Locals Them Swoops opened the show with their jangly brand of guitar pop. Wearing their influences on their polka-dotted sleeves, from old Britrock like The Kinks, to modern bands like Ash, Doves and The Cribs, yet despite their ostensibly traditional setup, the youngsters actually sound best when they eschew the traditional verse-chorus formula in favour of longer instrumental interludes. There are strong ideas here, and an adventurous bent that belies the band’s age, that suggest we may be hearing more of Them Swoops over the next year or so.
After a shaky, almost nervous start to their first Australian tour at Groovin’ the Moo in Bendigo, The Maccabees’ growth in confidence over the past two weeks was palpable. Frontman Orlando Weeks’ voice was showing signs of tiredness – its timbre still bleaty and fragile, yet retaining its piercing starkness – but this wasn’t to be a problem, as the band used their full array of techniques to deliver one thrilling moment after another to an adoring crowd.
“Child” kicked off their set, with the perfect balance of restraint and release, the three guitars swelled and reverberated until the song’s climactic outro with its cascading riffs. An already captivated crowd witnessed the band stretching out the outro, extracting every possible fibre of meaning out of the spaces between notes. The plaintive refrain, “now it’s all that’s left” leaving things teetering with ambiguity before the song floated up and into the ether to rapturous applause.
The Maccabees’ unique brand of Britrock plays with dynamics like few other guitar-pop groups, as comfortable stretching out rests and pauses in their songwriting as belting out huge riffs. Their three-pronged guitar attack allows for a wonderful array of textures, Weeks’ guitar occasionally little more than an airy presence way back in the mix. This expansiveness of sound is virtually impossible to convey on any record, but rather than being lost in the open Bendigo air, this time around it was the band themselves who fully occupied every inch of the HiFi Bar.
A softly spoken group of lads at the best of times, The Maccabees weren’t about to use their new-found confidence to bore the crowd with small talk; indeed, whenever Weeks deigned to speak to his audience, more often than not his coos of gratitude were overtaken by applause. Their true personalities however, remain as enigmatic as ever, as “Feel to Follow” and solemn groover “No Kind Words” followed in quick succession.
Melbourne was also treated with cuts off the band’s first album Colour It In, for the first time. Namely “First Love,” “Lego” and later, “Precious Time.” Based on the crowd response alone, it’s fair to say that many fans had been waiting years to see The Maccabees in this kind of setting, determined to make it as memorable as possible. As the set wore on, the band relaxed even further and even began to show visible signs of gratitude, as guitarists Hugo and Felix White put on a Darkness-level show of guitar mastery for the adoring crowd, notably during the captivating outro to “Lego.”
Other highlights included the euphoric “Went Away” and “Forever I’ve Known”, but it was lead single “Pelican”’s three-part vocal harmonies that rewarded their restraint with one of the band’s more bouncy major-key moments.
The encore’s first song, the brooding “Go” was the dark horse of the evening with its electronic beat and heavy synth sounds.When all three guitars finally coalesced to belt out some meaty power chords, the sense of tension released felt like air rushing back into your lungs after an ambitious dive to the bottom of the pool. The band proudly announced that it had been the first time they had ever performed the song live, and it definitely won’t be the last.
The bombastic “Precious Time” and angelic “Grew Up At Midnight,” with it’s comparatively straight-forward structure and triumphant arpeggios, closed out the evening in contrasting styles. Overly polite and ever conscious of not overstaying their welcome, Weeks unequivocally deemed the gig their best night on tour so far.
If the band members were in two minds about their sense of belonging in Australia after Groovin’ the Moo, tonight’s satisfying performance surely put any doubts well and truly to bed.
- Darren Gubbins