Slowly Slowly: St. Leonards Tour @ Corner Hotel

Last night, Melbourne quartet Slowly Slowly played their last show on the ‘St. Leonards Tour’. The nine-date journey was to celebrate their album St. Leonards. Appreciative Aussies showed their love for the band, with at least six dates of the tour selling out.

With bated breath, I waited in the darkness of Melbourne’s Corner Hotel, and did a bit of people-watching before the bands began. I decided in conversation with Alex Sievers (of Kill Your Stereo) that we were collectively ’emo geeks’: lovers of music who also love having our heartstrings tugged at. This was reinforced by Ceres shirts spotted in amongst the small pockets of people gathering. We were all there to feel something.

Face Face were the opening band of the night. With Max Quinn unfortunately pulling out of the show, Slowly Slowly posed the question to their followers on Facebook as to who they should get on board to replace them. Face Face were the chosen band, and took to the stage in their signature striped shirts.

Brand new to Face Face, I took some time to get into the groove of their sound and approach to music. The trio bonded on stage with a combination of grungy rock and a sense of playful instrumentation. I was soon won over by the emphatic expression of emotion through the vocals, as well as the shifting of pace which drew all of us in.

As the set went on I was finding myself progressively falling for this band, with their playful and curious rhythms, some short and sweet tracks, gloriousness via the tandem vocals and harmonies, and just how entertaining the drummer was to watch. There’s a lot more I could say about this band, whose music I decided reflected the interaction with a starry night’s sky: Sometimes you’re making a wish, sometimes you’re staring and becoming lost in thought, and sometimes you’re shouting to the sky in frustration. The band were able to traverse all of these feelings in their set, while also ending on a high with a mess-your-hair-up, lose yourself, and scream in frustration fast-paced rock number. Great great set!

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I previously saw the second band of the night, Just About Done, in the far more intimate space of Penny Black. There on stage at Corner Hotel, they opened very strongly by way of guitars and sound, but the vocals didn’t seem able to meet the instrumental strength. I’m not sure if this was due to sound levels or something else, but it was made more noticeable because of the intricate nature of the lyrics in the bands’ music.

Catchy riff impressiveness and layers of sound made for moments of interest during Just About Done’s set, but I kept craving some ‘oomph’ behind the vocals so they might flood the room. Without that outwardly flowing strength, the experience felt insular and was hard to connect in with.

The band were clearly passionate and going hard at it on stage. The grittier vocals from guitarist Jack Farnfield would have been a great way to balance out some of that more inward vocal style, but even these were tough to hear, volume-wise. None of this stopped Just About Done fans from enjoying the show! They happily strutted their stuff front and centre, and danced along to their favourites. I know Just About Done are working on new music currently with Christopher Vernon, so it’ll be great to hear what they have up their sleeve.

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Sydney band Oslow took to the stage next, and ‘great bass’ was the first thing I put in my notes for this new-to-me band. In contrast to the previous set, Oslow’s vocalist (and bassist) Dylan Farrugia confidently shared his lyrical messages with clarity and strength, leaving them almost suspended in the air above us all. While his vocal style wasn’t something I was used to at all, his presence on stage was captivating. The great bond between band members was obvious to me.

Also in this set I couldn’t hear the harmonies that I could visibly see being poured passionately into the microphone from guitarist Sean Hampstead. It’s really frustrating as an empathic music listener who wants to jump into the feels of it all to be seeing something emotionally expressed and not able to hear it. While I’m on the subject of being a big whinger about sound (while also having no skill or knowledge in that area at all) I saw the same empassioned effort going into guitar via Jacob Rossi and it was barely audible under the vocals. I just wanted to receive the output of what was clearly being poured in.

The hardworking band were a pleasure to watch though, and moved through intensity to softer invitations for us to hear what they’re wanting to share. Angsty and intriguingly wavering at times, the fluid waves of intensity were easy to melt into as the set went on, appreciating the band’s open sharing and warmth. I love love loved a drum focus/solo moment within the set, as well as the combination of melodic guitar with this; deciding that it added a stamp of realness to the energy of fight.

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Going into Slowly Slowly’s set, I really wanted to not be feeling frustrated about any sound issues that had bothered me in earlier sets. Was it just me? Was I just a Complainey McGrumpface who’d be better off listening to music at home? All of that was abandoned when Slowly Slowly began: Sheer sonic perfection.

