The Avalanches are all about waiting. It was not long after the squashing of the Y2K bug that they released Since I Left You, that sprawling cavalcade of an album that ruled every house party in the 2000s. It was entirely its own: part danceable dreamscape, part electric luau, something new stitched together from the past, using samples old enough to prompt nostalgia and obscure enough to stoke amusement.
Since I Left You was a rare critical and commercial hit, and a record that stood up to closer scrutiny and repeated listening. You could flog it on rotation without killing its appeal. There was no filler in a cohesive vision. People wondered what a second album would bring, then waited 16 years for it. In the interim, band members dropped away. Various configurations of the Avalanches did play live, but not often. They were the most elusive of big-name bands.
So it tallied that a date with the Adelaide Symphony Orchestra involved waiting too. The idea came via the Illuminate Adelaide festival: to mark the 20th anniversary of Since I Left You, the Avalanches would perform the full album with the orchestra. First listed for July 2021, the show had one Covid postponement, then another. Finally, on Wednesday, it happened, with Tony di Blasi and Robbie Chater taking to the Adelaide Entertainment Centre stage in sparkly jackets, working synthesisers and samplers in the midst of the string section.
The combination worked. For all its technical prowess, Since I Left You first gets a hold on people through melody and vocals. The melodies on the title track and its companion Stay Another Season, or the adventure of Electricity, gained a new richness, the flutes enjoying some rare time in the spotlight. The harp had its moment during Little Journey. More discordant offerings like Flight Tonight tested the musicians’ adaptability, while Radio delivered full-venue oomf, with tuba and bass thumping the beat like an elephant footfall.
The most orchestra-friendly, unsurprisingly, was Frontier Psychiatrist, the bombast of its spaghetti western musicality coming to life as the brass section came in with a vengeance. This song is a composer’s holy grail: simultaneously a technical standout, a social critique, a piece of wild comedy, and a stone-cold banger. Decades on, it still has a huge sound, and its assembly of spoken samples is just as clever. “I promised my girlfriend I could play the violin” is even better when backed by a whole section of violinists.
All parts of the orchestra were involved, rather than relying on strings. There were technical challenges: electronic beats have a fast attack, meaning the sound peaks with a speed that orchestral instruments don’t match. There were points when the timing between human and machine slipped. But also, no one cared. They had come to hear a certain record, and they were hearing it. The orchestra players were visibly enjoying themselves. The Avalanches were enjoying themselves. The conductor was having a ball. The sense of fun was pervasive.
The only disappointment was that the venue wasn’t set up with standing room for general admission: tightly packed seats meant that only a few pockets of people in aisles could get up and dance to a show that deserved far more. Some music demands movement. Since I Left You, though, has always allowed for contemplation as well.
As the orchestra closed out with gentling renditions of Live at Dominoes and Extra Kings, the atmosphere wound down into a sensation you could melt into, a feeling of floating free. In the era that delayed this show so many times, feelings like that are precious. There may be something else to take from the Avalanches’ own trajectory: looking back to a standalone masterpiece, appreciating it in its own right, with no rush towards any subsequent mediocrity. If time moves, then waiting can take you somewhere. All of that has become part of the Avalanches’ story, and 22 years later, it’s a story still being told.