Australian singer/songwriter Vance Joy played a powerhouse concert last night at the Auckland Town Hall. He captivated the audience with acoustic versions, witty stories and full use of a multi-talented band to deliver a mix of songs from his first Dream Your Life Away and second album Nation Of Two. Vance was supported by Melbourne's very own folk artist, Didirri.
My first impression of Didirri, was that he could easily headline his own show at the Town Hall. It would just be a case of fanbase but I'd say he'd definitely woo'ed the crowd last night. Didirri had wicked stage presence, moving around, confidently playing to the audience and really seemed to enjoy himself on stage. Didirri merged acoustic folk songs with this grungy punk sound that shouldn't work but he made it.
For his third song, Didirri switched to the acoustic guitar and his guitarist played an insane grungy punk electric solo over Didirri's mellow acoustic song. It was freakin' awesome and certainly well received by the crowd. His last few songs also had perfect backing vocal harmonies from all members of the band (drums, bass and guitar).
Didirri wasn't your typical opening act either, he managed to get more crowd participation than any other opening act I've seen thus far. His songs were also super catchy, I Can't Get Last Night Out Of My Head in particular. Before performing that as his last song, he promoted his upcoming headlining show in April, before saying, "you've been amazing, I've got one more thing to say." And played us out... which I thought was a really clever way to introduce a song with a personal touch, to all of the songs he had performed... into one final sentence.
Happy Together by The Turtles played in the background music while everyone waited for Vance Joy to come out. The song increased in volume until it was just odd and uncomfortable before cutting off completely with all the lights. A harsh spotlight on centre stage outlined a silhouette of the man himself. Vance opened his set with Call If You Need Me, just him and his guitar. The song built until the second verse where he was lit up slowly and the crowd went nuts. What a clever and effective opener!
For his next song, hit single Mess Is Mine, Vance was joined by his band that consisted of a saxophone, trumpet, trombone, keys, bass, drums and of course his own acoustic guitar. A full band! Moving straight into Like Gold, the saxophone player picked up an electric guitar and the keyboard player complimented with perfect backing vocal harmony... an absolutely gorgeous way to fill out sound in a slower ballad that did not build as much as the other songs in his set.
Take Your Time was where Vance started to let loose a bit more, he lost a stiffness that he had maintained up to that point by moving around the microphone, singing to different sections of the crowd and grooving around with his guitar. This song presented my favourite trombone accompaniment... it was slightly louder and mimicked the backing vocals in the last sections of the song. It was also in the format of a call and response; Vance sang the line, moved away from the mic and the audience would sing the backing vocal that we knew from the album, alongside the surprise trombone. It was super funky and the standout 'trumbone-ing', if you will, of the evening.
Vance Joy moved into Alone With Me which included a lovely and subtle high backing vocal harmony along the top of the chorus. Toward the end of the song, Vance moved away from the microphone and the crowd sang back to him with his backing vocalist. His face lit up and it was so awesome to see musicians happy on stage, especially when the crowd had done something to encourage it. It creates a special connection between musician and audience in a captivating yet cohesive space.
It was at this point where Vance started to talk to the audience a bit more, sharing a funny story about how he wrote songs by creating voice memos and calling them "great ideas" and when listening back, wondering what the hell he was thinking... which was incidentally how Fire In The Flood was written. It started off as a voice memo called "great idea" that wasn't great and developed into a dance-able, crowd-belting and mood-lifting anthem.
Moving happily into I'm With You, where the band left the stage... but the audiences attention never wavered, Vance had incredible control over the crowd. A section of this song also revealed some of Vance's incredible vocal ability. He hit a loud and high note for 2 bars perfectly in full voice before trailing off into a lovely falsetto.
The next few songs had an entirely new set up on stage, as the band created a semi circle of sorts with Vance on the ukelele, accompanied by an electric guitar, acoustic guitar, bass, tambourine, shaker, timpani, trumpet and backing vocals. This created an atmospheric orchestral backing to the next two songs, Little Boy and Bonnie And Clyde. It gave the band members an opportunity to really show off their talent, and they did.
Vance also took time out to explain the back story behind, Little Boy, talking about how when he was young he came off his bike pretty badly and a lady took him to hospital. He woke up, realised his two front teeth were missing and had to get false ones. He was given a tooth that was obviously bigger than his other tooth, it also glowed in the dark. It took him a while to get through the story but he thanked everyone for listening. He explained that he couldn't exactly go into a lot of detail in the song because "not a lot can relate", but said, "it's good to break your fall with your face", amusingly as if the last comment was the moral of the story.
The band and Vance took to their original positions for Wasted Time and the song started off slow with just Vance on his own before it built and built and built... bringing one instrument in at a time before the song finished on a pulse and the lights cut to black. He started playing Georgia On My Mind without introducing it because he did not need to. Vance played the first few strings in a picking pattern and the crowd cheered in excitement. He seemed to finish the song early but still tapped lightly on his guitar, the crowd applaud but it was not over... after a major purposeful delay of the chorus, he jumped back in with the whole band full steam ahead. Vance played with expectations brilliantly.
Following on after was One Of These Days and We're Going Home, two quite contrasting songs... We're Going Home being the 'groovier' one of the two. Vance then introduced a cover song that everyone should know. He started playing but the lead of his guitar caused a loud blow in the speakers. Vance apologised and while someone brought out a new lead, the keyboard player filled in with a quick and subtle chord progression. In a very witty tone, Vance said, "Now we've had a great time so far, we can probably just forget this little issue. Not the impromptu from Chris (keys) though, no. Forget that weird technical issue and remember that little key part." I would've completely forgotten it had he not made a funny joke about it! The way he handled it meant that the performance didn't feel disrupted at all. The cover was finally revealed as All Night Long by Lionel Richie, a classic anthem and great choice. Vance transitioned smoothly into Sorry by Justin Bieber using the brass section which had subtly been playing the iconic Sorry brass melody throughout the chorus of All Night Long. Very clever!
Vance shared he had three songs left and when he pulled out his ukelele, everyone knew exactly which one was next. The audience went absolutely crazy from the first strum of the song and this was certainly another highlight of the evening. Seated crowd members stood up to dance and sing, everyone had their hands either up in the air or filming this representation of an iconic landmark in Vance's career. The crowd sang right from the beginning and was actually louder than Vance which again made his face light up. I cannot imagine a feeling like that getting old and judging by his big grin, I know that it doesn't.
Lay It On Me was the second to last song of the evening, driven by a pulsating kick drum and an array of spotlights all pointing down on Vance. The crowd with seats were still on their feet and dancing by the time we got to the final song of the evening, Saturday Sun. Vance grabbed back his ukelele and the whole band was fully involved, energy coming from all areas of the stage. The perfect song to end on.
After putting down his instruments, Vance gestured for his band members to join him for a final bow which I respected and appreciated immensely. What's often done is for the artist to thank their band at some point during the show - which Vance did throughout, and leave them to move off the stage subtly, without notice. But no, Vance stood in the middle, lined up with his band and they all bowed together before moving off stage.
It is easy to say that the Vance Joy show at the Town Hall in Auckland was near-perfect. But in the places that were 'not so perfect', he recovered in such a way that everyone forgot the awkwardness and connected with him on a personal and more relatable level. Vance Joy is an artist with amazing musical talent as well as a captivating stage presence... and the same can be said of his support act, Didirri. A powerhouse concert indeed!
More highlights of the show can be seen in the photograph gallery further below.