The Melbourne-based, heavily buzzed power pop ensemble Rolling Blackouts Coastal Fever (heretofore after Rolling Blackouts C.F) brought their first-ever headline tour to DC9 on May 6. Even in a small venue like DC9, playing on a difficult Sunday night slot, Rolling Blackouts C.F. demonstrated boatloads of power, hooks, and tremendous energy.
Like Scotland’s Teenage Fanclub, or Canada’s Sloan, Rolling Blackouts are a band with multiple songwriters and lead singers. Two lead songwriters play electric guitar; one plays acoustic. That 2:1 ratio is a pretty apt illustration of the band’s balance of crunch and twang. Singer/guitarist Fran Keaney, Tom Russo, and Joe White pull from the beloved strains of Antipodean guitar pop, like the Go-Betweens through the Lucksmiths, but with a harder edge and garage band intensity. With alternating lead vocals split among three capable songwriters, and frenetic energy from the rhythm section, the band has undeniable stage presence.
Despite touring with only two EPs to their credit, plus a single or two in advance of their forthcoming full-length, the Rolling Blackouts packed the small club. Some fans in attendance shouted their approval in an inimitable Aussie twang, but clearly there is a burgeoning American fanbase.
On stage at DC9, Rolling Blackouts spotlighted many of the singles from their first two EPs, including multiple selections from “The French Press” — including its title track, which was saved for the closer — like the careening “Sick Bug,” with a bassline that calls to mind Blue Öyster Cult’s “Don’t Fear the Reaper” with a guitar solo from Chronic Town-era Peter Buck. It’s like the best song you never heard from a Flying Nun compilation record from the late 1980s.
Many of the best Rolling Blackouts C.F. songs would hold together perfectly well on acoustic guitar, and may have been written on one, but these guys never met an electric guitar riff they didn’t like. There are echoes of early R.E.M., Ray Davies, the Troggs, the Byrds, and the Velvet Underground in their playing, along with all these bands’ disciples (Pavement, anyone?) but it’s done with an undeniable joy and cleverness. At their talkiest, Rolling Blackouts C.F. display an appealing sense of humor and surprising depth. “Wither With You” (a pun on a beloved hit by Crowded House) and “Career” are prolix and laconic, like Courtney Barnett or her emotional ancestor, Australia’s master songwriter Paul Kelly. Beneath the clatter of the rhythm section, some of the wit of the lyrics may have been lost in the live performance, but no one in the audience seemed to mind.
Brand-new singles “Talking Straight” and “Mainland,” from the forthcoming debut album on Sub Pop, Hope Downs, showed a more pronounced emphasis on melody and hookiness. This kind of tunefully energetic power-pop is rarely in style, but since it’s not subject to the whims of fashion, there will always be a small but devoted global audience. It’s a demonstration of the band’s love for its forebears that for an encore, in response to a fan request, Rolling Blackouts C.F. did a gorgeous and eminently hummable cover of Orange Juice’s “Blue Boy,” a jangly 1980 Postcard Records nugget from Edinburgh. For all their periodic derivativeness, the sincerity of Rolling Blackouts’ fandom can be a delight to behold.
Opening were the long-running and respected DC punk-pop band Dot Dash. As the name suggests, they have deep roots in wire-y (see what I did?), jagged pop songs that pull from the threads of urgent British post-punk, leavened with some of the sweetness of American power pop. Their sixth album is due to be released on Canadian label The Beautiful Music this summer.