Zebra & Giraffe in a Hot Air Balloonby Thomas Okes / 20.07.2009
Zebra & Giraffe have had a busy year since they first got together as a full band in mid-2008. They’ve played as unknown outsiders to tiny country theatres, acted as huge rock headliners at massive festivals and even been sexy indie-slickers in swanky city nightclubs. They’ve won SAMAs, had half of their album out on the radio, and even, recently, appeared on both Dis Hoe Dit Is Met Steve and 3Talk With Noeleen.
They have now visited The Assembly in iKapa three times, and when they introduced themselves to this crowd as a fresh-faced bunch last October, they seemed capable of being both shy and epic, able to bring down the house while sticking in the shadows.
That show, as an exciting but unfamiliar opening act for The Dirty Skirts, was elegant and composed but also cagey and cautious. In the time since, they have learned to swing: their shyness has grown into a confident, excitable looseness, while their innate composure has yielded a less nervous, more eager, more reckless kind of energy. Crucially, their elegance has remained largely intact and integral, perhaps more a product of personality than outright design. Carlin has harnessed the sonic levels around him, seizing command of his songs and tying them to the depth and range of his own voice. Gone is the retiring introspection which threatened to drown them in the towering breadth of their own sound, as a full year’s stage practice has taken this group from simply competent to seriously comfortable.
When they unveiled an as-yet unnamed new song, it was vintage Zebra & Giraffe, starting quiet and getting suddenly, expansively loud. That song seems to draw a line around the pattern that has pushed this band to this point: intensely layered, wavering guitar effects, swirling keyboard areas which steady and soar, spiking synth lines which burst from nowhere to nowhere, and a signature vocal attention to the intricate spaces between howling and brooding. In turn, Carlin can croon and cry, Alan Shenton’s guitar can be both prosy and overwrought, Darren Leader’s drums can tick and tremble and terrorise; together, they dance through the set-list with an ease and enthusiasm that even made a Chris Isaak cover sound cool.
It is a formula which works, apparently, across almost the entire board. The event was sold out by the early afternoon, and, as is usual at this venue, the crowd was the patented blend of indie-everybody. Zebra & Giraffe is the kind of band who can be different things for different people just by staying themselves; they can play at the CokeZero Fest and be on 5FM on the same day, and the next they can cause mud-fights at Oppikoppi and be all over Rock Out Radio.
Where they go and what they do, how big they become or how small they stay, really, is up to them. In a year, they’ve ballooned to a size which could see them float overseas or explode altogether; it’ll take stong hooks to tether them to this scene.