Live Music + Gig Reviews

The Temper Trap @ Somerset House, London

12 July 2010

Australian rock bands often seem to struggle with us poms. The success of bands like Silverchair, Powderfinger and Eskimo Joe has largely been confined to the Antipodes. However, thanks to the ubiquity of breakthrough single Sweet Disposition, The Temper Trap have broken free of their geographical shackles and built up a loyal fanbase over here, devoted to their debut album Conditions.

Even so, it hasn’t stayed immune from criticism. To those of us with a low boredom threshold, it can sound samey, and a bit, well, boring. So we went along to challenge our conceptions and see if we’ve been missing out on something.

In an Australian one-two, support comes from Townsville troupe The Middle East. Wrong-footing everyone, the collective of multi-instrumentalists begin with a noisy opening track which singer Rohin Jones bookends with a pair of painful barks that cut through the aural senses of those hoping for an evening of laidback tunes. However things settle down in a set with touches of folk and touches of alt-country. With a melodic simplicity bringing to mind the likes of Bon Iver and The Low Anthem, they could be something special to discover in the coming months.

The Temper Trap themselves could not have found an environment that suited their essence any better than here in the intimate Somerset House courtyard, on an (almost) dry summer’s evening at sunset. The four-piece clearly have lofty ambitions. Even with just one solitary album, their presence and sound is, as they say, big. Nothing is disposable or throwaway.

Singer Dougy Mandagi’s voice is truly astonishing. Soaring high in falsetto, he confidently strikes every note perfectly without wavering. Combined with the wall of sound that comes from his bandmates, the performance imbues everything with an intensity and passion that is impossible to not be drawn into. As multi-coloured spotlights tumble around them, the rest of the band steps up, the drummer in particular playing some of the most interesting drumming parts heard in mainstream rock since Bloc Party went (temporarily?) kaput.

There is some truth in the assertion that the songs blend into each other, but they’re ultimately a mood band, all-engulfing in their atmospherics. It could be argued that their pace shifts up and down between songs, but the sound is so defined that it doesn’t really move things along. But rather than being boring, the gig instead works as a homogenous piece of audio.

Some songs still manage to stand out. Love Lost and Fader are both welcomed to great receptions. And despite a busy touring schedule, a couple of new songs are introduced which suggest that they’re moving even more purposefully towards the stadium stratospheres of Coldplay and Muse. An inevitable and spine-tingling encore of Sweet Disposition confirmed to the doubters that sometimes a band needs to be heard in a certain environment. That environment seems so often to be this central London one, and it ensured that those who were already fans could leave smug in the knowledge that those who weren’t had at least been partially converted.

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The Temper Trap @ Somerset House, London