"The First Bite"Transit Bar
1 April 2016
Reviewed by Samara Purnell
Image by Davey Barber
Jack Biilmann and his band, The Bronze Whalers, made their way onto the Transit Bar stage to perform for the first time as a group. Looking all shiny and fresh in matching, striped, sailor-inspired t-shirts, they greeted the comfortably packed-in patrons: “What's going on motherf*ckers?!” Then launched into their first tune.
Complete with trumpet and trombone, The Bronze Whalers immediately established their modern, ska-imbued sound. This allowed speculation as to whether the name “Bronze Whalers” was at all inspired by Bob Marley’s band “The Wailers” or perhaps a nod to Biilmann’s roots in Pambula Beach.
The sound mixing and levels were spot-on and the band found a great balance between the brass, guitar, drums and vocals without overwhelming each other. The band regularly played with rhythm, as did Biilmann when performing a long solo segment. The solo may have been better broken up between numbers with the band or else shortened somewhat, given the vibe and sound between the two is quite different.
Biilmann recently supported Steve Smyth and the two artists were well matched. Biilmann’s solo songs feel perfectly suited to a laid-back roadtrip across Australia. He has impressive and expressive guitar playing and a deep, gravelly voice, readily comparable to Eddie Vedder. At times the band hinted at a Pearl Jam sound as well. Biilmann is a storyteller, so it’s unfortunate that at times his lyrics are lost due to his laidback twang.
“Forever Unbeaten*” is an original tribute to the late cricketer, Phillip Hughes, a song endorsed by the Hughes family. It would have had greater emotional impact with a more nuanced or poignant melody. “Old Tom” continued the sea-theme and is a grinding, bluesy song about the killer whale in the Eden Museum, and a highlight of Biilmann’s set. “Old Tom” segued into “Black Betty” with more playful rhythm changes. And, with a few medleys included during the evening’s set, Biilmann let loose with some of Lil Jon’s “Get Low”, almost as an “in-joke”, but in his stylised interpretation, not only was the song fun and catchy, he managed to make the explicit lyrics palatable.
When the band rejoined Biilmann on stage, the polished sounding set kept the vibe light-hearted and the loose, rock-reggae rhythms that had had everyone up and moving from the start of the gig, kept them so until the final notes had rung out…