On this night, fresh-faced Sydney five-piece The Nagging Doubts play in a sparsely
populated basement performance space with chairs spaced all the way up to the stage, an odd sight that guitarist Gabe Jessop-Smith later in the set acknowledges as “a bit weird”.
Moments into a blistering, reverb-laden intro jam it’s obvious why the band has landed the distinct honour of being the first signees to revered Australian producer Wayne Connolly’s new record label, Scenic Drive.
Although not long out of high school, the group’s skillful musicianship is clear from the outset as they seamlessly segue from the epic opening instrumental into new track Back to the Sun, a barnstormer that comes off like the bastard lovechild of Pixies and Killing Joke.
The classic indie rock echoes don’t stop there: compelling frontman Joe Wilks often sings as if he’s fronting Pavement at their post-punkiest, but only if Stephen Malkmus was from working-class Tempe rather than upper-middle-class California. New single A Shot in the Dark positions the quintet as Sydney’s answer to Rolling Blackouts Coastal Fever, Eden Neilson’s intuitive lead guitar work and Ruby King’s propulsive bass conjuring the world-conquering Melbourne band at their most infectious.
The Clown Song – about “clowns and acid”, Wilkes informs us through heavy reverb – slows things down by taking a detour into trippy psych-rock territory. While acting as a welcome breather from the frenetic pace, it doesn’t manage to land as well as the group’s more focused numbers.
Tracks like The Clown Song and the heavy grunge on display during A Comfortable Distance give the impression that the band is settling on its identity, with some looks suiting the band a little better than others. As a result, there’s a sense The Nagging Doubts are still finding their feet, despite their evident proficiency as a live band.
Closer When the Weather Changes sees bassist King assume lead vocal duties while wide-eyed drummer Tom O’Rourke locks into a tight groove with Neilson on bass, their enthusiasm for playing writ large on their faces.
It’s the kind of moment that would whip a packed, sweaty crowd into a lather, a fate that’s hopefully on the cards for a promising band putting their own appealing Aussie stamp on timeless indie rock.