The sound of striped sunlight revealed
Although That Striped Sunlight Sound comes packaged as a combination DVD /CD that contains live footage and commentary by the Go-Betweens, the CD is the most vital element contained. The CD provides the soundtrack of a live 2005 concert performance at the Tivoli Theatre in the band’s hometown of Brisbane, Australia. Watching the show is fun, but the music matters most. The Go-Betweens kick butt the old fashioned way: using a two guitar, bass and drum line-up to create wonderful, catchy, pop-rock masterpieces in the tradition that can be traced from The Smiths, to The Beatles, to Buddy Holly and The Crickets. Of course the Go-Betweens were once the contemporaries of London’s Smiths during the ‘80s, but the Aussie’s took an 11-year hiatus before re-forming in the 21st century as a freshly invigorated band. As the music here attests, The Go-Betweens have re-emerged as bright as ever.
The package’s title poetically captures the band’s sound. Interpreting the mix of metaphors—“the striped sunlight sound” evokes visual imagery, such as the rays of the sun filtered through the slats of a blind in the window; positive emotions, a congenial sunny disposition; an aural fix, ala the California sound of ‘60s’ Brian Wilson creations, all of which are true and a whole lot more. Robert Forster, one of the Go-Betweens’ two co-founders, said he came up with the phrase when the band first started in the seventies. A journalist recently asked him what “that striped sunlight sound” meant, so he gave it some thought and came up with a litany of definitions too long to list here, but included: “the sun on a girl’s shoulder-length hair,” “the look of John Sebastian’s face on every Lovin’ Spoonful album,” “before air-conditioning but after the invention of the fully functional stereo system,” “the Talking Heads as a three piece in ’75-‘76”. Digging out the common factors here is a silly task, the connotations are clearer than the definitions: something cool, but not too breezy—poignant, but not sad. When I was a kid it was unbuttoned collars five fingers deep on print on print shirts. It said something edgy and a little tough, in a strong, quiet way.
The concert repertoire features songs from throughout the band’s 27-year life span, and includes some titles Forster and co-founder Grant McLennan recorded as solo acts during the group’s “intermission”, as McLennan called it. Amazingly, the songs from the late ‘70s and ‘80s and those composed during the past five years sound all of one piece. Someone unfamiliar with the Go-Between’s discography would not be able to tell during what era any of the 16 songs here were originally written as they all sound new and vital. However, the live audience does know the songs and applauds old favorites and recent ones with equal vigor. The hometown crowd clearly loves its local heroes.
The charismatic Forster continually involved the crowd in sing-alongs and other interactive gestures. After the audience had been warmed up and a sympathetic atmosphere created (four songs into the show), Forster told the crowd a DVD was being filmed. Of course this was just a formality, how could one not have noticed all the cameras and recording equipment? Forester joked that the band could have made the DVD in Berlin, Barcelona or elsewhere, “But we’re doing it right here”. He took a pause to evoke sincerity, then said, “because there is only one place we could have done it.” He took another pause and said “and that’s right here, in this room, with you” The pop artifice of sincerity and its reality meshed perfectly as the Go-Betweens launched into “Streets of Your Town”. The song’s sweet vocal harmonies and twin guitar action soared. The audience joined in during the chorus and caused Forster to note “what beautiful voices you have”. Forster was correct, at home with a loving Brisbane audience was the best place to make this document.
The soundtrack CD and DVD mesh up almost exactly. There is one noticeable gap. Before Forster introduced “Too Much of One Thing”, he mentioned that the song had two titles, the other being “The Story of the Go-Betweens”. This is clearly stated on the DVD, but omitted from the CD for no apparent reason. The disc is more than 70 minutes long, maybe it was snipped to help preserve the audio fidelity of a format that was close to filling its physical capacity. There doesn’t seem to be anything insidious about this, but the anecdote seems worthy of mention as the six and a half minute song offers an acerbic take on being in rock and roll and the star making machinery. The autobiographical nature of the alternate title is revealing on such an intimate song.
The DVD also includes “The Acoustic Stories”, in which Forster and McLennan tell the story of the band’s history to an interviewer, interspersed with the two playing representative songs from the periods discussed. None of the 11 songs selected repeat any of those from the live show. Unfortunately, the acoustics are fairly primitive. One can hear the two fellows talk, but the recordings of their singing and playing lacks good production values. In particular, McLennan’s vocals come out as muffled as if he weren’t close enough to the microphone. The two don’t say much that would interest anyone but a fan, or perhaps would serve as a good primer to the band for a new initiate. I doubt most people would watch it more than once. The DVD also includes a short question and answer montage with Go-Betweens’ fans at the concert that is disposable.