Tonight’s event at The Corner, the last of a three night run for indie-folk darlings Boy & Bear, apparently sold out within forty minutes, setting a record for the venue. Consequently the room was accordingly packed and buzzing with excitement, one noticeable group of fans having decided to come in the Indian headdress worn by the band in their clip for ‘The Rabbit Song’.
Amongst such a setting Emma Louise, a singer/songwriter from Brisbane by way of Cairns, began her set and, impressively, caused the seething bodies to fall largely quiet, listening to her soft, emotive tunes. Emma’s songs showed an intelligent level of originality and a very pretty voice, occasionally showing influences of the blues, however most of the songs were fairly similar to one another and her overall sound, being soft acoustic pop, backed by bass, drums and keys, was pleasant but not overly memorable.
Being only nineteen years old, one would suspect that Emma Louise is still largely finding her feet musically and that she will surely develop her sound, making her more easily distinguishable from the many other female songwriters in the Missy Higgins vein, as she is obviously very talented. This hypothesis can be validated by pointing to the final track performed, ‘Jungle’, the single of Emma’s debut EP, which has already received glowing reviews from Triple J. With its pounding rhythm and huge pop chorus, the track stood at complete odds with the rest of her set, it brought a level of energy that had been previously absent and the crowd reacted accordingly. If she can continue to write pop songs as captivating as ‘Jungle’ then Emma Louise may have a bright future ahead of her.
Once the stage had been adorned with jungle leaves, Jinja Safari took to the stage to a warm response. Though apparently the band officially consists of only two, the lead vocalists Marcus Azon and Pepa Knight, the ensemble present on this tour numbered five, with bass, drums and percussion courtesy of Joe Citizen, Jacob Borg and Alister Pattern. Having been playing for only a year, the Sydneysiders have already proven successful with their debut EP, performing at this year’s Big Day Out as well as their own national tour in July.
Due to the fact that Knight bears a striking similarity to The Mighty Boosh’s Noel Fielding, this reviewer could not help recalling the episode ‘Rudy and the Spider’, where a pair of musicians embrace psychedelia and mysticism in search of ‘the new sound’, particularly when Knight rather comically played some barely audible sitar on their song ‘Peter Pan’. The band’s generous use of echo, delays, bongo drums and faux-hippy attire resulted in a sound that was like psychedelic music without the drugs – far too clean and shiny to pull this act off. Musically they bear a greater resemblance to bands from the 1980s, building upon layers of vocals harmonies, keyboards and guitars, and polyrhythmic drum patterns, recalling Spandau Ballet.
To be fair, although very similar to many of the other harmonizing groups of serious young men receiving play on Triple J at the moment, Jinja Safari are obviously onto something, they have a defined act, poster-boy looks, and those in attendance at The Corner, having never heard of Spandau Ballet, thought this was the bee’s knees and reacted accordingly. However, for all their onstage energy, Jinja Safari as being far too safe and serious to be much more than just slightly fun and sort of interesting.
Starting off their set with a melancholic yet uplifting number, Boy & Bear managed to convey both immediacy and intelligence from the very first note. Standing centre stage, Dave Hosking seemed to be the complete opposite of the previous band who, only half an hour previously, had jumped wildly around that same stage, entreating us to party. Instead, Hosking stood still, his distinctive voice seeming effortless, his phrasing deliberate.
The extent to which this band have risen to become one of the most popular in the country was hit home during the open lines of their second song, ‘Mexican Mavis’, the crowd singing along to every word. As the song progressed the driving guitar work of Killian Gavin and the rhythm section of bassist Jake Tarasenko and drummer Tim Hart raised the energy and excitement levels accordingly. This formula of Hosking’s delicate voice and acoustic finger picking being pushed along by the force of the electric guitar, drums and bass, while Jon Hart adds extra texture by switching between mandolin and keys was one used throughout the set and it saved them from wandering too far into easy listening folk territory, as they occasionally threatened to do.
Boy & Bear are most often compared to Mumford & Sons, however, this ability to work into their arrangements both the rock and the folk sides of their chosen genre of folk-rock, for this reviewer’s money at least, makes them a much more interesting proposal. The only point in which the group sounded particulary similar to their chart-topping British colleagues was when Hart donned his mandolin for the first time during the Irish folk stomp of ‘Blood to Gold’.
It is fairly safe to say that a highlight for most people was the song which took them to the number 5 position on the Triple J Hottest 100, Crowded House’s ‘Fall At Your Feet’. To perform a cover song and manage to make it your own, especially such a well known classic, is an admirable feat, and Boy & Bear lifted the room with their slightly downbeat, melancholic take on the song. It was really an incredible moment, as the crowd, most of whom would have been born around the time that the original was released, sang along to every line, Hosking deliberately pacing the words for effect.
After warning us that there would be no encore, as Hosking finds them “kinda lame”, the band launched into their last song for the night, the single ‘Feeding Line’, which, with its intense crescending rhythm, was a popular and apt set closer. Boy & Bear may have not yet released a full album, yet, based on tonight’s performance they have the songs and the ability to make a long career out of this music game.
– Alex Watts