I’m a creature of habit. Every morning I wait at the same spot on the train station platform, sit in the same seat, in the same carriage; and do the exact same thing for my return journey home. It doesn’t stop there. It doesn’t matter what gig I am at, I will stand in the exact same spot. At the front, and slightly to the left. It’s the perfect spot for me – I am able to get up close and personal with the musicians – and I don’t get stuck in the pit, where I am much to small for.
And right up front, slightly to the left is where you could find me on Friday night at The Manning Bar for Trail of Dead’s 20th anniversary Australian tour.
I got to The Manning Bar just before doors opened, and was rather surprised to find that starting the night off was Melbourne outfit Heads of Charm. I wasn’t expecting a fourth band on the bill – thinking that Solkyri were to be the opener for the night. I swear The Red Paintings must have some kind of magic about them, because the last time I saw them live every band started right on time and there was very little waiting about – especially at the beginning of the night – and the exact same thing happened Friday night. I am pretty sure, these are the only two times I have experienced this at a gig. And so right on time, just after doors opened, Heads of Charm took the stage and played their set.
The room was unfortunately pretty empty at this point – which sadly is just to be expected. I understand that the audience bought their tickets to see Trail of Dead, or The Red Paintings – or both – but not coming to support the support acts is just bad form (in my opinion). Maybe you don’t know them, but you might just walk away having heard your new favourite band. And you know, no one wants to play to an empty room. Like all good professional musicians though, Heads of Charm played with just as much energy as they would had they been playing to a packed out arena. The set may have been short, but I’m sure those who turned up early found it worth it. They played with everything they had, and it’s hard not to like a band that incorporates that many killer bass solos.
I don’t always know how to feel about instrumental bands. Especially when watching them live. When singing along to a live band, the audience almost feels like part of the show. But, what does the audience do when watching an instrumental band? Air guitar is probably out of the question. Making guitar noises with your mouth tends to be more suited to your bedroom, not a live venue. The answer I suppose is just to watch and enjoy the show in front of you. And if a band is good at what they do, vocals or not, they will captivate the audience and you’ll involuntarily dance, head-bang, move to the music. And luckily for everyone at The Manning Bar Friday night, Solkyri were just such an instrumental band. It’s obviously important to enjoy the music being played live, but watching a live band is even more exciting when the band plays with pure passion. Solkyri played not only a captivating set, but watching the raw intensity of these guys was thrilling. You could see in each members face how much it meant to them to be up on that stage – and you know a band is playing full tilt when a drumstick snaps and goes flying into the audience. As the venue began to fill, Solkyri enraptured the audience with their set and got everyone well and truly pumped for The Red Paintings and Trail of Dead.
If you are familiar with Victim of Sound, or know me – even a little – you know that I am a fan of The Red Paintings. When I saw them live two years ago, I was blown away with what I saw on stage, and they did not fail to impress me again on Friday night. No matter the size of the stage The Red Paintings are playing on; no matter where they are on the bill; no matter what is happening in their personal lives; they care about what they do and will always give it their all. Their shows will always be more than just a live band. It’s an art show. With two human canvases, and one regular canvas, you can watch art unfold right in front of your eyes; while revelling in The Red Paintings set. At first I thought the audience seemed a little tame, but perhaps they were just too enamoured by all that was happening, they just didn’t know where to look. Do you watch the painters create amazing art? Do you stare at the unbelievable violin talents of Alix? Do you get lost in what Trash is singing, and watch as he plays his guitar with an alien foetus or R2D2 toy? Do you lose yourself in Hiroshi’s drumming or Ginny’s roaring bass expertise? The answer is: everything. Sure, you’ll spend 50 minutes moving your head, roaming the stage with your eyes as you try to take it all in, but it is worth it. You really don’t want to miss a thing. The Red Paintings will never disappoint when it comes to a live show. There may be little hiccups – an R2D2 may not stop beeping when it’s meant to, the lighting tech may use white light when there was a request not to, but nothing will ever slow them down. Not even having to spend (I’m guessing) upwards of a couple of hours before their set, getting human canvases ready, ensuring there is enough paint on hand, preparing themselves for the show – it’s a lot to do every night, and how they don’t tire themselves out I will never know. Once again, I was just blown away with what these guys do – along with the new song they played – and have begun waiting for the next time they find themselves in Sydney a show. I do hope, they find themselves in a bigger space – I can only imagine what could be created with The Red Paintings on a large stage.
I may have failed to mention the reason for why a large number of people gathered at The Manning Bar Friday night – to celebrate the 20th anniversary of Trail of Dead. 20 years is a long time. 20 years as band is a great achievement. The music industry is a fickle business. So many talented people try to make it as a band, but simply can’t. To manage to stay alive after 20 years as the music industry suffers from downloading and labels taking away artist creativity, is nothing short of a wonder. But Trail of Dead have made it, and it’s not hard to see why after seeing them live. I wasn’t extremely familiar with Trail of Dead before Friday night. I had heard a few songs, and was told by many people about what an amazing live show they put on. To be honest, I was a little bit apprehensive about their live show. I looked at some stuff on YouTube, and just didn’t get the sense of a wild, amazing show. But then, it’s different watching a band live on YouTube, compared to in real life, so I tried not to let what I saw cloud my judgement. Once Trail of Dead started playing, I knew instantly the feelings I got from the YouTube videos were wrong. Just like every band before them, they put absolutely everything into their set. These guys were nothing short of professionals, truly connecting with the audience and showing what a band can do after 20 years – particularly Conrad and Jason who have been there since the beginning. They had the energy of 20 year olds and that energy flowed from the stage into the audience, even finding its way to the older members of the crowd who were enjoying the night with as much excitement as the younger ones. Trail of Dead may not be quite as chaotic on stage as I have seen them previously described, but that doesn’t mean they have become boring. It is clear they love what they do, as they made sure there was no invisible barrier between them and the audience through their entire set. It was never them and us. It was simply us. They had fun on stage together, and had fun with the crowd. And to keep things interesting Jason and Jamie took turns playing guitar and drums – it also seemed to be the night of playing the guitar with foreign objects as Jamie opted to play a guitar lick or two with a drumstick.
20 years is a long time to be doing anything, and for Trail of Dead to still be performing with as much love and energy as they are, to an audience who clearly couldn’t get enough, says a lot not just about the music they create but who they are. Every band that played Friday night proved that music is their passion, and they will always put in 100% no matter what the circumstance. Every band was worth seeing, and I am glad I was there to help Trail of Dead celebrate their 20 year milestone.