“Sticking around in the music industry, especially in Australia, is not an easy thing,” wrote Al Grigg in his review of Dappled Cities’ fifth record. “It can suck all the joy and imagination out of you. And yet through it all, Dappled have survived and thrived.”
It’s an interesting thought coming from Grigg, the ex-frontman of another of Sydney’s favourite bands. In the early 2000s, Red Riders shared a spiritual home with Dappled Cities at the now-closed Hopetoun hotel, where drunken bar staff would peg ice cubes at the stage in appreciation of whoever was playing. But when the Hopetoun shut its doors in 2009, a smattering of other live venues followed suit. The city’s live music scene was hit hard by the lockout laws and a shifting music landscape, leaving far fewer spaces for rock bands to grow and play.
After two albums and two EPs, Red Riders announced their split in 2011, with alumni now scattered across other local acts. In March, they reunited to support Dappled Cities’ three-stop album tour, which ended at the City Recital Hall on Sunday.
Opening the show, Grigg says drily: “Thanks for coming early. Because it’s Sydney, we all have to be out of here by 9.30pm. Thank you boomers for ruining this city – you’ve gotta love that Woodstock generation.”
In their heyday, Red Riders were purveyors of the danceable indie rock that was prolific at the time, all youthful exuberance, jangly guitars and yelly pop choruses that would have sat well on an OC soundtrack. The Sunday crowd is a nostalgic one, eager to be delighted, and the band sounds fresh and full and tight as ever – despite the venue’s limitations. “Is this weird for you?” Grigg says to the politely seated crowd. “It’s fucking weird for us.”
Red Riders assembled their “OG lineup” for the shows: Grigg (now of Palms, Straight Arrows, Catcall), Adrian Deutsch, Brad Heald (formerly the Vines), Tom Wallace (Palms) and Matt Chapman. They tear through tunes that flooded the room with memories – C’mon, You’ve Got a Lot of Nerve, Aspirin, and closed on Slide in Next to Me and My Love is Stronger Than Your Love. “This is definitely Red Riders’ last show,” Grigg says. “Zombie Red Riders, RIP.”
While Red Riders might have made more sense at a dingy pub venue, the sweeping largesse, five-part harmonies and artistic flourishes of Dappled Cities are well suited to the Recital Hall. The band enters the dimly lit stage, a lighting scrim behind them that will be the gauzy surface of moody projections until it suddenly drops, revealing five vertical stripes of screens – a reference to the artwork of their fifth album, Five.
Dappled Cities always deserved to be bigger than they are, an art rock band which seemed perennially on the brink of breakthrough in the heyday of Pitchfork and MP3 blogs. Five may be their most groove-filled and “dad rock”-iest, but it’s filled with the cerebral drama they have always dealt in. Played live – with help from session player Mark Harding, Marcus Whale of Collarbones on saxophone, and Lauren Crew of Belles Will Ring sharing vocals on Spacechild – it’s expansive and ethereal and sounds like nothing else but them.
While Five deals out the night’s highlights – Stone Men, Know Your History, Weightless and Spacechild – the setlist is dominated by their back catalogue: a pick-n-mix from the preceding four records and their B-Sides & Rarities release. Tim Derricourt and Dave Rennick alternate on lead vocals, with melodies that twist and turn and voices that soar alone and together through the high-ceilinged space.
The dualling frontmen have always been the showmen, but the band is best when it’s firing on all cylinders, dishing out layer upon layer on a song like Run With the Wind before exploding in a spaced-out, epic wall of sound.
The five screens behind them are patterned with LEDs, spelling out song titles or screening classic film scenes spliced with footage of the band goofing around in their early days. The epic nostalgia of the stage show is enough for Grigg to jokingly start rumours of a looming Dappled breakup – but he isn’t too far off, it turns out. “You might be feeling a little melancholy from us,” Rennick says ahead of the encore. “This is Alex Moore’s last ever show with us.”
Moore, the band’s bassist, picks his three favourites to close the night – Peach, Know Your History and Holy Chord – and many in the audience abandon their seats to join them at the front of stage. There are a smattering of tiny fans, too, bopping and bouncing along with their parents. More than a decade after Dappled launched their first album at a venue they’ve outlived, indie kids have their own kids now.