Australia’s The Sleepy Jackson played Bowery Ballroom the night before the release of their sophomore album, Personality, hit stores… to almost no fanfare whatsoever. Strange, I think, as the band’s first album, Lovers, was a fairly well regarded mix of Lloyd Cole‘s jangle and romanticism, and George Harrison’s slide guitar — and Sleepy Jackson mastermind Luke Steele was being called the New _________. (Fill in the blank yourself.)
He’s also a bit of an eccentric. The cover art for Personality, the full title of which is actually
Personality: One Was a Spider, One Was a Bird, is a rather scary Photoshop collage with a shirtless Steel (in white pants) holding a twin version of himself. Click on the picture to get a better look. The CD booklet is filled with more collages of similar frightening interest. The album’s music is similarly ambitious (some might say overblown, but not me). Steele is obviously going for the kind of soaring, widescreen pop that was attempted in the ’80s by the likes of The Dream Academy, The Triffids, and Prefab Sprout. There are strings, synths, horns, choirs — you name it — and for the most part, it works.
I was curious to see how Personality’s big ego would be presented in a live setting. They were just here for a show in LA and NYC while promoting the new album. Would they bring all their equipment? Guests?
I would have to wait. Things were running behind. I was told The Sleepy Jackson would take the stage at 10:15 but it was more like 11:15 — pretty late for a Monday. Luke Steel’s bizzare alter ego,
Luke Blonde (dig the pic, left), opened the evening with nonsensical, indulgent laptop noodling. Keeping it in the family, Luke’s father Rick (not Anakin) came out and played a set of ’60s-ish folk, including some Dylan covers. The two Australian girls standing next to me told me Rick Steele is well-known singer in his hometown of Perth. I’ll have to take their word on that. Luke’s a good son, though.
Sandwiched inbetween there and the Sleepy Jackson were local faves Sam Champion who I thought had a really good set, though I prefered them when they were more Pavement and less Gram Parsons.
Finally, a six-strong Sleepy Jackson took the stage. Luke Steele is a strange looking fellow — part Jim Jarmusch, part Heat Miser, part Lon Chaney. But there’s no denying he writes some catchy songs, and his band played them with skill and style. The keyboardist spent a fair ammount of time playing marimbas, which you don’t see that often with a guitar pop ensemble. As they were promoting the new album, they stuck heavily to the new material, the best of which included "God Lead Your Soul," "God Knows," and "Devil Was in My Yard." But they also trotted out the killer songs from Lovers too: "Vampire Racecourse," "Good Dancers," and my personal favorite, "Rain Falls for Wind." They were still playing at 12:30 when Sleepy Bill decided to call it a night.
The room was full but nowhere near sold out. Many people left after Sam Champion. Security was clamping down on cameras (I took a couple with my cellphone) as hard as I’ve ever seen at Bowery, which I thought was strange. The band could use all the publicity they can get.