Sydney outfit Winston Surfshirt wrapped up their first ever Australian headline tour on Friday night, with their second of two sold out hometown shows at the Oxford Art Factory. Quite a remarkable feat for a band who don’t have an official release on the market; having found success from two recently released singles “Be About You” and “Ali D”, which have enjoyed triple j rotation, while being praised for their original blending of genres.
Helping open up for the group was up-and-comer Wallace, who hit the stage in a Betty Boop outfit and a huge burst of energy, accompanied in stripped back fashion by just one of her two usual keysmen. Pushing out a stunning, soulful voice, tracks like “Negroni Eyes” connected well with the crowd, while one of her earlier singles “Raffled Roses” closed out the set, seeing a few in the crowd singing along, proving that this talented young artist is certainly one to watch.
100s’ “Ten Freaky Hoes” blared over the speakers as the six piece Winston Surfshirt hit the stage, a trombone sitting in centre view while a florescent light tube sat as their mic stand (a simple but aesthetically pleasing touch), and their name lit up on either side.
Now for those playing at home, Winston is far from a new act. Hailing from the Northern Beaches of Sydney, the project started as a solo act, which was first performed live as a four piece. The music I remember hearing back then wasn’t far removed from what Winston and the now six piece are performing, though it’s naturally a lot more polished and fleshed out. Now signed to Sweat It Out, 2017 has seen the band CTRL+ALT+DELETE a lot of their history pre-2017, including their debut EP Sticky Date, recorded with Dave Jerden and featuring tracks like “Dilla” and “Got The Party”. Some music from this period still appears in their sets, though it has disappeared from Spotify. No doubt the group will be finessing some of the best material here, along with the new singles, for a future “official” release.
Indeed, fans of the group’s earliest work were familiar with a lot of material they played through the night; the Sydney show clearly being one where they’re attracting fans who have been following them for the last few years. But to the majority of the crowd, the debut EP Sticky Date went by relatively unnoticed, and it was the two singles from 2017, scattered throughout the set, that received the biggest reaction, and were inarguable highlights of the night. But it’s band’s overall fusion of genres which has everyone talking, occasionally borrowing musical cues from groups like A Tribe Called Quest, as they take hip hop and fuse it with soul, R&B and even reggae to make a sound unlike anything anyone is doing in Australia right now.
Any notion that Winston Surfshirt are doing anything we haven’t seen before, however, is misguided; there are plenty of groups from the last couple of decades who have blended genres together like that – Fat Freddy’s Drop being one of the more recent examples. But there’s certainly a feeling that no one is doing this at the moment. And whatever the argument, by the time they press an LP, it will be a sound wholly of their own design, however inspired by what came before it it may be.
Somewhat surprisingly, however, the standout moment of the night wasn’t featuring their own music. Not because their own tunes are intrinsically lacking in any way, but rather that in the exploration of the cover material – much of which undoubtedly has inspired their own music – the band were at their most free. This moment was found in the group’s encore, which was comprised of a medley of Kendrick’s “HUMBLE.”, Pharoahe Monch’s “Simon Says” and Ol’ Dirty Bastard’s “Shimmy Shimmy Ya”.
Here, they extended on the material, while Ramson jumped into the crowd and amped up the energy. For their own music, which they continue to flesh out live, they seemed restricted by their own parameters. For a group of this quality, and seeing what they’re capable of in the encore, it would be great to see them extend on their best material with jams, play more with the crowd and not let their work in the studio dictate their live creations.
In their lead vocalist’s own words, “This is a bit weird, we don’t have many songs, but we’ll do what we can”. Indeed, the above suggestion is difficult to abide by when you’re still finalising a lot of the music you’re playing, and it only feels natural these songs – and their live show by default – will develop over time. And it’s for that very reason that Winston Surfshirt, still a “new” band regardless of the previous incarnations that have brought us to this point, are one of the most exciting groups making movements right now. All the pieces for greatness are there, and over the next few years, expect to see that fully realised. In the meantime, we have a lot of fantastic music to look forward to.
This show wrapped up their current tour, though you’ll be able to catch them at BIGSOUND. For more on the band, head to their official website. The performance reviewed took place at the Oxford Art Factory in Sydney on the 23rd of June, 2017.
Photos by Bruce Baker.