Rolling Blackouts C.F. play their long-awaited Cardiff date at last.
The unavoidable fact that your favourite bands will get older is a tough one to reconcile. Even with the wealth of imagery that accompanies any artist these days, so much of what we think of the musicians we listen to is conjured in our heads, away from the confines of a reality where bodies changes, voices shift and worldviews realign.
Rolling Blackouts are still a band who wear tucked in t-shirts. They still rock beautifully masculine facial hair. They still write songs with three guitar tracks, exactly as many as they need. But watching them on stage, performing their same music that I fell in love with, I know that they have aged. The distant seriousness that poked through their earlier material has become graver and more present on their newer stuff. Some of them have become fathers in the time I last saw them.
I have had the great pleasure of knowing Rolling Blackouts Coastal Fever for the best part of 7 years. In one of the odd occasions where an internet algorithm actually did something good in my life, their video for ‘Clean Slate’ turned up in the suggested videos column on my YouTube sometime in the spring of 2015. The hazy, seventies-fied video was instantly intriguing, almost as much as the song’s effortlessly tight guitars and headlong sense of drive.
“…the prospect of Ed Sheeran at the Principality on the same evening didn’t seem to have tempted anyone away.”
Thursday night was my third time seeing the Melbourne five-piece, this time at Tramshed, once again joined by the delightful charm of Stella Donnelly. Perhaps I’m just experiencing confirmation bias, but the band have always seemed to love their shows in Cardiff. As too have the crowds; the venues have always been packed, and the prospect of Ed Sheeran at the Principality on the same evening didn’t seem to have tempted anyone away.
Not that it was their intention to clash with the pop industry’s most insufferable creation; this particular night has been moved twice, and was originally conceived in the figmental days of January 2020. Two reschedules and two albums later, and the sense of the time that has passed is everywhere. 2020’s Sideways To New Italy itself was about dislocation and utopias crafted on memories of the past – a fitting tone for the year it was released in. Their latest effort meanwhile, Endless Rooms, is a search for place, both real and imagined. The laid-back Aussie lads as I first came to know them, grown ups as they were back then, are much more grown up now than ever.
“The laid-back Aussie lads as I first came to know them, grown ups as they were back then, are much more grown up now than ever.”
There’s another reason their Cardiff shows have always been special – Stella Donnelly is simply the best warm-up act RBCF could conceive of. Not only have they been longtime collaborators, she herself is Australian-Welsh, and also happens to deal in jangly-flavoured indie goodness. Perfect.
She opens her set alone on stage, pink guitar in hand, and lulls the evening into motion. Her voice rings with crystal brilliance, given heart by the warmth of her songwriting. Two songs in, her band join her on stage, including Marcel of RBCF supporting on the drums, and the energy builds. Easy-going laments are matched with spirited slices of life, plus the odd moment of choreography on her dancier cuts. New track ‘Lungs’ sounded particular strong, which itself comes off of her upcoming second LP Flood, out at the end of August.
Donnelly has the crowd buzzed by the end, particularly after her cover of John Paul Young’s ‘Love Is In The Air’. If her set exuded the warmth that jangle rock is capable of, RBCF’s set proves the punch it can deliver when it’s in their hands. Not a song goes by that doesn’t demand hip swaying and shouting along to the inspired catchiness that permeates so many of their hooks.
“Not only are they able to be the epitome of hazy summertime vibes whilst offering astutely honest observations of life, their totally indie, tucked-in-tee aesthetic harbours no snobbery or ego.”
It’s my first time hearing a lot of their new material live, and it fills me with awe. A lot of the cuts from Endless Room have undertones of stadium rock, Joe White especially lapping up those vibes on the left of the stage as he strains the notes out of his collection of Fenders. Amongst playing their fan-favourite classics and smacking out their recent work, the energy never drops for a second. I watch two of my mates scream when Fran says they’re going to play ‘Cameo’; I concur entirely.
I start getting sentimental and introspective. Why do this band make so much sense? What’s unusual about RBCF is that they’ve always had somewhat of an oxymoronic image. Their instrumentation is luridly warm, evoking Melbourne suburbia and sunsets on the beach. Yet, their lyrics have often addressed the seriousness of life and what our world faces. Musically, they’ve now managed to pull out 2 EPs and 3 albums worth of music all as engaging, likable and as jangly as the last. Yet, despite so much material, they’ve never sought to reinvent their sound, preferring timely evolution. As warm and calming as they often are listening on speakers, heard live, they’re thoroughly electrifying.
It would be easy to say “Well, they just have this allure” and explain it away like that. But the truth is, RBCF are unbelievably talented at straddling the line they’ve set for themselves. Not only are they able to be the epitome of hazy summertime vibes whilst offering astutely honest observations of life, their totally indie, tucked-in-tee aesthetic harbours no snobbery or ego. They are thoroughly likable to all musical tastebuds, without the con of being a deliberately catch-all artist.
“As expected – and as I hoped, too – they close out with ‘French Press’. Somewhere on an old version of this blog back at the end of 2019, I named it as the best song of the decade.”
As expected – and as I hoped, too – they close out with ‘French Press’. Somewhere on an old version of this blog back at the end of 2019, I named it as the best song of the decade. Hearing it live for the third time in my life not only still confirms that, but allows me to muse on what an untouchable pleasure it is to see a piece of art you hold so highly being performed live in the lifetimes of the artists who created it.
My Dad texts to ask me how the gig was. I reply with roughly the same words I used on the last two occasions – “euphoric, endearing, best thing I’ve ever seen” (again). As rock-solid as their songwriting has always been, so too their live shows have been affirmations of what exactly is so exciting and brilliant about this band. Every time, I feel the same surprise that a band this consistent, this unegotistical and this joyous exist, and have stoutly refused to become anything more than five dudes who like noodling on guitars. Rolling Blackouts are older now, but they are still the band I have loved from the moment I first set my ears on them.
Rolling Blackouts Coastal Fever with Stella Donnelly at Tramshed, Cardiff, 26th May 2022