It's been a long time since I tried my hand at a review. However then again it's been a while since I've seen a local act whose music I know well and have seen repeatedly for comparison sake.
For this review I'll allow myself to be a hacker because I honestly cannot be unbiased. I love the album 'Screen Feel' and any live representation of the songs on said album appeals to me greatly. Especially when performed with energy, enthusiasm and more guitar-heavy, or 'live' elements and aspects.
Friday night was an excellent representation of the aforesaid qualities I was looking for. It can be difficult to translate primarily electronic music into live. Here I suppose I can be biased, much preferring the total live equation that comes with a full band. The quality and spirit of instrumentation cannot be imitated by stand-in machines. However, a great thing about Soundgazer's music is the continued use of live instrumentation. The synthetics may be the base, but Voytek's melodic guitar riffs definitely stand out as highlights throughout. This gives the music exceptional substance, and much more allowance for an interesting and interactive live translation than some primarily electronic-based acts.
Many of these acts have live musicians, but it seems as though the instruments are there for the artists to look like they have something to do onstage while the recorded music pumps in the background. With Soundgazer, you know you're dealing with a talented guitarist and an animated performer who believes in the music. He can hold the attention of the audience simply with those qualities. His spirited band mates add energy and action to the performance, which I wish, as an audience member, would be played up even more in the future.
As for the set itself on Friday night, I was pleased to be able to hear clearly the vocals in the front row. It can mean the vox are turned up too loud in the mix, which would attribute to some of the feedback we could here once in a while. Regardless, when there is distortion involved, I would much more appreciate hearing the lyrics than worrying over the appropriate club mix. That also, I suppose is the bias opinion of a 'fan'.
However, lyrically speaking, the words to the songs off of 'Screen Feel' are absolute focal points. I personally feel that while most electronic bands' strengths come from melodic hooks and beats, and not so much from the words, Soundgazer is an acceptation. The lyrics are equally as much part of the hook of the song, as the live guitar lines, synthesized beats and keys. To be able to hear and repeat them live without going from memory, was something I was pleasantly surprised with. The distortion wasn't too much and Voytek's voice was on. It added a lot to my live experience of 'Built For You', Find', 'Shallow Air' to name a few.
'A Place Only I Know' always comes off well, but I thought it was done exceptionally well on Friday night. As was 'On & On'. It was good to see Rany on bass getting into the music and adding a personal presence to the stage. I would like to be able to hear more of her vox in the future. While Bruce on synthetic drums was slightly in the background once more, he was upbeat and added a few perks to the performance, and spoke to the audience. Again, these are things, as a fan, I'd like built upon, it being a live act of three. 'Find' and 'Silent Scream' were very well done; everyone was on and very vibrant on stage.
I was thrilled that a cover tune was pulled out; they performed their own personal take on Bon Jovi's 'Livin' On A Prayer'. They had the audience yelling back the lyrics and everyone was really into it. Good choice for the band, good range for the vocals and a song that went well with the original material. I would like to see them bring that song out and expand on it, or another cover in the future. Little highlights like that always draw both the familiar people and the new audience in and gives them something to relate to. Doing a song well-known for being a 'rock anthem' and translating it to electronic is an interesting thing and gives a good kick to the performance all around.
My personal favourite of the night was 'What Is'. 'What is forever? What is for now? What have we lost? What can be found?' By far the most incredible lyrics, I am humble whenever I put this track on, so to see it done so well and with such intensity live was a fantastic moment for me. I was very surprised that they performed 'Temporary State' and was thrilled. It brought the energy down to the right level for the end of the night, appropriately zenning out the evening after a high-energy, fun performance.
In conclusion, from a fan's perspective, but also from a fellow musician's perspective, it was a good show. The right energy was there, the live instrument aspect was played upon well, the individual and collective performance of the band was bang-on. Voytek proved himself once again to be a charismatic and talented lead vocalist and guitarist. Articulating the great lyrics was also a highlight.
Hopefully, with a month or two of rest coming up for the band - after December 7th at Savage Garden, much more creativity abounds in the writing process. From a personal standpoint, I think that the music would benefit and evolve significantly with even more focus on guitar-oriented songs. Collaborations with other live-based musicians would be great to hear, in addition to the synthetic components we associate Soundgazer songs with. It would present more possibilities for the live aspect, which I think will continue to grow as an important part of the experience.
All in all, I think Soundgazer is in a period of evolution and growth that is going to be really interesting and will contribute quite a unique element in the local and international music scene in the New Year.
As a fan, I can't wait.
- Matthew J. Grave Concerns Ezine