Dick Diver, Spider Bags
Nightlight, Chapel Hill
Thursday, July 9, 2015

Australian and New Zealand guitar pop has a long, storied history. Groups like The Go-Betweens and The Chills cast a long shadow over worldwide bands that attempt to coin their own take on Australian indie or the so-called “Dunedin Sound”: jangly guitars cementing coy lyricism, all with a pop sensibility that elevates the work from similarly twee acts. The lazy charm of this tradition animates Melbourne’s Dick Diver, who played a deft, often hilarious set at Nightlight on Thursday, opening for Spider Bags.

Dick Diver (as well as fellow Melbourne natives and recent Merge signees Twerps) skillfully carry the Australian indie pop torch that many modern acts borrow from, without the air of pretension that can come with resurrecting sacred old styles. Dick Diver incorporate many hallmarks of the indiepop lexicon—bittersweet boy-girl vocals, ragtag brass, even a teasingly literary band name, as Dick Diver is borrowed from F. Scott Fitzgerald’s Tender is the Night. (They actually visited Fitzgerald’s grave near Baltimore earlier that morning, on the way to Chapel Hill.)

Live, the band manages to shape these tropes into lovable, upbeat tunes. In interviews, the group have name-dropped the cult English act Cleaners From Venus as a favorite, and one can see the comparisons on stage. The measured, in-the-pocket drums and simple basslines that sit high in the mix intersect with discordant guitars. There’s an emphasis on intricate vocals.

As they drew heavily from their recent third record for Melbourne, Florida, each of the four members shared singing duties, leading to a pleasantly full sound. And as the members swapped instruments between songs, they kept up an amusing string of quips about American truck stops. At one point, they even accused an audience member of working at Guitar Center when he offered technical advice.

Carrboro’s Spider Bags headlined, going on after midnight on a Thursday. They seemed unbothered by the time and offered 45 minutes of sludgy garage-rock fury to an increasingly small but dedicated crowd. Dan McGee shouted to the heavens to make sense of his thoughts, while the band behind him blasted out one spiraling riff after another. The switch from Dick Diver was a bit jarring, sure, but the two fit together to form an oddly apt guitar-rock night.