Everything But The Girl, Friday March 7, 1997

Metropolis Fremantle

With the demography of their audience swinging wildly between conservative listening-led folk canoodling their partners and dancefloor-bound style councillors hip to the remix craze sweeping the Anglo world, Everything But The Girl could hardly please everyone all of the time.

For those who know EBTG as the indie-chic, pseudo-Sade duo with sweet songs from the 80s, their Australian tour through the larger venues of this country will dilute the intimacy of their sound. For the newer, beat-driven generation there may also be a feeling of ponderous easy-listening. EBTG may be riding the critical and unit-selling wave right now, but their stripped-back and pleasant keyboard sweeps, background breakbeats and Tracey Thorn’s brooding vocals would far suit the close climes of a small, smoky club than the high-ceilinged auditoriums afforded by success.

Given that the four on-stage performers hardly moved through the performance further deadened the feel, a packed opening night of the aforementioned fans being the right place for casual conversation five metres back from the stage with precious few people saying ‘shoosh’. For even as their music drifted tantalisingly past the shoulders of the majority crowd of lovers-in-embrace, Thorn and partner Ben Watt, joined by percussionist Martin Ditcham (reading tablature and triggering drum samples) and bassist Steve Lewinson could do precious little to envelop and hold the crowd with the undeniable warmth of their sounds, to stem the flow of the crowds’ chatter. It was, in all practical purpose, a sweet background hum for ease of conversation, the stage hardly a source of visual stimulus and merely a direction from which the music was coming.

Even with eight albums worth of celebratedly minimalist material to choose from, the only real momentum in the hit-seeking crowd was forced by their now highly successful remixed numbers. Driving, Missing and the junglish Walking Wounded caused slight sway in the crowd, the reworked Before Today and Wrong further forming a strong continuity. But these linkages and uptempo moments were certainly few and far between, their wordless breaks between songs being similarly unendearing from the stage.

EBTG face these problems because their crossover ability is not as strong and simple as exemplified by the sales of hit singles. Their (Australian?) audience is still completely split and not too prepared to take one genre with the other: delicate synth-swept love balladry framed sparsely with programmed beats. This is one of the first times I’ve seen a band try live to bring on-board the somewhat unfamiliar realm of the external remix and I think they floundered. Then again, if the rest of the audience weren’t so attuned to treating music as a background medium it could have been oh so sweet.