Nikko’s defining trait is their brooding intensity. On stage, the Brisbane six-piece projects a shoegaze focus that just… smoulders. Deliberate act or unconscious choice, it’s an attitude that complements their pent-up and langurous not-quite-The Drones, not-quite-the-Dirty Three sound. By the end, I’m hooked on the subtle intertwinings of echoing, shimmering guitarwork, whining violin, Ryan Potter’s maudlin monotone and Blair Westbrook’s scattershot drums. I grab one of the sampler CDs available before they all disappear. A couple months later, when they finally release their debut The Warm Side, I grab that too.
Today McKisko (aka Helen Franzmann) has brought a few friends to help her through a short, but captivating, Live Spark performance. Most notable is the inclusion of a trumpet player. The trumpet’s muted sound, coupled with plucked cello and arrhythmic snares, gives Undertow an unusual, almost jazzy perspective. A Difficult Crossing is filled with tiny blaring runs that embroider its delicate mania. But, trumpet or no, it’s Marcel that shines this afternoon: it simply aches as McKisko repeatedly drops from piercing highs to a desolate spoken-word hush at the tail-end of the chorus.