There’s something rather tempting about the grungy industrial basement design of Underground Arts, and Nick Allbrook clearly thought so too, as he swung from his legs on a ceiling pipe with a wild smile on his face in the middle of his set last night, before careening back down into his self-requested crowd surf. The lead singer of Australian psych-rock band Pond, Allbrook took the stage of the small venue with his four other bandmates last night, some of whom trade off between Tame Impala’s touring band. Equipped with multiple synthesizers, a few guitars, a sparkling silver drum set, and a shining flute, Pond came prepared for the “euphoric psychedelic funk/punk journey of chaos” that their Spotify bio promises.
A search of similar artists on streaming services puts this band alongside fellow Aussies King Gizzard & the Lizard Wizard, and acid-fried surf-rock Californians like Ty Segall. But to limit the comparisons to the heavier side of psychedelia would be to miss an entire dimension of Pond’s sound, a quality that proved irrevocably obvious when juxtaposed with last night’s hackneyed nostalgia-act opener, The Muckers. Though the earlier half of Pond’s prolific output includes gritty guitar tricks and louche lyrics, there’s an obvious Kevin Parker influence in the rhythm section on their two most recent albums, 2017’s The Weather and 2019’s Tasmania.
Comparisons of Pond to Tame Impala are certainly tired, and borderline reductive in some cases, but it’s this infusion of chugging synths into the frizzy rock that makes Pond stand out amongst their contemporaries. Allbrook is the kind of performer that plays right into the hands of Jagger-Bowie-Plant lovers with his flamboyant strutting around the stage, singing songs like “Zen Automaton” with cutesy lines like “Don’t you know who that is? / It’s Ringo Fucking Starr.” But underneath the glam-rock-esque theatrics are intricate layers of echoing beats and chords that are more akin to deep house than any genre of rock, a stylistic foundation that has a common undercurrent with Tame Impala.
Pond’s entrancing combination of funk, disco, pop, and psych-rock with a hint of some John Hughes movie anthem does well in a live setting, where the orchestral-like layers of sound can keep building and building towards liftoff, daring you not to dance. Even when sober, this eclectic post-millennial genre cluster is the sort of music that human bodies know instinctively how to move to, with songs slowly building up to the top of one sequence, before sweeping you off your feet into another realm of swirling chaos.
Most critics argue that Pond’s latest two albums have more of a political lean, with some slight mentions of climate change panic in songs like “Tasmania” with its melodramatic chorus, “I might go shack up in Tasmania / Before the ozone goes / And paradise burns in Australia / Who knows? Who knows?” But despite a few “Fuck Tony Abbott” pronouncements at the start of the show, Pond is still the playful band that “loves dumb lyrics,” according to Allbrook, so long as they’re backed by a soul-consuming wall of sound.
True to the band’s mildly crass light-heartedness, Allbrook appreciatively thanked the crowd for coming out as the band returned for an encore, blowing a kiss to the room with the Aussie-accented words, “We’d be such turds without ya.” Diving into a medley of “Giant Tortoise” and “Eye Pattern Blindness,” Pond fed the crowd with buzzy synthed-up guitar licks that threatened to burst the room open in electric explosion, before finally finishing off the night with “Man It Feels Like Space Again.” A favorite concert-closer for the band, this trippy title track from their 2015 album lived up to its name, jetting us all into a cosmically lysergic fantasia that I’m still coming down from. — SOPHIE BURKHOLDER