I’ve been reading too much Greil Marcus lately. A pretentious way to start a review, but there it is. He is not a writer to bandy about phrases, to use a scattergun approach to describing a band. His is about the essential element of a moment, whether, for him, it is the first crackling chords coming from a newly purchased record, or the moment in a performance where the band refine their purpose through one gesture, whether it is of aggression or wonder, its apex Johnny Rotten’s question to a San Francisco audience in ’78, just after quitting, or being fired from, the Sex Pistols, “Ever feel like you’ve been cheated?”
I write this blather around my review of The Hello Morning because there’s not a lot to write. After watching the tail end of Downhills Home – a band that was also inoffensive, but not very interesting, its rhythm section wallowing in the background, the fate of many a band who can’t see beyond the instruments they use to write songs in their bedrooms on a Sunday afternoon – we nipped outside the Northcote Social Club for a breath of fresh air. When we came back the band room was packed with punters, who, as the band progressed, steadily slunk away into the main bar, outside, home, leaving the venue half full by the time we left at the end.
The Hello Morning were promising enough at the start, at least visually they were well put together, emanating the latest trend towards gothic western that you get more convincingly from bands like the Kill Devil Hills and Clinkerfield. But The Hello Morning’s sound tends more towards Calexico, Lambchop territory, but without the resolve towards musicianship that both these bands use as their primary weapon. Certainly guitarist John Citizen seemed more interested in checking out the front row of the crowd than communicating with the rest of the band. Exceptions to this bland instrumentation was the occasional solo releasing of John Cope on keys, and the bringing on of female vocalist Kimberly Johnson to harmonise on another track.
Lead singer Clifford Stevens’ physical styling as a Melbourne version of Chris Isaac didn’t pay off either, with his vocals buried in the mix. In fact the entire gig was a frustrating venture into moments where something could have been made out of the swathe of other musicians in the band, only to have them be put back in their box by the front man and his guitarist sidekick Citizen. To have a horn section that is only used two or three times in the gig seems like a waste of everyone’s time. Similarly there was a moment when the drummer seemed to leap out of the song with a mass of dynamic energy, only to fade away into the background again, not to reappear.
The biggest mistake that any band can make, and it’s a mistake that The Hello Morning has made, is that they think that the audience won’t know when it’s been cheated, that they will take part in the big lie that the band is trying to purport, that they will happily go to a gig if the hairdo is right. Not so. Despite the cynicism of Melbourne’s hipster infestation the crowd will still always know if a band is good or not, and the polite, middle-class, sneaking away of a visible percentage of the audience last night is a review in itself.
The Hello Morning played the Northcote Social Club with Downhills Home and Joe Neptune.