Nothing beats spending a bitterly cold Melbourne night perched on a bar stool in a Collingwood pub listening to live music, and a small crowd were doing just that at The Gasometer Hotel as Melbourne alternative rockers Canary took to the stage.
Formed in 2007, songwriter, rhythm guitarist and lead vocalist Matthew Kenneally brought together a beat-boxing trumpet player and an eccentric violinist on a lonely winter’s night in Northcote.
Now, the band is a polished five-piece. They looked like a mixed bunch of lads, with red-headed singer Kenneally resembling an oversized leprechaun (he even wore a green jumper!). There was a lot of Fender love on stage too. Kenneally with a cream Telecaster, bassist Isaac Barter favouring a similarly coloured axe and be-speckled lead guitarist Adam Dean on a shiny teal Jazzmaster. The multi-talented Ed Fairlie stood flanked by guitars, alternating between the tambourine, the trumpet and the keyboard, while drummer Lachlan O Kane sat at the back, cap on backwards and smirking throughout.
The band draws from a broad base of influences and has established its reputation as an engaging live act built upon the unsettling honesty of Matt’s songwriting. Majority of the set was pulled from the band’s self-produced debut album, Dear Universe.
Encouraged by the band to groove along to the eclectic beat, two lanky friends hit the dance floor much to the amusement of the huddled Gasometer crowd. O’ Kane whistled throughout the chorus just like a – wait for it – canary, and the irony wasn’t lost on a few smiling members of the crowd. And in the band’s final, trumpet-fuelled track, Kenneally even did a bit of rapping.
The lights dimmed to a blue-purple infusion, and Melbourne melodist Ainslie Wills and co. took to the stage. Joined by regular bandmates Lawrence Folvig (guitar) Natalie Lewis (vocals and keyboard), Jules Pascoe (bass) and Arron Light on drums, Wills took her place behind the microphone.
In front of a row of massive, paper flowers a la her new single ‘Hawaii’, she looked every bit the breezy songstress with floppy hair and a palm tree printed dress (and Lewis contributed a flowery blouse to to the theme too). Folvig crouched down in the darkness to tinker with his extensive pedalboard of effects, getting the crowd’s attention and setting the mood with a mesmeric musical ambience.
After releasing her Australian Music Prize nominated LP You Go Your Way, I’ll Go Mine in 2013, Wills has been bringing her unique brand of indie prog-pop to the Melbourne music scene ever since – though she hasn’t quite yet reached the mainstream market.
She played plenty of songs from her first album, most notably ‘Lemon Japan’ and the beautifully languid ‘Early Morning Light’. ‘Fighting Kind’ took the mood to moodier places, with a robotic clap intro and bass beat. Wills and Lewis’ ethereal vocals soared over the high-pitched chorus – “For a while there you were, feeling nothing new / So you had to break your whole in two”. ‘Stop Pulling The String’ also utilised the female harmonies well,
Wills brings a sensual swagger to her live performances, tilting her head, closing her eyes and pumping her bare arms to the beat. Back-up vocalist Lewis harmonised perfectly, and on a brief introductory song solo, proved why with a voice eerie similar to Wills’.
The indie-pop grooves came hard and fast, with a few new numbers tested out on the receptive young crowd. ‘Hawaii’ came in the middle of the set. The song – an exploring of the complexities of unconventional relationships – is the second single come from the forthcoming EP, and was recorded in Brisbane in coloration with Folvig, Light and producer Matt Redlich.
With a Phil Collins ‘In The Air Tonight’ subtle synth drum beat, Wills is going for a gospel inspired 80’s power ballad vibe. She even commented that she had “the right hair for it”, flipping her mousey-brown bob back and forth exaggeratedly like Willow Smith.
New number (perhaps the title is ‘Constellations’?), brought a quiet, introspective edge to Wills’ vocal range, with tonal moments reminiscent of The Pretenders’ Chrissie Hynde in ‘I’ll Stand By You’.
The night ended on fan favourite ‘Drive’, the first single from Wills’ forthcoming four-track EP Oh The Gold, set for release later this year. Melodic and full of sassy charm, the radio-hit is drenched in indie-pop grooves, complete with doo-wop-style backing and electric guitar power chords. She sings “I don’t want to fight you in my mind”, but from her sexy, passive-aggressive tone, you get the feeling that’s exactly what she wants to do.
Ainslie Wills’ brand of progressive pop is immersive and delicately arresting live, and she owns it. Her music is easy and breezy but her lyricism is anything but, as she comments on love, loss and longing. Wills is proving herself to be an artist with integrity and longevity, and hopefully one whose music reaches the masses sooner rather than later.