Over the summer, King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard, the Australian psych-prog-everything-rock band, caught my attention. When I started listening to them, it really started my interest in Australian music and culture, and delivered me to a band called the Murlocs. Made up of members from several other popular Australian alternative-rock bands (including King Gizz and Baked Beans), and fronted by Ambrose Kenny-Smith, this blues-rock band has been the soundtrack to my last year of college, and their new album Manic Candid Episode, surpassed all my expectations and delivered an almost cinematic listening experience. I can’t imagine Manic Candid Episode not being one of my favorite albums of the year.
Seeing that they had a tour date for their US-Canada tour at the Beachland Ballroom in Cleveland, OH was also super exciting. I was able to go to this venue last year to see the Dean Ween Group, and I loved every moment there. As someone who likes to get to the very front of the stage, Beachland’s stage is a very comfortable height. It’s also a really casual venue– when we saw Dean Ween, he did a lot of the set up of his own gear, and chatting a bit with audience members before the show started.
When we walked into the Ballroom for our evening with the Murlocs, I was struck by how much smaller the room was in real life than it was in my memory. My friend turned to me and asked, “Wasn’t it bigger in here last time?” We were the first two people in the venue after arriving only an hour early, and got to stand front and center for the show (which turned out to be a mixed blessing– Ambrose is insanely tall, neck craningly tall).
There were two opening acts before The Murlocs came on stage. First was Oregon Space Trail of Doom, a group from Cleveland. They were finishing their soundcheck when the doors opened, and there were plenty of people at the show who came already wearing this band’s shirts. I could easily see why– these guys know no limits. Their songs drifted from heavy-rock jam sessions to delicious space-outs, some of their songs drove pretty hard and others floated along. Not only did they sound absolutely fantastic and totally original, but they were clearly having a fantastic time playing for us and with one another. Their sound is spooky and original, and the drummer utterly smashed one of his drumsticks to pieces, something I didn’t notice until I saw woodchips flying around the stage. Checking their setlist for upcoming shows, I’m not surprised to see that everything is in the Ohio area, but I am disappointed about it. I can’t wait to see where this group goes.
The second opening group was of a completely different tone. OHTIS, an Americana three-piece band, took the stage with a lapsteel, an acoustic guitar, a two-piece drum kit, and a drum machine, unlike the high-energy rock groups that preceded and followed their set. When they started playing I was a bit worried that their tone was going to be too different. But Ohtis took me by surprise. Their gentle, heartfelt songs were sent into the room with incredible energy. Their drummer played his small kit and drum machine with incredibly physicality. Ohtis was pure beauty, delicately given. It was also supremely entertaining by how all-hands-on-deck this group was. I love watching a good instrument swap, and each person in OHTIS played at least two, sometimes at the same time. They were a palate cleanser between two pretty different rock-n-roll groups, and without them I don’t know what we would have done.
The main set, a nearly two dozen adventure through the Murlocs four album discography, was an absolutely fantastic time. The setlist was in view from my spot at the front of the stage, so I wasn’t surprised to hear that my one song that I most desperately wanted to hear (Noble Soldier from Old Locomotive, my favorite Murlocs album) was the song they used to open their night.
The Murlocs is an interesting project, since they are so frontman oriented in their presentation. Each member of the band wore matching black shirts and blue pants, while Kenny-Smith wore a jacket covered in embroidered patches, with a white button-up shirt with “Uncle Murl” embroidered on the back underneath. And the band does showcase Kenny-Smith’s unique stage presence, one part howling blues-rocker, the other half goofy dad-dancer. Their songs showcase his unique voice and way of presenting a song (something that I thought shone particularly bright on their newest record, especially when compared their first record Loopholes).
The Murlocs are also such a strong band for songs. Most of their numbers coming in around the three-minute-mark and contain clever, catchy lyrics that you can’t help but learn. Because of this, their show felt a lot longer than it actually was, and belting along with the rest of the audience was a truly joyful experience that only Murlocs songs could afford. Screaming “I beg your pardon//what’s the problem,” from Manic Candid Episode’s second single “Withstand” was a joy I’ve been looking forward to all year, and it lived up to my imagined expectation.
Since getting back into my regular life, the music of each of these three bands have been the only thing on my turntable and in my headphones. The feeling that each of them sent into the crowd was so infectiously good, so full of love, and most importantly, so catchy, that the high I always have after a concert has been extended days beyond its normal shelf life.