GIG REVIEW: DEAD LETTER CIRCUS and STRANGERS Live at The Factory Theater, Marrickville, Sydney
Before the internet Australia’s geographical remoteness shaped our country’s identity and Australian rock music not always had the opportunities to show the rest of world just how powerful, gut wrenching and heartfelt it can be. In any case, whatever their nationality hard rock bands rarely give audiences a chance to see them play sensitive acoustic shows or unplugged sets. There are of course exceptions to the rule, Led Zeppelin treated their audiences to an acoustic interlude in the middle of their blistering shows but it wasn’t until Nirvana and Alice in Chains did unplugged shows for MTV in the 90’s that hard rock bands were willing to expose their deepest emotional sides.
Brisbane’s Dead Letter Circus did their first gig 10 years ago and has gone on to critical success from radio airplay to opening up for some of the biggest rock bands today. They have toured extensively around America and Europe yet they still remain humble playing live shows back in Australia whenever they can. They still remain hungry to please their earliest audiences, which is exactly what their 10th anniversary tour titled The Endless Mile saw them do by playing big cities and regional towns all over Australia. With this tour the band decided to play all their songs acoustically with minimal drums and adding a violin and piano to the line-up. The result was a performance that I was not expecting from a Dead Letter Circus show.
The support act Strangers came on stage also as an acoustic outfit (yet they’re normally a super amplified rock band) and announced to the crowd that they were Mumford and Sons which drew a laughing response; later they withdrew the statement but added they wished they had Mumford and Sons’ bank account. In this relatively small theatre in the heart of Marrickville in Sydney audiences were treated to a show that felt like an Eagles or Fleetwood Mac covers band. Strangers did have a rather good track in their set list that they admitted was a rip off of Fleetwood Mac’s The Chain and their entire repertoire tends to generally sound similar to each other when played acoustically.
When Dead Letter Circus finally came on stage to an adoring applause they also brought their acoustic guitars. Funnily enough the drummer used an electronic pad that featured heavily in their set even though some of their songs still required the entire drum kit to be used, this gadget gave the performance a jarring electronic vibe. The band all sat down on chairs and introduced a violinist and pianist as their guests; they immediately proceeded to turn their hit song “One Step” into a piano ballad followed by further revisions of past songs that sounded almost like I was at the Tamworth country music festival. In one track they added an unfamiliar reggae rhythm intensifying the bizarreness. How radically different this versions were, however most of the audience did not seem to mind at all. Dead Letter Circus have generated some of the most intense mosh pits I have ever experienced from any Australian band but this show was just people standing still or sitting in the couches at the back like an old school 70’s audience enthralled with the music which made me wonder if Australian rock fans maybe don’t care if their live rock is heavy or radio friendly as long as it’s enjoyable. For me personally it was puzzling as it felt like it could have just been a pop band playing acoustic guitars rather than the certified hard rock band that I have witnessed making people sweat and jump up and down furiously on previous gigs.
The band did thank everyone for coming out and acknowledged the support their fans have given them over the last 10 years. Lead singer Kim Benzie said the fans are a big part of their journey and they themselves could not have believed in their wildest dreams how far they have come as a band and that they could be making music for a living. As a fan of Dead Letter Circus I would have preferred a show with electric instruments and the energy of a good old rock n’ roll show, call me cynical but even though these new renditions of their classic songs were not totally disappointing it had a tiny whiff of just pandering to a more pop oriented audience and an attempt at capitalising on their commercial success.