You Am I battled Melbourne’s hallowed Grand Organ and produced a performance for the ages

Back by the veritable support cast of New War, Gareth Liddiard and Clowns.

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Image source: 
David Harris

Even just the idea of Melbourne Town Hall’s Grand Organ is an exhausting idea to get around – but it is one that has had me intrigued for a long time. Featuring drums, bells and almost 10,000 pipes that stretch across four Town Hall stories, it truly is a sight to behold. To see it played live is a thing of true awe and beauty.

Before the main event, Melbourne Music Week served up the goods on the support act front. Openers New War filled the vast spaces between crowd members with their ambient, atmospheric sounds. The large, open room created a strange echo chamber for the band – at times their sound echoed and howled perfectly throughout, at others it all became too much, transforming into an indiscernible wall of noise.

By now, Gareth Liddiard has surpassed cult figure status in Melbourne, but when he sheepishly walked out on stage with nothing more than his electric guitar and plopped into a chair at centre stage, you’d hardly know it. When you’re so used to seeing someone fronting raucous rock bands, seeing them stripped back like this is strangely beautiful. Rolling through a set filled mostly with choice cuts from The Drones’ back catalogue -- like opener ‘Cold and Sober’ or mid-set belter ‘I Don’t Ever Want To Change' -- with solo material and Tropical Fuck Storm singles (‘You Let My Tires Down’ is an absolute treat stripped-back), he could’ve easily capped off the night here. His mid-song storytime -- from his hatred of Australian politics to his hatred of wearing underwear -- had the crowd in fits of laughter. But it was set closers ‘Shark Fin Blues’ and ‘Taman Shud’ that really had their attention.

It’s a strange concept, having a punk band like Clowns play in a room like Melbourne Town Hall. But the band seemed rapt for the opportunity, and while the crowd were way too cordial, Clowns threw down everything they had from the get-go. Mixing older tracks with material from their forthcoming album, it was very loud and very sweaty. Which, all-in-all, is very Clowns.

It was finally time to see the Grand Organ come to life, and in a twinkling of bells, something akin to what you’d imagine stars might sound like, the main event began. Then those twinkling bells grew into deep, howling drones and finally You Am I took the stage -- ‘Minor Byrd’ finding new life with the organ’s backing.

Their outfits were perfect for the over-the-top grandeur of the room -- Tim Rogers in a red-on-red ensemble paired with fabulous gold platforms, Davey Lane in a green velvet suit, and James Fleming sporting the sort of cape you have to wear if you’re attempting to master the grandest of Grand Organs.

You Am I have been filling stages for so long that they made putting on a show in a room like this look easy. Right from the get-go, Rogers urged the crowd to loosen up, “You’re a polite lot, try being less polite,” he laughed, before launching into ‘Rumble’, but not even the perfect-for-dancing ‘Trike’ could really get them moving.

For a moment, somewhere in the middle of the night, I removed my earplugs to really hear the full scale of sound, and if you weren’t wearing earplugs I feel sorry for the state of your ears today. At this point, thanks to a nasty battle with heatstroke [seriously kids, this summer please wear hats, stay in the shade, and drink lots of water] my night had to come to an abrupt end. But damn was it good while it lasted.

Highlight: Finally getting to see the Grand Organ in action.

Lowlight: Copping some mad heatstroke and having to leave right when things were getting crazy.

Crowd Favourite: The banter – every act was on their between-song A-game

By Gloria Brancatisano

Melbourne Music Week continues on into the week and finishes up on Saturday November 24. Check out the huge program and grab your tickets via the MMW website.