Ainslie Wills, Oscar Lush_Retreat Hotel, 8th April 2014

ainslie_wills_abc net

Image from abc.net.au

The Retreat Hotel is one of those Melbourne oddity venues that really reminds you of the eclectic nature of this good old hipster town.  With a mixture of old booths, ramshackle bar paraphernalia, a bingo hall inspired restaurant area and a good old Australian beer garden its just so quintessentially Melbourne.  Tuesday night’s also bring free live entertainment too and tonight’s gig sees local songstress Ainslie Wills play alongside support Oscar Lush set against a dark, cold and wet night in Melbourne Town.

While hurling down a typical pub grub meal at the Retreat Hotel restaurant area, I turned to my fellow gig buddy  and questioned whether the music overhead was live or playing from the jukebox.  Having worked out that it was support artist Oscar Lush, we left our semi-cooked chips and took a seat at the front bar to hear the last few songs that Oscar played out.  With a suitably unique and powerfully emotive voice, Oscar sings quite effortlessly with reference to Bob Dylan and a youthful Johnny Cash.  Barely old enough (it appears) to be in the bar tonight, he is definitely a talent to watch and we were glad that we got a chance to hear him sing tonight.

Set against some Christmas twinkling lights, a random TV that sat next to a lonely speaker a midst local band posters and a disco ball, Ainslie Wills stepped over a spaghetti of leads and pedals to introduce herself modestly.  Tonight was the first of a month’s residency so we can’t be cruel to refer to the fact that tonight’s show seemed a little unorganised and distracted. Then again, where you are put in a corner of a quite little front bar, with your own mixing desk to fiddle with, we weren’t out tonight to be blown away.

There is no mistaking Wills voice, a ghostly tone that is reminiscent of Martha Wainwright, Beth Orton and PJ Harvey (final song). Her irregular and disjointed delivery is unique and often mesmerising as she carries herself and her audience through each song both in lyric and in verse.

Her counterpart, Lawrence Folvig stands alongside armed with a guitar and an impressive slab of guitar effects that help create ambiance and depth in what are otherwise delicately minimal songs.

Tonight Wills played a handful of songs from her recently released debut Go Your Way, I’ll Go Mine but the real stand outs, and perhaps because of their familiarity where the Radiohead covers one of which is played as a duet with Oscar Lush.

Wills rendition of Exit Music (For A Film) is both haunting and dark, her voice suiting the song nicely and sung with such emotion and conviction it’s easy to see why she chose this song as her cover tonight.  I think we a few more layered keys and workings on the guitar, this cover will take on a life of its own.

Equally, Wills covers an early Annie Clark (aka St. Vincent) and without having heard the original, again shows clear influence and inspiration from someone she admires.  You can hear definite lyrical influence in Wills original material and that is not a bad thing.

The set finishes with a more upbeat, guitar effect layered song that relies on a delayed repeat effect to create the beat and rhythm.  The song had me thinking about early PJ Harvey during her darker and edgier days (coincidentally PJ Harvey plays as the set completes) and was a nice change to an otherwise, quirky and disjointedly melodic set.

Wills is a definite talent and with her four week residency at the Retreat Hotel in Brunswick, once she settles in, will no doubt deliver even more consistent shows and we look forward to seeing her again.

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