Review By Emily White
The beauty of traditional a cappella bands is something so rarely seen in the modern music landscape, so to have the world renowned, Grammy Award winning quintet, Pentatonix grace Aussie shores this week was an absolute treat. Pentatonix: The World Tour gives fans of the band a chance to hear their favourite pop style arrangements and vocal harmonies live – and they did not disappoint.
Warming up the crowd, a gorgeous young woman made her way to a standalone mic. The breakout artist Bella Taylor Smith, winner of the 10th season of the Voice Australia, is a pop-folk singer-songwriter whose vocals can only be described as angelic. Bella is so beautifully humble in her performance style – directly asking permission of the crowd for her to ‘sing (you) a few songs’. Typically, pop singers will hold back their highest, most impressive notes for the peak of a song, but when Bella came out with her first track belting out a range not far from the vocals of Beyoncé – we could tell we were in for a treat.
Accompanied by her husband Josh on acoustic guitar, Bella took the audience on a journey, from her time on The Voice, to her strong faith, and recent marriage. Bella is a familiar character, whose stories are told so passionately on stage particularly through her natural movement and comfortable stage presence.
Performing her winner’s single from The Voice, Higher, Bella stood self-harmonising under a single spotlight. Although simplistic in its design, this set could be mistaken for a fully-produced album – with the acoustic guitar feeling as well rounded as an entire band. A sure highlight of the performance was an exquisite cover of Ave Maria by Beyoncé; the singer’s blind audition track which changed her life in an instant. Spine tingling and pure magic, this song truly showcases all that Bella has to offer – hitting whistle tones that felt as though they stopped time for a second.
Bella’s set boasted so many highlights for a thirty-minute act. Covering songs by the great Elton John and Cyndi Lauper, as well as introducing her new single A Long Time Coming, the audience was left clapping and cheering in unison, the perfect way to lead into welcoming the world’s most famous a cappella band.
The stage went dark as the word ‘Music’ flickered on and off. Going into this show, my only real exposure to a cappella extended to the 2012 film Pitch Perfect, and for anyone else in the same boat as me, we were about to have our minds blown by the pure magic of Pentatonix.
Reimagining and redefining a cappella… it was impossible not to feel full body shivers listening to the angelic hums and melodic choir as the group burst onto the stage with their original pop single Sing. The band consisting of members Mitch Grassi, Scott Hoving, Kirstin Maldonado, Kevin Olusola and Matt Sallee has a way of being so individually unique and diverse, whilst also perfectly complimenting each other both visually and vocally.
It was impossible to look away from the stage, with the two-hour set being so high energy, brightly coloured, and almost childlike in the best way. The beautifully designed, clean geometric lines of the stage complimenting the bold colours of the costuming, then paired with tight choreography gives the band an early 2000’s feel. The glossy, Vegas-style showmanship is such a unique way of breathing new life into already established pop hits – steering Pentatonix away from simply being a cover band.
Na Na Na is another of the group’s hits, which had the audience becoming a part of the band so seamlessly, just as if the songs had been written for the stage. Showcasing the full range of tight harmonies and crystal-clear beats, the instrumentation of their voices could easily be mistaken for a five-piece band.
A recurring item in the show was the connection of light with movement. Having such high-production value was hypnotic for the crowd, whose eyes were glued to the stage. The same could be said for what was arguably the highlight of the show – the group’s cover of The Sound of Silence by Simon and Garfunkel. There are no words to describe how beautiful this song is, which was only taken to a new high by the deeply layered vocals. The lyrics could be felt by all who were present; the arena so silent you could hear a pin drop.
The balanced mix between covers and originals was a great way of keeping the show fresh. The band’s original song Love Me When I Don’t was one of these moments where we were able to hear music so refreshing – filled with gorgeous uplifting lyrics about love and friendship, ‘you always know how to love me when I don’t’. This part of the night also made the stadium into a choir of its own, with different sections of the seating bank being directed to sing a particular note. After this, I’m sure anyone who hasn’t heard the band’s original music will be desperate to hear their albums from start to end.
