Report: Divine Fits, Melbourne 2013
Corner Hotel, Melbourne
Monday 3rd February 2013
The best thing about watching Divine Fits is witnessing how their particular machine works.
Their songs are—appropriately—fits and starts; skeletal compositions that work when the whole locks together. Like Talking Heads at their peak, the musicians play in syncopation - blobs of bass disappear and reappear; guitar is used for a lone melody then choked; sometimes there's nothing but keys and drums. Crucially, none of this ruthless editing is done just for "mood" - it's always for propulsion and groove. Divine Fits' songs are a masterclass in efficient songwriting.
Co-bandleaders Britt Daniel and Dan Boeckner have collectively made 18 albums (plus ephemera) of music before they joined forces -- Boeckner with Handsome Furs and Wolf Parade, Daniel with Spoon. So they should know their shit. The pair bonded—along with drummer Sam Brown and keyboardist Alex Fischel—for last year's debut A Thing Called Divine Fits, and the result is precisely the sound of two master songwriters ruthlessly refashioning their personal history with pop-rock in their own form.
You get the impression that the band's lithe form has a lot to do with Daniel; his band Spoon have been carving themselves away to bones for 20 years now. But his clever editing and understanding of style is a perfect foil for the strangled desperation of Boeckner, who's emotional exorcising (and jagged guitar strikes) hit like a wild splash of colour to the elder's composed crafting. Either way: as end-users, the spoils are ours.
Opener 'Neopolitans' is pure Daniel, in the vein of Spoon's 'The Ghost of You Lingers', all odd piano flutters and tension. Boeckner snarls up for 'Baby Gets Worse' before Daniel again takes lead for the cool burn of 'Flaggin' A Ride'. The frantic 'What Gets You Alone' swings into 'Would That Not Be Nice', followed with Boeckner's attempts at local lingo. "Sweatin' like a pig, feeling like a cashed up bogan," he tells the crowd. "In Canada we call them 'Hoosers'." He jitters up front with the mic for his guitarless 'My Love Is Real', barking into the mic like it's plugged in to the socket. These songs of his are about the dissolution of a relationship, and while the scabs from that fallout must have healed enough, he does a good job of wringing himself dry again. Both he and Daniel have incredible voices, and the one-two swopping on the mic gives the set a real edge: it's not one-upmanship; more like two brothers working for the same spotlight. Fischel and Brown seem like perfect foils, the former working away at two keyboards when not logging double-duty on guitar, while Brown has an old cymbal fixed to his bass drum which he smashes for weird, distorted affect. Small things mean a lot here.
Their one album's one aching lament, 'Civilian Stripes', is beefed up with drums here with Brown, before a cover of Tom Petty's 'You Got Lucky' pretty cleanly reveals a big vocal touchstone for Daniel. And by the time the band get on to their nth instrument swap for 'Like Ice Cream', the four-piece seem in complete thrall to each other. Less a supergroup ticking a spot on their itinerary and more like a bunch of swell dudes having a blast. An elongated 'For Your Heart' with a ferocious outro finishes the main set, before they return with two covers: the Rolling Stone's 'Sway' and Roland S. Howard's 'Shivers'. Strangely, no mention (nor yesterday at Laneway) of Melbourne being Howard's hometown -- hell, he once strode this same stage. But it doesn't make their wild version any less reverent.
Divine Fits err on the rock side classicism at times, especially with their choice of covers. But it's their sprawling flirtations with new-wave electronica that seem to most excite both band and crowd tonight: 'The Salton Sea' turns into a gloriously tense post-rock juggernaut, Daniel's punishing bass relegating the recorded version to the wings. Similarly 'For Your Heart' takes off under the thump of Sam Brown's traps, Boeckner never more urgent. A band never more anatomically correct; so young, in such rude health and so inspired.
(Pics: Tim O'Connor)