words: Maddie Vlismas // photos: Lucas Hackett @lucas_packett_photography
“The bass line is unwavering, the call and response between guitars is a dream and Webb’s falsetto turns the whole experience into a trippy, all encompassing and certifiable jam.”
It’s early on a rainy Thursday night at the Forum Theatre in Melbourne and the Canadian crooner Ada Lea is sparkling onstage. She’s a shiny, purple, shoulder-padded vision, clutching her fierce red electric guitar. Joined onstage by only a synth she sways slowly as she sings, in a world of her own. Breathy high notes reach Kate Bush levels of ethereal, which encourages a few (tipsy) audience members to utilise the free floor space to do some interpretive dance moves.
Despite losing most of my $12 cup of red wine to the carpet moments ago, I’m feeling mighty fine grooving up front to BRONCHO. I couldn’t tell you a single word to any of their songs but their melodies and bass hooks are instantly recognisable.
For me, BRONCHO are the quintessential road trip listen; ‘Class Historian’ is pumping from the speakers, blue skies blowing in through the wide open windows and my feet up on the dash. It’s the middle of a bitter winter in Melbourne but they’ve transported me to warmer days, driving home from the beach covered in sand.
Onstage they’re a whirring of individual motion, like cogs on a clock- all working to create a unified purpose. The bass player’s blonde choppy hair is flipping from side to side, the drummer’s sticks fly over the kit and the lead singer is nonstop bobbing to the beat.
‘Triage’ marks a step in a new direction for Methyl Ethel and seeing it live adds a whole other layer of texture to the intricately detailed soundscape. Starting off with some newer songs from the album, frontman Jake Webb begins onstage alone dancing and moving to the beat of his own drum. Even though I’ve seen them live before, I’m now realising I’ve only glimpsed a sliver of what they’re really like.
Bright neon backdrops burst into life for Hip Horror after several songs of dark silhouettes. It’s got an almost sinister sound in its piano introduction, before coming alive when the guitars and drums join in.
They’re building momentum, making us wait patiently for their more beloved songs, but in the meantime we’re collectively realising that we know the new record better than we thought. All The Elements has the crowd singing along, acapella style, staring up at Webb with doe eyes as he commands the room.
The stage lights are a kaleidoscope of colours projected out into the audience- I feel like I’m watching them perform on one of those gimmicky laminated moving images that appear to come alive as you tilt it from side to side. Twilight Driving starts and he’s a silhouette again, on a box in the centre of the stage against a backdrop of vivid colour.
In quick succession, they fire through Real Tight and Ruiner with Webb chorusing “that’s not good enough…” over and over. The crowd is moving again after a few slower songs and the drum beat is so rich and solid, not allowing a single body in the room to deny the driving rhythm a dance.
The way his hands and body moves is so graceful and dramatic, it really is an artful expression that I hadn’t been able to appreciate with a sea of bodies in between me and the stage at festivals. They’re so much better up close.
Scream Whole is an example of Webb’s extreme talent when it comes to writing and producing. Each song is multilayered and draws attention to individual melodies and instruments, taking you on an intricate journey through the workings of his mind. The anticipation for the song has built to a climax and we’re eating out of the palm of his hands.
Ubu is next- another testament to the band’s success. I read that Webb’s songs are actually quite personal and meaningful- Ubu isn’t really a song about a haircut. He treats his lyrics like a conversation with the audience, but then obscures them with off- centre references and interesting sounds and distortion. All that aside, it’s hard to appreciate these intricacies when you’re screaming “Why’d you have to go and cut your hair?” Over and over at the top of your lungs.
After some feet stomping and tom foolery, they appear back onstage to end with my personal favourite Drink Wine. It’s repetitive themes never get old to my ears- in fact I love it more and more with every listen. The bass line is unwavering, the call and response between guitars is a dream and Webb’s falsetto turns the whole experience into a trippy, all encompassing and certifiable jam.