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Gig ReviewsReviews

[Review] Blackpink @ Rod Laver Arena, Melbourne 10/06/2023

Review By Wendy Smith

So, K Pop.  If you’d asked me on Friday what I thought of K Pop, I’d probably have said that it is the epitome of a manufactured, manipulated, empty, mindless drivel that the music industry has ever turned out.  But other than purchasing a BTS burger at McDonalds, I have never given it any time so my opinions are admittedly baseless.  Ever on the hunt for knowledge and self-improvement, I accepted the challenge and fronted up at Rod Laver Arena in Melbourne on Saturday night with a partially open mind and a great sense of curiosity. 

To say this gig was different to what I would normally spend my concert going money on is an understatement.  I was instantly conspicuous in the sold out Rod Laver Arena.  That’s 15,000 people, but is small potatoes compared to Blackpink gigs in Japan (110,000 people) and at Coachella (125.000 people).  I have blonde, curly hair – 99.9% of the crowd did not, sporting jet black, dead straight hair, the kind of straight that I have, at times, spent hundreds of dollars to achieve (we all want what we don’t have, right?).  I am 50 something – 99.9% of those present were somewhere between achieving their pen licence, and their driver’s licence.  But the sense of excitement was palpable and the arena was resplendent with probably 50% of the audience, having rented these squeaky hammers, like a child’s toy, except keeping with the theme, they were in fact illuminated pink hearts – soooooooooooo cute. 

There was no warm up band for Blackpink, instead, as I took my seat, the big screens flanking the stage were playing music videos…………of Blackpink!  The girls were running a wee bit late, and every time a video came to an end, an expectant cheer rang out, followed by an “Ohhhhhh” when the next video came on.  The crowd in the General Admission area were amusing themselves during the delay, with a thousand selfies.  Instagram is going to be awash later on.

At last, the lights went down, and after one last video, played at a louder volume, and by the light of 15,000 phones on video mode, Blackpink appeared.  Resplendent in baby pink, the choreography was slick and sexy and the opening song How You Like That, sung in a mix of Korean and English and definitely pulling on Asian influences with a great big serving of Hip Hop.  After the first song, the girls came forward to introduce themselves.  The giggling, blowing kisses and making love heart signs jarred massively with the hypersexualised costumes and suggestive dance moves I had just witnessed but that’s K Pop for you.  It turns out that there is an Aussie in the group – Rosie (spelled Rosé) is a Melbourne girl who entered a K Pop training camp in 2012 before being chosen for Blackpink in 2016.  The Melbourne fans were keen to welcome her home with her introduction getting the biggest cheer.

This show was divided into 4 acts and an encore, punctuated with costume changes.  The first Act was rounded off with the much more poppy Lovesick Girls, performed on Stage B.  The song ended with 2 streamer cannons going off, engulfing the crowd in streamers.  The punters loved it.

While the girls disappeared to change into something less appropriate, something unexpected was revealed from behind the huge video wall on the stage.  There’s a band!  Real live people playing instruments.  That was a pleasant surprise as up until then, I had assumed a backing track.  The girls reappeared and Act 2 started with another track relying heavily on Hip Pop (a new genre I just invented) Kill This Love followed by Pink Venom, a track that had a middle eastern vibe to it.

It was during this 5 song set that the band were introduced.  The 4 on stage musicians had their little moment and then we met Brandon…….his instrument – Pro Tools.  I had always thought this was a bit of kit confined to use in the studio and for fixing dodgy vocals.  But thinking about it now, the music of Blackpink definitely included sounds that guitar, drums and even keyboards, could not produce live so fair enough.  If it allows artist to recreate the studio sound in a live environment, which let’s face it, is what we all want when we go to see a band, go for it.  And I don’t think that even standing next to the bass stack, could the bassist have produced the hair parting, bass sound that accompanied Blackpink in certain songs.  The air positively vibrated.

Act 3 gave the girls their little solo moments with 4 songs that allowed them to show off their talents with songs that suited their personas.  Jisoo sang Flower, almost entirely in Korean with a very Asian sound.  Rosé gave us a mash up of 2 songs, Gone, a story of heart ache and On the Ground, a more upbeat pop song which also highlighted another unique aspect of this gig, the videography.  Sitting above what would normally be the sound desk but at this gig, looked more like the computer lab at Melbourne Uni, were 6 giant cameras, positioned to capture every move and gesture to be featured on the stage’s screens.  And in this song, there were also 2 on stage camera operators preceding Rosé up the walkway which really gave the video an interesting feel.  Lisa was up next with MoneyLisa is actually from Thailand and has the most American persona of the girls, covering most of the rapping and Hip Hop elements.  The solo’s finished up with Jennie, with her solo song, aptly titled Solo

Another costume change was required  to bring us into Act 4.  This set included a couple of absolute bangers with Shut Down and DDU-DU DDU-DU.   During the set also, the girls came out for a bit of chit chat giving Rosé a chance to talk about living in Australia and coming to Rod Laver to watch the tennis.  She seemed a little vague on this but considering she left Melbourne to go into the K Pop factory in Seoul at the age of 16, her childhood in Melbourne probably feels very distant.

