The last time The Avalanches played Adelaide, George W Bush was freshly inaugurated as the US president, Flume was just nine years old and The Avalanches were one of the most hyped bands on the planet thanks to their recently released debut album, Since I Left You.
Released in November 2000, Since I Left You is the Pet Sounds of sample-based albums. Featuring around 3500 samples, the album took the genre, and electronic and dance music in general, to new heights with a highly danceable record that utilised second-hand shop rejects (as well as disco classics) for samples and didn’t rely on big beats and pounding baselines. Unusually for an electronic outfit, they were also one of the most anarchic live bands in the late ‘90s and early ‘00s, as their energetic sets resulted in broken bones and cancelled tours.
Waiting for a second album, however, was a lesson in extreme patience. Every year there seemed to be word that a new record was on its way. And every year fans would be disappointed as rumours proved to be just that – rumours. But when all hope was lost, news came through last year that the single Frankie Sinatra would precede a new album, Wildflower, their first in 16 years.
Eliza Wolfgramm (foreground) and Spank Rock (background)
While the Oompa Loompa backpack hip hop first single left many worried, the resulting album was a success. The scaled-down group (featuring only two original members, Robbie Chater and Tony Di Blasi) was inspired by the Beach Boys. An apt inspiration. But their latest album should be compared to the late ’60s and early ’70s work of The Beach Boys. The psychedelic Wildflower was no game changer in the mode of Since I Left You, it wasn’t the Pet Sounds or Smiley Smile of sampling, instead, like the Beach Boys’ run of solid post-Smiley Smile long players (Friends, Sunflower, 20/20 and Surf’s Up) The Avalanches just turned in a bloody good record. Not revolutionary, just entertaining.
And, like a wounded Beach Boys about to tour with Brian Wilson at home, The Avalanches hit Adelaide 16 years after their local Big Day Out appearance with only one original member on stage, Di Blasi (Chater, sadly, was in hospital dealing with an ongoing health issue).
Before the main act, local rockers Bad//Dreems took to the stage in what was a bizarre choice for a support act; TKay Maidza would have been ideal or, indeed, a DJ (the other states had hip hop innovator Grandmaster Flash DJing as the support). However, the normcore looking pub rockers did what they did and did it well, it was just the wrong situation for their brand of punch-the-air Oz rock.
After an ambivalent opening, the crowd began to fill a sweaty Thebarton Theatre to catch the main act after a decade-and-a-half absence. Hitting the stage for joyous opener Because I’m Me, Di Blasi (on keys and samples) was joined by Chater’s replacement, the multi-instrumentalist Jonti (who organised the live Avalanches tribute show for Vivid in 2014), rapper Spank Rock, vocalist Eliza Wolfgramm and drummer Paris Jeffree. The Jackson 5-like disco of Because I’m Me got the sweat-drenched crowd prepared for the annoyingly catchy comeback single Frankie Sinatra before Wolfgramm took centre stage for The Clash cover Guns of Brixton, an appropriate cover, as the militant look of the live band was a mix between The Clash and extras from Walter Hill’s 1979 cult classic The Warriors (Jonti was even rocking a Warriors tee). The show’s quality visuals also looked to be inspired by the New York subways of the highly stylised cult film.
While Wolfgramm and Spank Rock (who with producer XXXChange brought Baltimore Club to the world in 2006 with the album YoYoYoYoYo) were inspired choices to lead The Avalanches live Mk II, vocalist Oscar Key Sung was hard to hear when he took the mic to sing Colours and didn’t have the presence of the other two frontpeople.
Running through their set at a cracking pace (with the extended jam of Subways and Wildflower high point If I Was a Folkstar the highlights), The Avalanches worked the crowd into a frenzy with hit Frontier Psychiatrist. And then they were off. The crowd wanted more. A lot more.
They complied, returning with fan favourite Electricity, the single which paved the way for Since I Left You and hinted to the world that this Melbourne collective was something special. Unfortunately, the encore seemed as lightning quick as the main set. After performing future stoner classic The Noisy Eater and anthem Since I Left You, they left the stage with their debut album opener still ringing in the crowd’s ears.
The Avalanches’ return to Adelaide was a quick and high impact musical workout that got the three-quarters full Thebarton Theatre moving in unison for one of the most joyous concerts I’ve witnessed in a long while. After 16 years in the wilderness, The Avalanches have found their groove on record as well as the stage. Let’s hope we don’t have to wait until 2033 to welcome them back.
The Avalanches and Bad//Dreems
Saturday, January 7
Photos: Sia Duff