Thursday, 16 October 2014

Gig Review - Angus and Julia Stone w/ Vancouver Sleep Clinic

Supported by: Vancouver Sleep Clinic
Live @ The Palais Theatre, St Kilda (26 September, 2014)
Review by Lou Endicott

On Friday night I was fortunate enough to see Vancouver Sleep Clinic and Angus and Julia Stone play live at my favourite Melbourne concert venue – The Palais Theatre in St Kilda.

We walked in a few minutes late (after grabbing some quick dinner on the run) and were greeted by the thumping ethereal dream rock of Vancouver Sleep Clinic who had already taken to the stage. A beautiful male falsetto voice soared out into the room with vibrancy and passion as we took to our seats. For those not in the know, this band have been making big waves on the indy dream pop scene and were handpicked by Angus and Julia Stone not to just support them in the bands hometown of Brisbane but to accompany them on their complete Australian tour. For such a relatively young band (the keyboard player Aaron is the youngest at 17) this outfit has indeed gotten some big breaks. But it was easy to see why as I sat in my seat and let the dream ambience float over me. The music sits comfortably in the same field as other indy dream rock artists such as Asgeir, Dustin Tebbutt, Hayden Calnin, The Paper Kites and MTNS (the latter actually includes members of Vancouver Sleep Clinic). I am a huge fan of this style of music with its gentle heart, its sweeping builds, electronic soundscapes and soothing vocals.

The next song featured keys and a gorgeous vocal intro creating a very Asgeir-like sound. A rhythmic clap click track joined in with the gorgeous melody before the big heart of the drums captured the essence of something quite majestic. Like Icelandic band Sigur Ros (with their music holding an underlying feeling of drama, adventure and release) Vancouver Sleep Clinic could easily soundtrack an epic adventure film. As the set moved on, I let myself take in the beautiful mixing of the sound and enjoyed how it reverberated joyfully off the classic architecture of this grand old theatre.

The lead singer Tim gave a quick intro to the band next before leading us into the next song. Little drum crashes and swirling picks on guitar sliced with crystal percussive bright keys gently lead us into the sweet and softly placed vocals. It’s almost hard to believe this sound comes from the tropical heat. There is a wintery glow that shines like ice crystals hanging off a fir tree in the music of Vancouver Sleep Clinic. Perhaps because of my adoration of Icelandic musician Asgeir and Vancouver Sleep Clinic’s similarity in style and approach, I couldn’t shake this wintery image. The sound glowed in my ears and whisper with hopefulness.

A highlight of this set was bringing fellow musician Wafia on stage to sing a song. The vocalist Tim took to the keys for this number. The poetry of this song (a collaboration between Wafia and VSC) was beautiful – “I drown in the oceans that keep us apart…” Wafia’s sweet, soft and breathy voice clearly hit the notes and the emotion in this ballad and the audience were spellbound. I was reminded of Cinematic Orchestra’s 'To Build a Home' in the key arrangements of this lovely song as well as that bitter sweet sadness in its mood. The song featured a gorgeous three part harmony between Wafia, Tim and Aaron – which left me with goosebumps.

The band played a couple of new songs to end their set. I was drawn by their ability to capture a chilled vibe while still creating something quite dramatic and big. Lovely strong keys somehow managed to mesh with the grounding of the almost orchestral drums, the rumbling synthy bass and the ethereal guitar. With the addidtion of the light twinkly synth and Tim’s signature high pitched dreamy vocals I realised as I listened that I had indeed become a fan of this outfit. The moments of stillness and moments of intensity that Vancouver Sleep Clinic create build a soundscape that is both a ghostly and magical plain.

I have to admit that I haven’t followed the journey of Angus and Julia Stone in recent years. Years back I was taken by their initial album release “A Book Like This” and played it over and over. Since then however I somehow have been out of the loop with their new projects and new sounds (yes, sometimes I live under a rock). So I was happy to be suddenly be gifted a ticket to see them play and didn’t have any expectations about what I was to experience.

From the moments the lights went down you could feel the support in the room from the audience. Clearly I was on the minority of those who hadn’t kept up with the musical adventures of this brother sister duo. A blue light sliced across the stage as a catchy groove carried us into the concert with some “ooh and ahh” harmonies. A perfectly placed bright guitar solo added to the ambient groove of this first song.

Second song in there was a guitar swap and a mood change as some fine finger picking featured with some very tight and very sultry drums. The talented band backing Angus and Julia included bass, drums, lap slide guitar and keys. And Angus and Julia themselves played several instruments throughout this enjoyable set.

Julia then took to the mic as lead vocalist and revealed the roots of the next song which was written for an ex boyfriend in a hotel room in Perth (and then recorded in a garage). She emailed the love song to him hoping that there would be some redemption of their relationship. He emailed her back saying it was a cool song. He also attached to the email his own recording – which was a death metal song. The audience got a giggle out of this story and settled in for the acoustic guitar song which included plenty of pretty, delicate finger picking. I was again reminded of those years ago listening to Julia’s distinct singing voice. I remember thinking I wasn’t sure if her singing voice was the same as her speaking voice. Julia’s singing voice has a distinct girly sound that sits in the upper part of her resonators. It’s in a category of its own. A lot of Australian female singers I think have tried to emulate this sound – because in a way, her vocal styling is her own musical character, and it’s a lovable charater. But back to the set. I enjoyed the lyrics: "Here I go. I tell you what you already know. If I go. I tell I what you already know. If you love me with all of your heart. If you love me I will make you a star in my own universe." This delicate song eventually erupted into a somewhat epic almost Fleetwood Mac sounding song with drums and full band. During this section of the song each band member had their own lighting special that consisted of single columns of light shining onto each person from above. The keys player added some beautiful deep harmonies to pull all the vocal threads together.

