On a wonderfully warm, post-rain night in Melbourne, the Northcote Social Club experienced a strange and unusual occurrence. ‘The Meredith Effect’ is what happens when, for one weekend a year in December, the people who normally see live music in our town every Friday and Saturday night have left town. Therefore, hardly anyone is out there seeing gigs. This unfortunately was the case this evening. At its peak, there were barely fifty people in the band room at the Northcote Social Club. Even the front bar and dining areas were significantly more quiet than usual. Thankfully, some great music made attending worthwhile.

First up tonight were local band The Ovals. The four piece are heavily into their psychedelia and progressive rock, two musical genres that have become somewhat ridiculed and maligned over the years. At the moment, between The Ovals and another local group, The Paul Kidney Experience, this type of music seems to be making something of a comeback. For a four piece, The Ovals have a big sound to them; they strike a really nice balance between having a somewhat commercial structure to their music and being experimental and exploring music.

This is a band very much in love with music made by classic groups associated with psychedelia, such as Jefferson Airplane and particularly Pink Floyd. Opening with the spacey “Refugees”, the band had a solid groove and swing to them, with a strong understanding and love of what they do and the sound they create. Other track highlights of this half hour set included “Butterfly” and “Mars”. A talented band and one to watch.

Next to play this evening was another local band, Dancing Heals. While pleasant and inoffensive to listen to, this is a band searching for a musical sense of being. They currently sound like a bit of a Frankenstein in regards to the music they create. Imagine music that is a couple of pinches of U2 here, a dash of Arcade Fire there along with a smattering of great 1980s bands that made epic sounding music, such as The Waterboys and Echo & The Bunnymen. Also, the world already has one Coldplay. We definitely don’t need another. This is a shame, as the band have talent and some great songs, such as “Diamonds”, “L.A.”, “Live & Learn” and the great new single, “Hillary May”. They are trying to musically be all things to all people. Unfortunately, this ends up not really satisfying anyone.

A small but grateful crowd greeted Felicity Groom as she took to the stage this evening. Opening her set solo with an acoustic guitar, the first song was the delicate and beautiful “In Light”. It really showed off Groom’s beautiful and at times stunning voice. This was a very raw and musically naked way to start off the night, and it worked wonderfully.

Introducing her four piece band, the band played songs off Groom’s excellent debut album Gossamer, which was having its launch this evening. Playing before a very appreciative and mostly seated crowd, possibly a first at the Northcote Social Club, Groom and her band proceeded to both impress and charm with their playing and the banter with the crowd. Groom in particular cut a very likable and down to earth character on stage. When a crowd member told her that we loved her, she started a running joke that it was too early to say that, and during the night kept a running commentary of what date we were up to with her. This might have come off as corny or trite in lesser hands, but it really endeared her and her band to the crowd at what turned out to be an intimate night.

There were many musical highlights this evening. Gossamer has such a dense and layered level of production to it one wondered how this would translate on a live front. The songs, when played before an audience, had a much more urgent and raw feel to them. Groom’s voice was really the key to this. She has a great vocal range, swinging between a gorgeous Nina Simone-type smoky lower register all the way to a wail and holler that reminds one of great vocalists such as PJ Harvey. What is heartening about Groom is that, while one hears inspiration and influence in her music and voice, she truly takes it somewhere new and compelling. There is a definite sense of musical vision and being at play here.

Groom had a really great band behind her, that served her music well. Playing as part of a band gave the songs a stronger and more muscular sound. Song highlights this evening included “Under Oath”, the infectious “Finders & Keepers”, “Building A House” and a truly stunning version of “An Ache”. The band even found time for a great version of the classic track by The Zombies, “Time For The Season”. This both gave the band a great chance to stretch out musically and show off their playing while Groom tapped into her sexiness with a bit of dancing in front of the stage. A wonderfully natural performer, Groom has a great magnetism to her on stage.

Tonight, while not as well attended as one would have liked, was an excellent showcase for Felicity Groom, definitely one of the more talented and striking artists to emerge on the Australian musical landscape over the past few years. One definitely looks forward to seeing and hearing more from her over the next few years.

– Neil Evans

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