Rolls Bayce @ Black Bear Lodge, 10th May

Black Bear Lodge is empty when I arrive, early enough to catch the first of the two support acts. I’ve always liked the place with its snowy hillside wallpaper and growly-voiced-glass-o-whiskey vibe, it’s the kind of bluesy venue that welcomes new and local talent.

The first support act, The Bacchanales, fit this bill almost perfectly. Opening with a sexy bassline and vocals that are a little rough around the edges, the first song Carnival introduces us to a sultry blues-rock style that almost feels like a jam session. The band members are clearly good friends and keep it low-key (they give a shoutout to someone called Helen) as they happily rock out and pass each other solos. Their effortless riffs and harmonious layering is impressive, and their slower-paced songs ooze passion through their clever arrangements. It’s a promising start.

Unfortunately, the second support act is a step in an altogether more alarming direction. Sydney duo Polish Club appear to consist of one guy angrily thrashing his way through a drum kit, and another angrily thrashing his way through a guitar. The singer, channels the greaser pastiche with slicked-back hair and a retro moustache, he could have been the frontman to something with a cool rock ‘n’ roll vibe, but instead seems to be shouting along to very samesy songs. Perhaps some clever intention is lost on me, but I find the set noisy, presumptuous, and generally just irritating.

Finally it’s time for Rolls Bayce. The audience has grown substantially and a mishmash of people crowd the intimate venue. The set opens with pounding bass and rhythm sections, settling us deeply in the land of classic rock. The vocalist sings with raucous passion but seems to be competing with his bandmates for sound (the dodgy mixing doesn’t help). As they transition to more of their characteristic psychedelic pop-rock style –  beachy with a wah-wah guitar solo – the atmosphere builds slightly and the audience gets a little edgier. This is maintained in the crowd-pleasing Don’t Get Me Wrong, which is infectious in its upbeat punchiness and gets a nice reception from those who know it. The buildup is short-lived, however, as nobody seems to have told the band that they too can get excited about their music, each of them rooted to their spot on stage. Throwing around solos to hide a guitar retuning mid-song, this feels more like a rehearsal than a show at this stage, and the band members’ unsmiling solitude is hardly helping.

To their credit, they perform with skill and practised charm, and they chat with the audience from time to time, making jokes about the lead singer’s head cold. They rock out in the ever-catchy On My Own and finish their (very short) set with an epically long rock track featuring funky layering and strong vocals. It all feels a little withheld and restrained. I leave Black Bear Lodge not unhappy, but I can’t help wishing the underrated Bacchanales had headlined instead.

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