It’s as dark as the night outside within the main hall of the Athenaeum Theatre save for the glow of four projector screens looming over the stage. The sound of a guitar drifts through the stalls, the brassy voice of Sam Bently of The Paper Kites sailing listlessly atop of it. Although the quintet have been onstage for almost an hour, the only presence is that of the projector screens, framed and split horizontally through the middle to give the illusion of windows. A man and a woman dance not with enthusiasm but purpose in a warm pink apartment as curtains lock part of the lens. Although the lights are off, the band plays in the dark. They don’t miss a note.

The day has been freezing and the night looks as if it will be much worse. The tension in the air through the streets of Melbourne is palpable, as the uncertainty of the day’s Brexit announcement and possible market crash threatens to make housing even more unattainable. All and all, what today needs is something warm and heartfilled and if anyone could deliver that, it was the indie folksters of The Paper Kites.

Luke Thompson begins on a chair on the far, far right corner of the stage. It’s difficult to see if this reserved position is a deliberate juxtaposition of his gut spilling lyrics, but it fits good even if unintentional. His songs flow organically, tales about growing older and with that more comfortable with both slowing down and mortality, which sounds like it should be a total bummer on paper. But something about Mr Thompson’s presence, his wide smile and the way he jokes about his life living in a caravan with his young family, gives some reassurance.

Sydney’s I Know Leopard are a bit less straightforward in a way that’s difficult to explain without sounding like a loon. You can compare them to many other acts in the Aus dream pop scene, like Pearls or Leisure Suite, but there is a key difference: every riff or lick sounds happy and lulling until just before it ends, where it settles on an unsettling point between happiness and sorrow. It’s unique and honestly, it’s a testament to the youthful group that they can write songs so dancable while also integrating this little weirdness in. The twin fronts of the band demonstrate this well, swaying and bobbing as if pushed by a forceful wind.

Indie folk is not notorious for its level of innovation and experimentation, so the moment something deviates from things as usual it sticks out. This occurs even before the band hit the stage, as instead the rightmost projector screen springs to live. Inside, a couple in a dank apartment under construction begin to argue. The band take their places under the faint purple stage light.

While modern acts have dabbled in use of cross media elements such as film, very few have elected to make that film the main focus of the live show. The only contemporary comparison The Paper Kites have is Canada’s Godspeed You! Black Emperor, whose use of 12mm film projectors has helped solidify them as one of the staples of their genre of post-rock and even then, the use of visual doesn’t really work to serve a cohesive narrative as much as an ambiance. So to see The Paper Kites take position onstage and take a backseat to the film is already an odd feeling. Folksy melodies fit tightly into the backdrop of the film, scenes of four apartment rooms from the view of their window, and how the people inside grow as they interact with those around them. The themes of community and struggle are amplified with the brass twinkle of an acoustic guitar and the youthful (I’m sensing a theme here) but worn down vocals of Bently and Christina Rusmussen.

To comment on the band’s presence feels a little betraying, The only break the band takes is to inform everyone that at some point the lights will go out and not to panic when happens, making it clear that their presence isn’t really the point of the show. If it wasn’t that way, it’s doubtful the set-up would end up as affecting as it does. The end result is just that, an affecting piece of art, a combination that amplifies the melancholy of both creations to a point where it feels almost criminal to remove one from the other, so it’s going to take a while after seeing this to be able to play Midnight alone again. When The Paper Kites return to the stage for an encore, they’re all smiles, asking for audience requests for what to finish with (‘Bloom’ was chosen overwhelmingly by the crowd) and inadvertantly causing a chorus of happy birthday for Guitarist Dave Powys dad. They explain beforehand that this was all a little idea they wanted to try out. If this was just a trial of a little idea, then one can only imagine what The Paper Kites will do now they know how it all works.

 

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