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TALES OF THE UNEXPECTED: AUGIE MARCH THE TOAST OF THE TOWN IN WIND BACK WEDNESDAY


Still no live gigs? Bloody hell, how can we keep coping with that loss? Maybe a tiny comfort can come from digging back to when we went to shows as a matter of course.


To that end, Wind Back Wednesday finds us back in the woolly winter of 2006 as perennial underground gems, Augie March, were suddenly the kind of band footballers knew – and loved – and audiences bought in large quantities.


What happened? A hit song, sure, but something else was going on. And on this tour, American Jolie Holland was along for the ride.

AUGIE MARCH

Enmore Theatre, August 1


Who could predict it? Literate, melodic, emotive and creative, Augie March have been among the best, and in several categories the best, band in Australia since the turn of the century. But few outside a small knot of fans recognised it and even fewer expected that to change.


Then this year the Melbourne quintet found themselves in the charts, on the radio and - perhaps most astonishing of all - on The Footy Show where Paul "The Chief" Harragon declared himself a big fan (he bought his own copy of their album!).


So complete has been the rise from cult to popular that selling out the Enmore tonight seemed inevitable and the passionate response of the audience surprised no one.


How did this happen? You could point to the typically beautiful song One Crowded Hour which became an unlikely, and misunderstood, "love song" and was the mid show peak via its quite thrilling escalation from personal to grand.

Or maybe you'd credit the relatively simpler structure of songs on their third album. The band, having long ago discarded a reputation for variable live shows, now reproduce the material with ease, often with exquisite harmonies (bass player Edmondo Ammendola a stand-out) and a perfect balance of force and subtlety.


Or maybe it is just kismet.


Whatever it is, it should be celebrated, along with the fact that Augie March fit this new status so comfortably. Their sound and their confidence has swelled - not with bluster, more in the manner of once gangly teenager who once hunched to avoid notice but now, fearing nothing, happily strides out tall.


You could see it in the way they followed One Crowded Hour's high with a virtual solo performance by singer Glenn Richards of Bottle Baby ("a heinous, heinous law/of an endless endless love/that governs your poor heart") which marked and then transcended the Jeff Buckley comparisons. And in the way they allowed the understated drama of Sunstroke House to do the work for them. They are in very fine form.

Augie March were preceded on stage by American Jolie Holland (and Englishman David Ford, but I got there too late unfortunately to see his very early set). Holland's songs with their slowly simmering sexuality 'neath a blend of between-the-wars jazz, blues and country, took a while to quiet the crowd.


You could argue her almost arch delivery and rustic textures (her violin looked like it was made from cigar boxes) coupled with a musical style 70 years from being "cool" would be too esoteric to garner commercial success, even for such a good songwriter. But as Augie March triumphantly prove, sometimes it's true that quality will out.

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