No Australian music group is as impeccably charming as Winston Surfshirt

No Australian music group is as impeccably charming as Winston Surfshirt

Winston Surfshirt
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Words by Leland Tan
Photos by Ryley Remedios

For Winston Surfshirt’s thorough set of covers and big hits, their seemingly endless show at The Forum was more than magical.

The group’s ‘Baked Goods’ Australian tour was their biggest national venture yet, with fellow Sydney-sider Milan Ring and Melbourne’s very own Jordan Dennis opening the night in soulful abundance.

Dennis pits milky guest vocals with glistening, sunny productions reminiscent of Tyler, the Creator or Chance, and singles ‘Crumb’ and ‘Waves’ encapsulated the rapper’s infectious swagger. Bouncy, edgy, and most importantly playful, we would’ve loved to see a longer set.

Conversely, main support Ring’s dark, soulful adventure on 2019’s ‘Step Back’ freshened with killer emotive lines, and piercing guitar riffs on ‘Stack It Up’ saw the multi-instrumentalist cement her connection with the crowd, many raising their phones to forever record the magic. She will be one to watch in the next few years.

After some brief minutes, Winston Surfshirt gingerly took stage with ‘Lujon’ by Henry Mancini in the background, almost whisking us away into a flora-spangled haven. It was also in The Big Lebowski, and, funnily enough, lead singer Winston dons an all-white Jesus-like get-up, exactly like the one Jeff Bridges wears on the poster. I see you, Winston.

After carefully navigating the 28 (or 29?) instruments perched on the stage, the group invariably come to a standstill and all of a sudden off we went. Light triple blows of trumpets from ‘For The Record’ sent glorious eruptions, and Winston sprung to animation with the first lyrics.

Where some bands irk filling the gaps between songs, the ensemble’s propensity to blend and stretch endings of tracks like in ‘Project Redo’ or ‘For Real’ made for seamless transitions. This was Winston Surfshirt on live gapless playback.

Combining indie funk, jazz, and hip hop with micro spotlights in every song, the band’s brass bridges and choruses shone. Five-minute long jazz improvs don’t come around too often, but in songs like ‘Same Same’ or ‘Cast In Stone’, Winston let things free and the crowd loved every bit of it.

The outfit’s signature lazy flow rap was given a rest when they broke out into the more sing-songy cover of Christina Aguilera’s ‘Genie in a Bottle’, much to the delight of the older members of the crowd. ‘TwennyFive’ explored the nasal vocals of Winston further, but the inherently melancholic track transformed The Forum into candlelit unrequited love, “I like the way you go, but I hate the way you left me”.

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‘Make a Move’, their new 2019 single, was a welcome break from the heartbreak and tears, with jazz taking a momentary backseat for some good ol’ funk and charming falsetto riffs from the lead.

As the cascading ‘On a Lock’ came on with its brooding guitars, Winston signalled he wanted to jump on someone’s shoulders by, well, singing ‘shoulders’ a lot. It worked, he got a piggyback, and like Moses parting the sea, the lanes opened leaving the lead in a world of knots. This guy, honestly!

Their collab with local producers Cosmo’s Midnight, ‘Get To Know’, arrived before Winny and co announced their final song and departure to Fitzroy’s Yah Yah’s for the afterparty.

As the twinkling of ‘Be About You’ came on, so did the wails from the crowd as all arms waved side to side. Closing the gap between him and the audience, Winston took one last swig from the glass bottle and pranced around stage in clean falsetto, “I just wanna be about you, just to be about you.”

Highlight: The brass, the production, and Winston’s falsetto live is something else.

Lowlight: The R-rated crowd conduct during ‘Genie in a Bottle’.

Crowd favourite: ‘Be About You’.