BigStrongBrute, Ambitious Lovers @ Black Star (15.05.09)

Last Friday's show at Black Star Coffee in West End was perhaps the fourth time I'd been to the venue since it started featuring bands at the start of the year. It's a cool little cafe just near the Boundary St / Vulture St intersection, just off the main drag on the cusp of suburbia. All of the gigs I've attended at Black Star so far have been great fun, as there's something really enjoyable about sitting having a chat with some friends and drinking hot coffee / chocolate instead being in a hot, loud club drinking a beer. The layout of the cafe means that the band sets up essentially in the middle of the audience, providing an extremely intimate environment for musical performance.

Ambitious Lovers were the first band to play on this particular Friday night. Lead Lover Joel Saunders is no stranger to Black Star, having played the venue previously and also being the curator of the regular 'Foot Foot Foot' shows that take place there every few weeks. For this night he was joined by his two regular female vocals & percussion companions, Kel and Elise. The band has been playing as a three-piece for almost a year now, and it's helped them to become a more solid band. While Ambitious Lovers have been (and will most likely always be) a ramshackle act both live and on record, having a third member seems to have made the band somewhat tighter - no longer do most songs have a section where the different musicians seem to be completely out of sync with each other. They're still wonderfully shambolic, but no longer in a way that gets in the way of their, quite frankly, astoundingly beautiful songs.

Many people don't attempt to take Ambitious Lovers at more than face value. They hear Joel's cracked vocals and distorted ukulele, they see the percussion kit made from milk crates and bottle caps and fly swatters, they watch the band descending into a noisy freakout at the end of a beautiful outsider-folk song. They make up their minds that the musicians are being 'difficult' and that this is music that is too amateur to be worth trying to dissect. They never take the effort to hear the actual songs underneath the facade of 'experimentalism'. I don't think the band care in the slightest, but it's still a damn shame because there's actually very little to Ambitious Lovers that is all that difficult to enjoy. So many of their songs are wonderfully melodic and heartbreaking in their vulnerability. Their sets contain more emotion than any other Brisbane band I can think of.

BigStrongBrute haven't been a regular fixture on the Brisbane live scene for a while now, with their only semi-recent appearance being their support slot for Mt Eerie in October last year. Back then they showed off their rusted take on folk and Americana with a full 'rock' band lineup. On this particular night, however, they brought things right back, with the band featuring Paul Donoughue on vocals and guitar (since BigStrongBrute is essentially his solo act) plus a flautist and trumpet player. I found it to be the most effective lineup of the band I'd seen, allowing Paul to strip the songs down to their bare essentials while still allowing them to swell up when necessary. All of the BigStrongBrute shows I've seen in the last few years have engendered a great degree of goodwill towards the band - they just seem to be that sort of act, the sort where their enthusiasm for playing is easily transferred to the audience. This particular show had something more to it than that though, there was a palpable sense of sorrow mixed in with the usual celebratory feelings. Maybe it was just the affect of having the brass and wind instruments with no pounding percussion to provide a counterpoint. Whatever the reason, despite being only six songs long, it was one of the most beautiful sets I've seen in recent times. There were quite a few songs that I didn't recognise (although there were still some old favourites such as 'Everything All At Once') so hopefully this bodes well for an upcoming release from the band.