Saturday, 18 October 2014

Live Review - Vance Joy - Concorde 2 Brighton

The calling of the musician comes to those blessed few at different points in life.  There are those who start shaking a tambourine the minute they emerge from the womb and others who have held down a number of mundane jobs before the daily grind galvanises them into cashing their chips for the alluring world of the music industry.

Gene Simmons was a primary school teacher in Spanish Harlem before embarking in a career in panto-rock, Ozzy Osbourne worked in an abattoir slicing open cow’s stomachs whilst Jack White was a master upholsterer in Detroit specialising in chaise lougues. Jay Z, meanwhile, concentrated his efforts on selling crack cocaine to the residents of Brooklyn. Everyone’s got to make a living.

Only 18 months ago Vance Joy, AKA James Keogh, swapped the lucrative but ultimately soul destroying world of law for the Elysian fields of folk music.  His career has been going gangbusters ever since.
Following the half hearted completion of his law degree Joy chipped away at Melbourne’s open mike scene until the success of uber-single Riptide, a radio-friendly sunbeam of folk-pop, from his debut EP God Loves You When You’re Dancing catapulted him out of obscurity. Now Vance inhabits a world of sold out tours, A-list radio play and a 5 album deal with Atlantic.  

However, judging by tonight’s performance, it is probably best he doesn’t flog all his law books just yet.

Emmylou sets the tempo for the night with an acoustic guitar motif slowly building to a crescendo before entering Mumford & Sons territory when the bass drum kicks in. It’s a sonic template he uses again and again throughout the set and it starts to get a little repetitive.

A mid tempo Red Eye sounds harder live than on record with pounding drums and interesting harmonies.  The early 90’s sound is enhanced by a drummer, who when unleashed, flails away like he is playing in Motley Crue.

A big cheer goes up from the crowd when a ukulele is produced for old favourite Play With Fire which could well be a Fleet Foxes B-side. The crowd sings along to the track but they are given little encouragement to get involved elsewhere during the course of the night.

Things improve with the alt-country vibe of Winds of Change which has a memorable melody that suits Joy’s Buckleyesque falsetto. We witness a bit of history as it is the first time the band has ever played that song live.

Whilst the bulk of the ladies in the audience smile with lovelorn intoxication and Joy’s film star looks they will only get him so far.  Whilst everything is competently played there is a distinct lack of variety and dynamism to the performance. Songs like Snaggletooth, Best That I Can and My Kind of Man meander along similar folky cul-de-sacs. The mid tempo strumming is screaming out for a guitar solo or a counter melodies of any kind.  Frankly, it’s all a bit drab.
The contrasts in Joy’s song writing/arranging skills are magnified when he performs a finger picked cover of Bruce Springsteen’s Dancing In The Dark. It is a wonderful version and it has the audience rapt but it shows how far he needs to go to mix it with the big boys.

The Dylanesque From Afar and Mumfordy Wasted Time show promise before the inevitable climax of Riptide (a song which was partial written as long ago as 2008), which swaggers in with a rollicking energy otherwise missing for the rest of the set.

It’s a fabulous song and Joy is new to the art of stage craft so let’s give him the benefit of the doubt.  He will surely become more confident and accomplished on stage (and on record) as his career progresses.  As Leonard Cohen said if he knew where all the good songs came from
“he’d go there more often”
Let’s hope Joy isn’t just passing through that magical land on his way to his final destination of Onehitswonderville.