Live Review | Augie March @ Howler, Melbourne – November 1, 2014

Review by Ben Connolly
augie march

A five year hiatus may have done wonders for revitalising Augie March’s creative juices, but its live show continues to be a beautiful chaotic mess. With a mix of false starts, bum notes, front-man wincing and a particularly rowdy audience member to deal with, night three of its five night return to the live arena had all the elements of a legendary Augie event.

The set immediately addressed the preceding half-decade interruption with a quartet from the new offering Havens Dumb. Kicking off with the album’s addendum in the erudite The Crime, abutted with Hobart Obit, both weaving in singer Glen Richard’s new adopted home in the Apple Isle. New single After The Crack Up rounds out the wonderful internal monologue of Richards and co and expertly brings the audience up to date.

One Crowded Hour was always a tricky question for band and fan alike prior to the break.
Inarguably, the Hottest 100 winner pushed them into light, kicking and screaming. The band previously openly acknowledged that the attention sat uneasily on their shoulders, with gigs during that time pivoting around that elephant in the setlist. For long-term fans, it was just as awkward: the song is great, but admitting as such in a sweaty room while the band begrudgingly went through the motions pegged you as little more than a fair-weather fan.

And so with that weight of expectation, the first shimmering inimitable chords raised eyebrows around the room and a curious eye toward the stage. The band, however, seems to have rediscovered the beautiful gem at the core of the song, allowing it to shine brightly through the haze. A wry smile and self-satisfied smirk when drummer Dave Williams locks in confirms all, and an almost detectable exhale of breath cascades around the room. Even the group of now-middle-aged blokes arm-in-arm bellowing the chorus and the ubiquitous sea of phone screens held high fails to dent the unbridled joy that song can bring.

Mid set highlights include the cutesy wintery warmth of Vernoona from 2006’s Moo, You Bloody Choir and the early career shot across the bow of Hole In Your Roof. The set proper ends with the darkly murky There’s Something At The Bottom of The Black Pool and the new diatribe against modern Australian polity in the disturbingly haunting Definitive History.

A raucous audience member threatens to throw the show’s delicate balance, with an all-to-familiar fog visibly descending on the group early into the encore. Richards shudders and winces through sound issues and some perceived imperfection from the band through Owen’s Lament and the heartbreakingly pure There Is No Such Place. It’s moment like those which often derailed gigs back in the day, sending them into self-critical spirals.

A new Augie, however, seems more adept at shaking off the black dog. A bum start to the poetically dark Never Been Sad had Richards sending death stares to the sound desk, before keyboardist Keirnan Box and guiatarist Adam Donovan took the reins of the stage, delivering a hauntingly crisp keening outro which thrust this unassuming album track fast to the fore as a set highlight. It’s reminiscent of the group’s first forays into the live arena all those years ago, where a gig can flit between an endearingly chaotic mess and a sublime transcendence. The pre-hiatus gigs erred too far down the path of self-consciousness for comfort, but this is a welcome return to form and a superb return to our gig guides by one of Australia’s pre-eminent musical forces.

Review by Ben Connolly

CLICK HERE to read our Album Review | Augie March – ‘Havens Dumb’ || || ||