Cash Savage and the Last Drinks review (Corner Hotel, Melbourne June 29)

It’s Melbourne cold, dark and pressing. It’s been a year or more since I’ve seen Cash Savage, and with a single launch tonight and a new album only 90 days away, it’s a good time to check in and see where she is taking her music. It’s at the good ‘ole Corner Hotel in Richmond, scene of a thousand gigs glimpsed between tall heads and grey pillars.

We walked in just as Spiral Perm were finishing up, catching the last couple of songs. Pity, I wish I’d seen more; they’re a good post-punky trio.

Blake Scott, of Peep Tempel fame, is next in a solo show. I was keen to see what he would offer without the band behind him and it’s a bit of a revelation. Something that got overlooked often in the firepower of the three-piece was his exquisite guitar playing. Solo, it’s subtle and shimmering, often making me think of Nick Drake, or Tim Buckley of all people.

It’s such a contrast with the raw blasts of the Tempel. He really is a bit of mystery wrapped in an enigma, singing many of the same songs but in a gentle, reflective way; it’s probably how some songs were written and he caresses his instrument carefully all set, stroking glistening notes from it. It will be interesting to see   which direction he will head in next.

Cash and band (pictured above) are up next, after the ritual closing and opening of the big red curtains, the hometown and sold- out crowd stirred restlessly as the between-sets songlist droned on. Savage has such an amazing energy and hold over the crowd. She paces the stage like a caged tiger, looking at us as if we would be her next meal. The band move with her, pushing out such power in what is nominally alt-country music. They are dark, but have the power to electrify a small city.

For me, the highlights are the big songs from her second album One of Us: Falling Landing, Run With the Dogs and Rat-a-tat-tat. They come scattered through the set, which tonight is mostly about new songs. Some of these are akin to those above, and some are more, well, contemporarily rocky.

Better Than That is downright yacht-rocky on stage. You could close your eyes and imagine the band in salmon jackets and ’80s hair. It’s much more restrained than her older material – and not nearly so threatening. It’s a great song, just a little right of centre for her.

It’s funny, because at times the band reminds me philosophically of the E Street Band (Bruce Springsteen’s backing players) – everyone gets up and belts away in a great wall of sound. Cash too, can be like the Boss, saying that they would not do encores and just play longer. Her presence is certainly big enough to contain that comparison.

Pack Animals (tonight’s single launch subject) is much more in our faces. It sounds like Savage has been listening to bands like Cable Ties, Lazertits and Camp Cope; all in some ways post-punky in style and covering not dissimilar material.

It takes Cash further away from her country-ish roots. It may signal more of the same from the upcoming album, or just an aside in her path. In any case, it’s much more straightforwardly rock than what her signature sound has been. In some ways, it lessens her power; the dissonance between country stylings, banjo and violin and an aggressive vocal/stage presence is what gives her a lot of power and uniqueness. That energy is dissipated a little when it is focused within a form (rock/ post-punk) that sits more comfortably with that aggression.

It takes nothing away from the overall performance though and most likely signals a widening of Savage’s appeal. Next to Courtney Barnett, she is one of the most original and distinctively Australian voices to emerge in the last few years. I wouldn’t be surprised to see her become similarly well-known on the world stage in spite of her current, relatively low-key profile.

You can catch Cash Savage and the Last Drinks in Castlemaine next Saturday, the 7thJuly with the same support acts.

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