Taking her folk-laced pop to the next level, Sydney songwriter Vera Blue has been powering through her latest tour and show after show she continues to prove the strength of her acrobatic, champagne soprano. We caught her at Howler in the middle of a string of sold out performances leading up to BIGSOUND (it seems everything we’re doing lately involves BIGSOUND in some way), and with LANKS and Gretta Ray in support they collectively pulled off an amazing show with each piece fitting together to create an even greater whole.
If you exist on the internet at all you’ve probably caught wind of Gretta Ray. In her spare time, the Year 12 student has been touring as a part of Japanese Wallpaper’s band, she’s putting out her own solo work and here we find her supporting Vera Blue. She’s stacked up an impressive resume already and seeing her perform live was a joy. Kicking off the set with ‘Don’t Let Her Love Hold You Down’ we’re immediately given a strong Laura Marling vibe, and the twists and turns she takes in her compositions are a recurring theme throughout her music. Unresolved chords leading to quick-witted lyrical statements, powerful open vowels that never fall into Country yowling, and an impressive attention to detail in the overall form of her tracks and sets, Ray is definitely one to watch grow and given how strong she is now we can only imagine amazing things for her in the future. That most of the audience was sitting through the set was a great little touch, it was a cosy little set, people felt relaxed enough to make themselves comfortable and Ray seemed to love it. We know we did as it makes for such a nice change from the raging mosh-pits we’ve gotten too used to at gigs.
Gretta Ray got the ball rolling for the night but LANKS kicked it down the hill. He just leaks this excited energy from every pore and the very instant he started to play everyone was on their feet and dancing (it almost gave us vertigo seeing everyone move that quickly). He has such a commanding sound that compels you to move and his live set pulled the impressive feat of not only translating his sound to the stage but making it even better, making it seem like the stage was it’s natural habitat. ‘Hold Me Closer”’was by far and away our highlight, those stretched and distorted vocals that dirt in and out gave the band time to lose themselves before being pulled back into that powerful chorus. It was such a joy that we lost ourselves for much of the set and almost forgot what we were there for and started heading for the door after his set before we realised we still had the main act to go.
We’re glad we came back to our senses, as amazing as LANKS was we’d be kicking ourselves if we missed out on Vera Blue. We’ve been curious to see the effect that her developing love of electronica has had on her sound and whether or not she’d be drowned out by the sheer richness of those synth textures. The short answer is no, she’s absolutely not. Her voice is as powerful as ever and in fact benefits strongly from a greater diversity in her sound. The comparisons to Florence and the Machine are inevitable but they definitely have a certain weight to them, both artists sharing that bubbling voice that jumps seemingly with ease across their range like bubbles from a glass: Champagne Sopranos (we’re really angling for that OED reference). Blue really came into her own about halfway through the set with the introduction of some new material she’d been working on. ‘First Week” has this gorgeous vocoded intro that builds into a driving whole band jam at the end and old favourite ‘Settle’ follows a similar trajectory but sees Blue using her voice almost like a sop-saxophone toward the end and the crowd responded extremely well. Another new track ‘Prominent’ probably takes the cake for best song of the set, and it’s great to see the audience as involved (if not more involved) in the newer, unfamiliar music as her more traditional works. ‘Prominent’ marries soaring vocal lines with an incredibly powerful beat, it builds and recedes as quickly as it comes. It’s something we’re looking forward to dissecting on paper if only to confirm our love for it.
The new material was the overall highlight of the night and we were excited to see everything go over well. The artists were trying out new sounds and new techniques and the crowd responded positively, which has to be a massive boost of confidence. We witnessed three exceptional talents the overall effect of the show was quite overwhelming but in the best possible way.