Jack Ladder, Melbourne 2011 - Live Review

Jack Ladder
East Brunswick Club, Melbourne
Sunday 19th June 2011

By Shane Bell

Lurking behind his own merch table before his show on Sunday night, was the slightly ominous and large-haired Jack Ladder, nursing a bunch of multi-coloured army disposal store t-shirts printed with but one word: Hurtsville. He later confessed on the mic that he wasn't much into merchandise and printed them all at home, and that he was trying to clear the brown V neck shirt which he didn't much like himself, but felt sorry for it and thought maybe someone else would buy it.

It's hard to know what to make of the mysterious Mr Ladder (real name Tim Rogers) in person—his banter between songs is short; blunt and broken by distracted gazes and nervous hand gestures. For a singer he sure don't say much. But right from the first reverbed note tonight, the Sydney singer-songwriter and his band the Dreamlanders commanded the attention of the near-full East Brunswick Club in both presence and sound.

The fittingly magniloquent Ladder never really moved from front of stage over the course of the evening, clutching and contorting himself around the mic stand like a twisted vine around a tree. Wearing a loose cravat and lived-in dinner jacket, he sold his broody new romantic lyrics with confidence. But although he sounded (and acted?) near perfect, Ladder/Rogers sometimes lacked a little conviction—a tad too self-conscious and self-aware of his performance. The Dreamlanders, on the other hand (featuring drummer Cec Condon on loan from the Mess Hall, ex-Starky frontman Beau Cassidy on rhythm guitar and ex-Mercy Arms guitar wizard Krin J Callinan on theatrics, deep space reverb and mood), seemed lost in every chord and beat they performed; perfectly and individually animated.

Ladder and band chose to play the Hurtsville album in it's entire and correct order tonight (much like they did at the Workers Club in Melbourne just over a month ago). The approach works, considering Hurtsville is best received as a lovelorn/lost concept album of sorts. (And being that his previous albums cover totally different genres.) The cathartic tone pinballed between those oft-mentioned signposts of Leonard Cohen, Nick Cave, Bruce Springsteen, The Triffids and smatterings of 80s New Romantic bands, though sometimes when the lyrical content jumped from poetic to parody (“I’ll make like a tree and leave”, from first single 'Cold Feet'), it was for a split second, distracting. Even so, the carefully crafted music—the repetitive nature of the drum beats (and drum machine) complementing the sparse echoed guitar perfectly—bound it all together, presenting the work as a united front.

I loved this gig, and can't help but imagine that Jack Ladder and the Dreamlanders will only grow more confident and further find their groove with this new turn. Lost in the melancholy and poetry of it all, the Hurtsville material was engulfing for all the reasons we find live bands both cathartic and comforting; that—in the end—we all have hearts to break.

Shane Bell
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