Live Review: Anubis + Toehider + Pirate @ The Bald Faced Stag, Sydney – 25 July 2014
It’s mid-winter, Sydney is cold and on a Friday, traffic is bad. But for 120 or so punters in need of an epic showcase of progressive rock, that was no obstacle to attending this double album launch for Anubis & Toehider, as well as the live return of Sydney’s Pirate. Believe me when I say no one was disappointed.
It’s been eight long months since Pirate last played live – an occurrence which has been all too infrequent given band members’ penchants for travelling abroad as well as drummer Tim Adderley’s membership of busy post-rock giants sleepmakeswaves. Nonetheless, the band hit the stage to an adoring set of ears, clearly starving for their intense and incredible take on experimental rock. The old stuff was groove-heaven – the band jammed effortlessly over odd-time signatures right through B Minor and Time Minus Five – but it was the new material (which saxophonist Woolf jokingly described as ‘from our new album, due out in 2017’) that really hit home just how badly we need Pirate. Taking their intense jazz-inflected rock sound a notch further, blending vocoder vocals with catchy riffs and technical playing, the new tracks showcase yet another step forward creatively for the group. Every phase of Pirate’s development has been a joy to behold – and for those first-timers discovering them this evening, it was no doubt a memorable experience. Adderley’s time touring the world outside the band has clearly brought more power to his performance – he oozed confidence and played with the groove like a toy. The rhythmic playing of bassist Ben Norvill and guitarist Shan Abey was solid as a rock, allowing Joel Woolf to soar across the trio with his brilliant horn playing and cleverly placed vocals. For me, perhaps it was the emotion of welcoming back a long-lost friend, but this was Pirate at their best. It’s been nearly 3 years since ‘Left Of Mind’. Let’s hope we don’t really have to wait until 2017.
Toehider are still very much the project of singer and multi-instrumetalist Mike Mills, who again performed nearly everything on the latest album ‘What Kind Of Creature Am I?’ Since surfacing around 2008, there has been a commonly shared feeling amongst the underground scene that Toehider/Mike were criminally underrated and deserved more recognition. Whilst things like this are always a function of not just pure talent, but a combination of luck, hard work & dedication, it is hard to argue against the quality of Mills’ body of work – 12 EPs in 12 months, a fantastic 2011 debut record and a multitude of covers & Christmas singles. However, since Dutch musician Arjen Lucassen discovered Mills on YouTube and invited him to participate on last year’s Ayreon album, it seems as though the process kickstarted a chain of events which has seen Mike Mills reinvigorate Toehider and transform a once-reclusive project into one of this country’s best live bands. Since mid-last year, Mills has led the group through their busiest period to date, finally snaring profile tours with the likes of Devin Townsend & The Protomen and lapping up and down the east coast for club shows. The live band still features long-time collaborators Lachlan Barclay (guitar) and Amy Campbell (bass), though after the amazing Ricky Evensand’s departure to live in Sweden last year, Bird’s Robe mainman Mike Solo has for the most part, apart from a few dates here and there, occupied the drum stool (it’s an interesting development, given Solo has been largely focused behind the scenes since super FLORENCE jam stopped touring) and seems to have coincided with Toehider’s move into covering an even more eclectic set of material. Together, this lineup proved the Sydney crowd were in for a treat. Across 60 minutes of new & old music, Mills, Barclay, Campbell and Solo absolutely obliterated the venue with their charisma, proficiency, versatility, volume(!), stage presence and unconventional approach to performing. It was a little Devin-esque to begin the set with a talking puppet, it was a little tongue-in-cheek to put on ‘Enter Sandman’ through the PA whilst changing a guitar string & it was a little unnervingly brilliant how well Mike Mills continued to hit those high notes for an hour straight. But that’s the thing about a Toehider show, you have to understand – it’s a rock gig, it’s prog, it’s epic, but it is certainly unique. If you get it, you’re all in – and everyone got it tonight.
It’s been a few years since I first reviewed Anubis at the Menagerie Festival & didn’t give them credit for being ‘cool’ enough. Since then, they have not only built an impressively loyal following around the globe, but developed into a formidable live band, as well as producing an absolutely stunning third album in this year’s ‘Hitchhiking To Byzantium.’ Bringing the night to a close with a decidedly different tone, the moodiness and introspection of their long-form music was nonetheless performed with energy, bombast and a fittingly ornate touch. The clarity of sound for such a detailed group was impeccable (as it was throughout the whole night) and it just lent even more credence to the fact that this band leaves no details overlooked in its quest to be thoroughly musically fulfilling. Australia is still figuring out how it feels about bands bridging the generation gap between 70s classic prog and modern Radiohead-era progressive-minded music. Anubis is at the forefront in this country and in my mind, internationally – and they are doing it in style, with vivacious musicianship and an ever- growing confidence. Are they cool then? Yeah, that’s pretty cool in my book.