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Filmed at The Lucksmiths' farewell show at Melbourne's Corner Hotel on August 29, 2009, Unfamiliar Stars is both a captivating concert film and a definitive end-of-the-line document, standing tall among the best of the band's vast discography. Directed by Natalie van den Dungen (The Tote Documentary), the film captures the final bittersweet airings of many Lucksmiths favourites as witnessed by a full house of hometown fans, friends and family. Clocking in at a total of thirty-three songs, the swansong performance is the culmination of farewell tours across Europe and Australia, and finds the band in vintage form, cherry-picking pop gem after pop gem from their sixteen-year career and filling the gaps with a double-dose of irrepressible Lucksmiths repartee.
A short documentary of the band's final months rounds out the package. Darkening Doorways presents an intimate view of The Lucksmiths in rehearsal, in the recording studio and throughout their farewell tour.
And here's a look at the final show set-list:
1) A Hiccup in Your Happiness 2) Good Light 3) A Downside to the Upstairs 4) Synchronised Sinking 5) Myopic Friends 6) Camera-shy 7) Stayaway Stars 8) Untidy Towns 9) The Golden Age of Aviation 10) Take This Lying Down 11) Successlessness 12) Great Lengths 13) Song of the Undersea 14) Under the Rotunda 15) Requiem For the Punters Club 16) Frisbee 17) Macintyre 18) Punchlines 19) Weatherboard 20) Broken Bones 21) The Chapter in Your Life Entitled San Francisco 22) Self-Preservation 23) California in Popular Song 24) Smokers in Love 25) Fiction 26) Caravanna 27) A Sobering Thought (Just When One Was Needed) 28) Sunlight in a Jar 29) T-Shirt Weather 30) Midweek Midmorning 31) The Great Dividing Range 32) The Music Next Door 33) The Year of Driving Languorously
To hear the hand-picked career retrospective in one long set is to realize what made the Lucksmiths a pleasurable group that never quite broke through to huge international success. Song topics concern girls, cities, and seasons, and the music rarely strays from tried and true guitar pop. The music is graciously unfussy – a quality that becomes particularly apparent when seeing this final live show.
In comparison to other similar groups, Belle & Sebastian used a common musical starting point, but parlayed its mystique and bookish aesthetic to create widespread interest in an evolving sound. Barenaked Ladies’ gimmicky lyrics were a different sort of attention-getter, resulting in fame-fueling singles and extensive tours. The Lucksmiths enjoyed a lesser level of fame and fortune than those other acts by virtue of their understated consistency.
As such, another subject that arises during the set is the lifestyle of a band unburdened by luxury. Like a scene from Jaws, we hear about tour injuries such as wounds to the fingers from bass strings and gashes in the hands from opening beer cans. Marty Donald says “Stayaway Stars” is about the grind of touring and the unglamorous places they’ll “miss” once they’re finished. Before “Synchronised Sinking”, lead singer/drummer Tali White says, “This one’s a bit of a workout” and then literally rolls up his sleeves. This is a workingman’s gesture—a subtle part of their stage show that goes a long way towards defining their charm.
Though the set runs longer than two hours, the band provides enough variety to sustain interest. There are special guests, including Darren Hanlon, who contributes banjo to a couple of songs. Guitar player Louis Richter leaves for a few numbers, which are performed in their original three piece incarnation. His coming and going allows the viewer to judge the contribution he makes, which in my opinion is sizable. Having joined the group well into its run, Richter is a perennial “new guy” (think Jason Newsted or Ron Wood), but he’s also a bit of a secret weapon. Note here the personality he provides to “California in Popular Song” and to “Smokers in Love”, on which he plays melodica.
The technical aspects of the concert film are, like the music, unobtrusive and serviceable. Shot with multiple cameras, the show benefits from coverage and a cutting pace that gives us access to each member and time to take in their performances. The videography is mostly stable, with the exception of a shaky section at the beginning of “Take this Lying Down”, during which other camera angles must have been temporarily unavailable. Although the sound mix is not pristine, it effectively captures the energy of a Lucksmiths show, and the live mix does justice to each musician’s contribution.
Also included on the DVD is “Darkening Doors”, a short documentary also directed by Natalie van den Dungen. The film covers the band’s final weeks of activity: rehearsal, recording, and the farewell tour. There are some interesting minor revelations in the observational documentary. We learn that the group has been rehearsing 45 songs in anticipation of the final shows. Also, there appears to be some truth to the running joke about Marty Donald being a taskmaster. A difficult-to-hear section with an interviewer does cover the band members’ reasons for quitting, which are similar to those listed in the farewell announcement on the web site. In short, when the music stops being easy and fun and becomes difficult to balance with other priorities in life, it’s time to call it quits. This good-natured behind the scenes perspective reinforces the impression made by the concert film. The Lucksmiths might remain unfamiliar stars, but this DVD more than makes the case for renewed appreciation—perhaps a reunion tour?
" Thomas Britt, popmatters.com