Augie March - Watch Me Set My Strange Sun You Bloody Choir Tour
Karova Lounge, Ballarat, 27 August 2009
There was a telling moment at Augie March's last gig in Ballarat, when the dapperly-dressed frontman, Glenn Richards, politely requested that the stage lights be toned down a touch.
Telling, because the band has just recently announced that their current tour will be the last for an indefinite period - apparently, in the glare of success, Augie March is packing up and opting out.
That said, they're not exactly jumping a sinking ship - since the release of Moo You Bloody Choir, a whimsical blend of folk and soft rock, and in particular, the poignant "One Crowded Hour", Augie March has been receiving acclaim and attention for its versatility and creative talent. Perhaps that's part of the problem.
But watching the eclectic crowd mill into the Karova Lounge on a Thursday night, a regular haunt for Ballarat's alternative set, it couldn't be said the main act didn't have widespread appeal.
Bespectacled students, a mandatory scarf fashionably draped across their shoulders, mingled with clean-cut baby boomers, while a healthy dose of younger patrons steadily made their way to the intimate basement as the night wore on.
Indeed, when the group finally emerged from backstage and took up their positions, it was without the pomp and bravado of a rock band - rather Augie March took to the stage to the appreciative applause of faithful fans, easy listeners and the odd enamoured devotee.
Concerning the lattermost type, let it just be said that the tuning-up period of strumming and plucking was enough to warrant spontaneous bursts and rapturous cheering from one audience member. (Once the songs actually started coming, she may as well have been experiencing some kind of divine epiphany, bopping on the spot for two hours with an expression of utmost glee plastered on her face.)
But it must be said, once the songs started coming, it was hard not to appreciate the technical competence and variety of Augie March. Opening with an atmospheric experiment not entirely dissimilar to Pink Floyd, the set flowed with surprising ease between familiar soft-rock and folk, to the more eccentric, culminating in a rather strange ballad that had Richards earnestly incanting, "I want to go to the Moth Ball..."
On that well-pitched note, Richards's vocals do bring a great deal of style to the musical textures of the band's repertoire. Like an in-tune Dylan, he has the capacity to capture emotional nuances in all the right places (though it must be noted, on the night of this performance, our frontman was not entirely himself, complaining of a pinched nerve to a surprisingly unsympathetic, paying crowd).
Punctuating their diverse musical stylings was the affectionate banter between Richards and his drummer, Dave Williams, which informatively covered such weighty topics as Ballarat's "fine dining" scene and the challenges of misleading studio agents.
Throughout the set, the reason for the varied turnout became increasingly clear: the tendency for the music to lovingly mimic a wide array of past genres, and do so in a more than capable manner, lends Augie March a rich, if not nostalgic style.
Jaunty keyboards make for a sort of self-aware parody, while wistful lyrics are substantiated by a full-bodied musical sound: trumpets, saxophones, keyboards, guitars all filling the small venue with complex and resonant reverberations.
The band once noted in an interview that a new multitude of fans had joined the throng after the incredible success of the single "One Crowded Hour", leading to a disturbing trend once they headed back out on the road - patrons would come to the show, but having been denied their favourite tune within the space of the first few songs, would abruptly demand it be played immediately.
As a result, "One Crowded Hour" has become the perfect closing number, and as the eclectic crowd milled back out into the chilly night air, they didn't seem to have minded the wait in the least.
4 out of 5
For more gig reviews, check out our Reviews archive.