Photos by Nick Tam
The unplugged set lacked the gusto fans are used to from the seminal rockers.
The infamous Gershwin Room slowly filled with a noticeably mixed bag of fans on a Friday at The Espy, ages ranging from barely legal youngsters to seasoned veterans that probably remember a grungier, less-refined Gershwin from years earlier.
Grand Salvo manned the stage as opener, perfectly priming things in preparation for the main act. Grand Salvo’s slow build and beautiful harmonies brought about a hush over the crowd – even those still milling around the bar – and the ruminative lyrics matched perfectly with the husky, pure vocals. Though brief, Grand Salvo’s set felt like musical mulled wine: smooth, dark, rich and good for the soul.
The interval dragged on until Augie March’s members ambled onstage with a casual nonchalance that initially seemed charismatic, but later gave rise to a feeling that the band were hardly keen to be there at all. Frontman Glenn Richards apologised by way of saying he got caught up on his phone, and chuckled that he didn’t bother to get changed and was still wearing the clothes he slept in. You really know how to make an audience feel special, Glenn.
The music was mostly very tight. Each member was exhibiting their extensive skillset, especially Edmondo Ammendola who, having parked himself so far behind Kiernan Box on the keyboard that he was almost beside David Williams on the drums, killed it on the acoustic bass. He was definitely a crowd fave – the audience erupting when he was quietly introduced towards the end of the set. Adam Donovan truly slapped on his National guitar, and slayed riffs and solos – including a beautiful lesson in classical picking on the mandolin. Despite his dark-cloud presence, Richards’ voice was as clear as it sounds on the group’s debut LP, 2000’s Sunset Studies, and cut through the acoustics to grab at the heart of every person in the room.
They dabbled in more recent tunes, such as 2018’s ‘The Third Drink’ – a great opportunity to display the continued technical proficiency of a band 23 years into their career. However, as would be expected, the bigger hits such as ‘One Crowded Hour’ and ‘The Slant’ respectively made the crowd boog and hold their breath.
Overall, this concert, though a pleasant display of musicianship, lacked spirit and charisma – not what one would expect from a band that can pack the Gershwin on a Friday. Stripped back, raw and at times a bit detached, it certainly wasn’t for those chasing a party – rather it was a conceptual experimentation that might’ve lost a few punters oblivious to the intended narrative.
Highlight: ‘When I Am Old’ was just plain beautiful to listen to.
Lowlight: Mid-song tuning and setlist issues – a spanner was thrown into the works by things that should have been pre-emptively sorted during a good sound check and warm-up.
Crowd favourite: The crowd seemed a bit flat overall, but maybe ‘One Crowded Hour’?