It appears as though Pond frontman Nick Allbrook is coming undone. But on a Wednesday night at Bimbo’s 365 Club, he did not seem particularly concerned about it.
On some level, his undoing comes as no surprise. Pond’s most recent album, 2017’s The Weather, pushed the band to confront the brink upon which the world presently teeters. For the first time in the Perth psych-rock outfit’s career, the goofy and the galactic were retired as sources of inspiration and replaced with nuclear annihilation, smartphone-induced isolation, the oil industry’s abuses of power, the twisted spoils of capitalism, and the ravages of colonialism.
Such is to be expected. Allbrook is no longer in his 20s. Trump is in office. The whole human experiment has really just gone to shit, and it seems as though there are more pressing concerns than there were prior to, say, a certain vote regarding the United Kingdom’s place in the European Union. Pond attempted to take those anxieties for a spin in North Beach – starting with The Weather opener “30,000 Megatons,” a slow-burning synth-guided meditation — for Pond, that is — on The Bomb.
It was a calmer start and a bold move from a band that’s made its name on psych-pop spectacle. It wasn’t a necessarily a wrong turn. The synths rose ominously, wavering at the edge of chords as Allbrook’s voice reached a thin, trebly panic reminiscent of Roger Waters during The Wall’s bleakest moments.
As poignant as the opening moments may have been, the band knew better than to hold out on the sell-out crowd growing restless on the ballroom floor. They launched into “Holding Out For Grace,” the ebullient opening cut of 2015’s Man It Feels Like Space Again, stomped through the prog-rock thud of “Sweep Me Off My Feet,” and hooked the crowd for good with the impossibly groovy “Fire In The Water.” It was bliss – people called out “Fuck yeah, Pond!” more than a few times.
Allbrook, meanwhile, barely touched the ground. Quite literally. He never really planted himself onstage, high-kicking and zipping around with an affable boyish confidence. Face smeared with glitter, he flitted about his space, occasionally pausing to bend his small frame over and around his guitar like an extra in This is Spinal Tap.
In fact, Allbrook was a lot of things in any given moment of his in-progress undoing: childlike, effeminate, brash, amused, manic, endearing, or any combination thereof. His poses were a pastiche of the last century of pop culture: He looped his thumbs around his belt like John Wayne, swung his arms like Elvis and his hips like Jessica Rabbit, paused to lift his hand during a high note like an Andrew Lloyd Weber heroine, and flicked his wrist like Madonna (or any seasoned diva, really) with his face scrunched into a Mick Jagger pout.
It was engrossing to watch: this performance that scanned simultaneously as an unfurling identity crisis and a medley of cultural touchstones. Beside him, multi-instrumentalist Jay Watson (who headlined The Independent just last month with his solo project Gum) was unstoppable on bass, most obviously while he barreled through “Don’t Look at the Sun or You’ll Go Blind,” one of only three songs not culled from their two most recent records. Had the crowd needed more convincing, the throbbing groove would’ve done the trick. (The crowd did not need more convincing.)
Guitarist Joe Ryan and keyboardist Jamie Terry rounded out Pond’s core lineup at stage right, maintaining a breezy banter about Ryan’s Bob Ross beer koozie and Bimbo’s itself, which resembles a parallel Twin Peaks-meets-The Shining universe – tuxedoed bartenders, staffed bathrooms, and all. “I reckon I’d be a good bathroom attendant,” Ryan said, eliciting a genuine laugh from the audience and his bandmates.
The anxieties the band airs on the record take odd shapes live. Pond may have refocused their lyrics, but their melodies and arrangements remain exuberant and frenetic. Onstage, the performance taps into that distinct cognitive dissonance that undercut post-punk, New Wave, and a sizeable chunk of 80s alt-rock: everything is terrible, you might as well dance. Pop music history is littered with artists who thrived at the intersection of despair and melodic delight. The Smiths spent an entire career there.
Pond ventured closest to facing the reckonings of The Weather head-on during “Edge of The World,” a two-part psych-pop suite Allbrook introduced as “a very Perth-centric song.” The cut wrestles with the personal and collective guilt shared by the white heirs of Britain’s violent colonial legacy — and of which the white men of Pond must by default count themselves.
But Pond dealing with post-colonialism is still Pond, so every droning synth line did eventually climax in shimmering guitar solos and cymbals. Nonetheless, there was a new, darker tension unfurling inside “Edge of the World,” and it made for a complex and cathartic moment as red light bounced off the silver ballroom curtains. Pond’s calling card has always been their deliriously enjoyable live show, but this time it was clear that something darker and capable of undoing us all was lurking under the surface.
Faced with as much, the sellout crowd chose to dance.