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Pity poor Aussie bands. They try so hard. They try in earnest, toiling fretfully and fulfilling their self-assigned duty to rawk. And yet, one can so easily bisect them into two designated cordons and attach a printed label to each. Pub rock, AC/DC guys on one side. Jangly guitar, indie guys on the other. Single file.
Caught in the middle of this partition would be Melbourne two-piece, Big Scary. Playing Melbourne’s The Hi-Fi, there were twinkling melodies and great deluges of watery guitars as much as there were moments of unrestrained, ringing garage vibration. Most often they were both caught within greater torrents of obscure noise, creating a layered mount of heavenly, unpredictable sound.
Two additions had been made to the band recently, one taking care of the low end on a heavy, crackling bass and the other manipulating a sampler that seemed to have an extreme and possibly life-threatening case of logorrhoea.
With each song— Leaving Home, Gladiator, Falling Away, Phil Collins — the band slipped further and further away from niche, dropping before unveiling an impressive wingspan and taking flight. The setlist was variegated and choppy, with rapidly interchanging peaks and valleys. In between songs, the sun would set on the stage, and after the applause of the capacity crowd died away there would be mere silence. Not a word said till the light was slowly restored and drummer Joanna Syme returned to another staccato beat.
Between songs, in the pitch dark, Tom Iansek would scramble for his mark — behind the piano, or front and centre with a guitar — such that the band on stage betrayed an air of theatre more than musical performance. Every song was a new act, with new scenery, new soundscapes, new props and different characters.
Iansek and Syme’s virtual silence throughout the gig was then perfectly understandable — this was not one great sum of individual parts. The setlist was not simply drawn up with Sharpie to create a barely coalescing assembly of music. The setlist was an act of curation and each song, an image presented individually, urging appreciation for the scope of the emotions depicted therein. Iansek and occasionally Syme’s command of those emotions is masterful and should be applauded.
Big Scary don’t give anything away easily — the performance as challenging as the music on their LPs. No give-and-take occurs between band and audience. Instead, the audience is invited to enter that great divide between the easily categorisable detritus of Australian music and share a little time, some space and some remarkable, superbly layered sound with them.