I can’t remember the last time I saw The Bamboos. It would have been something like five or six years ago and I must have had a pretty good time because looking back, I honestly can’t remember much about the performance at all. In fact, it took a friend to remind me I’d actually been there in the first place.
Regardless, my interest in the Bamboos since has waxed and waned: waxed with every announcement of an album release, and waned each time I heard the actual result. Both 2008’s Side-Stepper
and 2010’s 4
were energetic, bouncing listens that nevertheless lacked in both songwriting and production.
Last month, though, was a game changer for The Bamboos. The group released Medicine Man
– by some distance their finest album yet. Bandleader Lance Ferguson stepped up his writing and brightened the production to a point where the recordings popped and shimmied with an addictive groove. If ever there was a moment to re-evaluate the Bamboos live experience, now is probably it.
A lot of other people seem to have had the same idea. The Hi-Fi is absolutely heaving, and it’s not the kind of crowd that just stares at the stage waiting to be entertained. A Bamboos show is more like a club gig, with punters squeezing this way and that: to the bar, to the bathrooms, to the upstairs balcony and back again. There’s also an obvious number of older blow-ins from the jazz club further round the river but, thankfully, very few silly hats.
The band’s faith in the new material is on display tonight too. Yes, this is an album release show, but even so the Bamboos cut very close to Medicine Man
’s tracklisting. The curtain draws back to the gut-punching beat of ‘What I Know’, Ferguson sharing the front of the stage with vocalist Kylie Auldist. It’s a great way to open the gig, the flaring choruses and intoned outro acting like a warm-up for Auldist, while the hornplayers loosen their lips with some stabbing riffs.
It also begins the first lesson of the night: Kylie Auldist absolutely delivers onstage. I’ve never been a fan of Auldist’s recorded work, finding her voice powerful but lacking in dimension. Seeing her onstage, though, I can’t eat my words fast enough. You could argue it’s an issue of practicality, given she pilots many of the cuts put down on record by other guest vocalists, but that’s really part of the expert demonstration: Ferguson could pitch her anything and she’d still smack it out of the park. Time and again she takes it on – ‘Cut Me Down’, ‘Never’, ‘I Got Burned’ and a new cut, ‘Daydream’, are all sliced and diced – and I’m not sure anybody in the venue could fault her performance.
The second lesson tonight is that Megan Washington is a weirdo. About two thirds of the way through the gig Ferguson introduces the Brisbane-born singer-songwriter and she barrels on stage to whoops of delight from the crowd, only to then confuse the fuck out of everyone by pronouncing that her father’s in the audience and saying: “Hi dad. Even though I do music, I’m not a junkie.” Cool story, bro. (I dunno: perhaps she had just been itching to get out there. From my vantage point I could see Washington backstage from the start of proceedings, pogoing about with her arms in the air).
Never mind, though, because once the music starts Washington delivers some of the key moments of the night, racing through the band’s covers of Kings of Leon’s ‘King of the Rodeo’ and James Blake’s ‘Wilhem Scream’, before turning in ‘Eliza’, her contribution to Medicine Man
and possibly one of the greatest Bamboos songs to date. She’s all limbs and attitude and nonsense but you can’t argue with the final result – Washington’s three cuts are spectacular.
Lesson three is of course the Bamboos themselves. It’s only halfway through the show that I start feeling like a dick for having ever doubted these guys. Everyone shines, with precision drum, trumpet and flute solos all delivered on cue. And for all his qualities as a bandleader, it’s nice to be able to see Ferguson’s musicality come to the fore. He’s an exceptional guitarist, and shreds a couple of jaw-dropping solos throughout the course of the night.
Despite Medicine Man
being more than prominent tonight, the Bamboos end on a 4
double punch of ‘Like Tears in Rain’ and ‘Keep Me in Mind’. It’s an inspired move. I look around the room to see absolute mayhem. Everyone’s dancing, and mostly with each other: dudes with girls, girls with girls, dudes with dudes, old people, bartenders. I can’t see Megan Washington anymore but she’s probably out back pulling on a helmet and doing headspins. A guy in front of me goes hands free on half a beer, pumping his fists as he chugs down the frothy brown liquid. And at this point I think it’s fair to say that I ‘get’ the Bamboos. I may forever struggle to remember my first experience with the band, but I won’t be forgetting tonight in a hurry.
: Matt Shea