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[Review] Grace Petrie @ Northcote Social Club, Melbourne 19/01/2023

Crowds lounging on the carpet of a band room is a site rarely seen, more the happenings of a local festival, or a Day on the Green. The atmosphere leading up to Grace Petrie’s sold-out Melbourne show was certainly a comforting one, with bodies replicating the scene of a lazy Sunday afternoon at home. The cult following of the self-proclaimed ‘sad lesbian folk’ musician had clearly gathered in Melbourne previously, as it felt that each person in the room knew the words and rhythms to every song that was to come.

The night kicked off with a very fitting support, local blues musician Georgia Rodgers. The one-woman show boasted a sultry, 60s aesthetic over a red-washed stage. The contrast between her unashamed, typically self-deprecating humour, and the powerhouse vocals that were to follow was such a breath of fresh air. Simultaneously providing a nostalgic feel using steady bass notes paired with a deep, husky voice – somewhat reminiscent of a mellow Elvis track.

Georgia’s quirky confidence played on through the set, as the instrumental depth of the songs began to surge. If you had closed your eyes, you would picture at least three guitarists on stage as she continued to layer stunning riffs over one another, leaving the audience in awe and an almost trance-like state. Her lyricism was a treat for the ears, as very literal storytelling was paired with tongue-in-cheek play on words; ‘I just need one line… to say to you’.

Watching Grace Petrie for the first time was like reuniting with an old friend; her stories so familiar. A smoky orange state filled the stage, as Grace nonchalantly made her way into the light – the adoring fans standing still, itching to hear the message she had come to share. Accompanied by composer Ben Moss, this duo act was set to deliver two hours of thought-provoking, nostalgic folk anthems.

Bounding straight into upbeat protest anthem If There’s a Fire in Your Heart, the passion of the crowd was enough to send shivers down my spine – chanting ‘to build a world on peace and love, it’s never too late’. Torn between wanting to dance the night away and sitting still to admire the beautiful poetry – this track took my mind to an Irish Pub, the room smelling of beer and the fellowship between everyone present. The seamless duo made it impossible not to be moved by the beautiful and purposeful lyricism, coupled with the sounds of traditional folk fiddle and melodeon.

The pair did not shy away from socialist themes, however songs like Storm to Weather provided not only a deep and meaningful message, but also a beacon of hope singing ‘we will dance again next year’ in reference to COVID-19 lockdowns and isolation.

Grace described her music on many occasions as ‘angry’ and ‘sad’, being – in her opinion – the two pillars of folk music. However, this was not the case with the next song Ivy, a beautiful story of family, accompanied by the harmonies of Ben Moss.

LGBT themes can be difficult to write about in a genuine way, but this is one of the many ways Grace connects with her followers. Being a largely queer audience, the relatability of Grace’s life experience is a comfort for all that listen to her music – this was so abundantly clear as she had the room in stitches over The Last Man on Earth. To be a true role model, in Grace’s case, is to not hold back on themes of relationships, self-acceptance, and personal growth.

Sturdy Oak, a solo piece by Ben Moss was a breath of fresh air from a male musician – a poem about issues of masculinity, wrapped in the imagery of a metaphor about trees. This portion of the show was a change of pace, the story of being a man, from the perspective of a man; a song so beautifully written you could have heard a pin drop in the audience as he bridged the gap between masculinity and the (almost) all-female crowd.

Running with the theme of poor leadership, the music came to a halt during a beautiful rewrite of The Old Man’s Tale by Ian Campbell, poetry delivered in acapella style. The silence in the room was unlike anything I had experienced at shows in the past. The pain and anguish in Grace’s voice was extraordinarily haunting.

Getting the sense that something magical was about to take place, the feminist LGBT anthem Farewell to Welfare did not disappoint. This stunning, upbeat, Celtic-style song, paired with sombre lyricism was gut-wrenching to hear, yet relatable to majority of the room. This show although minimalistic at a glance, was anything but in its messaging. Meanwhile in Texas was another stand-out moment. A song about abortion rights paired with the almost meditative state of the crowd was terribly bittersweet.

IKEA and Black Tie began wrapping up the night on a more positive note. The message shared about growing up and being exactly who you are is invaluable, particularly for the young women present. Combined with cheeky rhymes and crowd participation, this show had hit its emotional and thematic peak. With the crowd at her fingertips the show closed out with The Losing Side, an upbeat singalong encore.

Spending the night with Grace Petrie and Ben Moss felt like a conversation, a friendship, and an unconditional love that is rare in today’s online-based musical culture. With every important conversation bleeding directly into her next song, a night spent with Grace Petrie is one that should not be missed.

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