For their first Melbourne show since last year’s Laneway Festival, electro-experimental trio PVT showcased material from their forthcoming album in an intimate setting; which also afforded the Sydney-siders a warm-up before taking to the grander environs of their hometown Opera House in a series of appearances at the VIVID Festival.
Offering a rare opportunity to hear the bulk of their new record, it also marked one of the last gigs to be held at Phoenix Public House before the Brunswick venue is tragically forced to close its doors.
With a rough but intriguing set from support act Forces done, and with a set of new toys gleaming under stagelights, brothers Richard and Laurence Pike and electronics-wrangler Dave Miller took to the stage to roaring applause.
“Thanks for coming out and showing you know we still exist,” half-jokes drummer Laurence, before an arpeggiated synth buoys a timid vocal from frontman Richard; quickly bringing the packed bandroom to silence, allowing for the throbbing bass and signature soundscapes to take hold.
The new cut, called “Shiver”, closes with hearty approval before Richard takes up his bass –distorted and primal for much of the performance – against a building electro rumble. “Evolution”, the second new cut of the set, also introduces Laurence’s first surgically effective beat of the evening as Pike Jr. sings of “traps on the ground.”
Interestingly, Pike Sr.’s drumkit isn’t mic’ed up – save for his cracking snare and some of his toms – but the force of his precise strikes and powerful fills give the necessary volume and punch against the storm of experimental sonics. Also lending PVT’s brooding electronics an organic, human edge.
The blue-light siren signalling ‘Light Up Bright Fires’ brings cheers of familiarity from the audience, who latch on to its immense, tribal rhythms and mammoth synth bass. Which seems to swell and gnash against the walls. Upon finishing though, they run into the first of a few technical issues.
Though it doesn’t characterise their set of fresh material, the gremlins do unfortunately continue to plague their performance. Producing a few prominent lulls into their set. Firstly, revealing that a 9V battery has died, Laurence sighs aloud, “fuck, this is embarrassing” as it unsticks their equipment, and their pacing.
It’s a humorous moment rather than a disastrous one; and better here than under a dazzling light show and the eyes of hundreds in the cavernous Opera House at VIVID. Something the drummer duly notes before his sibling returns triumphant with the necessary ‘tools.’
Another newie, “Electric”, with its loping bass-line (think a more sinister version of the ‘Peter Gunn Theme’) gets their set moving again, with a stark rhythmic figure that soon explodes into a monstrous shuffling groove from Pike’s drumkit.
The newer songs, like “Cold Romance” and “Homosapien”, demonstrate that PVT are building upon the success of their bold sophomore record, Church With No Magic. An album that combined a stark approach to texture with a love for experimentation, into a sophisticated synergy of swelling grooves, illuminated digital flourishes and a steady, urgent undertow of throbbing pulses.
At their most menacing and intoxicating, they could be the imaginary soundtrack racing through Han Solo’s head as he’s frozen in carbonite. Nerdy sci-fi references aside, there’s a dark, thrilling tone to PVT’s music. It has the hypnotic thrum of dance and electronica, but none of its posturing simplicity, charged instead by unpredictable shifts in sound, but no-less controlled moods and tone.
Upon playing the title track of their second album, with its refrain of “in control/in the church with no magic” – it could very well be a mission statement for the group. With Dave Miller’s impressive bank of laptop, pads and all manner of wired sounds; combined with Richard’s array of effects pedals and manipulated guitars – they’re a band with a code, mysterious as it may be to decipher in the live setting.
Think Joy Division if they continued to take their jittery electro to its gloomiest conclusion. Cold pulsing synths and growling rhythmic judders that coalesce into steely grooves.
However, the trance is broken again as more technical woes set it in. Despite the proposal that their new material aimed to “downsize”, the more gear, the more potential for problems it seems. The significant break gives credence to the ‘warm-up gig’ status, but once again, the crowd is forgiving.
Fortunately, following new track “Casual Success” (“nothing casual about it”), the appearance of the booming instrumental, “Didn’t IFurious” (from their Pivot days), gets the punters back into full-swing. Even Miller, not exactly a static dancer to begin with, snaps his neck with ferocious intensity against its heaving beats.
The appearance of a lighter, more ambient tune called “Morning Light” comes next. Proving that surprise radio hit “Window” wasn’t an anomaly, with Pike cooing endearingly “if you want me, I’m yours” over a track that sounds remotely like Yeasayer (or at least a more mechanical PVT-shaped version of the New York bohos).
The appearance of exotic songstress Sophia Brous offers another delightful surprise, who lends some serious sex to a slinky new jam called “Vertigo.” A set highlight that sands down their angular edges to a feline groove as Brous and Pike sing in unison, “feels like Vertigo” - the electronic undertow purring rather than growling.
Capitalising on the high, they follow with the title track from the band’s debut “O Sountrack My Heart”. Its sci-fi prog keys and intense punching rhythms still hit beautifully hard in the live setting, a beloved fan favourite in a night short on them. Still demonstrating that PVT would have made a better fit than Daft Punk for the Tron soundtrack.
They close the main set with the slow, meditative digital hymnal “Crimson Swan” before swiftly returning for an encore that rewards the audience’s patience with an excellent showing of “Window”. They doubly thank the audience for their tolerance and support, but it seems, the pleasure was all ours.
Tonight heralds the imminent arrival of an excellent third album, or at the very least – barring technical mishaps – that VIVID attendees are in for an excellent treat indeed.