Another sold-out crowd huddled onto the luscious lawns of the Melbourne Zoo to enjoy a night of great food and even greater music on Saturday evening. Five-piece indie rockers Birds of Tokyo were headlining the weekend slot with support from local lad Fractures.
As the sun began to settle on another hot afternoon, singer-songwriter Mark (aka Fractures) and his band kicked off the night with some moody indie ballads. After making an apologetic point of seeing his hair in “bad shape” on the big screen, Mark played a set of originals that went from energetic indie anthems to slow-burning croons. There was on old b-side track (‘Dissolve), an even older triple j favourite (‘Twisted’) and a brand new-y (‘Alchemy’) which seemed to go down fairly well with the crowd.
The cinematic swell of instrumental ‘Uno’ signalled the arrival of Birds of Tokyo, and stylish keyboardist Glenn Sarangapany and drummer Adam Weston took their places at the back of the stage. Bearded bassist Ian Berney was next out, quickly followed by be-speckled guitarist Adam Spark and lanky lead Ian Kenny, sporting his Ned Kelly-esque beard. With no further a-do they launched into ‘Broken Bones’, a fan favourite off the album Universes. The crowd joined in on the epic chorus, bellowing “And we lie awake, I’m not about to listen to them / For I can’t wait, It’s not about me.”
‘Plans’ – the 2010 song that put them well and truly on the Australian music map – came next, complete with the first verse and chorus of ‘Eye Of The Tiger’ slap bang in the middle, and oddly enough the transition was effortlessly, like it was made for it. When he’s not rigid resting on the microphone, chin jutting with kicks and rhythmic arm movements are the key ingredients to frontman Kenny’s stage presence (think a bit like Elaine from Seinfeld). “How’s the cheese?” he teased the laid-back crowd in the break. “How’s the cheese, wine and snacks?”.
A brand new song dropped soon after, ‘Commagram’, giving more hints to the album the band are reportedly working on, before their classic self-titled album got another look in with the stunning single ‘Circles’. The front row swayed to Kenny’s high register hypnotising refrain “I don’t know which way I’m supposed to spin, in this circle”, as guitarist Spark took things up a notch with fast and furious strums. Synth king Sarangapany got his moment in the sun with ‘I’d Go With You Anywhere’ off the new Playlist compilation album. His energetic violin-esque swell cued the already distinctive opening and the crowd bopped to the feel-good anthem.
Kenny and Spark were left alone for two stripped-back versions, kicking off with an acoustic, less heavy but no less emotive rendition of ‘Wayside’ off their 2007 debut album Day One. They followed it up with March Fires’ heartbreakingly honest and personal ‘Boy’. “Even on cold days my door’s always open,” Kenny sung, “I’ve a memory of a little boy, who you’d like to meet, he could do anything, I’ve been missing him hope he’s been missing me, all these years” and his echoey, rising voice sent shivers down your spine.
The band returned to bring the upbeat back with a tribute, ‘Ashes to Ashes’. Although Kenny’s voice is nothing like Bowie’s, the spacey music was spot on. Sarangapany had the eerie intro beats down pat, Kenny got his robot man moves on, and Spark got playful and made faces at fans walking past the stage on their way from or back to their seats.
Last year’s Anchor EP got it’s two best songs on the setlist, with ‘Puzzle’ and the stirring single ‘Anchor’. The former was a foray into a much more synth-pop realm (still great), whilst the latter harked back to the band’s earlier, sentimental and cinematic ballads and was an easy crowd-pleaser. During the song a fan stopped by the stage to get a selfie with the band in the background, and without missing a beat, Kenny posed with a piece sign and Spark thrust a rude finger in. Laughs all round.
The moody ‘Wild At Heart’ took us back to just how great every song off the band’s third, self-titled record was. The encore came in the electrifying form of dual March Fires hits ‘Lanterns’ and ‘This Fire’. As soon as the stage lights dimmed and the gorgeous keyboard intro to ‘Lanterns’ dropped we were all on our feet, phone lights swaying, eyes glassy. “On we march, with a midnight song, we will light our way, with our lanterns on.” ‘This Fire’ got the energy levels up again, because there’s nothing more satisfying in a gig finale than a big, hearty sing-a-long.
Birds of Tokyo played a stunning set at the Zoo Twilights. Hit after hit after hit made you wonder why the band weren’t more famous than they already are, and Kenny’s beautiful and moving vocals were only lifted live by the rest of the band. Although the band have become a staple on the radio or on television commercials over the years, nothing beats seeing them come to life live. Magical.