After picking Agnes Manners‘ Fantasia Famish as my Album Of The Year in 2020, you bet I was going to take the first chance I could to see them in action on stage. The chance happened to be the Hands Like Houses ‘Reflect Tour’, which has had to navigate some COVID related obstacles, but is proceeding as safely as it can.
While Agnes Manners’ debut album was created with vocalist, guitarist, and songwriter Matthew Gravolin together with producer Shane Edwards, the project has since expanded into a foursome, completed by Lachlan Monty (guitar, vocals), Alexander Trail (drums), and CJ James (bass, vocals). Having listened to the album so many times by this point, I was especially curious to hear these well-loved songs with the full band’s delivery of them.
My first impression is probably best summed up as ‘chilled’. Relaxed and casual but still professional, the Agnes Manners collective drew the 170 Russell audience into their sound with ease. The songs flowed naturally from one to the next, having a similar emotional current to what you can hear on the album, beginning sweetly with “Evergreen”.
An endearing blend of flow and fire, the band came across as united despite their newness, and I found myself easily swept up into the heart of the songs and their messages. CJ was especially captivating, easily oozing a feminine energy where needed with impressive vocals, and frequently forming a rock solid vocal team with Matthew. With the three together on vocals, they came across as unstoppable.
Also captivating for me was seeing Matthew’s surrender of his body to the music. Leaning into this new role as frontman, his physical exploration of these songs was an artful expression in itself. Also noteworthy was Matthew’s roared versions of specifically emotive lines, such as “The world is not thy friend” bellowed out into “Sydney” (the song, not the city). Stirring and climactic, the loss of opportunity shared in “Brilliant Blue” hit beautifully home, marked by its building drums and the tumbling melody to close both the song and the set. And all I wanted to do was immediately see it all over again.
Hands Like Houses
Considerably more intimate than last I saw them at The Forum, Hands Like Houses band members were perched upon stools in comparison to roaming the expansive stage. The audience had blossomed considerably since the Agnes Manners set and were determined to make their presence felt by their favourites. Joining in on “Colourblind”, the crowd were louder than the band, and an enthusiastic but very relaxed and easygoing set had begun.
In my notes I captured the vibe as “easy and zen”, and with the band’s collective playfulness and banter, Hands Like Houses inspired easy laughs from the crowd. A relaxed and acoustic version of “Drift” felt warm and soothing, and just like Agnes Manners before them, there was an easy flow to the set and song choices.
While their production was considerably pared back from the CO2 and pyro of The Forum, golden hues from the lighting and crowd accompaniment to a skipping beat made “New Romantics” a treat, and pale blue light beams lifted heartfelt emotion from vocalist Trenton Woodley. The energy of it all felt full, open, welcoming, and joyful.
Though my familiarity with Hands Like Houses isn’t so great, I appreciated the invitation to dance and move along if we so wished and it felt relaxed and soft. Crowd bounces, cheers, and claps saw the end of the first part of the band’s set.
Considerably more energetic in the second part, I was stoked to hear a Hands Like Houses version of Fuel‘s “Shimmer”, and the greater energy was reinforced by vibrant animations/videos playing behind the band. The crowd’s joy was obvious, especially in songs like “Overthinking” and the flowy and feelgood “The Water”.
Hands Like Houses seem to have endless love for their loyal fans, and their time at 170 Russell was no exception.