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Sydney Festival 2016 review: Dreamland a late-night supergroup gem


Magic Mirrors Spiegeltent​, January 16 

"Ah, it's the midnight crowd," observes Jack Ladder, the leader of the suave bunch onstage, setting the scene in response to a drunken but friendly heckle a couple of songs in.

The Dreamland in which we find ourselves late on this Saturday night is something like one of David Lynch's seamier visions but actually takes its name from the Dreamlanders, Ladder's backing band of crack fellow Sydney musos. It also turns out to be far less serious than that might sound, with everyone on stage visibly enjoying themselves.

Under the mad-scientist mop of curls on drums is the hypnotically precise Laurenz/Laurence Pike of PVT, while his brother in rhythm Donny Benet smoothly brings the funk on bass. Adding vivid atmosphere and colour on guitar and keyboards respectively are the extraordinary Kirin J. Callinan and the perfectly good Neal Sutherland.


Ladder stands front and centre, richly crooning and strumming through a set that leans heavily on Playmates, their 2014 album together, but that occasionally veers off course with something less predictable.

And indeed, while there's intense pleasure to be had from such differing Ladder/Dreamlanders songs as Reputation Amputation, with its wild glam-rock groove, the sensual, seductive Her Hands and a decidedly dreamy take on oldie Cold Feet, it's the other tunes that make the night feel special.

Callinan especially relishes the spotlight. Having given the golden touch of his extraordinary, otherworldly guitar sound to everything else, his own Embracism positively bristles with menace.

Better yet, we later finally get to hear the sex-jazz-blues that had previously only been going on inside his head as the rest of the band play along to the formerly a cappella (and frankly mental) The Toddler.

Elsewhere the Talking Heads feel of the evening's more urgent, funkier jams peaks with a PVT instrumental, while Benet's You'll Find Love Again brings some late, crowd-pleasing soul.

An encore featuring a somewhat half-hearted cover of David Bowie's Be My Wife is one of few tunes that miss the mark – the band seemed happier paying tribute earlier by arriving to another track from the late icon's Low album, Warszawa​ – but an epic final romp through The Barber's Son feels as loose and exciting as the show's best moments.

Final word? Another late-night Sydney Festival gem.