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

SITUATED on iconic Smith Street, Yah Yah’s is Collingwood’s newest venue and drinking hole. The high-ceiling/low lighting combination created a suitably sleazy rock ambiance for this eclectic line-up, and the idea of a free gig at this time of year seemed a godsend to the frugally-minded locals who made the effort.

A name like Redfish Bluegrass conjures images of plaid-shirted, bearded honky-tonk musos rattling out banjo and fiddle-infused Americana, and all apart from the beards this is exactly what we got. The six-piece even coped without the use a PA system, deciding instead to gather round an old style microphone a la O Brother Where Art Thou? for true visual effect.

Redfish mixed things up with the use of three-way vocals, slide guitar and harmonica in an array of foot tapping numbers, the traditional classic ‘Rolling In My Sweet Baby’s Arms’ a clear crowd favourite.

Next up The Maladies battled through problems with a temperamental PA to produce a fine performance, showcasing their weird and wonderful amalgamation of sounds. The Sydney quartet had an odd, unique style incorporating easy-going rock drowned in a kind of dark, twisted blues. Deliberate discords muddled and diversified otherwise simplistic arrangements, with masterful distorted guitar work by Daniel Babekuhl. Upon this backdrop, singer Dan Marando wailed and hollered through the set, adding to the strangely accessible cacophony.

‘This Wood This Wire’ epitomised the band’s sound (or should that be noise?), a trippy, crashing folk-metal hybrid for the 21st century, while ‘I Feel Fine’ sounded like some sort of acid-fuelled White Stripes ensemble from the 70s, Marando’s flitting falsetto growing into a raucous psychedelic yodel.

Penny Ikinger brought her vampy presence to the stage with a brand of grungy rock melancholia. Gloriously fuzzy guitars and stomping rhythms created a steadily intensifying wall of sound laced with sweet, barbed vocals and smart lyrics in an understated but highly effective fashion.

One noticeable standout was ‘Shipwrecked’; a swirling stoner blues concoction that had heads nodding around the room, and incorporated a range of ironic seafaring metaphors in the lyrics.

Unfortunately the sound system once again proved a stumbling block, and all too often the crowd were left wincing at the seemingly constant feedback. Free entry is an obvious draw to these nights, but you get the impression most punters wouldn’t mind parting with a few bucks (especially for the talent on show tonight), were it to be invested in a decent PA system from which to hear it.