Teeth & Tongue + Montero – Howler, Melbourne (28/06/2014)

Arriving at Howler early to catch Montero’s set was a good idea; they were at times rock, at times Bowie-inspired, cool-to-the-limit-pop, with some pretty Brian Wilson harmonies thrown in, too.

They are also a band made up of big personalities that fit together both musically and visually. Drummer Cameron Potts’ flailing arms and animated features threatened to steal the show, while singer Ben Montero casually draped himself across a guitar amp and then the floor of the stage, showing off a surprisingly strong voice for someone so softly spoken. Although the band has Montero’s name, the sound is clearly a group effort, and a highly catchy and entertaining one at that.

Jess Cornelius has been perfecting her sound as Teeth & Tongue over several releases and a few years now. Grids, the album being launched before a full room tonight, shows a massive step forward in realising Cornelius’ sonic vision, managing to strike a beautiful balance between her dramatic Kate Bush leanings and her love of dirty rock guitars.

Appearing with a full band – long-time collaborators Marc Regueiro-McKelvie and Damian Sullivan on guitar and bass respectively as well as drummer James Harvey and backing vocalist Jade McInally – Cornelius looked the part, wrapped in a dress that seemed to be made out of a sheet of plastic, and rocking it.

Kicking off with a stripped back version of Sad Sun, from 2011’s Tambourine, the rest of the set was dominated by tunes from the new album, with Cornelius switching from keys to guitar about halfway through.

The band were very tight and the arrangements subtly brought out the best in each song, with the use of keys, guitar pedals and vocal effects helping to make it sound as if there were more people on stage than there were.

There was a definite tonal nod to the ‘80s with the use of long reverbs on the guitars and vocals, but this was all done in an original and tasteful manner, with artist Keith Deverell’s projections helping to add an extra visual dimension to the performance.

As a frontwoman, Cornelius strikes a great balance between being musically sure of herself, with a flair for drama and eye-catching imagery (the dress, the projections, the tripped out album cover) and being quite down-to-Earth. Her stage banter could be described as charmingly awkward, and it would be hard not to enjoy how excited she obviously was.

However, none of that is really important the moment she opens her mouth. She possesses a voice that is surprising in both its pureness of pitch, depth, and range, like all of that sound shouldn’t come out of such a small person. Able to switch between a deep sultry register and a perfect falsetto from one word to the next, Cornelius’ vocals are the centrepiece of the Teeth & Tongue sound – very expressive and dramatic, without overplaying it.

Ending the night with a cover of The Motel’s Total Control and a second version of Sad Sun, this time with sprawling rock guitars, it was clear that Teeth & Tongue have evolved from a solo project to become not only a highly original band but a great live act.

Loved: That $50 Jess Cornelius paid me to write this review
Hated: This being on the same night as The East Brunswick Girls Choir and Tracy McNeil launches
Drank: Tears of pure joy

Originally published in Beat Magazine. View original article.

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