Knitting Factory, Brooklyn
June 6, 2015
Having spent two days in a car scanning the stations of mainstream radio and finding not a lot, it struck me how much great music is out there that people never get a chance to hear. A whole world of creative output that the car radios of America hardly get a chance to transmit. It’s the sort of thing that makes you want to let people know what they are missing, while promising to bring the cable for the phone next time.
But I wasn’t thinking of any of that when I made the trek on the L train to Brooklyn to hear Australian band DMAs. They were squeezing in a late show at the Knitting Factory in advance of their set at Governor’s Ball. I was thinking about the anticipation and slight uneasy fear when it’s time for a band to bring the album and the songs to life on the stage. Will it work? What, if anything, will have to be changed for live performance, away from the multi-dimensional possibilities of a studio and repeated takes? Johnny Took, perhaps the driving force behind the band, along with Tommy O’Dell and Matt Mason, had mentioned the special quality of Tommy’s voice. So, beer in hand, off to the side, I watched them set up, and wondered which way it would go. Dressed in their possibly trademark casual style of polo shirts and sneakers, Matt Mason in baseball hat, they looked serious. The main three were joined on stage by additional musicians, a drummer, a guitarist, a bass guitarist.
From the moment the first note took off into the night, it was clear that we were in the presence of something remarkable – that increasingly rare pleasure of a band being even better live than on record. And what a blistering set it was. Moving effortlessly between straight ahead rock-infused anthems and quieter, but no less powerful, almost ballad-like songs, all anchored by the acoustic guitar playing of Johnny Took and the precise yet passionate guitar fills performed by Matt Mason, the band displayed a fearless take charge attitude. And there were the truly brilliant vocals. Tommy O’Dell’s voice, riding on the music somewhere between full-throated and subtle, was just as strong live, with a certain vulnerability which made his delivery even more compelling. The local audience responded to the Australian visitors’ casual command with huge enthusiasm, dancing, filming, and moving closer to the band with each song.
The most unforgettable moment came when the three were alone on stage, generating enough heat to fuel a serious synergy, and setting up the groundwork for when they joined back up with the drums and bass and second electric guitar, igniting a direct simplicity that ramped the energy up to a higher level. “Delete” sounded like a song that’s always existed, making it hard to believe that they’ve only been together for a relatively short time. They played a few new songs that blended in seamlessly with the more familiar tracks off the EP, which is good news for the future.
The crowd at the Knitting Factory got to see a stellar live performance by the DMAs in a small venue before they hit the summer festival circuit. As we watched them file offstage, hopeful that they’d return for some more stunners (they didn’t), still caught up in that buzz that happens when a band exceeds expectations, the question had changed to whether we would ever get to see them on such a small stage again. Now that’s real magic.