A very special moment of the night was when the band decided to film a video for their TikTok, rehearsing the crowd’s harmonies and phone light choreography to Beyoncé’s Ave Maria, which saw Bella Taylor Smith return to the stage. The fourth wall is truly non-existent at a Pentatonix concert – with everyone present being just as integral to the show as the core band members.
Taking a short break from the a capella, the group’s beatboxer Kevin graced the crowd with a solo act, showcasing his unbelievable ‘Celloboxing’. Rearranging classical pieces of music including Beethoven's fifth and Bach’s Cello Suite no.1 in G major, the music was stunning and unlike anything I’d heard before – which the crowd obviously agreed with as the short set was met with a standing ovation.
When you’d think the best had past, Pentatonix was the gift that kept on giving. Changing into more mellow, monochrome costumes, the cello stayed put as the band moved into an a capella cover of Shallow by Lady Gaga and Bradley Cooper. Matched with angelic harmonies and sweeping golden spotlights, this was an absolute masterpiece. On a similar note, the band’s cover of Hallelujah by Leonard Cohen silenced the venue. This kind of music is something that would be expected at the gates of heaven, but we were lucky enough to witness on a Sunday night in Melbourne.
The final seven minutes of the show were filled as any seven-minute finale should be – with Queen’s Bohemian Rhapsody. One final reminder of the pure talent of the band, and their ability to imitate any instrument at all. The music of Pentatonix is so sublime, it transcends age, race and religion – pulling in mixed crowds from all over the world. The last twelve years has been so unbelievably successful, but I would be willing to place a bet that this is just the beginning.
There is no doubt The Backstreet Boys DNA Tour has been highly awaited, with fans patiently biding their time amongst rescheduling and postponements. But the time is upon us, and boy am I excited and gauging the amount of people heading to Rod Laver Arena in Melbourne I am not alone. It is night one of two in this wonderful city, and the fans are coming out in force, keen as mustard to get amongst some long awaited boy band action.
Samantha Jade, winner of 2012 Australian X Factor had a wonderful time warming up the packed Rod Laver Arena. She bought a few friends along for added harmonies and delivered lots of classic covers that helped settle the nervous excitement if only for a short period. Samantha was well received by the expanding crowd and had them singing loudly along by the conclusion of her set. Her 30 mins was packed with hits perfectly picked to get the party started, and Samantha showed she can still deliver the goods.
The stage was set and it was impressive to say the least, a diamond shaped catwalk host to the most beloved fans, perched happily in the middle, and a fractured ribcage of framework over the main stage which was set in several levels. Huge screens hung from the ceiling forming a triangle the perfect additional for the fans who weren’t up close. I just knew right from the get-go this show would deliver with all the bells and whistles and the ripples of excitement were growing by the second. The screams were electric as the lights dropped and the enormous screen behind the stage came to life, with lots of glitz the ensuing intro was enough to rouse the venue to its feet as the word UNBREAKLABLE flashed up followed by BSB. Images of the Boys appeared and amidst it all smoke cannon erupted as the Backstreet Boys made their first appearance.
Opening with I Wanna Be With You the show was off and running, It was an amazing two hours packed with four 30 minute sets, each accompanied by a costume change. Each set a different member having a chat, ever gracious and thankful for the fans who have stuck with them for 30 years. Tonight’s Melbourne show was number 200 in the DNA tour, which is no mean feat considering the size of its production, with three of the BSB team hailing from Australia it was lovely for them to have some time at home while still on tour with these big guns. The hits were unstoppable The Call, Don’t Want You Back and Get Down a few to make Set 1. The dance moves still as polished as back in the day, the BSB cut an amazing form as they strutted not just the stage but around the catwalk. Happily trading hand slaps with the fans in and around the inner sanctum, Brian nearly dragged into the pit on several occasions. His cheeky demeaner ever present as he works the stage giving plenty to the eager fans and loving every minute, his interaction so genuine it shone.
