Dispatched from Australia, STUART LYNCH reports on Melbourne’s live music scene.

THE EMPRESS HOTEL in North Fitzroy has a fierce reputation for its support of the local scene, and is famous as one of the original promoters of live music in the area. Such standing predictably attracted all manner of trendies and musos to this showcase of three underground acts with steadily growing acclaim of their own.

Twin Vickers, a.k.a. Melbourne’s Evan Purdy, was accompanied by a guest drummer for tonight’s performance, adding a certain extra definition to the jangly folk guitar sound. From the start of the set, the noise and conversation in the room seemed to subside immediately as the crowd tuned in attentively. The combination of slow-burning blues and poignant lyrics made the most of Purdy’s powerful, inimitable vocals that at times seemed to mesmerize the audience, some of whom had perhaps only turned up early for a good seat from which to see the following acts.

Relating personal experiences in true folk story-telling manner, Twin Vickers showed a surprisingly mature level of songwriting, using bold half-rhymes and clever changes to create a highly original style, without being tempted to overcomplicate. The majestic ‘Waltzing’ was just one of many highlights in a subtle, confident performance.

True to their name, The Mischief approached proceedings with cheeky grins and tons of roguish charm. The Sydney-based three-piece displayed their full range of energetic material, fusing elements of punk, rockabilly and pop to consistent effect, albeit with some generic overtones. At times there was a slight feeling of déjà vu, and it was hard not to be reminded of acts like Ween or even the Saw Doctors. However, touches of traditional country and folk added an original edge, and such was the precision and enthusiasm of the presentation that any comparisons would not linger too long in the memory.

In a lively showing, one clear stand-out was the pop-punk anthem ‘Gentleman’, which epitomized the simple, infectious nature of most of the band’s material, and ensured that the boys returned north having gained more than a few new fans.

Headline act of the evening The Good China soon trooped on stage, and provided a veritable musical smorgasbord for the now packed side room. The multi-talented nine-strong unit switched instruments and rotated throughout the set, playing eclectic classical-infused pop using an array of sounds, singers and songwriting styles. This gave them the air of an old-school music collective, adapting to suit each songwriter in turn, and refreshingly void of any ego or permanent central focus.

However, this concept also tended to be a victim of its own success. It is one thing to change an instrument or singer to vary a particular song, but such wholesale changes at each interval simply served to isolate the songs from one another, giving the impression that there were four or five different acts on show. Despite the beautifully multi-layered semi-orchestral arrangements, the insistence on shuffling the line-up at every juncture appeared unnecessary and exhibitionist, even verging on pretentious, although the level of musicianship was unquestionable.

The gloriously assembled ‘All Nothing’ demonstrated the huge promise that has catapulted The Good China to prominence in the Melbourne live scene, and if only they can find a consistent sound to go with their undeniable talent, there may well be a wider audience in wait.