Call it a summer festival getaway in March.  Aussie barbecue roasting over the coals all night long, over ten bands from Oz and a room filled with convivial folks from Down Under chatting up a storm over a pint. The annual Aussie BBQ, the mini festival of all the best things Aussie, just took over Austin last Saturday at SXSW 2010, then roared over to Brooklyn’s Bell House last night and kept us reeling ’til the bitter end.

Melbourne’s bespectacled Crayon Fields started things off with well-mannered, Beach Boys/Zombies-meets-Smiths style, playing well-versed and jangly, harmony-rich tunes, many from their most recent album, All the Pleasures of the World.

Following them later came the handsome Paul Dempsey, (a man who’s said to have perfect pitch), and who also happens to be the singer, guitarist and main songwriter of the double platinum Australian rock group, Something for Kate.  He happened to be here alone tonight to charm us with songs from his recent solo album, Everything is True. Dempsey casually took the stage guitar in hand, and after a short hello and mention that he may be moving to NYC, brought the room to a hushed standstill with his acoustic pop tales of love, longing.  He easily proved he’s got the pipes, a novelist’s touch with lyrics, the looks and humor to bring a room of foreigners to its knees (and not just the girls).  It’s no surprise that his latest album was voted one of the “best albums” of 2009 by Rolling Stone.

Speed. Power. Harmonies.  Who doesn’t enjoy a good dose of frenetic fury and bashing of guitars to change up the mood?  Children Collide made for quite the polarizing act to follow Dempsey’s gentlemanly tunes.  This Melbourne-based electro-rock trio came on like bats out of hell and wowed us with the most sinewy, tight and clever, loud-quiet-loud show we’ve seen in ages.  Wolfmother, The Klaxons, Nirvana and The Vines all came to mind for a second (producer Dave Sardy did work on CC’s debut, The Long Now, after all), but Children Collide aren’t the types to copycat and retread the oldies.  They were the band we’d been craving at this year’s SXSW, and since we missed them in Austin, it was fate that we happened upon them here.  The spasmatic Heath Crawley on borrowed bass (he mentioned his “shat itself” at the last minute) and Ryan Caesar, on drums seemingly made of steel, were both locked into every jolt brought forth by singer/guitarist Johnny Mackay (whose voice can just as easily purr as roar). They thrashed their way through songs like “Social Currency” and “Skeleton Dance” and ended with a fiery climax of smashing guitars.

After the urgency of CC’s set, it was hard to take it down a notch for Love of Diagrams, even with their epic, distortion and delay-heavy, JAMCesque wall of sound.  There was, however, some striking interplay between singer-bassist Antonia Sellbach, singer-guitarist Luke Horton, and drummer Monika Fikerle, especially on their best songs, like “Forever”. The all-girl psych/surf act Beaches, featuring Love of Diagrams’ Antonia Sellbach on vocals and guitar, was on next: five ladies all in a row like The Donnas of Oz, singing in textured vocals to blowsy, shoegaze tunes.  Impressive as they were, their set didn’t keep us in the room for the duration.

Likewise, The Chevelles.  Their straight up 50′s classic rock sound and boundless energy left no room for complaint, but their perfected, arena-ready showmanship made them seem almost distant, or at least, not as “real” as some of the other bands experienced here tonight.

We’d seen Sydney’s Sherlock’s Daughter way back during CMJ 2009, and I’m sure we’ll be seeing them a lot more since singer Tanya Horo later told me they’d just moved to New York.  Their percussive songs verge on tribal psychedelic, conjuring visions of ritualistic ceremonies, old world secrets and mystical, blissed-out days.  (If it sounds like a description that fits School of Seven Bells as well, I’d have to agree; it’s probably the reason Sherlock’s Daughter has already toured with said band).

The electro-tinged, dreampop quintet came on stage bathed in red light, with an air of cool mystery, and took charge.  The intensity of Sherlock’s set tonight was definitely not lost on the crowd, obviously captivated

The Aussie BBQ certainly knows how to make a grand finish, saving the likes of Goons of Doom as the rad and rabid topper for this fest.  We’d already witnessed Goons at SXSW 2010′s SPIN Party, so we knew what shark-infested waters we were getting into with this rowdy, cheeky, surf/horror rock band. The Goons, all childhood friends, including pro surf boarder Ozzie Wrong, as well as Cowboy, Killerwhale and Vaughn Dead, formed a band even before they knew how to play an instrument.  The knack for entertaining must have have always been in their blood. See what they had to say.

Earlier in the evening, one of the Goons mentioned they’d only bring out the shark attack scenario of their set one last time, but at least tonight would be that time.  Never to disappoint, Goons unfurled this much-touted, raucous performance in a bit that defies description, so rather than let me ramble, just check it out:

This fearless bunch of showmen has always thrived on the fact that no band mate is always the lead singer and everyone takes turns at just about everything.  The Goons’ nobody’s the star, all-are-invited-to-the-party vibe led to tonight’s grand finish, with most of the audience piling on stage by their last song.–Madeline Virbasius/videos by Zabatay

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  2. [...] or bands like Children Collide or the wacky Goons, or the airy, BBQ-friendly Bell House as venue, last year’s Brooklyn event far surpassed this sleepy Sunday time. Amongst the first-half acts we caught at Bowery, however, [...]