All of the BSB were so humbled by the fans all taking time to talk to them, hold hands and acknowledge them, it was lovely to see they are still so invested in what has made them who they are. Set 2 was launched with Show Me The Meaning of Being Lonely, Incomplete and Undone. The stage backdrops constantly changing to suit the next song, visually it was a fest for your eyes and at times overwhelming with its Backstreet goodness. The Boys singing voices primed and just as good if not better than I imagined, the harmonies still quite magical and smooth as silk. The Shape of My Heart and Drowning another two fan favourites, the boy band moves melting the hearts of many.
Set three saw two large boxes appear on stage one with BSB and one with DNA which Kevin and AJ jumped into after being left onstage. It was time to give a bit back to the screaming girls that in another life threw their underwear on stage, now the boys would change in the boxes and throw THEIR underwear to the fans. It was a fun aspect and gave lots of giggles as the boys changed their threads and emerged looking fresh and ready to melt hearts. Quit Playing Games With My Heart saw the boys take a seat at the front of the catwalk as the stage raised to greet them. Nick and Howie facing the fans in the inner sanctum, happily chatting and signing autographs, could these guys be any sweeter?! As Long As You Love Me saw glowing mic stands arise from the stage floor and caused many a girl to swoon. No Place from the DNA album had a wonderful addition, the huge screens above us showing footage of all the Boys and their families singing the song and doing their day to day things. It was such a beautiful moment to match this stunning song, family is everything and while they are away they are bringing a little bit of home with them. Then it’s time to head to the sky, the stage they had been sitting on raised up towards the roof and the Boys played a lovely A Capella tune showing they have the good even without music. The large screens above them descended until they swapped places and were actually on top of the screens singing from the rooftops. Quite the spectacle, but there was no time for rest as they hightailed it back to the mainstage for All I Have To Give, seeing out set three.
Tension was mounting, Everybody (Backstreet’s Back) had to being coming in hot and as the big screens came to life with another stunning intro the floor opened and the Boys appeared all donned in white, rising to the familiar tune we had been waiting for. Let me tell you, it DID NOT disappoint. The moves hit in stunning brilliance the stage awash with electric candy skulls in shocks of colour and laser lights. Rod Laver was on its collective feet and overwrought with happiness reliving this song of our youth. This last set packed a punch with hit after hit, We’ve Got It Going On, The One and I Want It That Way to name few. As the boys took their bows we were certain there was a few left in the tank and after a brief stage absence they were back to finish out the night. Don’t Go Breaking My Heart set pulses racing, and then the mega hit Larger Than Life which saw the smoke cannons explode and the dance moves hit celestial heights. Confetti rained down and streamers launched from the stage, a truly fitting end to a phenomenal show and one I will remember for years to come.
The Backstreet Boys really separate the wheat from the chaff, and they have been sowing golden fields uninterrupted for over 30 years. If there is one show you need to see in your lifetime it is this one, and while Backstreets Back, for many they never left!
- ROD LAVER ARENA, MELBOURNE WEDNESDAY MARCH 1
- QUDOS BANK ARENA, SYDNEY SATURDAY MARCH 4
- QUDOS BANK ARENA, SYDNEY SUNDAY MARCH 5
- BRISBANE ENTERTAINMENT CENTRE WEDNESDAY MARCH 8
Melbourne was awash with Harry Styles mania as this postponed, rescheduled and pandemic interrupted Love On Tour show finally made it to our Aussie shores. Marvel Stadium was host to this phenomenon and if you missed the memo, you could easily think Marvel was holding the world’s biggest hen’s night! There was feather boas and sequins for miles as every man, woman and their dog donned a cowboy hat (preferably pink) and hightailed it to get a piece of Harry fandom.
The merch room, yes it had its own room, was pumping with long lines for those who didn’t take advantage of the cheeky opening a day before showtime. But needless to say, it was a very popular place and undoubtedly the weekly wage of many will be done and dusted. As I took my seat in Harry’s House it was a spectacle to behold, with over 50,000 people filling Marvel Stadium to the rafters. No mean feat and to think it was only night one!
