Tuesday, 11 February 2014

Gig Review - Dan And Amy

Live @ Wesley Anne, Melbourne (08/02/14)
Supported by Al Parkinson
Review by Lou Endicott

On a very steamy Saturday night after a very long day of working in forty plus heat (with children no less), I made my way through the haze of heat toward Northcote’s Wesley Anne. Although somewhat weary from a long day of working, I felt a little spring in my step as I headed towards the venue. I have a soft spot for this venue. The Wesley Anne is an old church turned into a bar/restaurant and has an air-conditioned band room. The vibe of the band room is intimate and cosy. I have seen all kinds of acts here over the last few years including cabaret, clowning, stand-up and my favourite of course: live music. The act for this evenings entertainment was the talented brother sister duo Dan and Amy. And on the support list for the night was the get-out-of-town-your-too-good singer songwriter Al Parkinson.

I arrived a little later then I had planned so only caught the very end of the first support act, Gus Rigby. I walked into the band room during his last song and was met with a loud, bluesy, rocking and very sassy electric guitar solo with slidey swings and big drum fills. Yes. I should have gotten there earlier. The song was over before I knew it. I will definitely look out for this artist in the future.

As mentioned, the support act before Dan and Amy was Al Parkinson. I have reviewed Al twice in the last couple of months – firstly as a support for Little May and then more recently as a support for Lester The Fierce – so I won’t wax lyrically about her again. But I will say this: the music she makes is a pure delight. Her set (only six songs) was just beautiful. If you are unfamiliar with her work and smooth, jazzy voices and the ukulele make you smile from your heart, then you must check her out.

Brother and sister duo singer/songwriter/guitarist Dan Arnott and his singing sister Amy took to the stage with their band that make up “Dan and Amy” – keyboardist Tom, drummer Nick and bass player Sarah. Having seen Dan and Amy play a year ago I was familiar with the changing of tempo, layers, builds and stripped back sections being a feature throughout many of their songs. That and their gorgeous duel harmonies – which generally act as one lead vocal track. The opening song included all of these elements and took us into the waters of folk rock with big drums creating a tempest of sound that ebbed and flowed into various sections. Halfway through the song I looked over to the keys player to watch his fingers during an intricate arpeggio. I was surprised to see that he was playing chords. After a quick scan of the stage I realised the delicate intricacies of sound were not the keys at all but in fact coming from an electric mandolin. I couldn’t take my eyes off the mandolin for this song – such was the way it was expertly played. At the end of the song Dan and Amy informed the audience that the player was in fact their father John - which perhaps more than hints at the brother and sister duo being immersed in great music from an early age. John left the stage after the first song with lots of thanks from his children.

The second song of the set called 'Fitzroy' was a beautiful acoustic number. The folk feel of the evening truly came forward here with its Peter, Paul and Mary 60s vibe and its bright, happy yet gentle chords. Amy - wearing flowers in her hair and Dan - with his long unruly locks and bare feet – not only sounded like flower children, they looked like them too. The song however was more than just flowery fun as it kicked into gear with drums and symbol fills. I particularly loved the ending of this song with its stripped back vocals.

The third song in had me thinking of Simon and Garfunkel with Dan’s finger picking and rhythm on guitar. The poetry of the lyrics also held that sentiment created by good folk artists: “I’ll just have to forgive you now…” The song featured a gearshift as it turned to darker, more emotional waters with solid chords on keys, a grounded bass and dramatic drums. This section was followed by another stripped back section that showcased the beautiful blend of vocals that Dan and Amy create together. The outro of this song - with its canticle swirl of “oooooo-ing” vocals – gave me the same shivers I get when listening to Simon and Garfunkel’s 'Scarborough Fair'.

After this song Amy left the stage momentarily and left Dan and the band. This next song (called 'Conjurer') was one of the highlights of the set for me. The feel was very Fleet Foxes with Dan’s vocal delivery and rippling soft rhythm guitar. The simple keys and drums chose their moments to bring depth to the story and sound before the second part of the song erupted into what felt like a glorious jam. I was reminded of nights where I seem to slip in and out of the same dream - the sound was surreal and contained little stories within itself that felt like an epic yet unreal adventure had taken place. I enjoyed the organ sounds that the keys brought to this jam-like section. To be honest I would have liked the keys player to really let rip with a solo here instead of just sustained chords. The build almost cried out for it. But this did not take away my enjoyment of this wild ride. Toward the end of this song a rather large moth flew across the audience and twisted its way around the band creating just a splash of serendipity to those watching.

The next song Amy came back onto the stage and this time the band left, leaving the siblings full reign. The song 'A Lovers Mind' was the B-side from their first EP (released in 2013). I really enjoy this song, with its simple sweetness and beautiful harmonies and heartfelt sentiment. The vocals are just so exquisite with easy listening yet intricate harmonies throughout the entire song. When I first heard this song I was instantly reminded of the Australian indie folk band, The Waifs. Hearing it played live was a real treat and another highlight of the set for me.

'Another Way' was the next song and was dedicated to Dan and Amy’s parents. This song again held that 60s hippy feel and had me reminiscing of songs I learned in those ABC sing books in primary school – which if memory serves right, were mostly folk songs by the likes of Cat Stevens, Donovan and Joan Baez. I adored the choral-like section of the song that again had Dan and Amy “oohing” together with beautiful blended harmonies.

My absolute favourite song of the night was the new single, 'Pretend'. This was performed as the penultimate song of the evening. Dan let us know that sweat and tears had been put into the recording of this single. And it’s easy to understand why. This is a complex and powerful piece. I have been listening to the song quite a bit recently and love its almost colonial folk feel and urgency in the build of sound. There is a delightful keys riff in the verses that I hang out for every listen as well as an exquisite music-box-like section that changed the pace completely midway through. When I listen to this song I have imaginings of an old dilapidated country cottage in the middle of nowhere. Perhaps haunted. Actually definitely haunted. So haunted in fact that I imagine a man and woman in colonial clothes dancing in the shadows of it’s gardens next to floating white sheets on an old washing line (yes, perhaps I should be directing film clips). Film clip imaginings aside, this song handles its dramatic journey well and as an audience we are left to ponder the meaning for ourselves.

The last song was a little more laid back with beautiful rolling harmonies and slower paced drums and keys. It was a nice and gentle way to finish the set. Dan and Amy graciously thanked us all for coming out to see live music on such a blistering hot evening before inviting us all to stay for a drink and a beer. And this is the style of this outfit I think: very real, very human and completely with their feet on the ground. Dan and Amy I am sure will no doubt in the near future be part of the folk-touring scene – hopefully both in festivals and venue tours. I look forward to seeing where they take their lovely sound and of course look forward to an album in the future.

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