The Central Club Hotel in the Melbourne inner-city suburb of Richmond has seen better days as a venue. Which is a shame because it has a good sized band room and stage with good sound properties and plenty of spots where you can get a view. Last Saturday night it played host to Sydney progressive rock act Breaking Orbit, three great support bands, and the warmest beer in Australia.

Loud progressive rock doesn’t have a reputation as fun music, but there was a celebratory atmosphere being the last gig of the tour for Breaking Orbit and the last gig of the year for all bands. It’s a night I’ll remember for a friendly, music community atmosphere and awesome tunes.

Things kicked off with Kettlespider who had brought a good number of faithful supporters to hear their mix of heavy instrumental post-rock and post-metal. With guitarist Scott away in Europe Jarrad Camilleri took over the role and generally suppressed the urge to shred like Richie Kotzen as the band played a few tracks off their debut record from earlier this year. As well as a couple of my favourites, ‘Avadante’ and ‘Discovery’, they went with a crowd-pleasing cover of Pink Floyd’s ‘Money’ with a Christmas twist. Drummer Simon added the vocals and although certainly not bad, I think it’s safe to say they will thankfully remain an instrumental band. A wonky stage floor kept bass player Colin less animated than normal without it affecting his playing and in all it was an energetic set of poly-rhythmic, chugging, proggy goodness.

One

Next up was One, who played dark heavy rock/metal with strong, powerful vocals, thumping bass grooves, inventive drumming and dynamic guitar lines. Opening with the full-on assault of their single ‘The Hold Up’ the strength and quality of Damo’s vocals was not a million miles from Maynard James Keenan in its emotion but despite this and the inventive song structures One did not come across as a Tool clone. ‘No Compromise’ kept the pace up before we dropped back a notch for ‘Can I?’, an intense tale of woe with the vocals supported by strong but restrained guitar from Paul and Dave, Tad’s bass and Richards’s drums. Live this had more power than the recorded version and worked well, maintaining the intensity of the openers. Despite the serious subject matter of their songs, the guys didn’t take themselves too seriously and they built a great relationship with the crowd. This wasn’t the first time One and Kettlespider appeared on the same bill this year and their sounds work well together.

Branch Arterial hit the stage next with an explosive set of heavy rock that took elements of prog, metal, post-rock and more and set them to complex rhythms. Although clearly inspired by the likes of Tool, Cog and Dream Theater this was a fresh and exciting sound built around Nigel’s slightly warbling and hugely strong vocals and great harmonies from guitarist Jason. It’s fair to say that live they really brought out the soul of what I’d heard on their facebook site, throwing themselves into each song with passion. As with the first two bands there was no time for ballads here, sticking to powerful mid-tempo adventures that saw bass and guitars counterpoint over variety-filled drums. Opening with ‘Devil in the Deep’ they moved on to a new song ‘Echoes’ which was one of the highlights of the night, pulling together a swirling smorgasbord of progressive sounds. Next up was ‘Dawn’ and their single ‘Faces’, which started off with some tender post-rock style tremolo before launching into a dynamic intertwining play-off between powerful guitar and bass riffs with fast kick-drum and that jangling guitar. It got even better with another awesome new song, ‘Two Minds’ before they ran out their brilliant set with an instrumental piece ‘Thieves’ and a couple of other tracks from their 2011 debut release. Pre-production on a new album is finished and given the quality of the new songs, you can add Branch Arterial to your list of records to look out for in 2013.

The debut album from Breaking Orbit made my top ten list for this year with its great concept, songs and execution. I missed the band when they played earlier this year so it was a long wait to finally get to see them perform songs from the album live. The danger of building my hopes up was always going to be that anything less than excellent would be a let-down. I was not let down.

Matt and Ayden – Breaking Orbit

Opening with the sprawling ‘Echoes’ it was quickly obvious these guys were also here to have fun. I’m sure there was an extra smirk on their faces as Matt sang the line “Will we ever make it through, Only time will tell”, which I’m guessing has been been on their minds since the drawn-out tour began (such is band life in a land as big as Australia when you have day jobs).

A handful of hardcore fans stood as close to Matt as they could with lots of expressive hand gestures, gyrating and banging of heads now and then. Among them two couples were enjoying the live music and each other, proving you can dance, kiss and have fun seeing progressive rock. Of course as you’d expect a few guys had come solo, enjoying intelligent music in their own world, but there were far more women than the stereotype would have you believe.

We then moved on to ‘Orion’, one of their longer-serving songs and full of technicality, dynamics and intensity. Ayden pounded his six-string bass building a huge foundation while Mark by this time was throwing his sticks flat-out over the kit. Things got heavier, louder and even more intense with ‘Conscious Self’, with its early crescendo that fell only to climb again. The rise and fall took us from one gentle low to explosive high after another, each climax bigger than the last with huge wall of sound, chugging bass and screaming back-up vocals coming from brothers Dylan and Ayden.

The set followed the album for the next couple of songs as Dylan swung his guitar behind his back, not for the last time that night, and beefed up Mark‘s drums with extra percussion as they slid into ‘My Direction’. This was followed by a journey to a land of pulsating South American-sounding rhythms in ‘Machiguenga’, an instrumental track showcasing drums again from both Mark and Dylan.

The brilliant ‘Cassandra Syndrome’ took things back to the loud, intense sound full of tension and Matt‘s broad-ranging vocals, followed by the title track from the album. Throughout the set Matt took time to thank the punters, spotting someone who had been at their Newcastle gig (1000km away) and others who had seen them in Canberra (700km), as well as to spruik the merch. They were animated on stage and connected so well with the punters – smiling and joking the whole way through.

Dylan – Breaking Orbit

Closing the set was ‘Silence Seekers’, again with Dylan switching between his percussion and guitar, the efforts of he and Matt being hampered somewhat by a silly-string attack from Ayden half way through, which they are probably still trying to clean off their guitars. They looked happy to be on stage but perhaps also a little relieved the year was over.

All night the quality of the sound mix had been perfect for this style of music, with that wonderful  feel of gut-thumping bass as the strings were flicked, the drums even and sharp, the cymbals not hissing too much and guitar clear and loud but never drowning out the vocals. All the singers were great and harmonies were solid and effective. It’s great when you can see four bands and don’t go away thinking about some aspect of the sound that niggled. Hats off to the sound guy.

The bands all deserved a bigger crowd but there was a bit of stiff competition that night. Still, it didn’t dampen the enthusiasm of the bands and it meant more of that warm beer for those who made the small effort to get down and hear some great Aussie progressive rock. In the end, I think what helped made the night feel so good was not just the music, but the range of ages, the camaraderie between the bands, their supporters and the fact no one was up their own arse. It felt like one big happy music family. Who wouldn’t want to be part of that?

Breaking Orbit – Official Website

Branch Arterial -Facebook Page

One – Facebook Page

Kettlespider – Facebook Page