Opening the nights proceedings was British indie outfit Wet Leg. Relatively new to the scene, forming in 2019, they have raced to fame and have a massive following in their own right. They gave us a forty-minute set with plenty to like. Bring In Love, Wet Dream, Angelica to name a few, finishing out with their debut single Chaise Lounge. They were warmly received and thoroughly enjoyed by the packed house, founding members Rhian Teasdale and Hester Chambers quite mesmerising bringing the boho feels to a warm Friday night. I am sure they will have gained a new Australian following after their fab performance.
Preshow songs started pumping from the PA and the crowd was instantly up and about, and when Bohemian Rhapsody rang out the phone torches were out and the stadium sang in one voice, adrenaline and nervous excitement radiating from every corner, and to think the show had not yet begun. There was a quiet lull for just a moment as the entire mass took a collective breath and launched into what would be almost two hours of non-stop rollercoaster ride that is Harry Styles. Opening with Music for A Sushi Restaurant the screams were ear piercing, the venue exploding in long pent-up emotions and love for their idol as he took centre stage. His sparkly striped polo and leather pants setting the scene amongst his enormous stage set up, complete with huge screens to give eyes to the people in the back bedrooms. A flood lit runway brought Harry up close to the fans and he used it all night, reading signs and catching almost everything that was thrown his way, hats, balls and boas included.
Golden, Adore You, Keep Driving bringing out all the feels, as Harry weaved his magic working through all his hits keeping the fans captivated every step of the way. Daylight, Woman and then one that is very special to Harry, Matilda. Instantly Marvel lit up with phone torches setting a stunning backdrop as Harry sung from the catwalk stage. A feeling of love overwhelming as the whole stadium harmonised along. A stunning scene and one that will stick with me for a long while. Harry was very gracious to his fans, taking time to banter and chat, helping one girl to come out after reading her sign, and singing happy birthday to another. Those little things that mean the world and are literally a life changing moment for them. Nice one Harry, what an all-round great guy!
Smashing through hit after hit, Little Freak, Satellite and Cinema the crowd here hungry for more and Harry delivered song after glorious song. Treat People With Kindness a lovely addition and really what the night was about, loving everyone no matter who you are, where you come from, your sexuality or your ethnicity. None of that matters, just love openly, acceptingly and be kind to one another. There was no better way to bring the love to the room than with a One Direction favourite and boy did Marvel erupt as the opening chords of What Makes You Beautiful rang out. Everyone’s inner tween bursting out with pride singing next level loud, such a fun song that has stood the test of time and was quite the nostalgia trip for many.
With Harry’s disclaimer that he would not being doing a shoey nor would he ever do it again, it came down to Pauli Lovejoy his percussionist, who happily jumped in and took one for the team. Cheers ringing out as he downed the tainted bevy, clearly not enjoying the experience at all but giving the fans what they wanted. Speaking of the band, they are absolutely fabulous, it is hard to give them your full attention when Harry is upfront, but they are super tight and sounded amazing. Kudos to you all, you kept the night running like clockwork and we cannot thank you enough.
Then a public service announcement from Harry, it’s time to dance and its ok if you haven’t been doing it so far, but now is the time as he launches into Late Night Talking and then the mega hit Watermelon Sugar High. Love Of My Life seeing out the set but of course we knew there were a few mega hits still to come so we sat tight and started the chants and foot stomping to draw Harry back to centre stage.
Harry returned to mind bending screams but took it down just a notch as Sign Of The Times played out, it was sublime and I was momentarily breathless as Marvel lit up, voices united singing this spectacular song as one. The Aussie flag making an appearance several time over the course of the night, Harry draping it around his shoulders, so grateful to his fans, thank you’s coming on autopilot. Clearly overwhelmed by all the love in the room, Harry at one stage stated, “I feel Emotional”. If there is one thing us Aussies can do it is turn up to a party, and I had a feeling we were just about to flip the lid on Marvel Stadium. As the familiar intro to As It Was rang out the fans exploded to life again, singing voices primed just for this moment, and while the show could have ended right there I was hoping for just once little green fruit to pop up to see out the show. Queue Kiwi, and if Marvel had a roof, it would have been raised, the energy was off the charts, the fans overloaded with Harry not wanting the night to end. But nothing can last forever and exhausted, drained of every last bit of energy we lovingly waved goodbye but I am sure many will be back to do it all again tomorrow night.
