Jack Ladder @ Forum Theatre, Thursday 6 May, 2021
Header image by Kellie Fernando-Bird; look out for our full gallery snapped by Kellie.

As we people-watch and marvel at the most hipster audience we’ve ever been in, there’s a potential Jethro Cave sighting as if to further illustrate the calibre of punter in attendance this evening.

Cong Josie (AKA “the moonlighting alter-ego of Nicolaas Oogjes”/NO ZU’s frontman) hits the stage in a blinged-out pastel pink suit and towering cowboy hat. At first we squint our eyes to check it isn’t in fact Kirin J Callinan up there and then settle in for the trip. Saxophonist/guitarist Johnny Cayn (Cayn Borthwick) is resplendent in similar bedazzled-cowboy attire and the onstage fabulosity is blinding, like Sigue Sigue Sputnik on hillbilly heroin with a sprinkling of The B-52’s – we’re totally here for it!

Josie’s backing band, The Crimes, also includes a pair of beehived backing vocalists, Cassandra Capri (Cassandra Kiely) and Mona Rêves (Simone Page-Jones), and preprogrammed beats infuse the whole thing with a sweaty, after-afterparty vibe.

A segment of Relax by Frankie Goes To Hollywood morphs into another track boasting a very similar beat and Josie’s song Leather Whip calls to mind that awesome, percussion-based Melbourne outfit of yore: Big Pig. Josie reveals one song’s uplifting message: “You can be anything you want to be.” A snatch of Chris Isaac’s Blue Hotel is also woven into the band’s sonic tapestry. We sadly can’t quite hear some of Josie’s Eastern Freeway-related zingers, but this live experience is an absolute hoot! Will definitely go see this wonderfully weird ensemble again ASAP. When it comes to Cong Josie & The Crimes, there’s a whole lotta pretense, but also substance aplenty.

This band’s press shots are gold. Have you ever seen a more disparate group of fellas? So many strong looks and so much combined talent! I mean, we’re talking guitar wizard Kirin J Callinan, bassist Donny Benét, drummer Laurence Pike (PVT) and keyboardist Neal Sutherland, ferchrissakes. Ladder’s opening lines – “Do you hear that sound?/That beautiful sound?” – hold us in suspended awe. And we certainly do hear that beautiful sound! It’s Ladder’s deliciously deep baritone.

Tonight we celebrate the vinyl reissue of Hurtsville (2011) and, as such, Jack Ladder & The Dreamlanders perform their stunning dark and atmospheric opus in full, from opener Beautiful Sound to closing acquiescence, Giving Up The Giving Up. The crushingly beautiful Cold Feet swans in at song two, resplendent with that glistening, melancholic, descending guitar riff. No one (except perhaps the late, great Rowland S Howard) plays guitar quite like Callinan, in majestic-yet-chaotic fashion.

After beholding Callinan’s guitar – silver and odd-shaped – we can’t quite put our finger on what it resembles until suddenly a mid-song a-ha moment comes to the rescue: Mr Squiggle’s Spaceship!

Position Vacant stomps in like Depeche Mode’s Personal Jesus, Dumb Love wonderfully showcases Ladder’s divine timbre and Blinded By Love could be mistaken for a Nick Cave song if it popped up on shuffle. We’re also still completely in love with these poetic lyrics from Giving Up The Giving Up: “I’m a match already struck.”

Ladder recounts a band meeting following the release of Hurtsville where an ultimatum was issued: “Unless you guys are willing to move to England for six months and get paid $5 a day, then you can’t be in the band.”

An encore is demanded and Jack Ladder & The Dreamlanders return to the stage to perform Susan, during which it’s extremely satisfying to watch Monte Morgan from Client Liaison dancing wildly in one of the venue’s booths. The seated folk in the stalls even make a break for it, edging in closer to the stage for a boogie during this one, and we wonder whether they feel like extras from Footloose at that particular moment.

“This is very unexpected from a Melbourne audience,” Ladder marvels of our rapturous applause. Ladder then picks a wayward bra up off the stage and holds it up high, dubiously inspecting the item.

The irresistibly punchy waltz rhythm of Come On Back This Way follows and even more enthusiastic seated punters dash down front to sway along to this sultry and bewitching song. Then in comes a dancetastic Placebo/Underworld-esque track, during which Callinan’s guitar sounds very Dr Who themesong-inspired.

“This is the end of the show,” Ladder declares before the band members embrace front of stage. The crowd keeps on clapping, cheering and willing more tunes. An unmitigated success.

With the release of Hurtsville, Ladder veered away from the Americana sound he’d established via his two previous two releases. If the new song we digested at the tail end of tonight’s set is a preview of yet another musical diversion, Ladder and his Dreamlanders are heading towards the rave cave and we’re all for it!