Client Liaison at The Northcote Social Club, 27/04/2014

If ever you feel in need of a quick escape from the drab, daunting cynicism of the twenty-first century, I can recommend nothing more highly than a Client Liaison show.

Sunday evening marked the second of the synth-pop duo’s three trysts at The Northcote Social Club to a sold out audience; many of whom were robed in a colorful spectrum of shoulder pads, peplum, pastels, and various other fashion throwbacks which in any other situation would seem entirely out of place. But not at a Client Liaison gig. For those unfamiliar with the Melbourne two-piece, they are half concept, half band; half performer, half producer. Everything Australia wants to remember about the time from Hawke through to Howard, and a genuine embracement of the frenzied patriotism that got Freeman over the finish line. All backed up by razor sharp synth bangers in the vein of Prince and The Pet Shop Boys.

The Ansett yoyos and Diners Club badges for sale at the merch desk further fueled the historical ambiguity – comprising perhaps the most appropriate (and maybe copyright-infringing, but who cares) merchandise ever. Even before the music started, the atmosphere made it all too easy to leave this century for at least a little while.

And the support band only furthered this. All five of Total Giovanni came on stage dressed in trench coats and sailors hats, launching immediately into a kind of synth-pop that could very well blare through the foyer of an alpine ski resort somewhere in 1980s Switzerland. Track titles such as Paradise, backed by the use of a talk box, rendered Total Giovanni as perhaps the only band surreal enough and with sufficient 80s-influence to support Client Liaison – as well as one of the few remaining bands that can legitimately nail 80s synth-pop. Smooth bass lines and samples featured prominently in the set, with the two frontmen at times synchronizing their dance moves in a dual attacks. The gradual heating caused by the band room filling was not enough to sway Total Giovanni into removing their trench coats or sailors hats; with their matching outfits remaining on and unruffled the entire time.

Total Giovanni’s set finished, and the curtains were drawn. Smoke seeped through the gaps as patrons shuffled frontwards towards the stage. Odd synth notes could be heard from behind the curtains, and in turn, suspense was rife.

The blinds reopened to a stage without a band; just two synths and a sampler pad on one side, a mic on the other. A line of banners in the background bore logos of Australia in an assortment of bright color schemes; a homage to a long-lost corporate psyche we can all somehow vaguely remember. A haze of smoke then poured from both sides of the stage as Harvey Miller emerged and presumed his place behind the synthesizers. Monte Morgan followed, wearing slacks, a fishnet shirt and a floral blazer. A wave of cheers greeted Client Liaison’s opening track, the diplomatically savvy and currently unreleased ‘Canberra Won’t Be Calling Tonight’.

Although mostly prerecorded, Miller’s production was more or less flawless. He played the synth solos and hit the sample pads with accuracy to a tee; his space-odyssey keys soaring over the resounding drums and bouncy synth riffs of tracks like ‘End of the Earth’, ‘Pretty Lover’, and their latest release, ‘That’s Desire’. This was all aided by spot on sound production, leading the room to become engulfed by the markedly clean and intricate pop beats being churned out by the electric blonde producer.

“We are here to dignify your mood” were the first words spoken by Morgan following the opening track. The frontman established a sense of awe amongst the crowd almost instantaneously; his dance moves as sharp as a blade, as swift as a breeze. He sung his vocal lines with such conviction that his charisma was intimidating. The duo continued with a new track, aptly titled ‘Touch’ – their focus on sensuality becoming more and more evident with every shut-eyed, whispered line from Morgan, and every echoing synth note from Miller that could otherwise have found a home in a Barry White ballad.

Projections of the Diners Club logo, Cathy Freeman and kangaroos in transit beamed over the aforementioned banners of the Australian logo, as Morgan pranced around the stage with astounding grace. Besides acting as as perfect accompaniment to the rest of the show, the projections served as a warm reminder that amongst the overwhelming toxicity of Australian politics in 2014, there are some parts of Australiana that most of us love or at least fondly remember. The cherry on the cake was a didgeridoo sample towards the beginning of the set – tastefully layered over an 80s house beat with not a single tinge of irony, but rather a genuine appreciation for both its sound aesthetic, and for the lost trend of patriotic Oz ballads.

The duo briefly exited the stage after performing ‘Groove The Physical’: the excuse of an encore providing the now-topless Morgan with ample opportunity for a costume change. He reemerged dressed as a new-age Raphaelite, with three rows of cream ruffles running down the center of his shirt beneath a brown blazer. They proceeded to play their synth-pop banger ‘Feeling’, before ending the show with the house romp ‘Free Of Fear’, subsequently exiting the stage with the audience fulfilled (and some still dancing).

From start to finish, Client Liaison stuck by their motto of “Think nothing. Feel everything. Pleasure is good.” Theirs was a concert where sensuality trumped sense, feeling was foremost, and Australia was everything. Time, place and inhibitions were held in little regard on Sunday night.