Tonight’s Love On Tour show was an easy one to sum up, we didn’t just get the Watermelon or the Kiwi we got the whole damn fruit bowl and it was a glorious healthy feast for the mind, body and spirit! Thank you, Harry Styles, for bringing the love and uniting thousands in their pursuit of acceptance and happiness, it was monumental show and one I was so happy to be part of.
You can still catch Harry Styles' Love On Tour at the below dates:
Tuesday, 28th February – Metricon Stadium, Gold Coast QLD
Friday, 3rd March – Accor Stadium, Sydney NSW
Saturday, 4th March – Accor Stadium, Sydney NSW
Tickets available at Live Nation Australia
There aren’t many appropriate words to describe the greatness Sting’s influence on music, whether it’s his songs themselves or the known influences he draws from all corners of the world, notably classical renaissance and Jamaican reggae. What made this recent tour of his so special was Gordon Sumner bringing his son, Joe, along as a support act, and what better way to experience this at it’s fullest than joining my own father who’s been impacted by Sting’s music as early as the Police days.
Joe Sumner beautifully demonstrated his own musical prowess through a heartfelt track list of original, folky, acoustic numbers clearly demonstrating his authentic love and pursuit of his artwork. His opening tune, Looking For Me Looking For You, was a standout in itself for me personally being a lover of certain musical elements with the way Joe doubled up his vocals with a guitar lick. Other stand outs included Jellybean, a very personal soliloquy, almost nursery rhyme dedicated to his children, and Hope, joined by Paul Dempsey that provided a powerful finale to this supporting act. Joe Sumner’s authenticity as an artist and mind-blowing high vocals was in itself a treat to witness, an performance that would undoubtedly make his father proud
You know when you see someone so legendary up close long enough that you start doubting your own present reality? This is honestly a feeling I can’t describe better as Gordon Sumner himself, along with his remarkable band, entered the arena opening the set with none other than the famous letter on solitude, Message in a Bottle. This was followed closely by other iconic Police tracks like Englishmen in New York and the up-tempo wholesome love letter that is Every Little Thing She Does Is Magic. It was a struggle to find any member audience, mixed with both old and young fans alike, dancing on their feet and belting every word, including myself proudly. This was all before Sting acknowledged and thanked the fans for their lyrical cooperation, and then almost apologetically expressed a humorous, exaggerated disdain for the amount of new/solo material he would be performing for a large portion of the night.
There was nothing to even jokingly apologise for however, for Sting had demonstrated a magical setlist filled with heavy influences such as classical, R n B gospel, reggae sounds from the many artistic streets of Jamaica, and even the instantly recognisable licks and musical language of Arabic impact. Amongst this artistry, Gordon’s vocals never wavered, and this was only beautifully accompanied by the highly energetic and sensational backing vocalists, whose spirit/image never failed to plaster my face with a grin as their enjoyment of the night were never disguised. Sting also had the entirety of Rod Laver Arena wrapped around his finger between songs as his humour and level of storytelling is unmatched. The story telling impacted me most as he described his home which surrounded itself with barely fields, perfectly setting up the plaintive thirst of Fields of Gold, in which its nostalgia alone set off every emotion in my body and soul.
Right before Sting concluded his two-hour magical recital with remaining Police hits, an almost orchestral performance of What Could of Been, joined by an emotional but breathtaking montage of scenes from the hit animated show Arcane in which the track is featured on it’s OST. The energy picked up afterwards however as the iconic keys-doubled Bassline of Walking On The Moon echoed through the venue, later on followed with Stings’s son, Joe Sumner, once again joining the ensemble on stage for King Of Pain, and the strangely beautiful but haunting Every Breath You Take.
