Sophie Mashlan launched her debut album Perfect Disaster at the Anthology K Road last night. What incredible composure this nineteen-year-old singer-songwriter brings to her evening. No mean feat to single-handedly organise a national tour at seventeen, then by nineteen to have a fully-fledged solo debut album launched. Anthology K Road is a relative newcomer on the scene too, and its intimate elegant feel was a good match for the launch of this beautiful album.
Opening the evening was support from George After James with some engaging vocals and spot-on spare guitar and keys. A contemporary sound that could grow in a number of directions, singer James has some beautiful softer tones and a falsetto range that soars in a Jeff Buckley-fashion. And although some of the belted higher range didn’t pay off, there is interest here especially with electric guitar and reverb pairing on James’ final song, All Around.
Connection to the audience was the currency of both artists last night. They both had sincere messages to tell which deserved our focus. Anthology K Road only works in this regard for the front third of the space, the narrow venue makes it challenging to get good sight-lines and perhaps sound for the back part of the space. Chatter from the back was somewhat distracting in the early part of the evening but the crowd gravitated towards the stage for the main artist.
We were in for quality and Sophie Mashlan immediately engaged with her opening ’hit’ song, the dark catchy Let You Down. A self-managed artist has a tonne to juggle to get all the parts to happen. But despite some sound hiccups and hasty adjustments, like a true pro, Mashlan led her band into this energised opener.
She seems to have been born with a guitar in her hands. With virtuosic plucked chords, sweet notes and shifting keys, Mashlan created a shimmering latticework of guitar sounds.
Immediately what sets this artist apart is the sheer quality and depth to her writing. A guitar in hand from the age of nine in a drive to bring her songs into the world, Mashlan’s writing has deepened over a decade into a maturity beyond her years. She seems to have been born with a guitar in her hands. With virtuosic plucked chords, sweet notes and shifting keys, Mashlan created a shimmering latticework of guitar sounds.
The shining jewel here is her vocal sound. Yes, this writer is a little biased, first having heard her perform at fourteen, Mashlan even then had a voice that you should pay money to hear. But now she has a woman’s voice and she has heartfelt stories to tell us. Fifth in the set, Flowers of the Sea dates from her early songwriting era and has the fragility of a fifteen-year-old’s vulnerability. A little overwhelmed by the full tone of the band set-up, the sweet ache of the song still whispered through.
On her debut album Perfect Disaster, the sheer beauty of Mashlan’s voice is allowed space and life. Recorded with Ben Edwards who helped create award-winning albums for Tami Neilson, Marlon Williams and Delaney Davidson at Lyttleton Records, his vision gives Mashlan free reign to explore her voice and message.
However, when translated in a live setting, we want to see the songs fizzing to life. Again, we had some thickness of sound on the epic Oceans Tide in which Mashlan’s vocals did shine but some of the depth and resonance from the album didn’t show through in the live setting.
But, the fizz was popping brilliantly in the defiant anthem Should’ve Known with great upbeat support from the band. And the set was amply rocking along by Seventeen Days complete with some humorous contextual introduction.
Things I Don’t Mean, the penultimate song was breathtaking, a soulful delivery that seemed to channel Joni Mitchell and had the crowd totally rapt.
The real knock-outs of the evening were yet to come... Things I Don’t Mean, the penultimate song was breathtaking, a soulful delivery that seemed to channel Joni Mitchell and had the crowd totally rapt. Here was the utter assurance that Mashlan knows how to bring us into her interior song beauty both on vinyl and on the stage.
And then, as appropriate, the piéce-de-resistance title song Perfect Disaster to finish was the absolute bomb. Mashlan and her band united with great depth, confidence and beauty. This final song of the set was rocketed into flight... setting Mashlan’s vocals and writing free to fly through the roof and out into the night. An encore of Breakdown was a joyous froth on a deep warm performance.
This was a special night, for Auckland to be the lucky first to be part of this artist’s trajectory of her debut album’s journey. We wish Sophie Mashlan a wonderful national tour, clear your diary, make sure you catch this songbird on the following dates.
Thursday May 2 - Nivara Lounge, Hamilton
Wednesday May 8 - Incubator Creative Hub, Tauranga
Thursday May 9 - Paisley Stage (Julia Deans Show), Napier
Saturday May 11 - House Concert Room 25, Nelson
Thursday May 16 - Grainstore Gallery, Oamaru
Friday May 17 – Sherwood, Queenstown
Saturday May 18 - Lyttelton Record, Christchurch
Sunday May 19 - Dog With Two Tails, Dunedin