It’s flippin’ freezing out, but a cockle-warming bill of indiepop delights awaits us at ULU-ish place 229 The Venue, which turns out to have a neck-achingly high stage and an exciting /dusty netherworld beneath that stage which we discover upon lifting the little curtain that hides it. Also, the stage is VERY PRECIOUS and you must never, ever touch it with your grimy, ticket-paying, gig-attending fingers. This is made clear by a bouncer at the front who glares and gestures at any misguided fool who happens to rest a palm upon the stage when taking a photo, or just, you know, standing there enjoying the band.
Anyway, The Zebras are on before we can finish getting in the door, so we rush in as they’re sounding pretty fine even from the cloakroom queue. I’ve been vaguely aware of the band (they played Indietracks a couple of years ago, but we weren’t looking), but hadn’t investigated them. Tonight’s set makes me immediately purchase their e.p. ‘New Ways Of Risking Our Lives’. They make me think of The Go Betweens, not just because they’re Australian, it’s their bright shining sound; big, chiming guitars with a tiny touch of hardness, and lovely things happening when harmonies get sung. The Zebras are soaringly splendid and a rousing way to kick things off.
Next, 14 Iced Bears. I have surprised myself by feeling quite excited by this re-emergence of the Iceys. It’s not like I didn’t see them plenty of times in days of yore, but it seems they hold a special place in my heart. I loved 14 Iced Bears because their songs grew from being really quite cutesy/shambly (‘Dolphin Song’ is played) to going kind of spaced ‘n’ slightlydelic (e.g. ‘Mother Sleep’, and don’t forget they’ve been known to cover ‘Interstellar Overdrive’). They play an excellently chosen selection from across their back catalogue that pleases me and the three other people in the room who know all their songs.
Really, it’s a killer setlist, with the likes of ‘Cut’, ‘Hay Fever’, ‘Dust Remains’, the heart-breaking ‘Sure To See’, fizzing last ever single ‘Hold On’ and yes, ‘Balloon Song’ (this one gets a clutch of indie poppers bobbling about like bubbles in a milkpan). My all time fave ‘Surfacer’ gets an airing with its swooshy sun-addled swoon and the set closes with the thrilling Copey sparkle of ‘World I Love’.
Rob's vocals are still sweet-hearted and crystal-tipped, but unfortunately the sound is severely bass heavy, with nuances destroyed in the burble.The band seem on good form though, and they are original members (well, if you count late-period guitarist Tim), not just Rob Sekula and some blokes. Rob takes to the stage sensibly snow-shod in wellies – which makes the swirls of dry ice that precede the band’s arrival very amusing indeed.
I’m not sure 14 Iced Bears have made much of an impression on the youngsters who edge closer to the (very high, must NOT touch) stage in anticipation of the Pains, but you never know, maybe the kids will be inspired to investigate the oldsters’ music. After all, a gaggle of boys next to us gets quite excited when The Smiths are played – singing along with gusto. One of them is wearing a Stone Roses tee-shirt, causing us to contemplate the fact that these persons weren’t even born when our fave bands of the eighties were in their ‘pomp’. It’s like us digging the sixties, excavating the past in search of present day thrills. Mental!
Talking of present day thrills…hey, hey it’s the Pains! And they are on fine ‘n’ feisty form, playing with a lot more punch than at their slightly weary Heaven show earlier in the year (though maybe not with quite as much ‘vivacity’ as at their secret Buffalo Bar gig in the summer – hoo! that was a firecracker). We realise that this is the third year in a row that we have seen the Pains play a December show – what a fine festive tradition. The set is still pretty similar to that of two years ago – top-loaded with faves: ‘This Love Is Fucking Right’, ‘Young Adult Friction’, ‘Come Saturday’, ‘Everything With You’... We’ve seen the band play these songs quite a lot by now, God knows how many times they must have played them, so hats off to ‘em for still managing to make these oldies but goodies into zippy pop blasts of noisy joy.
We get a sprinkling of new tracks, but not as many as we’d been anticipating – especially after the tantalising array of new songage we got at that