Filmed at The Lucksmiths' August 2009 farewell show at Melbourne's Corner Hotel, ‘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 favorites 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.
Rounding out the package, ‘Darkening Doorways’ is a short documentary of the band's final months and presents an intimate view of The Lucksmiths in rehearsal, in the recording studio and throughout their farewell tour.
Please note: this DVD is an all-regions disc in NTSC format. Our chums at the Lost And Lonesome Recording Company in Australia have pressed the DVD in PAL format, so please point your browser Lost and Lonesome-wards if your country uses PAL.
In May 2009, a goodbye note appeared on the official web site for Melbourne pop group The Lucksmiths. In a post titled “A sad message to all our friends,” the band announced its breakup, apologizing for “the seemingly abrupt nature of this post”, and declaring that “this isn’t a hasty decision based on any falling-out between band members, but rather, an acceptance of the inevitable.” After 16 years of honing pop confections and gathering a devoted cult of fans, the show would soon draw to a close. Following the announcement were several sold-out farewell shows, which took place through the fall of 2009 amidst great enthusiasm. Filmmaker Natalie van den Dungen documented the 29 August concert at the Corner Hotel in Melbourne, and that performance is preserved for posterity on the DVD Unfamiliar Stars, a fun and fitting sendoff for the hardworking band. The program will likely be a vital keepsake for longtime fans and also convince newcomers that they’ve a lot of catching up to do. The crowd gathered for a final evening of the Lucksmiths is a happy, eager audience. Their energy does not wane during the 33-song set, and their cheer seems to propel the musicians, who never once seem like they’re going through the motions. Perhaps the most remarkable quality of the set is its perfectly balanced tone. The group wisely avoids a somber and self-serious approach and avoids revealing any ill will that might accompany a breakup. Unlike so many veteran bands (many of whom re-form after years apart to play another round of farewells), these men actually interact with each other on stage. We believe they’re having fun, and they communicate their retiring thoughts with humor rather than sentimentality. In this setting, many of the group’s witty song lyrics become parting utterances. What better way to set disgruntled fans at ease than, “One day you’ll look back on this as a hiccup in your happiness” from “A Hiccup in Your Happiness”? Stage banter is similarly geared to a good-natured remembrance of things past, as guitarist Marty Donald introduces “Successlessness” as an allegory of the band’s career, “if you took a bleak view of it.” Bassist Mark Monnone responds by saying the show sold out and that tickets are being sold at a markup outside the venue, so they must have finally achieved success! The entire farewell is treated with this easygoing, clear-eyed attitude. 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? --Pop Matters
I remember the first time I saw the Lucksmiths live. I was living in Washington, DC and the band was over playing their first ever DC show. It was at the Galaxy Hut in Arlington, a tiny bar where they clear away a few tables to allow bands to play when they have bands. It was around the time of A Good Kind of Nervous, their third album and the first one to be released here. I also remember they had a new single they were selling too, their first single for Matinée, the Untidy Towns 7″. Not sure what to expect, I had dragged my girlfriend, my sister and her boyfriend along to the show anyway. I don’t remember if the place was packed, but it was pretty full, and with people who may or may not have been fans of the band. The Lucksmiths proved to be charming fellows as I recall and their jovial infectious songs and personalities easily engulfed the tiny room. Tali sang and played drums standing up and with brushes!? Marty played his guitar like he was in the Wedding Present and Mark’s bass playing had a groove and adroitness to it that belied their twee songs. Marty was the main songwriter and he had a clever way with words that could bring the mundane to life. I hopped aboard the Lucksmiths train that night and never got off. I had the opportunity to see them play and few more times over the years but I was still kind of bummed they never made it back to the States for a farewell tour after announcing that they were calling it a day. As a farewell to everyone that couldn’t make it to their farewell shows the band have released a DVD of their final show at the Corner Hotel in Melbourne. It features a cover painted by Mark Monnone, 30 plus songs few special guests and top quality sound. The DVD also contains a short film that follows the band on their run-up to their last shows and final recording session. So if you missed those final shows, or have been a fan but never had the opportunity to see them live, it is your good fortune that the Lucksmiths are not camera shy. So, darling roll the window down, come round if you’re not too busy and get your copy today from Matinée here in the States or Lost and Lonesome in Australia. --The Finest Kiss
For some, the passing of The Lucksmiths was akin to others losing The Smiths. For me, it was like losing The Deirdres. You could understand it, you were sorry, but you still had a catalogue of songs that would keep you warm on the coldest of days. And now, you can have the DVD. Matinee Records and Lost and Alone are releasing 'Unfamiliar Stars', which documents The Lucksmiths' August 2009 farewell show at Melbourne's Corner Hotel. Having only been lucky (ho, ho, ho) enough to see The Lucksmiths once, this release is a godsend. I suppose its costs a fortune to put them together, but more indiepop bands should releases DVDs. I'd buy them. For now, you can enjoy The Lucksmiths as many times as you want. You can experience that feeling of wanting to hug Tali White as he stands up drumming, and you can remember what a special band they were. --A Layer of Chips
I don’t get too bummed when bands break up, even ones I like a lot, but I did get a bit choked up when this much loved/long-lived Aussie combo decided to call it a day a few years ago. Even though they hailed from Australia, and no matter what town they were playing in, the Lucksmiths made you, (audience member/fans) feel special. Like they traveled halfway across the world to play this ONE show for YOU. The places I saw them play (many times), San Francisco and Portland, were almost like second homes to the band. This gig (and short documentary- both filmed by Natalie van den Dungen) was filmed in August of 2009 during the bands final show at a place called the Corner Hotel in the band’s hometown of Melbourne. The set was pretty amazing, 33 songs and a healthy dose of tunes from all of their records (the bands first record was released in 1993). The band was excellent at melding drop-dead melodies with excellent (thought not flashy) musicianship and supremely clever (sand at times hilarious) lyrics. A few of my personal favorites here are “Synchronised Sinking”, “The Golden Age of Aviation”, Under the Rotunda” (the song that originally got me into the band), “T-Shirt Weather”, “Smokers in Love”, “A Downside to the Upstairs”, “Untidy Towns” and too many more. This final gig looked mighty special and what else can I say, ….damn, wish I was there (in the documentary, interviewing fans outside, one guy flew in from England for it). In addition to the live set there is also a short documentary which shows the band chatting over beers, rehearsing, and basically talking about and getting ready for the final gig (it’s easy to forget that some of our old faves are songs the band has not played/rehearsed in nearly a decade). I’m not sure what Tali, Marty , Mark and Louis (the “new’ guy at only 5 years in) have in store for the future, but hopefully some new bands. In the meantime buy this and play it continuously like I am. --Dagger