Review: Kirin J. Callinan and Jack Ladder, Whammy

Thursday 8 January 2015

Sydney surrealist crooner Jack Ladder and Kirin J. Callinan have been friends for seven years. Their friendship began when Jack (real name Tim Rogers) fell through a bus shelter and broke his arm on the eve of a tour and called in Callinan (impressed by his skills when he played support at another gig) to help out on guitar duties. Since then, Callinan has been an integral part of Jack Ladder’s band The Dreamlanders and Rogers gave Callinan’s debut album Embracism its beating heart, playing fretless bass on all songs but one.

They are both slightly aloof in person, but what musician genuinely wants to do media interviews? Callinan goes in for the kiss on the cheek, whereas Rogers is clearly slightly uncomfortable at the familiarity of the greeting. A handshake will do.

On stage, Rogers allows himself a little extravagance with a diamond-patterned sheer glittery shirt. Callinan, wearing a chambray zoot suit and diamante earring, accompanies on guitar, dancing around on his toes. Despite releasing four albums, this is Jack Ladder’s first New Zealand visit. Songs from his most recent release Playmates dominate the set, its moody vibes permeating through the bar. While he sings, the crowd is passive yet attentive, and loudly express their appreciation between songs. Callinan tells a joke. With just the two of them on stage, for this tour the musical section of Jack Ladder is largely made up of backing tracks that the two friends describe as their “band in a box”. Rogers promises they will be back later in the year for a full tour with the Dreamlanders.

Playmates is produced by Kim Moyes of The Presets, and was recorded in Moyes’ home studio in Sydney. His influence is perhaps most strongly felt on the track ‘Her Hands’, the second single from the album, with its steady snare drum beat and jaunty synth lines. Jack Ladder’s smooth baritone voice and emotive lyricism has drawn parallels to early Birthday Party recordings, but the new-wave musical stylings throw those comparisons off kilter, creating something entirely new. Musician Sharon Van Etten, who contributed vocals to two songs on this album describes Jack Ladder as, “he’s got darkness to his vocals and lyrics but with a wink.”

For Kirin J. Callinan, that wink comes with a cheeky grin. A set at Camp a Low Hum in 2012 solidified a loyal fan base here in New Zealand. Playing at sunset and accompanied only by a smoke machine and a few lights, it was - as everyone who was there knows - a ~moment~. Word spread and Callinan has been back for a run of shows every year since.

Abravise and confronting (though apparently he hates that word and prefers ‘provocative’), on stage Callinan yelps and croons in equal measure, jerking his guitar around as he manipulates the sounds that come out of it. A dozen pedals are spread around his feet in a semi-circle. Callinan describes these two New Zealand shows as the “swan song” (“And I am the beautiful swan”, he says) for Embracism, which was also produced by Kim Moyes. His thick Australian brogue is jarring in the best possible way; the song ‘Thighs’ is a highlight.

Throughout the evening, I couldn’t help but feel super grateful to be able to see these two brilliant friends and collaborators play together. With Jack Ladder signing to cool US label Fat Possum and Callinan contributing to Mark Ronson’s new album, 2015 might be a breakthrough year for the two of them. A year where they will shed that persistent “grossly underappreciated” tag and everyone will start talking about how they were there, that time Jack Ladder and Kirin J. Callinan played at that small bar to a couple of hundred people. I‘m not one of those music fans who idealises the ‘60s, wishing I was there for Beatlemania, instead it’s enough to know that I live in the era of Kirin J. Callinan and Jack Ladder.

Kirin J. Callinan and Jack Ladder
Wellington - Thursday 8th JanuarySan Fran