At first, the Melbourne Town Hall doesn’t seem like it would be The Avalanches’ venue of choice. The place is almost cavernous, with high regal ceilings and huge elegant mosaics of twirling, naked bodies, where The Avalanches’ hip hop influenced plunderphonics run the risk of feeling out of place for the night. But I was proven very wrong.
This is the group’s second and last Melbourne show touring off the back of Wildflower, their acclaimed comeback after a painful 16 year absence, and with a reputation for explosive live sets, the early crowd simmered with excitement. This was the Avalanches, for god’s sake!
Hip hop legend Grandmaster Flash looked great in lettering on the bill, and his status as an 80s DJ icon cemented expectations for a grand opening to the night. The audience swelled enthusiastically when his silhouette halted before the decks to savour the noise, a short while later spreading the word of the “three rules to a successful Grandmaster Flash party” (the rules being put your hands up when he says “put your hands in the air!”; making noise when he says “make some noise!”; and to singalong to your favourite song if he plays it). For the most part, GM Flash’s throwback funk and pop songs (a lot of Michael Jackson, 70s dance songs, ‘Uptown Funk’…) slide all into one big groove, albeit a few choppy transitions, and the beats need time to grow into huge, wall-shaking bangers. But his live show is significantly dampened by his amusing, over-the-top hype antics. Cutting in and out of the song every few seconds and throwing the microphone over to the chanting audience is a cheap trick, and on GM Flash’s end, done poorly and abruptly. And by the sixth time the DJ had yelled “PUT YOUR HANDS IN THE AIR!”, only a few arms jumped limply above the crowd (the most impressive and hilarious display when GM Flash repeated “put your hands in the air” a solid 25 times without stopping in between).
After ample time to rest numb arms that had stayed in the air for minutes too long, shadows pervading through the pulsating, thick blue light to the tune of Guns N’ Roses were met by a wave of applause and passionate screaming. The huge banner printed with a single butterfly behind them almost dwarfed the group. The long awaited moment had arrived.
The Avalanches kicked right into ‘Because I’m Me’ with rainbow lights swinging to and fro, and vocalists jumping from left to right on stage. Tony Di Blasi was fantastic, having the time of his life onstage and dancing like an excited toddler to the rhythm of the pure, carefree swirl of Wildflower songs. When he played the theremin, he karate chopped around the silver bar like a madman. The live drums lifted their songs to new heights as well, pumping tracks like the divisive ‘Frankie Sinatra’ with hard, confident rock ’n’ roll breaths. They were absolutely booming in most of the set, pushing this electronic experience to be something bigger and more robust.
With each musical drop, the banner behind the Avalanches dropped too: the first to reveal the fluttering multi-coloured album cover of Wildflower, sans butterfly, and with the onset of ‘If I Was A Folkstar’, that fell too, a screen lying under it. Melbourne producer Oscar Key Sung joined the band to deliver gentle vocals that sometimes struggled under the anthemic power brewing in the Avalanches’ songs but ultimately swayed with an innocent dreaminess that fit within the track.
As the night chugged along, I began to realise that The Avalanches’ live show was a testament to how strange their music actually was. I had become familiar with their songs, but it had never quite dawned on me how eclectic their genre-soaring abilities were. Until now. At times the Avalanches sounded like they were spinning their own sci-fi fairytale while prancing through their weird wonderland, while at others they would lurch into hip-grinding funk jungle jams (as they did in the middle of a perfect rendition of ‘Subways’). All throughout it, there was the recurring rush of childlikeness and freedom, something comforting like a warm nap on a summer road trip. Their final song, ‘Since I Left You’, somehow evoked more emotion than the album recording could, with such pure sweetness that even I had to put away my notes and enjoy the moment for itself.
When the clapping faded and exit doors opened, it was funny to reflect upon the predictability of Grandmaster Flash’s set compared to The Avalanches. Nothing about The Avalanches made sense. But it made a whole lotta sense at the same time.