It is a rare treat indeed when a venue, a crowd, a support act, and a musical group line up as well as they did on the fourth of February at Sydney’s Goodgod Small Club. The Goodgod is at its best when hosting bands that mix intimacy with volume, making it an ideal location for a night that featured both Australia’s Jack Ladder (real name: Tim Rogers) and New Zealand’s Connan Mockasin (Connan Holsford.)
Although Jack Ladder was ostensibly the support, the sheer skill of the musicianship on display made it hard to see the band as deserving smaller lettering on the bill: the night belonged to them as much as it did Mockasin. Rogers is an exceptional performer, subdued in a way that feels humble and hypnotic rather than unassuming, and the moments when his intense demeanor gave way to a charismatic smile when the audience burst into applause felt genuine. Although every song of the band’s set bristled with energy and life, the stand outs were a throbbing rendition of Hurtsville, a track from Ladder’s exceptional album of the same name; a performance of Reputation Amputation so good it left the audience momentarily stunned; and the frenetic, almost primal version of Barber’s Son that closed the set.
Holsford and his gang of troubadours took to the stage not too long after Jack Ladder had finished up, ensuring that the night moved forward at a steady pace. With his long blonde hair pulled into a side ponytail, Holsford, who I had always imagined to be shy, blew away all my preconceptions when he began his set by almost immediately climbing into the audience. With the hands of his fans holding him up, Holsford began to play a protracted, eerily beautiful guitar solo, as his band held the stage and began to form a steady beat.
Holsford proved himself to be a master of the stage, climbing on top of a speaker at every available opportunity, and chatting to the audience in a relaxed, comfortable manner. In fact, the presiding impression I got of Holsford is that he is impeccably polite: he continually thanked the audience for their time; their good behavior (arguing that they must be ‘nice people’ because they weren’t being too loud); and even their applause. Indeed, it must have been his politeness that made us do what he said without question: when Holsford asked the audience to crouch down, almost every single person present did it, turning a packed room full of people into a hushed, respectful audience on their knees.
Holsford and his band took a great deal of enjoyment from playing with tempo and texture. Songs slowed down; broke apart; and then suddenly sped up. Holsford’s ability to play around with his own material proved incredibly successful: the live version of I’m The Man, That Will Find You nailed a feeling of genuine, lustful beauty, and had the whole crowd screaming for more at its conclusion. Other standouts included Faking Jazz Together, rearranged ever so slightly so it became less eerily beautiful than the version on the album, but still impressive and powerful; It’s Choade My Dear; and a hypnotic, face-melting version of Forever Dolphin Love that closed the set proper.
Towards the end of the night, Holsford jokingly asked the audience what they wanted to do next. When someone suggested that he played another song, he pondered aloud if they weren’t bored after an hour of music. He was joking, of course – at least a little bit – but the response from the audience was an emphatic no. Of course it was. Who could possibly be bored when being presented with music of such power, entertainment value, and odd, hypnotic beauty?