A small but close-knit crowd filtered into Warschauer Strasse’s Urban Spree to see Brisbane quartet Blank Realm last week, a sticky summer evening dissipating into cool night as the audience slipped between graffiti-scrawled walls. Touring in celebration of recently released album, “Grassed Inn,” the show was approached with excitement; Blank Realm has a reputation, after all, for being one of Australia’s most impressive live acts.
Blank Realm have roots firmly tangled in a burgeoning Australian independent scene, a sort of cult collection of musicians that are bringing about a garage upheaval, experimenting with a distinctive lo-fi aesthetic. Largely based in the grittier urban surroundings of cities like Melbourne, Sydney, and Brisbane, it’s a magical audial flower that’s bloomed such contemporaries as Kitchen’s Floor, The UV Race, and Total Control. Many of these bands, including Blank Realm, have recently been featured in Jimi Kritzler’s book, “Noise in My Head: Voices From the Ugly Australian Underground,” a collection of interviews, profiles, and photographs that aims to document this small but explosive group of musicians. Despite the geographical distance, they share an unmistakable rawness and intensity, an anything-goes mentality, and a penchant for putting on an unforgettable show.
When Blank Realm first took to the stage, the group’s presence was relatively unassuming. Australian accents tickled the walls as the crowd settled to a hush, the lights dimming to a dusky red. However, the moment that Blank Realm began making noise was like a firework going off in water. Sparks rippled between shoulders throughout the room and pulled them into motion, heads rolling slightly, eardrums beginning to quiver with the volume. A distinctive voice soon tore between the racket—and from the drum kit, of all places. Insistent, hollering, almost howling, drummer/vocalist Daniel Spencer dripped with a fantastic energy that only grew as the show pressed onward; sister Sarah Spencer had the gusto to match, echoing his cries from her front-stage position at the keyboard. It was clear from the outset that Blank Realm was meant to be heard like this—live, visceral, unshackled.
The set comprised a healthy smattering of songs from each album. “Cleaning Up My Mess” (from 2013’s “Go Easy”) descended into a colorful chaos of noise, drawing out jam after jam. For tracks such as “Acting Strange,” Sarah slung her keyboard over her shoulder like a weapon, injecting the room with an apocalyptic electronic urgency. “Back To The Flood” bounced across the crowd like a beach ball, pumped with a frenetic energy.
Blank Realm is such a wonderful live band, largely because of the unique cross-section of sounds the four straddle; throughout the show, they ventured off into experimental, psychedelic, improvisational wanderings, but always orbited back around to keep the sound rooted in a delicious pop delicacy.
Perhaps the most spiriting thing about the show was that, in contrast to the intensity, the band just seemed so nice. Three-quarters of the band are siblings, after all, and there was a closeness and playfulness in their stage presence that drew the crowd nearer with each song. Bass player Luke Spencer grinned as he watched the audience inch closer to the fuzzy, noise-drenched embrace; it was evident that they were having a hoot, and it was infectious.
The last song of the set was, expectedly, the newly released single, “Falling Down The Stairs.” Bright and poppy, this was a pure shard of Australian sunshine. The crowd were not yet sated, however, and demanded anther number. It was “Go Easy,” a raunchy, slow-grooving number. The song saw Daniel and Sarah swap positions, Daniel’s hips twisting in serpentine gyration at the front of the stage as they crooned together, his white shirt tearing itself open at the neck. It was a fantastically sultry way to finish a great show, and the audience members slowly pried themselves away from the cavernous room—brows glistening, chests humming, as they resurfaced into the twilight.