It’s hard to know where to start when describing Melbourne-borne Client Liaison. Would you begin with their aesthetic, pulled straight from a bad fashion magazine in the 1980s? Or, perhaps, with their infectious brand of funk-laden synthpop, spilling at the seams with seductive energy? And how can you describe their debut album, Diplomatic Immunity, other than as a socio-political satire of Australian culture and music?
The band’s concert at Academy Club answered these questions and more. It was strange to see the Bunda Street nightclub relinquishing some of the overly commercialised seediness that attracts to a certain Thursday night crowd. As a matter of fact, the three jumbo-sized disco balls suspended from the roof seemed re-appropriated for a throwback to a bygone funk and pop era.
Below the sparkling globes frontmen, Harvey Miller and Monte Morgan pranced the stage and spread their narrative. It is, loosely, a story of Australia’s dark political underbelly, where the backbenchers retire each night to their hedonistic fantasies. For Triple j listeners, the band’s bass player may have provided a familiar face: Tom Tilley, of the famed Hack news program. It became alarming as I realised that every time I hear his silky newsreader voice in the future, it will be accompanied by an image of his sweat-drenched cream shirt.
The band has embedded itself so deeply into its satirical manifestation that it flows through every vein in the quartet’s lifeblood. This extends to their merchandise: perfect if you’re short on stress balls, sunglass holders, or lapel pins. And the band doesn’t let up on stage décor either. Standing inconspicuously on either side of the stage were oversized glowing water coolers. During the set, a conveniently placed landline phone buzzes and Harvey receives a call from the ATO; it seems Client Liaison Ltd. is wanted for tax fraud. The band launches into their single ‘Wild Life’ in response; such is the commitment to the 80s aesthetic.
Client Liaison’s conceptual obscurity is ironic considering how inviting they are. In their music videos, Monte and Harvey often look directly into the camera while lip-syncing over-emphatically, inviting their audience into their satirical socio-political world. Of course, this worked best with the Academy crowd with the set’s opener, ‘Canberra Won’t Be Calling Tonight’. Many Canberrans are familiar with the often farcical face of Australian politics, so it’s a joy to hear these pseudo-diplomats proclaim, ‘While the taxpayers sleep, destiny unfolds!’
The performance in itself was fine-tuned and orchestrated to a T. The nature of Client Liaison’s song structure – a string of cliché verse lyrics building up to an irresistible chorus – is routinely satisfying. This is amplified by a commanding stage presence, down to choreographed dance moves and four costume changes. Subtle changes to their most commanding songs, such as a slow tempo introduction to ‘Wild Life’ or an extended outro to ‘Feel the Rhythm’ added an extra treat for devoted fans.
Fleshing out the gaps in the set-list was a series of bulletproof electronic pop songs. ‘Off White Limousine’ snaps along with the attitude of Parade-era Prince, while ‘The Bravest Beginnings’ is a smoky example of the band’s most cohesive songwriting. The latter also featured one of the many excellent lead guitar solos from Geordie Miller. Saved for the encore, the band’s breakout hit ‘Queen’ again proved itself to be the pièce de résistance for fans – a cathartic and emotional conclusion to an excellent set. When the music faded and the house lights turned on, it was back to another chilly night in the quiet city of Canberra. Whilst other taxpayers slept, those still enveloped in Client Liaison’s fever dream lived their fantasy late into the night.