Review by Ben Connolly
In the late nineties, early noughties, the Australian music scene was in a bit of flux. Still reverberating with post-grunge angst, the scene was awash with angular guitar pop. A bevvy of Brisbands dominated the pop-rock scene, while the hip hop world was just starting its local resurgence fronted by the shock of Australian accents.
Then, like a pleasant summer storm in the dead of night, came this curious sound from the back patios of the green leafy inner Brisbane suburbs. Known as george (lower case was the fashion of the day), the band still relied somewhat on band leader Nick Stewart’s crunchy guitar, but underlaid that with a bed of funk bass and tom-heavy intricate drumming. This gave the classically trained Noonan siblings free range with sublime keys and range-defying vocals which could, and did, easily bring down any house.
It was a heady mix as they flitted across keys and time-signatures with ease, making them a genre-defying curio – equal parts loungey jazz and life-affirming pop, while just as comfortable straddling some classic prog rock when the time was right (famously performing Deep Purple maestro Jon Lord’s concerto at one point). At once they were the darlings of the Brisband scene and hugely feted by the local press as they released a series of remarkably assured and mature singles and EPs in their earlier days.
Their 2002 debut album Polyserena started at the top of the ARIA charts and opened the floodgates to a world of possibilities and praise across the nation. Singles Run, Breathe In Now and Special Ones become ubiquitous across the aural landscape and shaped many a night across the country. Bu after a world-beating couple of years, the follow up album Unity failed to hit the same heady heights, leaving the band to slowly peter out and work on side projects. A final fling on the Sydney Opera House steps put a full stop to the band in 2005.
Fast forward to 2016 and a reunion to mark the 20 year anniversary brought the memories flooding back like the gentle caress of a soothing breeze on an oppressively hot Brisbane evening. Listening back to the albums pre-gig is like being welcomed into a long-lost love’s embrace and all the good times and comfort comes flooding back. So many questions are to be answered: is Nick Stewart still the shy heart-throb who looks exactly like that dude on Home and Away; does Paulie and Geoff locking into a strange hypnotic groove still reverberate around a room; is Ty still endearingly awkward when trying to dance; does Katie hitting that high note still slap you right across the heart and wrench your breath away?
Irrepressibly the answer to all of those questions is: oh my word, yes! Sure, age has wearied the edges somewhat, and the song subject matter is markedly of its time, but it still packs an emotional wallop and plucks all the right heart strings.
Opener Still Real hints at what’s to come, while the gorgeous Holiday reached early for the high notes. The band barely skips a beat throughout, belying the years and intricacies of the deliberately complex music. Ease within each other’s company exudes on the stage, with cute anecdotes and self-deprecation the call of the night. Geoff Green’s mammoth Phil Collins tom-thumping joking intro to Ty’s killer Run a highlight early up.
This is not to suggest that the band has not shown the effects of age. It has, and it’s at times quite present. Polyserena and Bastard Son are both undergo some minor re-engineering to accommodate a lowering of their once stretched ambitions, and Katie opts to flutter around many of the range explorations which were once a set trademark. The bombastic and earnest lyrics are can be somewhat lost in the mists of time; centring on empowerment and confidence, as well as quaint hot-takes on the politics of the day (who would have thought that 15 years later a song about George W Bush invading Iraq would be viewed through rose-coloured glasses in contemporary terms?).
Neither of which detracts at all from the performance. This is still a huge live band and one whose aural ambitions often took them and their audience to incredible places. Breathe In Now’s scat-like verses still set the height rate fluttering as the anticipation of the soothingly gentle and breathy chorus; the word-jumble and life-affirming lyrics of Release still makes you feel like donning a suit of armour and taking on the world. It’s a great space to be in, and one which only a band like george can take you to.
Melbourne Zoo Twilights presented by ANZ
Photos by Ian Laidlaw