Review By Nikki Eenick
I’d been to the Northcote Social Club once before, and it was largely empty. The venue I walked into on Friday night, was basically unrecognisable. The room was already packed and hot inside, people between the ages of 18 and 60, some looking they were fresh from a footy match and others from an English Literature lecture. What brought them all here? The indie powerhouse duo that is support-act Ruby Gill and our headliner, ‘As-Heard-On-Tik-Tok’ darling, Matt Maltese.
Nominated for the Australian Music Prize in 2022, Ruby Gill’s debut album; I’m gonna die with this frown on my face is nothing short of a breakthrough hit. I can hear Gill before I can see her. She’s nestled under a microphone in the middle of stage, sitting with her feet off the edge, softly strumming a guitar or playing a portable piano. All I can see is the top of her brunette mullet-ed head, bobbing as she sings songs like You Should Do This For A Living, melancholic ballads that find their place nestled in between your heart and your lungs. Although she is Melbourne-based, Gill was born in Johannesburg and still has such a distant twang that she lets loose when she’s comfortable and joking – as opposed to when she sings and reveals to us caustic truths about being young, naïve, in love and existential. “On a lighter note, this next song is about falling in love with someone and not being afraid to admit it. It’s full of cliches, but that’s because it’s the only language I had to tell them.” The song in question is soon-to-be-released (hopefully), Imogen Creek. There’s a man in the middle of the crowd, easily over 60, and he is standing so still, his eyes welling up with tears. Within Gill’s work, there’s this power to move us, it’s an understanding of the human condition; all of our cringe, cliches, losses and loves. Regardless of age, she will find some part of you and shake it awake. Never have I ever been at a gig and seen the act stand, clear their throat, and read me a poem. But if any act was going to, it would be Ruby Gill. “I’ve been writing poetry since before I could play an instrument, or knew I had a voice to sing with. And I still, have not… honoured it, as a part of me for most of my life. And recently I’ve been trying to take it more seriously, just in my own body. I’ve had some poems that have meant a lot to me being published, and to see these words in writing means more to me than any song I’ve written. So, I feel like it’s something I have to lean into. I don’t know why I’m telling you all that” The crowd cheers and claps quietly, beckoning for her to go on. “I’m just um… taking you on the journey. *ahem* So this is a poem I wrote about being gay (Happy Pride!). It’s called I’m not exaggerating when I say.” Gill then proceeds to read us a beautiful poem about feeling lost within yourself, and so desperately wanting “a twin”, a soulmate, a wife. Watching her there, in front of the mic, I’m struck by how short she is. I can still barely see her. Her face is covered in massive glasses and her frame is hidden by a large t-shirt and shaky hands. She looks almost uncomfortable in her skin, until she starts to read us a poem, or sing us a song – then she is transformed. As soon as she’s finished reading, she sits and plays for us another unreleased track; jamie. “I hope you’re all excited to see Matt and his lovely band play!” Someone from the front of the crowd screams back, “We’re here for you!” Gill visibly blushes. “This last song is about being stuck in a house with someone during a pandemic who you really didn’t want to be. It’s called love space. Feel free to shout, “I want space!” When I sing it for about a minute too long.” No time to laugh, we are all immediately taken back to our own lockdown experiences, or our suffocating relationships – or in some cases, both. As the song plays, I see couples holding each other – the irony is not lost on me. As soon as Gill starts singing “I need space. I want space.” I hear screams from around the room of frantic voices all having a moment of catharsis together.
I first listened to Matt Maltese as I read Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep. I listened to nothing but As The World Caves In for about 8 hours, and now the mega “Made-Famous-By-TikTok” hit conjures up images of dystopian America and both Blade Runner movies. So, I think I expected Maltese to be moody or pensive, or something the opposite of what he was. Maltese is just delightful. He’s so fun, and funny and jovial. He loves his band, he loves the audience, he loves his music. He embodies the old adage; “Every musician wants to be a stand-up comic; every stand-up comic wants to be a musician” He has such an easy stage-presence that I couldn’t imagine him doing anything else. The 25-year-old British/Canadian indie-pop/chamber-pop artist fills a void left by people like Rex Orange County if he wasn’t an asshole, and King Krule if he saw an anger-management specialist. Maltese has a little bit of something for everyone.
