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[Review] Winston Surfshirt @ The Princess Theatre, Brisbane 02/06/2023

Review By Renee Morrison

It’s a pity Friday night’s Brisbane show was the last for Winston Surfshirt’s Panna Cotta tour – if it hadn’t been I would have told your brother, mother, sister, sister’s friends and, basically, anyone who would listen to go see this flawless performance. The night started later than advertised, but all three sets were well worth the wait.  It began on point with electronic funk emanating from Perth-based collective, Supathick.  Each of the five-piece act unquestionably hold their own and get the early crowd moving… and moving forward.  Frontwoman and vocalist Grace is a standout though with an enviable vocal range and power beyond her years. Since Supathick’s EP, In the thick of it, which was released 3 years ago,  the act have relocated to Brisbane but continued to tour Australia and receive many an accolade.  The sometimes disco, sometimes pop, but always groovy set includes tracks like Time, Backseat driving and slower one, Can’t keep waiting. Like Das Druid who come on next, Supathick don’t feel like just another support act. Let us hope they are not yet tired of touring, despite a very busy three years.

I’ll admit -embarrassingly- that I was pretty unaware of Das Druid before the night. Their commendable presence put the growing crowd in a psychedelic haze I will remember for a long time though.  Unsurprisingly, the band identify The Stone Roses as highly influential to their sound and while such a claim might make other acts nervous, Das Druid are worthy of the self-proclaimed comparison. Their set takes Brisbanites on a magic carpet ride weaving Manchester brit pop with, ravy, trance and even jungle sounds.  Despite the otherwise echo-filled set, the trio cleverly start with a focus on percussion really highlighting their attention to detail and phenomenal sound.  Motion control, Anxious oxygen and Euphoria, all from their first album Das Album are just some of the tracks we’re treated to. The synth-heavy sounds put us in a pleasant daze. 

Between sets the capacity-crowd flocks to the beer garden attached to the venue- Queensland’s oldest standing theatre, the Princess. This 133-year old venue has been meticulously restored but I’ve never seen the seated mezzanine been used before, let alone fill out.  Fortunately I was on the floor, but my space for grooving was decreasing by the minute. Once Winston Surfshirt hit the stage there is standing room only, and just! The Sydney-based six piece start the night with Nobody Like you, leaving no question that they’re here to party. Next up, their collab with Cosmo’s Midnight, Get to know you.   It’s here that punters first experience the magic brought by trombonist, The Bone – magic reminiscent of Andy Cato from Groove Armada.  Slower track, Need you, from their 2019 album Apple Crumble is up next and it’s obvious this crowd are long-time Winston addicts. They sing along passionately.  Crowd pleaser Complicated follows – just try not to dance to this dirty beat. The only thing funkier is the track’s videoclip – be sure to check it out. 

It would have been very easy – and forgivable- for Winston Surfshirt to have designed a set around the songs that have made them near-household names in Australia, songs like Smile, Be about you and All of the little things. While they do play these of course,  the ARIA award winners instead utilise the whole set, and nothing but the whole set, to showcase their huge range of genre bending talents.  All of the little things starts abruptly, and we find ourselves almost mid-song – this works well though and keeps the pace of the night flowing. The undulating beat and vocals are comforting and highlight just why this act attract such a diverse array of followers.  Despite describing themselves as a hip-hop act, and despite being a hip-hop fanatic myself, I think to label them as such is limiting.  Some of their work would feel just as relevant in a (funky) elevator as it would in a Brooklyn club.  Winston’s skills as an emcee are impeccable for sure though and his deep flow could easily be mistaken for none other than ATCQ’s Q-tip. 

A return to some tracks off their first studio album, Sponge Cake, come next.  For real, and When you’re ready are wrapped around newcomer 0421, the latter of which allows the one-man brass section to again take centre stage.  Speaking of the stage, it seems the Princess’ elevated pulpit could simply not contain all that talent – Winston jumping down and getting amongst the crowd at one point.  Loungey, reggae-inspired,  On a lock slows down the pace just a little but if the crowd are disappointed, they sure don’t show it.  In this one, guitarists Bik Julio and Mi-K, and Dool on keyboards keep us bouncing.  It’s obvious that once solo-artist, now front man Winston relishes every moment of their version of Doja Cat’s Kiss me More. The song also makes it clear that Winston has a gorgeous voice, one capable of holding a complex tune, as well as rhyming and rapping at pace. Jazzy Of another kind follows, foregrounding Dool’s magic on the keys. This was one of three singles released prior to their most recent, third studio album along with Maybe I’m in love with you.  No doubt hip-hop royalty, Talib Kweli, who features on the track recognised it was so much more than a love song.  It perfectly encapsulates that aforementioned genre-bending that Winston Surfshirt make look easy. 

There’s only one and For the record are not too far away, the former sounds a bit like Jamiroquai at his best and raises the party vibe in the room once again.  For the record is just as tasty as Apple Crumble, the name of the 2019 album from which it came. Honestly, the production of this track- that translates well to stage- is far more mature than one might expect from a relatively new outfit.  Ali D off the Sponge Cake album is up next – it was the first song of Winston Surfshirt’s I’d ever heard and still reminds me of Glamorous by Fergie for some reason. I can’t help it.  Fortunately, cheeky track Smile and then their cover of Crystal Waters’ Gypsy Woman get the Fergie out of my head.  In a fitting end to their set, well in terms of originals anyway, Surfshirt finish with the song that Winston explains really started it all, Be about you.  With over a million views on YouTube, the track has come a long way since existing as a chorus alone being played to the local pub flies in Sydney.

Winston Surfshirt, while there is no question that you now have a diehard fan in me, I “don’t know how I feel about” the Montel Jordan and then Wu Tang covers as encores.  You pull them both off, naturally, but with a back catalogue as delicious as yours, I suggest instead letting your talent shine right till the last second.  World domination for this six-piece Aussie act is so close you can taste it.  While this tour may be done and dusted, if by some miracle Winston Surfshirt were playing again tonight, I would already have my tickets.  Have a listen, seriously – happiness is just a song away. 

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