I can’t quite remember how I came across City Calm Down but the first time I heard them, I started going on line to see when New Order had released a new album that I hadn’t heard about. The more I listened, the more I appreciated the 80’s vibe with liberal use of keyboards and some synthy stuff going on. It definitely harks back to the time of Joy Division, Ultravox and others of that early 80’s era. A warning now. I will be referencing many other bands in this review. Why? City Calm Down, in 2018, really don’t fit into any established mould or genre but are reminiscent of many bands of the past. In a good way of course.
The first act up on the bill on this wintery Melbourne Friday evening were Melbourne’s IV League. The female lead singer and guitarist (Ivy, perhaps? No, Bella, apparently) was resplendent in a pink op shop dress (which may have last been worn at a wedding). Along with base, lead and drums, this 4 piece play a 90’s inoffensive indie pop. Bella’s got a good set of lungs on her and the vocals are lovely and clean. I personally find this style of music instantly forgettable, but I can see this band having appeal to a Uni crowd and playing in inner city pubs and I hope they do well.
Waiting for the next band to come on, I have a look around. My fellow gig goers this night and this early, are looking very middle age and middle class, ordering glasses of wine at the bar. The sort that would go to see Snow Patrol and take their kids to try and get them to appreciate “good” music. I can understand this, hell, if my son were old enough, I’d have him here. But wait, the pubs around Melbourne Uni halls of residence must just have emptied as the young, alternative and well educated have arrived. Again, I get this. I can see how City Calm Down appeals to the older generation for their retro vibe and slightly easy listening style. And to the young for their cerebral lyrics and relatable subject matter which on their new release, Echoes in Blue, talks of a search for a place in this modern world (the eternal search which never goes away, I’m sorry to tell you).
Up next is Woodes. As the intro music starts with an atmospheric drum and synth which makes the bottles in the bar below me rattle on their shelves. There are 3 on stage, but Woodes is the female singer who appears on the stage wrapped in a golden cloak, like a poor man’s Lady Gaga. My Grumpy Glaswegian who has come along with me starts muttering about bloody arts students and something about Bjork that I didn’t catch. Woodes has a contingent of her own fans here and I can see some of the youngies singing along. Some Google research since has told me that Melbourne isn’t’ the only place this 24 year old has a following and she has achieved some impressive chart results and streaming numbers worldwide. I have to admire the guts it must have taken to go out on her own in this cutthroat business at such a young age, presenting her own music and her own style. And although it is not my thing and I’m left not feeling particularly warm by these warm up acts, I’m heartened to know that there are girls out there strutting their stuff and keeping the flame alight for the previous generation of fearless female acts.
This is the first time I’ve seen City Calm Down although I have been following them for a couple of years now and have watched them playing larger and larger Melbourne venues culminating in this night at the 2000 capacity Forum, which is pretty full right now, waiting for the guys to come on. The lights go off and the stage is backlit in blue for the arrival of City Calm Down. All dressed in black, they start with a track from their latest release, Echoes in Blue. “It’s good to be home” says lead singer Jack Bourke before launching into Blood, the up tempo song from the same album. After a slow intro, this is a real danceable number that you can’t help but sing and dance along to. This also gives us the first taste of their signature bass sound. I can’t see bass player, Jeremy Sonnenberg’s pedal board, but I don’t need to know that there is a pedal on there that is labelled in big letters “New Order Effect”. He can’t be credited with creating this sound and it is clearly a homage to the mighty Peter Hook from Joy Division and New Order, who they unashamedly list as influences but I for one love that this iconic and individual bass sound has made a modern re-emergence and I hope that Mr Hook has heard them and is flattered.
Sonnenberg is unusual for a bass player. He holds his bass up high and in watching him, I am reminded very much of Charlie Burchill from Simple Minds in the way he carries himself. And he is front and centre on the stage and well and truly in the limelight both physically and in their sound; unusual for a bass player who are often the subject of memes and You Tube spoof videos for not being animated enough (think Bill Wyman of the Stones).
In a Restless House from their debut album of the same name is another opportunity to press the pedal. Following on Pleasure and Consequence from their debut EP, Movements. Jack brings a lovely deep, rich voice to this track. In listening to the album version, I had assumed that the horn sound was digitally produced by Sam Mullaley on keyboard and synth, so was wrapped to see sax and trumpet on stage for this number. I think the last time I saw live horns on stage was for Midnight Oil’s reunion tour. And it is great to see a keyboard player in a band that uses synths, but still has a great guitar and drum sound.
So let’s talk about the vocals some more. Jack Bourke’s live vocal performance is absolutely faultless. I noticed in one track, he didn’t attempt a high note or two, but in other songs, a very impressive falsetto was featured. I can draw many comparisons here. In his vocal performance, I heard Brandon Flowers from The Killers, Jim Kerr from Simple Minds, Tony Hadley of Spandau Ballet, Dave Gahan of Depeche Mode and even a bit of Bowie. Apparently influenced by Peter Garrett and his wild stage antics fronting the Oils, he also is not afraid to move around, including a wee crowd surf during the encore. I found him extremely easy to watch and listen to.
Border on Patrol is another opportunity for a crowd dance and brings a few people up on mates’ shoulders to show their appreciation. Rabbit Run is another favourite and was their debut single from In a Restless House in 2015. The show is picking up a pace and they soon leave for a quick break. The floor of the Forum trembles with the stamping of feet to bring them back for the obligatory encore. They finished with in This Modern Land, an anthemic and up tempo number to finish on.
Overall, City Calm Down were really impressive, as I was pretty sure they would be. Musically tight, musically talented and seemingly down to earth and appreciative of the home town support for this show, I think these guys will go far. I really hope they have great management who can take them to where they deserve to be. With the massive bands of recent years getting pretty long in the tooth now, there may just be room for another Aussie Super Group on the worlds’ stage and I think this music has the broad appeal that may just make this possible. The world is your oyster guys. Go get some!
Review Contributed by Wendy Smith
Photo By Mclean Stephenson