Instantly riddled with goosebumps, hearing the entire room singing “Dinosaurs”, and seeing Ben Stewart visibly reacting to the experience; it was just all too amazing. As well as the beautiful presence of Ben with guitar, the high energy of the entire band as they moved into “Extinction” was speechlessly impressive. My gaze went to Patrick Murphy on drums often, just watching the massiveness that the guy was pumping out.

The sound quality was consistent perfection and I was brought to tears (many times) by Slowly Slowly’s beautiful presence as they shared St. Leonards tracks like “Ten Leaf Clover” as well as exploring older music from Chamomile. Everyone on the stage was palpably happy to be there, and seemed to be overwhelmed by how happy we all were to be there too. It was one of those magic moments in life where there’s no where else you want to be and you are fully THERE with people who are also fully there with you.

With Ben and bandmates Alex Quayle, and Albert Doan leaping together at times, the stage was frequently full of life, reflected back toward them by a crowd that was also full of life in voice and movement. When Slowly Slowly weren’t rocking out, they were weaving balls of emotion and sharing them with a smile, intensely and beautifully.

As he mentioned in our interview, Ben shared honestly about his beginnings in music as a drummer, as well as his shyness in sharing personal songs. He shared that it was Something For Kate‘s frontman Paul Dempsey who was a significant inspiration for him to be able to front Slowly Slowly, before surprising us all and bringing Paul himself out on stage for “The Cold War”. I don’t know whether it was the fact that Ben shared that “never did I dream this would happen”, or seeing his expression of sheer joy, or the fact that it was clearly one of those this-won’t-happen-again experiences, or the fact that “The Cold War” is such a moving song, but at this point I bawled my eyes out. With tears streaming down my face in the darkness, I joined Paul (and then Ben – and everyone, really) in singing the beautiful bridge and the song through to the end. Holy shit.

“Push upon me, make me guilty, make me feel like I pushed the knife”

The entire experience felt so ‘pinch me’ beautiful and special, and despite not knowing Slowly Slowly’s earlier discography, I never felt anything but completely and utterly part of this incredible experience. We in the crowd were just as much a part of this as the band, reinforced by pauses or more softly sung vocals to encourage us to join in. Visualise all of this, along with pointed fingers in the air for added emphasis, with crowd surfers and shoulder sitters wanting even to soak up even more of this brilliance.

Slowly Slowly somehow managed to keep the energy high even when it was just Ben on stage with a guitar along with a cello played by Aileen. Dedicated to the Edwards family, “Song For Shae” was always going to be hard going, courtesy of its very personal nature. Ben easily drew me in to his experience with it, in its difficulty as well as its celebration. At this point it felt ever more confirmed to me as to how honest in his expression Ben is, and how easy it is to immerse into what he is sharing, regardless of what the emotion is. One of the real ones.

“And you get so sad and you get so high”

At this point I was an emotional mess of elation in how ‘wow’ this whole experience was proving to be, and how raw some of the things shared were, and enjoying every second of it. “Aliens” had me crying (yet again) in the strength and beauty being laid out on the stage in front of all of us courtesy of the entire band operating as one. And “Alchemy” invited wildness along to its singalong beauty. All of this was just so unreal that it’s tough to put into words.

Put simply, every member of this band is so talented and watching them jumping and rocking out was too good, such as their loose and free movement during “Sorry”. Stand out features like the melodic guitar and crowd singing with a smiling Ben in “Good Friends” were brilliant cherries upon an already fantastical experience. I didn’t want this to end.

Slowly Slowly’s last offerings as encore were “St Leonards” and “Smile Lines”. With just Ben and his guitar on the former, it struck me clearly this open hearted intimacy of sharing we’ve been allowed into. The latter provided a massive and satisfying end to a wordlessly amazing experience with a singalong chorus.  You could not ask for a better show and I’m grateful to have witnessed something so special.

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[All photos courtesy of Louie Mosscrop]

Kel Burch

Creator and caretaker of Depth Mag, Kel uses her superpowers of empathy, word-weaving, and feeling everything deeply, to immerse herself in music before returning to reality to write about her experience with it.

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