It seems like an impossible task.
The Avalanches seminal debut album is intricately created from more than 3,500 samples, and a rag-tag team of Australian talents have set out to recreate it live and in full.
Curated by Astral People, and led by Sydney musician Jonti, the 17-piece band first attempted the feat back in May this year at the Sydney Opera House, and after it was labeled “too good to not do again”, they brought it to the Melbourne Festival.
The festival’s hub, a pop-up venue on the banks of the Yarra River, opposite the Arts Centre, has an infectious circus-like atmosphere, filled with gleeful Melburnians celebrating everything that makes the city one of the best in the world. As an impromptu conga line snakes its way through the bar, it becomes clear that there’s enough entertainment outside, let alone what was about to begin inside.
The show is fashionably late, for reasons that become very clear as soon as you catch a glimpse of the stage. It’s a sound person’s worst nightmare: a vast and elaborate stage setup that ranges from violins to ukeleles to vinyl turntables. As the poor sound guy weaves between the countless microphones on stage, a DJ steps up to the plate and began to play records he had bought in Melbourne that day.
The 17-piece band finally ambles onto the stage, and joins in with the DJ’s songs, before it all falls silent.
“Get a drink, have a good time now. Welcome to paradise,” Jonti recites the opening words of Since I Left You, and it all begins.
Standing next to Jonti on stage is Rainbow Chan, whose full vocal range and talent are on display across the title track, with the Sydney-based singer tackling all the vocal samples. As if this wasn’t enough, she quickly switches to her saxophone as well, with her sister, Rose, playing trumpet next to her.
The Avalanches created Since I Left You at a crucially important time for Australian music. Released in 2000, it was as much a reaction to dance music of the time, as a wholly unique exploration of electronic sounds and sampling. It’s estimated to have sold over a million copies, and constantly receives praise and rankings in ‘Best Albums Of All Time’ lists. The kaleidoscopic mish-mash of sounds has also withstood the test of time: it’s just as good today as it was nearly 15 years ago when it was released.
Jonti says it’s his “favourite album in the world”, and his passion for the music is obvious across the entire performance. There are fleeting moments of silence between a few of the songs, which see Jonti deftly count in his band, before the dive back into the calmly chaotic world of The Avalanches.
There’s no doubt that Jonti is the ringleader of the group, but every member plays their part adeptly. It becomes a game of sorts to identify where a certain sound may be coming from, it could be the trumpet player quickly switching to ukelele, the DJ turning into a rapper, or one of the two drummers.
Stand-out ‘Electricity’ sees the crowd descend into a joyous and sweaty mess of dancing and smiles, with the band perfectly emulating the song’s breezy, uplifting pop sounds.
At certain times the performance displays just how immensely hard a task this is. Some songs were certainly better translated than others; ‘Two Hearts In 3/4 Time’ was expertly recreated, while they put their own unique spin on ‘Live At Dominoes’, and when the band found their groove, it was a thing of beauty.
The bassist proves to be an unsung star of the show, constantly providing a steady base to the chaos happening around him, while also adding some slick lines at the same time.
‘Frontier Psychiatrist’ provides a microcosm of the album as a whole, and unsurprisingly proves to be a highlight of the show, with Jonti and Rainbow Chan trading duties for the Wayne and Shuster sample, while the crowd dutifully added “that boy needs therapy”. It’s a glorious mess of live sounds that somehow manages to work wonderfully.
Rainbow Chan’s vocals fade out softly on ‘Extra Kings’, bringing the night to a close, but the crowd isn’t ready to leave. A chant of ‘one more song’, is a tall ask for the 17-piece orchestra on stage, considering they had played everything on the album.
“We’d be doing it a disservice if we played something else,” Jonti says, so they don’t. After taking some muffled audience requests, they jump back into it from the start, giving one final rendition of ‘Since I Left You’. It’s an even more refined version than the one they played an hour before, and a fitting way to bring the night to a close.
As a whole, the performance encompasses the aspects that made Since I Left You as good as it is. It embraces the chaos, encourages the mess, and invites as many sounds as possible. It’s an aural masterpiece to see the sounds and samples of the album recreated live, and a testament to the talent and commitment of those on stage to do it so well.
The night was a joyous and passionate celebration of one of the best Australian albums of all time. Performances like this fully encapsulate the overwhelming impact that The Avalanches have had on Australian music, and will ensure the legacy of the debut will live on for a long time yet.