Angus introduced the next song – a new song called 'Crash and Burn'. A dirty, bluesy guitar with tremolo had me thinking of exploring back urban streets and alleyways on a summer’s day. The sound created that shimmer that lifts off the cobblestones on a sweltering Melbourne day (very desirable on a cold Melbourne evening!). White lights, silhouettes and yellow diamonds painted the stage in a blanket of dry ice. As the song built up Julia reached for the tambourine and added to intensity to the build instrumental break.

A starlit backdrop snapped in next with red and yellow pinpoints of light and cool slices of blue. Touches of Chrissy Amphlett in both sound and vocal style featured in the next track which contained an almost reggae up beat rhythm. A highlight of this song was when Julia pulled out a trumpet solo infusing the song with a distinct Mexican mariachi twist. The theatrics of this sound in the mix was a pure delight and a highlight of the set.

After this song Julia had a wardrobe malfunction and giggled as she confessed that she was very embarrassed about the situation. Her sense of fun and humour however entertained us and kept us all relaxed in the knowledge that this was no biggie. She asked Angus to sing a song while she left the stage to get her outfit sorted.

A Theremin sounding solo over a lovely steady and mellow beat led us into the hit 'Big Jet Plane' that I was very familiar with from the duo’s earlier days. Julia re-entered the stage for the harmonies – with the audience cheering her on. It was such a pleasure to listen to this song live and reminisce.
Julia next took up the guitar and stood in a single spotlight. What followed was a superb rendition of the Grease song 'You’re the One that I Want'. The song also contained a little audience participation as Julia sang, "You better shape up” then encouraged us all respond back with the “Ooh ooh ohh…” The full band eventually came into the song turning the number from a quiet acoustic love ballad to a big open-air blues rock tune. Julia really let her vocal talent shine here as she pulled deep to hit the big notes.

Another anecdote led us into the following song. Julia turned to Angus and said, “Tell us a story Angus. Don’t lie.” Angus answered back saying, “Julia and I snuck into Kmart and stole some lights”. Much laughter ensued here. Julia then said “They could arrest us now”. Angus came back with “But don’t steal. It’s a gateway drug.” Gotta love a little clowning (and shop lifting confession) onstage. The song that followed was a mellow mix up of sweet and gentle lyrics and melody before mashing up the song with lines from Cyndi Lauper’s 'Girls Just Wanna Have Fun' in the outro.

The next song along was my favourite of the night. Julia wrote a song for a friends wedding several years ago – aptly named 'The Wedding Song'. Last year one of my long time best friends asked me to sing this song at her own wedding. I fell in love with the song on the first listen and was honoured to do a rendition for her special day. Personal connection aside, this live rendition was delivered with such heart and clarity that I couldn’t help but get goosebumps as I listened.

A few new songs followed 'The Wedding Song'. The first was another Angus driven bluesy upbeat hopeful song. I really enjoyed the guts and drive behind this – though still keeping a gentle and soothing sound as well. The next along was a song that was recorded the day Angus and Julia almost had a fatal car accident involving a drunken driver. The song explored the theme of death and the defying of it. There were peaks and valleys in this song that created a soft engaging intimacy as well as a contrasted feel of drama and danger.

The last official song was one that Angus and Julia firstly wrote for the new album. 'Heart Beats Slow'. This single I had previously heard and really enjoyed. The crowd also loved it and cheered when it started.

An encore is almost mandatory in the Palais Theatre. And we weren’t disappointed here at all. We were treated to not one but two encores. The first introduced the audience to the band. The band members came from three separate continents for our musical delights: Australia, Asia and America. After the intros we were treated to a cover of The National's 'I Left My Shirt Off' (to the utter delight of my friend I was sitting next to who is a huge fan).

The second and final encore of the evening was just Angus and Julia sans band. I loved the stripped back ending to the evening (both just on guitars and vocals). The song 'Santa Monica Dream' is a sweet, sad, suburban lullaby.

I really enjoyed this evening of music and melody and stepped out into the night feeling that all was right in the world as long as music keeps being made and shared. Angus and Julia Stone’s music continues to grow and mature as a team (and as individuals). Next time they perform in Melbourne I will make sure I am not out of the loop!

The incredible, amazing, lovely, amazing, brilliant, amazing Lou Endicott has been a superstar as It's My Kind of Scene's Melbourne contributor and this gig review will be her last contribution to the old bloggins for now. Lou will be channeling her creativity in some new directions and you can stay up to date with what's going on in her world over at the Lou Endicott Illustrations page! A huge thanks to Lou for all her hard work over the past couple of years and all the best for everything in the future, with love from Jo, Katie, Nayt and Matt. 

That's Lou. We love Lou! (And Vancouver Sleep Clinic and Wafia, by association)

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