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No guano here – The Bats touch down with The Deep Set

Sydney Festival - January 29, 2017

The first thing to say is this is my initial foray into any sort of music journalism, the closest act that bears any resemblance being an hour long podcast that was conducted in my bedroom when I was eighteen. It featured my mother, two imagined advertisements and a couple of mates woven in between some songs I enjoyed.

This is a way of saying that I am apprehensive about writing this article mostly for the fear of being unable to pay heed to the gravitas of performance and musicianship of this group. So I do ask humbly for your forbearance for what may well be the worst music review you’ve ever read.

Now, onto The Bats…

Conducting research into the group you’re about to review appears a staple of any decent music article, so let’s do that first.

The Bats are the longest continuing music group in New Zealand, forming just over 35 years ago and have since been associated with the iconic, independent label Flying Nun Records.

Their output during those years has been nine albums with a handful of EPs thrown in. Daddy’s Highway is the best remembered from their earlier years (released in ’85) which featured the track North by North. Those couch bugs among you would recognise it as the theme song on the ABC sitcom The Hollowmen.

While I haven’t listened to all of their records, from what I’ve heard there’s a wonderfully consistent approach to their songwriting. With each the melody and rhythm carries a sense of airiness and toe-tapping contentment. I wouldn’t go so far to say that I view their music as an upbeat lullaby but, I would liken it to enjoying your favourite candy bar from childhood, familiar and uplifting by its sugar rush.

The Bats were at the Sydney Festival to commence the tour of their new album The Deep Set. Happily, the venue was The Spiegeltent, the décor of the room lending to the history of this prolific band.

The maiden song Made up in Blue immediately energised the crowd. Robert Scott, lead man and songwriter had a commanding voice that held true to the original recording. Kaye Woodward’s accompanying vocals were equally as pronounced finding their own space within the piece.

Launching into new tracks from The Deep Set, cellist and violist from the Skeleton String Boys joined on stage playing Rocks and Pillars, Sir Queen and Treason. It was delightful to see the the spirit and depth that strings added to those songs.

The sides of the stage were left empty by the crowd and gave me a good opportunity to get closer to the drummer Malcolm Grant and bassist Paul Kean. Malcolm’s style of drumming is frenetic yet precise, mesmerising by its physical sense of rhythm.

Paul was enjoying himself immensely, offering his sentiments to the crowd about how happy they were to play their new album. This, coupled with his beaming smile gave the set a great sense of celebration.

Following up were more tracks from the new album that included my favourite, Antlers. Kaye’s roaming lead guitar and Malcolm’s head nodding rhythms reminded that The Bats are still performing and writing now as they’ve been for 35 years – all with their original lineup.

A charming highlight occurred when Kaye picked up an iPad and opened an app that with the touch of a button expounded a loud, saw tooth like drone. I found that it was more of a novelty for Kaye to be using this compared with her role as lead guitar and Scott commented, “Isn’t that just great.”

It felt like gifting your parents a Tamagochi and sitting back amused by their fascination with the device.

Closing out the set was North by North, which celebrated it’s 30th anniversary this year, the crowd responding with rapt attention and a little bit of boogying on the sides.

I’m glad that my first foray into music journalism was with The Bats. They proved to be a band that is both inspiring by their continuing joy in performance and for the virtue of delivering quality, uniquely Batty tunes for many years.

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