A 2 song encore came (after another costume change of course, this time coming out in their own merch – well, a girl’s gotta make a living) we got Boombayah and finally a fitting song to finish on, the up-beat As if it’s your Last

So what do I think about my first K Pop experience?  As K pop seems to be the magpie of musical genres, pulling on multiple influences such as said Hip Hop, R & B, rock, jazz, electronic dance etc etc, there was something for everyone, including this jaded old Rock Chick.  The fact that Blackpink rely more heavily on harder edge Hip Hop and Electronic sounds made it an easier listen for me than if I’d ben sent to watch a band of pretty boys (sorry BTS).  So if Blackpink are ever in your area, go see them – you’ll be in for a great time. 

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Gig ReviewsReviews

[Review] Del Amitri @ Palais Theatre, Melbourne 23/02/2023

There is a standing joke in my house involving Del Amitri. If guests are coming around for dinner, my husband will say, “time to put Del Amitri on”. They are always my dinner party music of choice. Why – it is perfect for that – inoffensive in lyrics and musical style, upbeat melodies and just perfect background music. That doesn’t sound like a band that I would put on in my head phones and listen to deeply but I do that too. And when you listen deeply, Del Amitri is actually the antithesis of everything I like, musically. First and foremost, it is borderline country. Country music makes my skin crawl. Harmonicas, steel and slide guitars and wiggly wiggly organs (played with high vibrato) will send me running to the hills (running for my life, even). And if you listen to the opening verse and chorus of Del Amitri’s Kiss This Thing Goodbye, and other songs, that’s exactly what you’ve got. So why are Del Amitri so dang likeable?

There is no better way to get excited for a gig than by finding a pub where other fans might congregate. The proximity of The Cross Scottish themed bar in Fitzroy Street to the Palais seemed a sure bet and sure enough, the tables were full to bursting with expat Scots, enjoying Steak Night and a pint of Tenants (piss weak Scottish beer) before the show. There was a real sense of excitement in the air, after all, Del Amitri have not visited these shores for 30 years.

The Palais is the perfect venue for bands whose music can be enjoyed perfectly from the comfort of one’s arse. The seating is probably as antique as the building and is prone to being lumpy and a wee bit uncomfortable after a couple of hours but on Thursday as the support act, Darren Middleton came on, all assembled were making themselves comfortable and settled in for some listening pleasure. The name meant nothing to me at first. The music from him and another guitarist/keyboard player and a drummer was very much in the right vein for the evening…pleasant and easy on the ears. After couple of tracks, he mentioned that he had written songs for Bradley Cooper to sing in A Star is Born! Hang On, who is this guy. All became clear when he dropped another big name….Powderfinger. Darren Middleton is none other than lead guitarist and songwriter for the hugely successful Aussie band of the 2000’s. Now he had my attention. I missed Powderfinger’s entire career, pretty much and if it weren’t for my sister sending me a Triple J top 100 CD every year, and picking up a copy of Vulture Street in a Tower Records bargain bin, I would never have heard of them. Darren’s solo work lacks a bit of the spice of Powderfinger, but I felt the presence of singer songwriters who have gone before such as Neil Young, who Middleton lists as an influence and you could tell.

2023 Del Amitri consists of just two of the original band members who started playing together in 1982, Justin Currie on bass and lead vocals, and Iain Harvie on guitar and backing vocals. And these two make some really beautiful harmonies together, at times, sounding Eaglesque. They opened with When You Were Young which seemed appropriate for a band of 50 somethings to be playing to a crowd of fellow Gen Xers. Undoubtedly looking older, but still sporting a very fine head of hair, Justin’s voice has lost none of the range and beautiful tone that is such a part of this band’s success.

Del Amitri’s second album, Waking Hours of 1989 and Change Everything of 1992 spawned their biggest hits, the first played tonight was Always the Last to Know. This song opens with the most heinous musical crime there is (in my humble opinion) – COWBELLS! But once you get over this it is a song, like so many of this bands, that tells a great story and brought a few “wee wiman” in the crowd to their feet.

They were powering through this set at breakneck speed. There was very little patter in between songs which was a bit of a shame and I think the crowd would have loved a bit of banter. He did manage a “Is it supposed to be this hot?” Thursday was a bit of a scorcher but you will come to Australia in February so Aye, it is supposed to be this hot.

The wonderfully upbeat Kiss This Thing Goodbye was greeted with a loud cheer from the audience. The song begins with the harmonica, again, walking a very slippery slope between pop and country, but again, still managing to be inoffensive to my sensitive ears. The next hit out of the box was the wonderfully moody and even a little bit sad Driving with the Brakes On. One of my faves.

After a set of 18 tracks, more hits than misses, the main set drew to a close with the wonderfully philosophical Spit in the Rain and Stone Cold Sober.

The message that more was expected was very clearly sent as the crowd, now on their feet, showed their appreciation and begged for more.

