15 November 2008

The Armada @ QUT Guild Bar (live review)

Last night confirmed my previous consideration of the QUT Guild Bar as one of the worst live music venues in Brisbane. However, poor mixing and foldback control, equipment inadequately set up, and fluro booze signs which would negate the most determined efforts at ambience, were overthrown by the sheer passion of Jeff Martin's new band, The Armada.

You may remember Jeff from The Tea Party. Yes, they were a brilliant bunch of musicians but, in his attempts to form new musical alliances, fans have perhaps hampered this growth by insistently demanding Tea Party songs at his solo gigs and dwelling on the concept of the band getting back together. The Armada puts a nail in those fantasies very nicely, thank you very much.

And the thing is, I get the feeling Jeff is enjoying himself here, with his new cohorts. Always one for brilliance, I have never seen Jeff having such a good time onstage as he did last night. Technical problems and all, the camaraderie with his new band mates is palpable and dominated the evening in a powerhouse performance.

Jeff and his collection of some billion guitars -- I may exaggerate, but only slightly -- graced the stage with presence and an inner intensity; something about the man resembles a lion about to pounce. The Armada's musical style traverses the peaks of the mystical and middle eastern, and ploughs through the swamp that is the late night blues. What a ride; the drumming and percussion of Wayne Sheehy was a mighty creation in itself, in spite of constant threats that his drum kit would collapse. And Klaus the Viking King (as I named him when he first graced the stage), otherwise known as Gareth Forsyth, created a storm with his long blonde hair/wind machine/bass playing action. Jeff's caged wild animal otherness, Wayne's trip the light fantastic drumming, and Gareth's funky playing style and general onstage hyperactivity blended to form a perfect union.

While yes, they played some Tea Party songs and ones from Jeff's solo career, the new music dominated and created a dark and sexual vibe. Urgent, demanding, persistent and slightly crazed, the songs held our hands and meandered through the forest, across the sea, into a canopied bed and beyond. No longer merely sensual and romantic, you get the feeling Jeff's not wasting any time. The songs reflect this determined attitude, which is one of taking no prisoners.

The Armada is seeking to spread the word of their music without involvement from the major labels for the moment, so their album was for sale at the gig and is not yet available in record stores. As Jeff said last night, they may consider offers from the big players "if they get on their knees and beg for the music". The album has been released by Kingdom Records and is a treat and true reflection of last night's experience. An album I will play over and over until I know every word to every song.

Jeff, Wayne and Gareth put their all into last night's performance and the crowd was enamoured, swept away by the promise of what the future holds for this band. The Armada has the wind in its sails and this time, nothing will stand in its way.

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