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[Review] Mallrat @ Forum Theatre, Melbourne 20/05/2023

Review By Nikki Eenink

The Forum was host to one of the best girl-pop line-ups in recent Australian musical memory; Mallrat’s The Butterfly Blue tour.

 While we’re all here to see Mallrat, Brisbane-native Grace Shaw, opening duo Cat & Calmell get the crowd going so well you’d think they were the headliner. Relative newcomers to the Australian pop scene, this mini-skirt, fluffy-boot adorned duo released their debut single in 2020. Tonight, they are supported by their “sexy, hot, DJ, Asia” – who is so short you can barely make out the top of their bleached-blonde head as they mix track after tracks, perfectly complimenting C&C’s vocals. Describing themselves as “a charismatically, asthmatic pop duo”, I can only half agree. Charismatic? Without a doubt. Asthmatic? The jury’s still out. Their vocals are incredible; they effortlessly harmonise with each other, performing versions of their songs that completely outshine the recording. They never seem out of breath, even with their high energy dancing and unbelievable high notes.

“Does anyone else in here tonight like to cry?” A massive storm of noise comes from the crowd – they clearly know their audience. With a wink they launch into, Cry. As the song comes to an end Cat, all giddy, addresses the crowd; “I see some of you singing along and eee! So cool!”, Calmell adds to her statement; “You guys fucking rock!” After some applause, Calmell takes the mic again; “Our next song is about how sometimes you feel something and want to die”, Cat, constantly full of giddy energy, “Let’s talk about that!”, and we are blessed with a stripped-down version of life of mine. One particular member of the crowd is absolutely losing their mind, the duo stop and look at them – “That dude right there, you’re fucking awesome. This one’s for you.” Imagine having this performance of dramatic dedicated to you? We all wish we were that guy. Cat & Calmell should run a masterclass in audience engagement. When they ask us, “Who’s excited for Mallrat”, despite the enslaught of noise, they aren’t impressed. “I feel like you could be more excited for Mallrat!” And the Forum is filled with hoots and hollers. Now that they have us, they are going to keep us. And so, begins a game of call-and-response, C&C sing a harmony for us, and we sing it back – and all of a sudden we are active participants in get old. To close out the set, they free us from our harmonic trance and let us dance with reckless abandon to a soon-to-be-released track, tell me that you love me.

Our sadness at seeing them skip offstage is mellowed by the dimming of lights, and the knowledge that Mallrat is about to be hitting us with upbeat summertime party hit after hit. I’ve seen Shaw perform many times, and still I am surprised by how small her stature is. You can barely see her over the sea of heads and arms in the crowd – but then she sings, and she is everywhere I look. Opening with Wish on an Eyelash, Pt. 2, she is so captivating, even as she lounges on the stage. “These are the first big shows we’ve done since the album (Butterfly Blue) came out – so here’s a song from that.” The song in question is To You, heartbreaking, nostalgic – like a summer just gone by. Her voice is something beyond ethereal; it is gorgeous, spellbinding.

She then runs us through the members of her sensational backing-band; Gab Strong, on bass, Stella, on guitar and Frances Hong on drums. Mallrat is single-handedly trying to even the gender imbalance in Australian music with her bandmates, as well as her support acts. Speaking of her supports, she invites them all onto stage. “Can I get you guys all up here onstage with me? I want to show everyone how much I love you!” and they all embrace tightly, not letting go for many seconds. It’s such a beautiful display of friendship, admiration, and love. This is the final show of the tour, and you can tell they aren’t ready for it to end – the hug is bittersweet.

The crowd is so supportive, friendly, and happy to be there – and it doesn’t go unnoticed. “I fucking love you guys! I think you deserve a hit”, and what a hit we get. Groceries is one of the It-Girls of Australian Gen-Z pop. The Forum is lit up with purple and blue swirls that cover the walls, the ceiling and the sea of bodies letting loose and sinking into the track. As fast as Groceries is over, Mallrat says one quick thing before continuing; “Let’s keep dancing”. Such a simple line, and exactly the encouragement the crowd needs. R U HIGH, is a song by Electronic band The Knocks, which features Shaw. But tonight, we just get her and her band. This version is less electronic, more beach-pop – but she has absolutely nailed the vibe. Turning to the crowd again; “Is everyone still feeling good?” And she is met with a sea of heart-shaped hands and thumbs-ups.

Taking a minute to get personal with us, Shaw takes a seat on stage. “This time last year, I released my debut album. But I feel like I’ve been making music a lot longer than that… I’m glad to have had that time to include all the things I love and reference all the artists I love,” she laughs, “It’s really hard to combine your love of Dolly Parton with your love of Yung Lean and Charli XCX.” It’s true that Mallrat’s discography spans many genres, even within a single release. She’s clearly used her time wisely to truly embrace her diverse musical upbringing. “I only have a few songs left but thank you for coming on this journey with me”. This is the journey of the night, the journey of supporting her releases – it’s her journey, and we are just happy to be along for the ride.

It’s only fitting that on the Butterfly Blue tour, she plays Butterfly Blue. Turning to my right, I see a mom and dad huddled around a phone, reading off the lyrics so they can sing along with their, clearly mega-fan, child. I start to get teary. I see couples kiss, friends embrace and sway, people who are there solo put their drinks to the side and stand next to a stranger. We are all brought together by music, in this wonderful space. Community is illuminated by panning white beams in a pink misty haze.

Mallrat finishes strong, with For Real. The lightboard behind her flashing aggressively with blues and whites as she slowly walks across the stage – effortlessly captivating. She finishes sat in front of the crowd, cradling the cheeks of devoted fans in her hands. 

And then, it’s done. The Forum lights are up, and the crowd starts exiting swiftly, immediately freed from their trance. All anyone can talk about on their exit is how much they wish there was an encore.

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