Catching up on Concert Reviews II: Mono and Laura live in Melbourne, 4 December 2009

11 Jan

2007 was a terrible year for me and concerts. At the start of the year, I had just moved to Melbourne and was bleeding money, so live music was out of the question – consequently, I missed the last gig ever by Arcturus. Later in the year, I had nobody to accompany me to a couple of concerts and in a bout of shyness convinced myself they really didn’t matter that much when they did. Luckily, some of the bands I missed due to poverty and irrational shyness have decided to return to Australian shores. Isis are coming in February this year, and Mono returned in December 2009. Now all I need is for Pelican to come back.

Mono are Japan’s finest post-rock export. I actually don’t listen to them with any tremendous frequency; I need to be in the right mood for their pretty, wandering compositions. However, I think they’re very good at what they do, and when I heard they were returning, I was all for rectifying one of my 2007 mistakes, especially as Mono have quite the live reputation. Then I discovered that support would come from none other than Laura, Melbourne’s finest post-rock band. I would call them Australia’s finest post-rock band, but Sydney’s Sleepmakeswaves are just as worthy of that distinction. So as it happened, as much as I wanted to see Mono, I was going even more for Laura.

The concert was held at the Hi-Fi Bar in Melbourne’s CBD. As it happened, I had never actually seen a gig there in all my three years of residence here. It isn’t entirely the easiest venue to find for one as poorly sighted as I am, its entry squirreled away between shops on Swanston Street, though the queue at the door was a dead giveaway. I quickly learnt during the gig that its reputation for having one of the finest sound systems in Melbourne is not wrong. I sauntered up to the front of stage at right, so I had an ideal position for the gig, but from looking around, the venue certainly seems to have plenty of handy vantage points.

Laura

My delight about seeing Laura perform was heightened when I checked the stage times and noticed they were allocated enough time for almost a full set. The Melbourne sextet always seem a little crowded on stage, though not as bad at the Hi-Fi as they were in 2008 when they performed at the East Brunswick Club in support of their last studio release, the Yes Maybe No EP. They began the evening with Every Light, its gorgeous opening notes hooking me immediately, and by the eerie, sublime opening cello of Radio Swan Is Down Part I, I was completely riveted and enthralled. The response from the audience indicated that I was not the only person there primarily for Laura either.

Laura are truly an excellent live outfit. They have a rich studio sound that they are more than capable of reproducing on stage, and this is naturally augmented by the vitality of live performance. They did not miss a step the entire evening, and played a wide selection of material that encompassed both of their albums, the EP, and what must be new songs (or I am a terrible Laura fan who’s missed something somewhere). The familiar material was truly excellent; I Hope takes on an epic and moving quality live, Widow’s Son is intense, and I am a sucker for Bobik Is In America. The new material was quality and fit in seamlessly. The closer, Cardboard Cutout Robot Victim Hero Children, was ideal and ended the show on a very strong note.

At the end of their set, I managed to score a copy of the set:

Printed set from Laura gig, 4 Dec 2009

1. Every Light
2. Radio Swan Is Down Part I
3. Bobik Is In America
4. I Hope
5. Is There No Help For The Widow’s Son?
6. Levodopa
7. Ginger (new song?)
8. S.I.T.A. (new song?)
9. Mark The Day (new song?)
10. Cardboard Cutout Robot Victim Hero Children

Mono

While Laura performed, I noticed I was starting to feel a bit off-colour. During the break between Laura and Mono, my condition declined further, and by the time Mono took the stage, I was trying to deny that I was showing flu-like symptoms and felt like crap. I can’t say my condition aided the concert experience, but I was determined to tough it out, and tough it out I did.

Mono made the effort worthwhile. As soon as they came on stage, it was obvious they had a serious commitment to their music and nothing was going to get in the way of their professionalism or focused passion. Guitarists Taka Goto and Yoda played seated on stools – and yet played with more emotional intensity than most guitarists who spend an entire set jumping and running around. Occasionally they stood, kicking their stools aside, but for most of the set, the only person standing was bassist Tamaki, in front of drummer Yasunori Takada in centre stage, flanked by the guitarists.

From the first song, Ashes In The Snow, the Hi-Fi was filled with a beautiful, almost rapturous atmosphere. Occasionally, Tamaki put her bass aside in favour of keys, including for the sublime Follow The Map. The setlist began with four compositions from Mono’s latest, Hymn To The Immortal Wind, and the biggest question is “how do Mono cope without the orchestration live?” The answer is that the material simply becomes better, with Taka Goto in particular playing his heart out and taking the material to another level entirely. The reverent crowd – except for a few knobs at the bar up the back – certainly showed their appreciation for his craft, and for the craft of the entire band.

It’s hard to fault the band. They played for about 90 minutes and were flawless, stunning, and captivating. The sound was pummelling in a peculiarly ethereal way, and the Hi-Fi’s sound system and the band’s mixing did the musicians justice. My condition left me pretty exhausted by the end and my head was throbbing as if it were set to implode on itself, but I would not have wanted to be anywhere else that night. Naturally, a month on, my memory of the setlist is shaky – Yearning was definitely a highlight, and Everlasting Light a flawless closer. The band did not play an encore, but did not need to; they had said everything necessary. I found this set online, though I would have sworn The Battle To Heaven was played late in the set too:

1. Ashes In The Snow
2. Burial At Sea
3. Follow The Map
4. Pure As Snow (Trails Of The Winter Storm)
5. Yearning
6. Halcyon (Beautiful Days)
7. The Kidnapper Bell
8. Everlasting Light

To end my review, I shall end on the same note as Mono did. Here is a video of Everlasting Light on 13 October 2009 in Los Angeles, shot from an almost identical angle to the one I had in Melbourne (unfortunately I failed to find any videos from the Melbourne gig itself):

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One Response to “Catching up on Concert Reviews II: Mono and Laura live in Melbourne, 4 December 2009”

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. Catching up on Concert Reviews III: The Church live in Melbourne, 5 December 2009 « An Ocean of Noise - 12/01/2010

    […] I arrived at the venue to a much larger audience. Since I had come down with a bit of a cold at Mono and Laura the previous night, I had taken it easy during the day and my condition had improved enough that I […]

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