Tess Parks & Anton Newcombe in The Sugar Club, Dublin, on July 15th 2015
The Sugar Club is one of those venues, like The Olympia, that always seems to elicit some kind of remark from those who grace its stage. “How civilised is this? Do you feel like you’re at the opera or something?” asks Tess Parks, addressing the seated amphitheatre in front of her as she and her fellow musicians settle into tonight’s faux-velvet surroundings. The recently released collaboration Between Tess Parks & Anton Newcombe, ‘I Declare Nothing’, saw the Toronto native’s distinctive, gravelled tones and sparse compositions augmented by The Brian Jonestown Massacre frontman’s sonic adornments; swathed spirals of keys, spidery guitar lines and an all-enveloping fuzz coating.
Parks mouths a quiet count-in to Wehmut – a melancholic malaise – atop a whine of feedback from Newcombe’s guitar, and begins the selection from the record’s downbeat psych stylings. There’s so little movement onstage in the set’s early stages that the slightest action is noticeable – an arched shoulder from Parks swiping the strings, or a musical director’s glance across the stage from Newcombe to signal an ending. During Peace Defrost he saunters over to face the rhythm guitarist and bassist that hang behind Parks, playing with his back to the crowd. The two players don’t seem to pay much heed to his presence, nor he to theirs, as he interjects Parks’ vocals with bluesy, reverbed lead lines.
“You guys should get drunker and come dance closer” Parks suggests, before Newcombe’s first vocal outing of the gig, abetting on the final verse of Gone. A few acquiesce to Parks’ request, drunk and closer, as Newcombe perches on a high stool dispensing whine after portentous whine for October 2nd, then calling Mama to action with that same droning pitch.
“This is for all you silly wallflowers” Parks jibes, bringing the remainder of the reticent to the floor, their presence seeming to shake things up that bit more onstage. Newcombe again adds his vocal to Melliorist, and the song blooms into an organ-heavy, elongated Them-style coda.
With the album played out, things get just a bit heavier towards the set’s end. The sextet wind up The Doors’ Five To One to finish, Parks’ voice laden down with even more of a growl than Morrison’s as the set snakes to its conclusion. When the music disintegrates, Newcombe signals for Parks to keep repeating the “Get together one more time” lyric in tandem with him, deeper and deeper until the band resurrects the song to the finale.
Judging by the T-shirts, there are more than a few TBJM fans in the room, but the response to the set is telling of the crowd’s appreciation of tonight’s performance. Despite her better known compadre taking charge of the sonic textures, it’s very much Parks’ presence that holds the attention as ‘I Declare Nothing’s dark psych soundscapes are unfurled. It’s a low-key kind of gig, but entirely successful in conjuring the album’s brooding tone.