An absence. A return. A certainty that the songs will be special in an imperfect world, by a special band who thrive on imperfection. This has always been the way with Augie March.
In Sydney this week, the five piece who once turned Denis Handlin into a fan of indie rock and songwriters who read books, will bring this, and more - the more including Sally Seltmann as support, so that’s very more actually - up the Hume Highway and, via a few turns, to the Factory Theatre, in Marrickville.
This will be a delayed 20th anniversary of 2000’s debut album, Sunset Studies, delayed by you know what, of course, but no less important a marker for that.
In honour of the visit, Wind Back Wednesday takes a refresher in the splendours of Augie March, from a 2015 night in a room about 15 minutes further on from Marrickville. You might know the building. You might also know the state of the country then as now, where the vandals have different names but the damage is familiar.
Opera House, January 25, 2015
NO, IT WASN’T "just like they'd never been away".
In the six years since we last saw Augie March – and thought we’d not see them again as the hiatus looked more like a split – a few things have changed.
On stage, the always stern figure of bassist/vocalist Edmondo Ammendola has become both more severe (hulking under a low cap, beard bristling, he looked even more grim than the perennially furrowed browed keyboardist Kieron Box) and less visible (standing back in the shadows, behind drummer/vocalist/livewire David Williams) even as his voice remains a little recognised bulwark of these songs.
Off stage, Australia’s complex/troubled relationship with mateship vs exclusion, honour vs greed and history vs mythology has become more pronounced, as reflected in Glenn Richard’s newest songs.
“Curtsy to your betters,” he sang in the provocative Definitive History. “Who picked you for a nothing, tried to knock out your stuffing/Bold in their beers, straw between their ears.” And this before the Australia Day announcement of a knighthood for a racist, sexist, buffoon who married up. In England.
Actually though, in a sense that maybe reinforced the band’s not so subtle point that some things remain unchanged. And not just that Richards, even as he varies his voice from its longstanding upper register tenderness, remains a most awkward and clutzy frontman. Or that Australia still combines beauty at its front with serial ugliness at its edges.
Or even that bands playing in the Concert Hall will likely find their sound compromised – in this case After The Crack Up feeling light and empty and Box’s keyboards being swamped in the mix whenever the brass and the guitars of Richards and the wry Adam Donovan cranked up.
As they peppered the set, dominated by songs from 2014's excellent return, Haven’s Dumb, with songs going back to 2000's Sunset Studies, the band also looked to reinforce the connections between old and new, then and now.
It was there in the blurring of lines between a kind of florid/post-Jeff Buckley rock and earthier flavours, evident in the rollicking This Train Will Be Taking No Passengers and The Hole In Your Roof as much as the more contained new song, Bastard Time.
Or how the almost Beach Boys swoon of Hobart Obit and the equally elegant Cold Acre give us romantic songs about the absence of romance seven years apart.
And it was there too in the way you felt that Little Wonder, One Crowded Hour and AWOL seem like progressions on a continuum of contemporary folk rock: rooted in something timeless and quite lovely but always spying something more troubled nearby.
Which is a classic Augie March balance really. Ok, yes, like they’d never been away.
Now in 2022 Augie March will play: The Factory, Marrickville, March 17; Canberra Theatre, March 18; The Croxton Bandroom, Melbourne, April 1