Report: I Heart Hiroshima, Brisbane 2013

I Heart Hiroshima
Southside Tea Room, Brisbane
Saturday 19 January 2013

The last secret show I went to was The Grates in mid-2011. Which is odd, because Patience Hodgson and John Patterson own Southside Tea Room, where I find myself tonight.

It’s pretty much a tea room just in name; maybe in the frumpy lights that hang from the ceiling. Otherwise, this is half dive bar, half grunge café, replete with cement floors, fake wood panelling and random furniture. It’s a long way from a vanity project – less Justin’s, more Ground Zero Blues – and Hodgson and Patterson sell it by working the floor themselves, the former bopping around, collecting empties, the latter stuck behind the bar wrestling with a portable reticulation system, beers erupting over the rim.

More importantly, though, Hodgson and Patterson care about Brisbane music. And so, packed with punters, Southside Tea Room is a well-chosen establishment for I Heart Hiroshima’s first gig in close to two years. It’s a secret show – announced on Facebook just last night – and a warm-up for a pair of scheduled performances, the first at the Gold Coast Big Day Out, the second on Tuesday night at Alhambra Lounge in the Valley. Susie Patten has been overseas, initially as part of the now defunct Philadelphia Grand Jury but more recently living in Berlin, working on her RODEO electronic project. It’s forced the three-piece into an extended hiatus, but the other band members, Matt Somers and Cameron Hawes, have also been busy with their own projects.

Indeed, it’s one of the most immediately noticeable aspects of I Heart Hiroshima tonight. This is a band that should be rusty, but you sense instead a greater professionalism about what they do. All three have grown into their own charisma: Patten the good-natured wit, Somers the loose-limbed attitude, Hawes the watchful zen. And they slot back in with each other flush, like they’ve never been apart.

The playing tonight is the musical equivalent of old friends reacquainted and feverishly chewing each other’s ears off. I Heart made their collective name onstage, and that instinct for a live audience remains intact. There’s no other band who are quite as good at crossing immediacy with intimacy, their relatively diminutive setup – Patten on drums, Somers and Hawes both on guitars – providing the extra bonus of a sucker punch to the doubters.

“Hello, can you hear me?” Patten asks. “It’s been a while,” Somers responds. And with that a 23-month wait is over, the three-piece proceeding to gallop through ‘Neutron Popsong’ from debut 2006 EP, A Three Letter Word For Candy. Patten is all elbows and Somers stabs at his guitar. There are signs of rust – and the vocals are initially turned a mite too low – but you soon realise the unfolding set list is designed to slowly grease the gears back into life.After the endless ascendancy of ‘Throw That Metal’, Patten is already complaining of having tired arms. But the band can’t help themselves and are soon hoeing into their work. ‘Shakey Town’, ‘River’ and another earlier cut, ‘Red’, all follow in quick succession, and the nuts tighten further. Punters stand, Patterson nods, Patience pogos. By the time they get to the rolling beat of ‘Lungs’, the trio have hit their stride, and you begin to consider what makes them so special.

There’s something intrinsically push me-pull me about I Heart Hiroshima. It’s the interplay between the twin guitars of Somers and Hawes on the one hand, and the twin vocals of Patten and Somers on the other. Duties are split equally, one band member taking the lead while the others fall behind, before everything quickly switches again. It’s complexity dressed up as simplicity. Patten beats away at her kit ferociously – I can’t remember a drummer who hits harder – while Somers seems to go somewhere else with his guitar-playing, his thrashing given a steady hand by Hawes’ sweet high lines.

As the show rushes towards its conclusion, the band get harder and faster: ‘Captain to Captain’, ‘Punks’, and breakthrough single ‘London in Love’ are all spat out, before things conclude on the one-two punch of ‘Stop That’ and ‘Listen’, closing tracks from Tuff Teef and The Rip respectively. Patten pats her brow, Hawes’ bare arms glisten, Somers’ mop of hair is thick with sweat. People stand, Patience dances like a dorkbrain, and everyone groans with disappointment when it has to end.

Secret gigs are the perfect way to mark a comeback, and barring the lack of new material this was something close to the perfect comeback. Patten will be back in Berlin by the end of the week, and Somers and Hawes will be back to their own projects. There’s talk of more I Heart Hiroshima material later in the year, but nothing set in stone. I slip out of Southside Tea Room with a bittersweet feeling in my belly: tonight I was handed a firm reminder that I Heart Hiroshima are one of Brisbane’s best bands, which makes it all the more disappointing that they’re set to remain on hiatus for at least a little while yet.

Matt Shea (@mrmatches)
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