LIVE REVIEW: Parades, Little Scout @ The Harp Hotel

Parades are one of the most criminally unrecognised bands in the country, and tonight they showed yet another town why they (hopefully) won’t be holding the ‘underrated’ tag for very much longer. The first stop on their ‘Water Stories’ national tour was Wollongong’s Harp Hotel, and far from any first night cobwebs, mistakes or nerves, the Sydney four-piece turned in what will surely rank among the best gigs in this town for 2011.

First cab off the rank – and, sadly, playing to a sparsely populated room – was Sydney’s Sealion. I was told later that the frontman also plays in the band for Jonathan Boulet (Parades’ drummer and general indie guru), which probably went a long way in securing the openers slot. Like the night’s headliners, Sealion play an indie pop/post-rock hybrid; but unlike tonight’s headliners, the young fivesome haven’t quite managed to find a natural balance between the two elements. The opening few numbers were flat, boring and repetitive, a very stereotypical take on the synth-driven alternative rock that has become so prevalent in recent years (see Cut Copy, Architecture In Helsinki, The Holidays et. al). Don’t get me wrong, this was by no means a bad performance, persay; simply one that, initially, failed to add anything to the Antipodean synthrock explosion of recent years.
The halfway point of the set, however, saw a remarkable turnaround in this reviewer’s feelings on Sealion. Put it down to a loosening of early nerves, the effects of pre-gig beers, or a combination of both, but the set turned around in the blink of an eye as they launched into a string of beautiful, stunning post-rock tracks. Full-sounding, powerful and vital; for the second half of the set Sealion gave the night’s headliners a run for their. A bouncing, pounding indie-pop anthem and an extended, psychedelic jam rounded out a fluctuating and surprising set. Remember the name of ‘Sealion’; once these guys decide what type of sound they want to pursue, they will be a force to be reckoned with.

Brisbane’s Little Scout seem to be a strange choice for the tour’s main support act. Boasting dual harmonising female vocalists, the band’s chirpy, quirky upbeat pop channels Aussie female indie chanteuses Washington, Lisa Mitchell and Sarah Blasko. While I’m all for having a bit of variety on a touring bill, this combination seems an odd fit. However, taking nothing away from Little Scout, they turned out a strong, colourful performance for a quickly filling room of punters. The harmonising between vocalists was a highlight; at times strong and haunting, at others bright and delicate. Cute, fun keyboard-based indie pop; but perhaps a little too much from the school of Ms Megan Washington.

For a band that receive little to no mainstream attention, playing in a town notoriously apathetic to all music bar that which would be found on a pub jukebox circa 1985, playing a show that was barely advertised, Parades drew a surprisingly large and enthusiastic crowd. As a band, Parades are misleadingly loud and powerful-sounding; you’d be forgiven for thinking they had five or six members, rather than their actual four. Kicking off with the tour’s namesake, new single ‘Water Stories,’ before launching into an updated, improvised version of ‘Dead Nationale’ from stunning debut album ‘Foreign Tapes,’ the band seemed unfamiliar with the notion of “starting slow” on the first night of tour. Boulet’s drumming sounded immense, the heavy synth and bass pounding and booming to fill the entire room; their effortless transitions between bright, uplifting post-rock to more serene, shimmering indie-pop the hallmarks of a tightly rehearsed, totally professional outfit.
A swirling synth and Boulet’s powerful drumming – all splashy cymbals and deep, booming toms – were ever-present, as the band’s highly technical and modified sound (at last count, the band had three entire boards full of pedals, loops and effects boxes on stage) came off without a hitch. Frontman Tim’s vocals were spot-on through the set, with the indie breakdowns and faster, more energetic moments of the set leaving punters (i.e. this reviewer) literally open-mouthed in awe. ‘Foreign Tapes’ was without a doubt one of the best releases of 2010; but Parades are a band that need to be experienced in a live setting, for the power, passion and pure beauty – yes, beauty – of their work to be truly appreciated.

Right now, Parades occupy a certain niche in Australian alternative music; they’re the band that your cool friend would tell you about, the band that you’d hear playing in General Pants every now and then, the band that the guy from the record store recommend to you. If there’s any justice in the world, in twelve months they’ll be the band that sells out the Metro Theatre twice in one weekend.

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