Fittingly, we open with Good Morning and immediately transition into Rom-Com Gone Wrong. They’re both poppy, a little sad, painfully relatable and coupled with this gorgeous piano reverb and Maltese’s Better-Than-The-Recording vocals. Shoutout to the sound guy who looked like Steve Carrell, you did a great job man. I really can’t explain how beautifully the sound filled the room. Not a note off key, vocals and backing vocals and instrumentation all blending into each other flawlessly. “Excited” doesn’t really cover my feelings for the next hour. We are far from the dystopic landscapes I imagined; this is nothing short of heavenly. Maltese momentarily breaks our trance to give us some bassist/drummer jokes that “We’d been laughing about in the green room” Here’s a taster:
- What do you call a drummer with half a brain? Gifted.
- What do you call a drummer in a 3-piece suit? A defendant.
The crowd is laughing but Maltese goes “I know they seem mean, but those are the best drummer jokes – don’t worry I’ll pick on bassists in a second.”
- What’s the similarity between a bassist and a lawsuit? It’s great when the case is closed.
Maltese then goes into a story about how he was on a long-haul flight and just had to lay down some vocals for this song in his head. “And I feel so bad for the woman sitting next to me, because I knew she could hear me as I breathed into my phone; Cuuuurl up and Dieeeee. So, this next song is dedicated for you, plane lady, wherever you might be, I’m sorry.” Curl up & Die is, as expected, a flawlessly executed semi-melancholic banger. All of Maltese’s songs have this melancholic, heart-broken, love-sick undertone to them, and they are wonderous.
Matt Maltese is nothing if not a self-aware tease. “This is a song about a very happy, very sad, very sad, very happy conversation I had with my mum. It would be weird if I didn’t play Mother now, wouldn’t it? Imagine if I played When The World Caves In?” Playing the opening chord to WTWCI, he smirks and then fully launches into Mother. Winding through madhouse into Intolewd; “If I’d known Intolewd would’ve gotten as big as it’s gotten, I would’ve spelled it so much better”. As the band finishes Strange Time, Maltese launches into another anecdote. “Jamie (their sensational guitarist), was playing that main riff and someone went “oh fuck off!” and that’s how we knew we were in Australia.” And then the trio launch into a Bossanova cover of Strange Time. It is cut short, but we are all losing our minds, especially the lighting tech – I’ve never heard a grown man squeal with joy like that. “In another life, we’d be doing that every day on a cruise ship.” Next up is Everyone Adores You (At Least I Do), the whole crowd is singing along in the bridge. When You Wash Your Hair blesses us to an incredible piano solo from Maltese, who’s swapped anecdotes for arpeggios (they’re not really arpeggios, but it sounds good, sue me) and holds our undivided attention, the stage is bathed in red light. Krystal is stunning, it’s got this sort of 60’s hazy feel to it. Makes me feel like I’m in a coming-of-age story. “Makes me wonder if I ever loved anyone else”, reminding me of my first (and second) love, wherever they may be, Maltese holds those emotions and then helps us let them go. Our memories become fanciful, and how delightful it is to feel so light. Next song off the banger-roster, is personal favourite Hello Black Dog, raspy vocals and deep lighting really bring something to this song that the recording just can’t capture, it’s spellbinding. Studio 6 treats us to yet another Bossanova cover (it’s still not enough). “This next one’s about maybe the one or three times I’ve been to a nightclub. It’s As The World Cav- no.” Maltese is clearly having so much fun teasing us with what we know will be the finale. The real next-up special, is aptly named, Nightclub Love.
And, finally, it is time for THE Matt Maltese track: As The World Caves In. And fuck me, was it worth the wait. There’s this expectation that artists resent their #1 track, but Maltese seems genuinely surprised that the entire crowd is signing along with him. He gives it his all. Playing with tempo, with rhythm, showing off his incredible range and unmatchable piano skills. It’s the perfect way to end the absolute marathon of a show.
BUT WAIT I CAN’T WRITE THIS REVIEW AND NOT MENTION: Rowan and Isabelle.
They got engaged as Maltese was shredding keys to his biggest hit. CONGRATULATIONS! I’ve always wanted to be at a gig where someone gets engaged, and now I have. Maltese looks stunned; “Did you know she’d say yes?” And Rowan just laughs as Isabelle hugs him so tight I wouldn’t be surprised if his eyes bugged out. Congratulations guys, I hope the world doesn’t cave in anytime soon, but I’m glad you have each other – just in case.
Maltese, guitarist Jamie and drummer Jacob come to the front of the stage and take their bows, glasses of water in hand – begging to be drunk. They are all wearing the same shirt, it’s very sweet. Maltese returns, alone, for a stripped back encore of Widows. And then the show is over.
My friend turns to me and says, “You know I don’t think I could name a single male artist in my ‘Most Listened To’s. I think that’s about to change.”