Encores have not yet exited large shows like this, and annoyingly exciting as they are, for Sting and his band only made the wait short before re-entering the stage. Sting once again let his humour run wild as he teased us fans by jokingly forgetting one last chart-topping Police number, humorously complaining about his straining vocals as every one of us screamed ROXANNE, before finally the guitarist broke the tension performing the iconic introductory reggae skanks of the legendary tune. This song did not conclude the night however, as Sting sat on a stool with an acoustic six string and wanted to formerly conclude the night with a beautiful, heartfelt rendition of Fragile dedicated to harrowing disasters currently happening over in Ukraine, Russia and Turkey, giving a voice to families or individuals who is left to do nothing but Endure and Survive through such horrific events. Another tear jerker that concluded such a breathtaking and unforgettable night that will continue to flood my soul with joy months after its performance.
There is a standing joke in my house involving Del Amitri. If guests are coming around for dinner, my husband will say, “time to put Del Amitri on”. They are always my dinner party music of choice. Why – it is perfect for that – inoffensive in lyrics and musical style, upbeat melodies and just perfect background music. That doesn’t sound like a band that I would put on in my head phones and listen to deeply but I do that too. And when you listen deeply, Del Amitri is actually the antithesis of everything I like, musically. First and foremost, it is borderline country. Country music makes my skin crawl. Harmonicas, steel and slide guitars and wiggly wiggly organs (played with high vibrato) will send me running to the hills (running for my life, even). And if you listen to the opening verse and chorus of Del Amitri’s Kiss This Thing Goodbye, and other songs, that’s exactly what you’ve got. So why are Del Amitri so dang likeable?
There is no better way to get excited for a gig than by finding a pub where other fans might congregate. The proximity of The Cross Scottish themed bar in Fitzroy Street to the Palais seemed a sure bet and sure enough, the tables were full to bursting with expat Scots, enjoying Steak Night and a pint of Tenants (piss weak Scottish beer) before the show. There was a real sense of excitement in the air, after all, Del Amitri have not visited these shores for 30 years.
The Palais is the perfect venue for bands whose music can be enjoyed perfectly from the comfort of one’s arse. The seating is probably as antique as the building and is prone to being lumpy and a wee bit uncomfortable after a couple of hours but on Thursday as the support act, Darren Middleton came on, all assembled were making themselves comfortable and settled in for some listening pleasure. The name meant nothing to me at first. The music from him and another guitarist/keyboard player and a drummer was very much in the right vein for the evening…pleasant and easy on the ears. After couple of tracks, he mentioned that he had written songs for Bradley Cooper to sing in A Star is Born! Hang On, who is this guy. All became clear when he dropped another big name….Powderfinger. Darren Middleton is none other than lead guitarist and songwriter for the hugely successful Aussie band of the 2000’s. Now he had my attention. I missed Powderfinger’s entire career, pretty much and if it weren’t for my sister sending me a Triple J top 100 CD every year, and picking up a copy of Vulture Street in a Tower Records bargain bin, I would never have heard of them. Darren’s solo work lacks a bit of the spice of Powderfinger, but I felt the presence of singer songwriters who have gone before such as Neil Young, who Middleton lists as an influence and you could tell.
2023 Del Amitri consists of just two of the original band members who started playing together in 1982, Justin Currie on bass and lead vocals, and Iain Harvie on guitar and backing vocals. And these two make some really beautiful harmonies together, at times, sounding Eaglesque. They opened with When You Were Young which seemed appropriate for a band of 50 somethings to be playing to a crowd of fellow Gen Xers. Undoubtedly looking older, but still sporting a very fine head of hair, Justin’s voice has lost none of the range and beautiful tone that is such a part of this band’s success.
Del Amitri’s second album, Waking Hours of 1989 and Change Everything of 1992 spawned their biggest hits, the first played tonight was Always the Last to Know. This song opens with the most heinous musical crime there is (in my humble opinion) – COWBELLS! But once you get over this it is a song, like so many of this bands, that tells a great story and brought a few “wee wiman” in the crowd to their feet.
They were powering through this set at breakneck speed. There was very little patter in between songs which was a bit of a shame and I think the crowd would have loved a bit of banter. He did manage a “Is it supposed to be this hot?” Thursday was a bit of a scorcher but you will come to Australia in February so Aye, it is supposed to be this hot.
