REVIEW: Tommy M & The Mastersounds, Rocking Horse, Moonbase Commander

Yours & Owls’ weekly, free “Budha Nights” have become a welcome fixture on the otherwise dead Wednesday nights in Wollongong, with some of the region’s finest bands packing into the tiny venue to play to a usually full crowd. Tonight’s lineup saw three of Wollongong’s most hyped acts, all playing together, all for free; accordingly, the venue was bursting at the seams by 8pm, with many fans left disappointed and shut out.

It’s a real mark of a band’s popularity when people are familiar enough with the songs that they can sing the lyrics right back at the band. Tommy M & The Mastersounds had a roomful of such fans tonight, their now-familiar reggae and funk tunes met with shouts and calls back from the audience. People “woo”ed, clapped and sang at exactly the right moments (perhaps due to the fifteen or so local gigs that the band seem to play each week), with the seven Mastersounds noticeably excited at the raucous reception they scored from the capacity, sweaty crowd in the tiny venue; if it was twenty degrees outside on the overcast night, it was over thirty inside the cramped Yours & Owls. How they managed to arrange seven Mastersounds (and their instruments) on the “stage” was a feat of human engineering and tesselation; and though they were without absent saxophonist Ngaire, it didn’t seem to faze the band as they powered through a typically entertaining, jive-inducing set. Their now famous reggae rendition of the theme tune from kids TV show ‘Arthur’ was an early highlight, laughs and smiles filtering through the audience as they realised what the familiar tune was. Splashy, cymbal-heavy percussion, funky slap bass, plinky keyboards and jazzy breakdowns mingled as they tore through favourite ‘Noodleman,’ as well as most cuts from their recent EP ‘Pineapple.’Frontman Evan was the focal point throughout; sitting behind a keyboard may seem restrictive, but his greatest strength as a performer is that he makes it work. Fingers flying across the keyboard, he dances, spasms, pulls faces, runs on the spot, his voice travelling from high falsetto to gruff and throaty. A stray trombone or saxophone seemed destined to poke an eye or face in the cramped room – the audience were mere inches from the band – but some broken guitar strings were the only sticking point in a predictably tight and entertaining set from Wollongong’s finest young band.A fast, frenetic new tune with plenty of room for crowd singalongs and jiving en masse, and their set-closing cover of ‘Twist and Shout’ – fitting, seeing as that it what the audience had been doing for the last forty minutes – finished up a sweaty, raucous slot. The only criticism that can be levelled at the band, is that they seem to play the same set every night; the young ensemble have bucketloads of talent, and already boast a staggering collection of brilliant songs, yet they always seem to play the same setlist night after night. Some rearrangement of songs, or the injection of anew cover every now and then, would see their sets gain even more impact.

Rocking Horse’s jazz-tinged, bluesy rock’n’roll should be more than familiar to any regular local gig-goer, but the seven-piece act somehow seem to kick up a gear each time they play. Nothing about their performance is left unconsidered; from the matching simple, white starched shirts and black trousers of the guitarists, the matching beautiful rose-patterned dresses and synchronised dance moves of the backup vocal ensemble The Baby Dolls, to their finely-tuned stage banter and interludes, every aspect of Rocking Horse’s performance exudes preparation, organisation and class. From slow, jazzy rhythm & blues to more upbeat rollicking rock’n’roll, the band’s sound traverses much of pop music’s early days. Smoky jazz sections, soaring vocals from deceptively diminutive frontwoman Christie, throbbing bass sitting high in the mix, and splashy, stuttering drums mingle for a deeply rhythmic, almost hypnotic sound at times. The musicianship is outstanding and incredibly tight, but it really is the three Baby Dolls who make the band stand out. Three pretty girls raised high above the others – on a pedestal, literally – in matching dresses, with matching dance moves and doo-wop harmonies and skyhigh vocals that variously take the lead and provide backup to Christie’s amazing, soulful yet hard-hitting vocals. The real shame of this performance was that Christie’s vocals were muffled and buried deep in the mix, blunting the impact of her pipes. Dirty blues sections traded places with upbeat rock numbers, with the audience’s closeness just adding to the intimate atmosphere created by the slow, smoky music. ‘Iron Horse’ was far and away the highlight, though a pretty brilliant cover of ‘Lady Marmalade’ came close.

After two raucous, big-band performances, you wouldn’t have been out of line to think that the weird electronic vibes of producer Moonbase Commander (aka Nick Luke) would have had a hard time winning over this crowd; but you would have been wrong. A late-night set from the Triple J-approved beatsman, lit only by outside streetlight and the LED glow of Luke’s drum machine, saw glitchy samples chopped up and rearranged into a murky, slinky set of hip-hop, bass and beats. Tracks that got the MBC treatment included James Blake, Death Grips and Justice, with dirty hip-hop and rap, 70s rock and a myriad of genres and styles chewed up, given a bass-heavy facelift and spat back out again to a still heaving and packed Yours & Owls.  Luke seemed more animated than ever, throwing his hands up in the air and dancing with the audience as his hands flew over the drum machine. A few overly enthusiastic older patrons entered midway through the set, with some frenetic, spasmodic dancing proving a light moment during the full-on, hard-hitting set. Finishing up just before clocks struck midnight, Luke bowed to his audience as they scurried outside to relish the fresh breezes outside the still stifling venue.

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One Response to REVIEW: Tommy M & The Mastersounds, Rocking Horse, Moonbase Commander

  1. This is our nicest review ever!

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