Something For Kate
Dempsey pulls his vocals from deep within himself and rakes them over the coals of his emotions before giving them life
There was plenty going on down the east end of Perth on this not too hot, not too cold Saturday night, so finding parking in the vicinity of Badlands Bar proved to be a bit of a challenge. I made it to the venue just as the crowd was warming up for Something For Kate’s first Perth gig in a little over two years. Nothing fashionable about my lateness, just too slow witted to take a more gig-friendly mode of transport.
The familiar strains of Pavement over the PA were about the right vintage for many in the crowd who, much like myself, had probably been on the SFK journey for many of their 20 plus years. It’s been a great journey so far, so there was a good deal of anticipation in the moments before Paul Dempsey and his bandmates stepped onto the stage.
SFK are a band that don’t do anything by half measures, so in some ways it was surprising to witness them playing on the smallish, mostly unadorned stage set up at the end of Badlands’ carpark. No big screens, just some lighting and the white awning framing the stage against the night sky. But SFK is a band that also understands intimacy, so they relished the opportunity to play to an appreciative crowd under the almost-full moon.
“Good evening North EastBridge. We’re Something For Kate, we’re happy to be here in your car park,” was the way Dempsey handled the environs, as he introduced the band and the show with a beaming smile.
The good feelings continued during an almost two-hour set that kept the audience in quiet raptures. At one point, as he was preparing to slow things down mid set with a couple of solo acoustic numbers, including a cover of World Party’s ‘Ship Of Fools’, Dempsey quipped, “You’ve all just gone very quiet. It’s the Something For Kate theatre crowd.” And he was right. Though wholly appreciative of what was a splendid evening out with one of Australia’s best and best-loved bands, the audience was in full on ‘Perth reserve’ mode, greeting the opening notes of favourites such as ‘Three Dimensions’, and ‘Monsters’ with fairly muted responses. None of it fazed Dempsey, he was here for a good time no matter what, but it did feel a bit stilted at times on my side of the crash barrier and that had zero to do with the quality of the performance taking place on stage.
Like Dempsey, the rest of SFK also were in fine form. Bass player, Stephanie Ashworth drove the melody of every song with her nuanced fret work and the best Mona Lisa smile south of the Equator. Drummer, Clint Hyndman, monstered his kit, gurning throughout like only drummers can. And touring member, Adrian Stoyles, unassumingly filled out the live sound with keys, guitar and backing vocals that were the cherry on top of an already considerably rich and delicious cake.
Back to Dempsey for a moment. As the creative driver of Something For Kate, a lot rests on his retired-ruckman’s frame. As a guitarist, he’s got this staggering, half slump that’s been studied and copied by dozens of Aussie wannabe indie guitarist/singers over the years, and he can throw shapes with the best of them. His guitar sound oscillates from the delicately nuanced to screaming rage, sometimes within a single phrase.
And then we have the vocals.
I didn’t really get Something For Kate until I saw them live for the first time. I’d listen to them on the radio and know that they were good, but I didn’t realise how good until I saw them deliver the songs in the flesh. On stage, Dempsey pulls his vocals from deep within himself and rakes them over the coals of his emotions before giving them life. Tonight was no exception. What we saw was a performance from a band that has been honed through a blend of experience and the ability to still sing and play the songs like they mean it.
For all his on-stage bonhomie tonight, Dempsey is known for being able to write and perform songs that channel experiences that are often bleak and harrowing. At this stage in his career, he’s leading a band that can still be authentic with the emotion while standing back from the anguish to engage with Something For Kate’s audience in a way that lets them know everything is going to be OK.
By the time they hit the last song of the main set, ‘Captain (Million Miles An Hour)’ it felt like the audience was just warming up to their part in the performance. No matter, SFK, were finishing hot and, after a short pause, came back with a generous four-song encore that concluded with ‘Electricity’.
Tonight, we got all the favourites from a band that remains at the peak of their powers and knows us well enough to understand that, here in Perth, we’re just laid back, not unappreciative.
A little side note on the epic journey to the show, through the mean streets of North EastBridge. One of the many interesting sights was a young mother out walking with her toddler, in one of the close-by residential areas of this mixed-use part of town. All good, but let’s hope this isn’t the last time we see Badlands putting on a show in their car park, because these events have become a bit of a beloved Perth ‘thing’ and it would be more than sad to see them go the way of other urban outdoor events in Perth.