Paul Dempsey / Blake Scott
Manning Bar, Sydney 02/06/17
Review: Matt Doria | Photos: Britt Andrews (Facebook/Twitter/Patreon)

There are 1,440 minutes in a standard 24-hour day. The average conversation lasts between two and 20 of those.   With the potentiality to start and end over 72 individual chats in a day, the question grows elusive: why the everliving  f*** would you choose the 30 minutes in which an acoustic performance you willingly entered unfolds? Did you not come here to watch live music? It's selfish, obnoxious, disrespectful to the artist and, above all, just really goddamn annoying. Trust us, literally no sane person gives one fifth of a f*** that you haven't seen your friend in, "Like, forever man!" Go outside. Wait until the set ends. Do absolutely anything other than screw up everyone else's night by making shrill, vapid small talk while someone far more talented than you'll ever be creates literal art in front of your eyes. 

The skin-crawling sound of such grating ignorance muddied an otherwise captivating solo set from The Peep Tempel
frontman Blake Scott. It completely destroyed the atmosphere, as if some punters were actively seeking to tarnish his performance; petty revenge for some unspeakable act the rest of us were unbeknown to.

But all ranting aside, Scott's set was otherworldly. Washed over in a deep red glaze, the Melbourne poet-punk spent
the majority of his set with eyes clenched shut and acoustic clenched tight; with every rootsy strum and raspy, alcoholic yell he seemed to slip further and further into another world, only snapping back to reality to thank fans and whip banter before doing it all again. And though the searing energy of a Peep Tempel show was lost, the passion and intensity were both fully intact – if not magnified by the intimacy of the stripped-back atmosphere. With no drums or extra cords
to push them over the edge, songs bubbled with a fierce tension: Scott's warm acoustic tones held back the Tempel's usual heaviness, but there was always an underlying feeling that the tunes at hand were powerful and huge. Scott's solo show is a must for any Peep Tempel fan, but really, it's also a must for any fan of smoky, scuzzy acoustic alt-rock.

Perhaps the most cogent gauge of Paul Dempsey's impact is that somehow, against all possible and probable odds, he managed to have the noisiest crowd Sydney might ever have witnessed hush to a whisper upon entrance. To an intro of Bob Dylan's "Ballad Of A Thin Man", the Something For Kate frontman and his four-piece backing act sauntered calmly onstage, cheers and hollers flooding the packed room before the set gently kicked off with the slow-burning "Bird In A Basement". Despite the stage being cluttered with profoundly talented artists, the sharpintimacy of the Everything Is True cut carried itself strongly across the remaining two-hour showcase. There felt like a true one-on-one connection between Dempsey and the audience – albeit one set to a stunningly opulent soundtrack.

Even though it's his name on the poster, Dempsey was quick to ensure the spotlight was shared equally amongst his peers. To his left stood the ebullient Olivia Bartley, who switched – often times within the same song – between the mic, a guitar, two keyboards, a tambourine, and basically whatever else she could find lying around onstage. She was equally as crucial to the fold as Dempsey: when the frontman strummed tenderly on an acoustic, Bartley's tight electric noodling brought the mix a worthy acidic bite. Too, the contrast between her bright, airy vocal melodies and Dempsey's thick, impassioned cries was downright intense. They hit a joint peak at the set's midpoint with a fiery cover of 
Fleetwood Mac's "The Chain" – which, might we add, is a track made 100 times more poignant with Dempsey's faint (but wholly distinct) Australian accent. Good shit.

The band was rounded out with Adrian Stoyles on guitar and keys, Pat Bourke on bass and Shannon Vanderwertt on drums. As a quintet, the band brought Dempsey's solo material to life with more grendeur and spirit than often shown on record; cold keys lent otherwise dreary numbers a glassy brightness, rumbling bass searing against Dempsey's jangly riffs while soft drums wrapped it all up in a neat little bow. 

With a 21-song setlist notching cuts from both his '09 debut (Everything Is True) and last year's acclaimed Strange Loop, the band swerved through a novel's worth of sonic twists and turns. The gorgeous melancholy of "Lifetime Supply" was instantly swept away by the buoyant fortitude of "We'll Never Work In This Town Again"; where "Take Us
To Your Leader" was a soft and heartfelt jam, "Morningless" was sublimely enormous in response. Five minute songs fizzled by in what felt like mere seconds, making every soul-melting moment count. And speaking of such, there was one particular moment where Dempsey's voice cracked on the quiet bridge of an emotional song (the title evades us).
It was a tiny – and admittedly, likely unintentional – thing, but in context it added a wealth of personality to the song.

Dempsey's famed banter, too, was as sharp as it's ever been: "I didn't realise it at the time, but this song is about Donald Trump," he quipped to open the topically ruthless, sonically transcendent "Out The Airlock". "More specifically,   all the things I fantasise happening to Donald Trump." The witty retorts to frequent declarations of, "I love you Paul!" (generally from burly, masculine voices) never got old, either. Between the ambitious breadth of Dempsey's songs     and the laidback spark of his personality, the show was consistently engaging, fun and laden in breathtaking talent.     All that's needed now is the live album to immortalise it.