fugees, Flash brought out a solid mix of diverse styles, which somewhat resembled what could be demo of an unreleased Avalanches funk album.
After a half hour of anxious anticipation, The Avalanches’ live band takes to the stage with a rock star reception. As ravenous fans await the opening chords of ‘Because I’m Me’, a humble and softly spoken Tony Di Blasi lightens the mood by joking that it’s their first Melbourne show since the invention of the internet.
Sadly, co-founder and multi-instrumentalist Robbie Chater is nowhere to be seen, with illness forcing him to be replaced by Sydney’s incomparable Jonti. Considering Jonti once led a 17 piece band in the recreation of Since I Left You, it’s safe to say we were in good hands.
With The Avalanches’ live band fronted by vocalists Eliza Wolfgramm & Spank Rock performing the vocal samples, new life is breathed into many of the songs, including ‘Avalanche Rock’, which is no longer an electro-rock song, but now a funk-heavy jam. This new approach manages to make a famously sample-laden album sound completely organic, and as fresh as the day it first graced our ears.
After dropping a relentless version of ‘Frankie Sinatra’, the group extends their repertoire and drops their own take on The Clash’s ‘Guns Of Brixton’ (complete with Eliza Wolfgramm swinging an official Avalanches baseball bat), before revisiting some old favourites by way of ‘Radio’ and ‘A Different Feeling’, which culminates in the bringing out a special guest in the way of Oscar Key Sung for a special performance of ‘Colours’.
Sadly though, by this point, the novelty of the return of The Avalanches feels somewhat stale. Some songs start to feel needlessly extended, and a slightly muddy sound is reflected by a relatively indifferent crowd, who don’t seem to be feeling the vibe as much as they did earlier.
However, almost instantly, any doubts about the performance are instantly remedied as The Avalanches’ Wildflower flag backdrop is pulled down, revealing a video screen complete with their ‘Subways’ video. Within seconds, their performance reaches new heights. Jonti jumps on the second drumkit, and the strobing colours accompanying the frenetic hip-hop sounds brings back the high energy of The Avalanches’ famous DJ sets
The brilliant set continues, with Spank Rock and Eliza Wolfgramm trading bars on an intense cover of Spank Rock’s ‘Bump’, and the chilled out ‘If I Was A Folkstar’, before the distinct samples of ‘Frontier Psychiatrist’ are heard. Opening with a video presentation of Nina Simone’s ‘Don’t Let Me Be Misunderstood’, fans are almost moshing as the beat drops, ecstatic to be witnessing a performance of one of Australia’s most famous songs.
Following a short encore break, we’re treated to a luscious performance of ‘Electricity’, an audio-visual extravaganza by way of ‘The Noisy Eater’ (complete with Di Blasi on kazoo), and finishing up with Oscar Key Sung returning for a goosebumps-inducing presentation of ‘Since I Left You’.
Overall, it was a night of contrasts; the old school DJ stylings of Grandmaster Flash, mixed with the refreshing sounds of The Avalanches whose ability to reinterpret samples from songs gone by with new, exciting methods is well documented. It all came together to be something beautiful. Despite a lull in energy around the halfway point, fans undoubtedly left the venue knowing they had just witnessed something magical.
Housed within the confines of the beautiful Melbourne Town Hall, their return to headline shows on their home turf proves that even years down the line after releasing a masterpiece, The Avalanches still deliver a performance that’s every bit as fresh and timeless as their music.