The Ocean Party opened proceedings tonight at the Northcote Social Club with their pleasant, upbeat guitar pop. The Melbourne five piece play music in the vein of The Lucksmiths if they were more influenced by 1980s Paul Kelly, and appeared to be as relaxed and happy as their music sounded. They were perhaps not the most musically suitable act to fit tonight’s bill, but they did their thing and did it well.
Next up was Harry Howard and the NDE (Near Death Experiences). Howard has been a familiar fixture for some time now, perhaps best known for playing bass in These Immortal Souls, along with his brother, the late Rowland S. Howard, with whom Harry shares a striking similarity.
Taking the stage in a sharp suit and backed by his current band, The NDE, consisting of Dave Graney on bass, Clare Moore on drums and Edwina Preston on keys, Howard and co. proceeded to rip into a set of raw 1980s post-punk; marrying 1960s garage guitar sounds with a bright organ, a thumping rhythm section, and Howard’s distinctive drony-punk vocals, half spoken and half sneered. Many of the songs were quite similar to one another and there were often awkward pauses between them where Howard didn’t quite seem to know what to say, but the band didn’t miss a note and the crowd was behind them all the way.
The main act took the stage at 11:30, Ron S. Peno, wearing a black hat and snappy suit and cradling a glass of sauvignon blanc, looked every bit the aging rocker, the years having only slightly diminished his dangerous intensity. His new group, The Superstitions, are made up of Cam Butler, guitarist from instrumental art-rockers Silver Ray, who is also Peno’s songwriting partner for this project, keyboardist Tim Deane, drummer Mark Dawson, and bassist Andy Papadopoulos, who all took their places and launched into the first song.
The reason for tonight’s performance is to release Ron S. Peno and The Superstitions’ debut album Future Universe, a beautiful collection of songs which made up tonight’s set. The material draws heavily on the 1950s/60s expansive pop sounds of The Walker Brothers and Burt Bacharach whilst still sounding new and energised. This is then mixed in with some rockier sounds and Peno’s distinctive vocal, part baritone croon, part country howl, sounding noticeably worn but no less effective.
Perhaps the fact that Peno is a songwriter who does not play an instrument has allowed him to completely focus on the two most striking things about tonight’s performance – the classic melodies he seemingly effortlessly has come up with to match Butler’s music, and the dramatic delivery which has typified Peno’s past work. This drama is not limited to his singing, but is expressed physically as he rushed around the stage, arms flailing, palms raised, even during the quietest of songs.
The set did seem to drag a little midway through due to a string of mid-tempo songs, which was a shame as it was during those quieter songs, such as the gorgeous “New Blood”, on which Peno’s melodies really shone through and glued themselves to the band’s insistent and swooning groove.
It is unlikely that even those foolish enough to have turned up tonight hoping to hear some of their favourite Died Pretty songs would have walked away disappointed; we were treated to over an hour of great songs and an impressively focused performance from one of this country’s top practitioners.
Originally published on The AU Review on 15/08/2011. View original article.