A 5 song encore ensued. It was always a given that this would include their biggest hit and one of the best pieces of lyrical story telling I have ever heard, Nothing Ever Happens. This song speaks of the repetitiveness of an ordinary life and it always makes me think of my Mother in Law who worked in the tax office as a typist for over 30 years.

Scotland is my second home, having spent all of the 90’s and most of the naughties living in Glasgow and I feel as proud as any Scotsman when I see “home” grown talent do well internationally. Del Amitri have been appreciated by more than homesick Scots in Australia since they first toured here in 1990 but I fear that this may well have been the bands’ Australian swan song. I am grateful to have felt the swell of affection for the band in Glasgow when they could be heard on the juke box of every student pub and University union on the west coast. And I’m grateful to have seen them grace the stage of the Palais on a balmy summer’s night in Melbourne, 30 years later.

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InterviewsTour Interview

Interview with Justin Currie (Del Amitri)

Hi guys.  Thanks so much for making the trek out to Australia and New Zealand, and we're looking forward to the gigs in February.  I am the token Aussie in an otherwise Scottish household with immediate family from Cranhill, East Kilbride and even my son was born in the Southern General so I have been indoctrinated into all things Scottish over the years.

I distinctly remember a news article on Australian television sometime in the 80's which was talking about how huge Del Amitri were in Scotland and it had subtitles as the reporter interviewed you and some fans on the streets of Glasgow.  Have you found your Scottishness a hindrance, or a help on the international stage over the years?

I think that might have been an Austrian programme in the 1990s but you might be right. I think our Scottish identity was an enormous help. It kind of kept us separate from the slew of English college rock bands of the late eighties and early nineties. We were more likely to be lumped in with Hothouse Flowers than say, The Wonder stuff or someone. So that Celtic thing gave us a niche authenticity or something. I mean, there’s nothing authentic about anything in pop but it helped us stand out nonetheless.

Have you ever been tempted to be part of the “80's nostalgia” circuit like so many other artists?

Our first hit was at the dawn of the new decade so we’re not really seen as an eighties act. We slipped between a lot of stools which helped us. We didn’t date quickly like other bands from defined scenes. We were just these plodders who wrote half-decent tunes. We kept having radio hits right through grunge and Britpop. But we’re not really a nineties act either. We’re on a side road, behind the big trees.

You've had reunion tours in 2014 and 2018.  Why has it taken you 30 years to return to Australia?

Nobody called us as far as I know. We’d have jumped at the chance anytime after 1990 but chance came there none. That Australian tour in 1990 was one of the greatest times of all our lives. We loved Australia, the people, the food, the beer, the music, the weed. And I got to meet one of my heroes, Grant McLennan in Sydney. I remember finding myself in nightclubs most nights after shows dancing to Suicide Blonde by INXS. We took a seaplane to a sandy bay for lunch. We met wallabies and wombats. It was kind of glamorous. And glamour is not a term ever uttered in reference to our band. I also fell in love with someone. Always the Last to Know came from that. In fact a few songs on Change Everything are very influenced by that tour. I look back on it with profound longing and the satisfaction that comes with knowing you’ve really lived.

Have you heard that in the South Island of New Zealand, they eat haggis, neeps and tatties every night?  What are you expecting from your first shows ever in New Zealand?

I did not know that. Are you pulling my leg? I have zero expectations so I’m excited to encounter it all with no prejudice. We’re overjoyed that we’ll finally see a bit of NZ. I’ve never met a Kiwi I didn’t like. Maybe I’ll find out they send all the nice ones abroad to make a good impression and the rest are actually bastards.

Biffy Clyro have been flying the flag for Scottish music for some years.  Who do you see being the next Scottish band to make it big?

Honestly I have no idea. I mean I’ve seen Biffy on the telly and they seem to make a good racket but I really don’t know the first thing about them. If I don’t know that what chance do I have of giving you reliable information?

You've been touring for the best part of 40 years.  How does “mature” Del Amitri do things differently to in the early days?

Sadly I can’t drink after shows any more. I really miss that, unwinding and maybe going out for a while. But I’m too old to socialise at all around gigs. I’m actually in my bed within an hour of most gigs I do. Iain still quaffs a bit of whiskey, bless him. Andy still opens a bottle of red an hour before shows. I tend to walk about during the day now where before we’d have been doing stuff for the record company. So I’ve seen a bit more which I love. Iain sometimes brings his bike and goes exploring. We wouldn’t have done that in the nineties. No time or too hungover.

Your songs and lyrics have meant so much to so many people.  I personally have been at more than one funeral where Nothing Ever Happens was played. How does it feel to represent or speak for a generation like that?

I love it when people tell me a song has meant a lot to them. That’s the prize for the whole effort. If a song moves one person it was worth the writing. But those songs don’t represent or speak for a generation. Some of them just catch the odd ear in a soup of nonsense. What these ears are doing in the soup is anyone’s guess.

My husband started a Facebook group, Scots In Victoria and there are now 3000+ members, it would be amazing if you gave them a shoutout at your Melbourne show.

It might be but I guarantee you I’ll forget.

We will look forward to seeing you soon and thanks for having a chat to us today.

Pleasure and thank you.

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