The wonderfully upbeat Kiss This Thing Goodbye was greeted with a loud cheer from the audience. The song begins with the harmonica, again, walking a very slippery slope between pop and country, but again, still managing to be inoffensive to my sensitive ears. The next hit out of the box was the wonderfully moody and even a little bit sad Driving with the Brakes On. One of my faves.
After a set of 18 tracks, more hits than misses, the main set drew to a close with the wonderfully philosophical Spit in the Rain and Stone Cold Sober.
The message that more was expected was very clearly sent as the crowd, now on their feet, showed their appreciation and begged for more.
A 5 song encore ensued. It was always a given that this would include their biggest hit and one of the best pieces of lyrical story telling I have ever heard, Nothing Ever Happens. This song speaks of the repetitiveness of an ordinary life and it always makes me think of my Mother in Law who worked in the tax office as a typist for over 30 years.
Scotland is my second home, having spent all of the 90’s and most of the naughties living in Glasgow and I feel as proud as any Scotsman when I see “home” grown talent do well internationally. Del Amitri have been appreciated by more than homesick Scots in Australia since they first toured here in 1990 but I fear that this may well have been the bands’ Australian swan song. I am grateful to have felt the swell of affection for the band in Glasgow when they could be heard on the juke box of every student pub and University union on the west coast. And I’m grateful to have seen them grace the stage of the Palais on a balmy summer’s night in Melbourne, 30 years later.
Swung RnB drums, groovy bass, sweet keys, tender vocals, a passionate crowd. The energy at Pip Millett’s debut Naarm/Melbourne show on Wednesday night could only be described as warm, as her opener Shanae stated a few songs into her set. The vibe was sensual, slow, groovy and passionate, a perfect mood for a smaller intimate venue such as 170 Russell, the old nightclub venue in the heart of the city.
Opening for the Manchester singer was Sydney singer Shanae. A short yet tight 20-minute set brought the crowd right where it needed to be, with slow-burns Illusions, Come On Over and key single Locking Eyes. Backed up with a smooth jazz electric piano, Shanae and her musical partner played sweet minimal, yet funky arrangements of their tracks which normally featured more hip-hop and electronic instrumentation, giving us the stripped back pseudo unplugged experience. Although she is small, Shanae is an artist to keep your ears and eyes on as she makes her way through the Aussie scene. My favourite track played was Some Type Of Way, simple for the pure passion in the vocal performance.
After a quick intermission, our headliner took the stage. Pip Millett opened the show with Think You Know Me, the intro to her 2022 album When Everything Is Better, I’ll Let You Know, Millett took us into her world, more specifically the current place in her creative journey. Choosing to open a show with a project’s opening track implies a level of continuity between the studio and live experience, which was both confirmed and contradicted by the following set.
Immediately after this opening number, Pip spoke to the audience. Her charming Northern English accent carried words of humour and modesty, as she seemed humbled and surprised that anyone, let alone a sold-out venue worth of people would come see her sing, yet there we were. Telling us “I came so fucking far to see you bitches” she launched into a medley of album tracks and hits, highlighted by the beautiful Do Well and Downright.
Her band was world class. A classy drummer, positioned side stage, punctuated the smooth RnB with a mix of acoustic and electronic instrumentation. The bass player took lead duties, carrying many of the low-end heavy tracks, with the guitar and keys players adding subtle rhythmic and spatial elements to fill out the sound. It’s always great to see an amazing RnB band showing us just how deeply in the pocket a team of musicians with killer chemistry can be. When Pip Millet took the chance to introduce her band, she teased them all saying, “Congratulations for being in my band, you’ve hit the fucking jackpot”, a sweet injection of cheeky confidence to contrast the music that mainly covered darker and sadder material. Pip is so clearly a person with much love for the people she works with, which always endears the music further to you when it comes from such a warm place.
My favourite songs of the night were Heavenly Mother, for its catchy and fun chorus, and Only Love, the closer of the new album, for it’s stripped back and minimal vibe. Pip also managed to do some of the best self-harmonisation I’ve ever seen, making her sound fuller and more emotional in deeper moments.
