What do you get when you combine an SMS command, a dogged sound dude, and a set played to a sparsely filled Metro Theatre? Echoey, damn echoey, that’s what. Just how Melbourne four-piece Witch Hats like it.
Here as support for The Drones, Witch Hats are onstage at 8.30pm. One song in (I don’t recognise it from their debut LP Cellulite Soul) I retreat from the dance floor to higher ground, hoping some elevation will cure the muddy sound. It doesn’t. But at least I can pinpoint what the problem is.
“Pretty fucking echoey isn’t it?” I remark to my friend.
Situated in front of the sound desk I figure I’ll try my luck with the sound dude. “Pretty fucking echoey isn’t it?” I remark to him. “Yeah!” he says proudly. My friend and I exchange baffled glances.
Witch Hats blister into song three or four, but with their already reverb-heavy guitars getting lost in muddied echolalia, I shoot another irritated look at the sound dude who’s fiddle-faddling, fiddle-faddling. “They sent me a text,” he explains. “It said: Make it echoey. We want it echoey.”
Ahhhhhhhhhh, the plot unthickens. He’s just doing his job and, unfortunately for the rest of us, doing it well.
I’m a recent yet ardent Witch Hats fan. First heard them Wednesday, bought Cellulite Soul on Thursday, began feeling the flushes of first love on Friday.
By Saturday I was talking about them at every opportunity and experiencing a sense of intense camaraderie with strangers who also thought they were hot shit. Number one on my list of things to love is that they channel something of Big Black with their powerful, stomping, distortion-drenched bass. Number two is that when singer Kris Buscombe really gets going, his voice could come straight from the bowels of a fetid London squat circa 1979. I see stiff orange Mohawks in that voice, against a bleak grey UK sky.
But from what I’ve read of Witch Hats’ live shows, this one doesn’t really scrub up. ‘Summer of Pain’ from Cellulite Soul makes the set list but, disappointingly, ‘Before I Weigh’ doesn’t. Their onstage energy is somewhat neutered by Metro’s mean-spirited “you’re just the support act, so our policy is house lights half-up” thing. Bah! Light at a gig nourishes crowd ambivalence, especially when people are only one beer down and furtive foot tapping is the most animated move they’ll risk.
Witch Hats are not only battling the early slot, a half-lit house and self-inflicted crap mixing, they’re also playing to a crowd that is palpably saving its energy for the pending onslaught of The Drones. But the lacklustre set, somehow, does not diminish Witch Hats’ magic. You get a sense they genuinely don’t give a shit and that their next gig might be the best thing you’ve ever seen.
“Fuck ‘Atmosphere,’” spits Kris Buscombe, in response to a song request from someone in the crowd. “Turn the vocals up!!” chances another opportunist. “Don’t turn them up,” says Buscombe. “Turn ‘em off.”
Fortunately, Witch Hats’ literalist sound dude must require communiqués via text, so they wrap up the set with vocals intact.
Mess+Noise version here.