‘scratching industrial samples, thumping beats and cathedral guitar reverberations’, Barry Lanigan reports as Kirin J Callinan hits Berlin.
East Berlin’s history is dark and so are its avenues and side streets. Tonight’s venue, Urban Spree, is no different save for a UV neon glow at the entrance door.
German punctuality is renowned, but when it comes to showtime, a South American flexibility for time is apparent. As tonight’s headliner goes through a rather militant German sound check, the Sunday night stragglers are realising this is not going to be a tame show. This is another animal.
Since the release of his debut LP Embracism (Siberia/Terrible Records), Kirin J Callinan has been drawing all the right attention. The Sydney native’s music and chameleon image has evoked chimes of a Bowie/Reznor/Cave crossbreed and his music videos range from tongue-in-cheek hilarious to deranged. Mingling with punters, musicians and friends amiably and politely before the start of the show, it’s clear that this man has two personas.
Fresh from the Reeperbahn festival in Hamburg the previous night, Callinan is backed by the full ‘boy band’ on this world tour – a three piece in all. All three take to the stage in black baseball caps, Callinan somewhat innocuously clad in tracksuit bottoms tucked into his socks and a bomber jacket to boot.
Acoustic drums, synths and a wall of heavily effected lush guitars envelope the small venue – and we’re off. After lamping the fifty or so Sunday gathering with LP opener Landslide, Callinan waits for the applause to eventually die before announcing he needs to take a few layers off, each dramatic layer removal drawing a laugh and a whoop as he pants into the mike how the soundman deemed his other attire to be ‘inappropriate’ in the toilets.
This good humoured mid-song banter, in stark contrast to the raw edge of the music, is typical of Callinan, now in a psychedelic jumpsuit and wife-beater vest, as he leads the crowd and band into the rest of the set.
Callinan’s vocal range is impressive and it somehow commands the scraping, scratching industrial samples, thumping beats and cathedral guitar reverberations. The songs, structured and meaningful, are delivered stylishly as Callinan switches between craning around the mic stand expertedly delivering the vocals and tending to his effects pedals with a jack-in-the-box efficiency whilst not losing his audience’s hold and all with a kind of Ziggy-esque grace.
Halo is both beautiful and menacing, screeching samples reminiscent of the Downward Spiral and gravel vocals sliced up with electronic bleeps and decadent guitar lines. Victoria stands out mid-set. It could be Euro-pop. It could be the theme tune from a daytime TV drama. It could be a daytime radio hit.
Way to War starts off sinister and broody with looped effects and satanic crooning until it snowballs with more samples and truly haunting reverberated guitar notes before exploding into a techo beat that has all weary Sunday night heads nodding in hypnotic prayer, Callinan’s voice lamenting ‘nobody knows’, his face distorting like a hologram on his skinny frame.
The ‘boy band’ remain at work diligently under peaked caps like a security duo. We get a breather with the wonderful and heart-warming ballad that is Apology Accepted performed solo by Callinan. The ‘boy band’ keep their heads low respectfully before rising again to finish out with Love Delay, a dance song cleverly composed with delayed guitars and drums.
Callinan announces that ‘we’d like to say we’ll be back again, but we probably won’t’. Hopefully this is for geographical reasons only.
This gig was thrown together via a Facebook plea three days previously, (Friday night’s initial gig being pulled beyond his control)and it’s later than we expect when the trio leave the stage, but this was a real gem in the stone that is Sunday.
Callinan continues his world tour in the US with Cut Copy. Catch him while you can.
All words by Barry Lanigan.