By the final track, the crowd had truly fallen in love. Make Me Cry, Pip’s sing-along hit made for a beautifully melancholy end, with her introducing it as the first song she released, and a song the reminds her of a long-lost time that still brings deep feelings to her heart. Her performance, her artistry, and her passion truly were a joy to see and made for a beautiful evening.
Sunday night was a buzz on Flinders Street as hundreds of fans lined up around the block into Hozier lane for New York’s Joey Bada$$ and his epic show at Melbourne’s classic Forum Theatre. Making his grand return to Australia for the first time in a few years, the Brooklyn native is known for his infamous rise to fame in 2012 with his self-released, no major label mixtape 1999, and a string of fantastic albums to follow, as well as being a co-founder of hip-hop group Pro Era. Releasing 1999 at just 17 years old, he made waves with his lyricism well beyond his age and skill behind the microphone. This tour, the 1999-2000 tour, represents a celebration of 10 years of the debut record, along with promoting the brand-new sequel record, 2000, released in 2022. The hype was real.
Opening the show was South Sydney rapper, Gomeroi man and master storyteller Kobie Dee. At only 25 years old, Dee covers a lifetime of narrative. Focusing in on his home and community of Maroubra, Kobie Dee highlighted the issues of mental illness, drug abuse and youth suicide, discussing the importance of conversation and removing stigma from the subjects. He took time to pay tribute to lost loved ones, and to celebrate what they stood for. But as well, Kobie Dee brought the party, and brought it hard. Fan favourites such as This Life and Basics were anthems, with the whole crowd bouncing and singing along for the full 30-minute tight set. Kobie Dee represents the future of Aussie conscious hip hop and predicts high hopes for storytelling through music.
Next up was Powers Pleasant. Producer, DJ and Pro Era alumni, Powers brought the bangers. Over the years I have seen a lot of hip hop warmup DJs, but man, this was the hottest 25 minutes of heat I’ve ever seen before a rap set. Powers Pleasant toured us through quick edits of Denzel Curry, Freddie Gibbs, Kid Cudi, Lil Uzi Vert, Kendrick Lamar and even Nirvana with crazy fun transitions to match. The crowd was pretty much on fire by the time the set ended and the main act began.
Joining Powers on stage, Joey Bada$$ hit the stage just before 10pm, opening with the fan favourite and classic track of his debut, Survival Tactics. The classic chant of “Fuck The Police” was cleverly contrasted with the red and blue stage lights, setting the scene for a night of rebellious rap.
Not missing a word except to wave the mic at the audience for their support, Joey blew through classic after classic before addressing the crowd for the first time. Taking his time to bask in the love of the crowd Joey Bada$$ thanked us for our ongoing love and support, told us he was here for the day ones all the way to the new fans, instilling the further duality of the tour title, a reflection on the decade of music and the ongoing relationship with his fans. The connection of conscious rap, politically charged lyricism and a romantic edge penetrated the consciousness of all in the room.
Joey also took his time to pay tribute to hip hop legends we’ve lost in recent years, including King Von, Nipsey Hussle and the ever-controversial XXXTENTACION. Many hip hop shows have a moment such as this, where they look back on those fallen, but Joey’s was more than just a grab at tragedy, but instead a thought provoking moment of pain for friends gone. The ongoing issue of gun violence in the US is not a taboo topic to Joey Bada$$, and often enters his music as he is more than familiar with its sting.
The crowd was bouncing the whole night. It was clear that these fans knew their material, with every song a sing-along, every chorus a chant. The mosh was heavy and hard, but the energy was positive, with those falling being picked up to re-join the party. A perfect blend of love and anger, triumph and pain, joy and rage.
Highlights of the night’s set included Head High, Make Me Feel, Paper Trail$ and the chart-topper TEMPTATION which for me was the best of the show. Joey wasn’t satisfied to end on that track though, and despite the Forum’s strict curfew, he chose to “risk the fine” and play one more song because he’s Joey Fucking Bada$$, the crowd chanted. Ending the show with the banger DEVESTATED, the fans were left sweaty, messy but satisfied from a night of dope hip-hop and awesome music.