Review: Dead Letter Circus at Bald Faced Stag, Sydney, 10 June 2018

The patrons of the Bald Faced Stag struggled through the dreariness of an overcast Sydney winter’s night, seeking reprieve from the elements and eager for Dead Letter Circus to brighten their night at a sold out show.

Sevsons had the hard task of opening to crowd still thawing out. Their sound matched Dead Letter’s quite well, with clear powerful vocals and uplifting, prog-inspired instrumentation. While eager in presence and showing off some interesting songwriting (as well as a welcome cover of Silverchair’s ‘Without You’), the guitar was mixed far too loud and drowned out the finesse of the other musicians. Singer Rhys de Burgh was a touch flat most of the night, presumably because he could barely hear his own voice in the foldback. Even with these hangups, they did a great job warming up the night, pulling the crowd closer towards the stage.

Glorious Sons were up next, and brought a surprising set of classic rock, with Springsteen-esque lyrics over steady rock music. At first is was quite strange to see a band like Glorious Sons to be playing on the same bill as two prog-rock acts, but it actually proved to be quite refreshing set and help break the night up with some variety.

The Canadian six-piece also had to wrestle with a sleepy crowd, barely able to win the audience over with their emotive songwriting and delivery. With singer Brett Emmons commenting, “How you doing you sleepy bastards?” Despite playing to a stagnant wall of people, he sang with confidence and conviction.

By the time Dead Letter Circus were setting up for their show, the venue had filled considerably and the mood was finally shifting.

Dead Letter’s frontman Kim Benzie immediately started hyping up the crowd, jumping around to the band launched into a set packed with hits from their entire discography, from early hits like ‘Here We Divide’ and ‘The Mile’, to much more recent songs ‘the Burning Number’ and latest single ‘The Armour You Own’.

The energy of their performance was fantastic, jumping and stomping with intensity throughout the show. The only hiccup was when bassist Stewart Hill had his distortion pedal break mid-set, having to perform with a diminished tone. Even then, the band took it in their stride, grins spread across their faces.

By the latter part of the set, the audience had fully unwound, and in kind the band teased the audience with a song or two off their upcoming album. Skipping the encore, the band closed on an ominous crescendo, almost as a lead-in to their new album dropping in a few months’ time.

The group have a distinct sound within the prog rock genre, one with soaring vocals, shimmering delayed guitars, and a complex but engaging rhythm section to tie it all together. This translated quite well live, however their songs began to sound homogenous when played back-to-back, with every halftime change and climactic guitar part sounding familiar very quickly. It became increasingly repetitive and predictable in mood, and perpetually tiring as the show progressed.

The night was held back for strange and subtle reasons – the audience’s cold and reserved mood, the poor sound mixing for the opening acts, and the repetitive dynamics of Dead Letter’s set. But Dead Letter are still in good shape after 10 years, and clearly very capable of putting on a passionate and energetic show. The new album and inevitable tour will only compound this further.

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