Touring Australia following the local release of their long-awaited debut album, Los Angeles/Brisbane band The Red Paintings took to the stage at The Espy in the Melbourne suburb of St Kilda, where they performed with support from Rouge Foncé and Solkyri. There were big differences in sound which you might expect to detract from the night but in fact it avoided any sense of genre fatigue. It’s true not everyone was a fan of both openers, but by the end of the night there was a feeling of completeness.
Sydney three-piece Solkyri opened the night with a short set hot on the heels of their debut album launch Australian tour. Wanting to get as much into their 30 minutes as they could there was no time for chatter or more than a breath between each piece. Going for a stronger start than the last time they played in Melbourne they still captured the different moods and emotions of their songs.
Opener ‘This Can’t Wait!’ from their EP of a couple of years ago grabbed the attention of the early crowd with its waves of guitar and bass, early crescendo and deep breath before a second peak. The cheerful bouncing intro to ‘Hunter’ from their current album led into its swirling explosion while short track ‘Oklahundt’ broke up the set with its beautiful tremolo, giving way to the intensity of ‘I Am the Motherfucker’ with its cracking bass line, sprawling riffs and melodies and dark aggression. Saving the popular ‘With Strawberries Like Dead Men’ till last, Nick dismounted his kit and took up keys for the tender opening half before grabbing the sticks again to lead the building intensity and triumph of the closing few minutes. He recreated the trademark dissonance of his double tom hits as they fired great pulsating masses of air through the frantic bass and guitar arpeggios that brought home a powerful half hour of instrumental rock.
Locals Rouge Foncé took a 180° turn with their blend of cabaret, lounge and rock’n’roll that’s served up with a healthy dose of burlesque. They oozed confidence and had every right to, with a swagger that goes hand in hand with embracing an underground culture laden with sensuality and eroticism mixed with the macabre, of tattooed women and men in skirts.
The opening shrieks of singer Lola Jane brought in ‘Amusia’, overflowing with sly temptation and a hark back to some fuzzy garage sounds, and the cheek continued as the five-piece declared their intentions to lead you further astray with ‘The Devil’s Got My Baby’, complete with small red megaphone. ‘Nightstalker’ brought a more downbeat mode – not sombre but nice and dark as it led slowly to its climax. Their single ‘Devious Eyes’ had more swing than the ’60s with snapping fingers, a wandering bass, bouncing drums, twinkling keys and a wicked guitar solo supporting yet another story of an evil woman you couldn’t bring yourself to hate. The set rounded out with ‘The Carousel’, a brash and chaotic stamping of Rouge Foncé’s territory. Enter at your own risk.
When you think about it, all bands wear costumes of sorts and have stage sets when they perform. Whether the look is “I just turned up to play” or elaborate costumes and sets with massive light shows and visual displays, cannons that shoot confetti or a smoke machine, it’s intended to complement or enhance the listening experience. To describe and understand the experience of a Red Paintings show it’s important to understand the unusual part the whole theatre of the event serves. Rather than the theatre enhancing the listening experience, it’s the listening that enhances the artistic experience (along with the other elements), in part because the balance of control and anarchy leans more toward anarchy than usual.
There was no better example of this than during the fourth or fifth false ending of ‘Hong Kong’, where the band and other artists all remained perfectly motionless waiting for the signal from Trash to relaunch the mayhem, except on this occasion one of the body painters slowly started resuming his brush strokes during the silence and Trash slowly turned to watch him (or stare at him?). Apart from being funny, it was a beautiful act of defiance – a response to the music that exists in silence.
But let’s go back a step or two. The set started with a slow, deep, swirling sample as the curtains opened to reveal some small blue lights moving around a little in the darkness, attached to a couple of unidentifiable people, soon revealed as two women wearing large asymmetrical masks and painted in black – the human canvases. The band walked on stage in a mixture of Japanese costume and Trash’s familiar skirt and hat with red star to a healthy welcome from the crowd. After a quick hello from Trash his tremolo guitar was soon joined by violin and cello for ‘You’re Not One of Them’ as the dynamics of the song quickly revealed a perfect sound mix and volume. For the whole night it was easy to pick out individual instruments and the vocals and follow them however and in whatever combination you wanted. Hitting their stride without a slip, The Red Paintings swelled to the first chorus as Trash’s vocals moved from quiet melancholy to angry despair. It was on.
Each of the canvases immediately responded completely differently – slow, fluid, restrained swaying movements from one as the other snapped from one pose to another, slightly crouched and hands out as claws. ‘It Is As it Was’ kept the pace up with the drums making an almighty statement as they would continue to do, and the strings and guitar swapping melodies and harmonies as bass strung out that great line that reminds of early Cure. The lights fell back to darkness as ‘Fall of Rome’ brought the painters on stage who crept in clothed in black with abstract, alien, skeletal lines glowing in the dark, taking up their positions. This song was fucking incredible live, swinging through so many emotions and capturing all the intensity of the album track, the uneasiness enhanced by the alien skeletons.
Around this time some guy with a bandana covering his face got up on stage and moved around throwing some stuff into the crowd before wandering back off, but in a later break between songs we found out this was Adam, the first painter ever at a TRP gig, wearing the same clothes he did on that occasion, and he was in fact off stage painting once again.
Moving through the likes of ‘Streets Fell Into My Window’ and ‘Walls’ the ‘Dead…’ pair was reached and there was a brief interruption during ‘Dead Children’, but things were soon back on track and by this time the human canvases had received their third coat of paint and intricate patterns had appeared, while the other artist on stage had created a picture that continued to change colours for the remainder of the set. Seeing these personal responses growing and metamorphosing alongside the music revealed great similarities but also great differences, the narrative becoming far greater and more impressive than the music alone. ‘Hong Kong’ took us out to a break, at which point the skeletons put down their brushes and slowly, creepily walked out into the crowd, freaking out a couple of punters in the process.
The band returned to the stage sans strings for a cover of ‘Spawn Again’ by Silverchair and new song ‘Chinese Whispers’ before violin and cello returned to see out the set with the epic ‘The Revolution Is Never Coming’. The curtains closed, the crowd wandered off, some staying to chat to Trash and the others, and Adam’s lone painting sat next to the stage as a record of one person’s interpretation of that brief 80-odd minute moment in time. A moment I would have loved to have gone through all over again right there and then.