Methyl Ethel New & Old Australian Tour
7:30pm, Thu 7 December, 2023
I am not sure if the story about Picasso charging 1 millions dollars for a sketch on a napkin due to the years put into the skills prior, but I feel there is something in this when it comes to the work of Jake Webb and Methyl Ethel. I vaguely remember listening to an interview with Webb during the lockdown years of COVID, where he spoke about how the time had allowed him cram a few years of learning into a shorter amount of time. I am guessing that this new live setup is the culmination of this.
I had expectations about what this concert would be like. I had read reviews from The Night Cat and watched various live performances captured on YouTube with the full band. I was wrong. Webb mentioned the addition of cello in Take 5 podcast earlier this year. However, I did not expect that this would be at the expense of the drums, bass and guitars. However, in some ways this pivot was not a pivot, a part from the addition of the two celloists on stage, there are a number of solo recordings which capture Methyl Ethel as a one-man band, including the performance of Castigat Ridendo Mores amoungst the grass trees. So having two synth stations should not have been a huge surprise.
The tour was billed as ‘New & Old’. I assumed that this meant some new songs and some old songs. Wrong again. The whole performance was framed around the new setup and the affordances that this provided. This meant that the old songs became in their own way new songs. Although this was a natural fit for some Methyl Ethel songs, it was definitely a change for some of the older more guitar laden tracks. I was left thinking about aregarding the balance to playing the new and old:
If the ghost of David [Bowie] came up to me tonight and went “Mark, I’m going to do a concert for you and you only. It’s going to be a brand new album, nobody’s ever heard these songs. It’s all about everything that’s going on in the world now, Donald Trump, Joe Biden, Ukraine or it’s going to be Spiders of Mars, the live show that blew your mind. You’re going to see that exact absolute same show
and you can sit anywhere in the audience you want.” I go, “I’ll take Spiders from Mars and you can save your brand news stuff for somebody else.”
Well you know what, we did choose a weird life for ourselves, because that’s what I’m going to be doing you know until we end up stop touring. We’ll play new songs and people will be polite and sit through them and then they’ll get to the stuff that that they wanted to hear, you know you’ll play Uncontrollable Urge or you’ll play Satisfaction and they’re they’ll lose their minds.
Source: Mark Mothersbaugh – Broken Record by @pushkinpods
Maybe the children are just growing up? The reimagining that I thought was most interesting was Twilight Driving. Gone was the ethereal arpeggiated guitars, instead there was a driving beat throughout. It was still the hits and they still hit, but the changes helped highlight what makes the music work. Often songs were stripped back to their beats, hooks and vocals. I hope that a recording of one of these tracks is realised in some shape or form, although I also wonder if the joy is in being there. (Thought, this has me thinking about an MTV unplugged style gig?) In the end, this has me intrigued about the new album. I wonder if it will be as lush and theatrical as the sound live?
Just a few funny things to note. This was the first concert I had ever been to where people were seemingly laying bets on whose songs would be play, after there was a request field when booking the tickets. Sadly, One and Beat was not played, guess iy did not fit the new sound, maybe? Also, Jake helped Armlock, the support act, pack up and then setup himself. I am sure that it is nothing, but there is something to me about the artist setting things up themselves. However, that may also relate to the size of Webb’s additional equipment on the side of the stage. I personally had not seen so much gear since Radiohead in 2004, although maybe I need to get out more. I would love to have a walkthrough of the setup to not only see what gear Webb uses, but how he uses it too, like Dadi Freyr’s rig rundown. For example, I was intrigued how he was controlling the other synth station through some sort of looper. I was also left wondering where the cellos actually sat in the whole mix.
Rough list of tracks from memory:
All the Elements
Castigat Ridendo Mores
Proof with a guest appearance from Stella Donnelly
Something in the Water