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EMILY KING @ Chevron Gardens gets 7.5/10

Emily King
Emily King @ 
Chevron Festival Gardens
w/ Harry James Angus
Thursday, February 22, 2018


Through a well-curated list of exciting and diverse artists, Perth Festival have kept an unforgettable Perth summer of live music alive for just a little longer at Chevron Gardens. Thursday, March 1 was about as perfect a night as anyone could hope for with weather so agreeable that people forgot ‘weather’ was even a thing. It was an equally pleasant crowd that descended upon the Elizabeth Quay stage, visibly anticipating a night of soulful and technically considered music. As a WAAPA jazz student and friend of mine observed: “there are so many people I know here.”

When Harry James Angus and his band took the stage at 8pm it felt almost too early to get things underway, but there was still a strong crowd mixing it up in front of the stage, and a glance back at the amphitheatre showed all the seats were already taken. The Cat Empire horn player’s new endeavour performing under his own name was something of an intriguing prospect. His new shows are centred around Greek mythology, celebrating the colourful and sometimes confronting stories that shaped his own heritage. It’s something of an ambitious idea and from one glance at the musical arsenal at his disposal it looked like he’s left nothing in the tank (or bank). Angus was joined onstage with a piano, guitar, drums, double-bass, percussion, a trombone and duo of backing vocalists while he fronted the mic with a trumpet swinging ready by his side.

Harry James Angus
Angus introduced his songs with a whimsical summary of the ancient story he was reimagining in song with the eight-piece ensemble. From the tragic Cretian tale Child in the Dark about the Minotaur spending his life in a basement, Angus mused on the philosophy underpinning these stories that were still relevant today. The whole band were well-measured performers, happy to let their instrument rest at the more poignant moments in the song and really give them space to breathe. The trombone player summed this up better than most, swaying along with the tunes and adding harmonies to the vocals while lifting the brass to his lips in the moments that really mattered. At times the trombone and Angus’ trumpet aligned in swaggering modal flight that would have felt right at home in a delta speakeasy.

Harry James Angus
Throughout the tracks each of the musicians got their moment to shine. With his back to the crowd, you could see the pianist’s hands moving like liquid across the keys. The guitar was noticeable for its dead and organic sound that evidently used no effects, putting the unorthodox jazz and world-music inspired scales and time signatures on full unadulterated display. Throughout the performance the most impressive factor was how the group cooperated vocally. Despite Angus joking about not being much of a singer compared to the upcoming Emily King, he absolutely owned the mic, hitting a dazzling range with power and poise.

The two women on backing vocals complimented him beautifully, without a noticeable pitch out of place and enriching each song as they swayed their arms and danced along in infectious fashion. It was humorous and surprisingly educational as Angus brought the legendary stories of Odysseus, Prometheus, Achilles and more to life in a set littered with those mid-song moments of applause usually confined to smoky jazz cellars. Having said that it’s difficult to see the same live experience translating onto record as the stories and concept of the show made it about so much more than just the music.

Emily King
After a 20 odd minutes of changeovers, Emily King announced herself to a rapturous applause. It was clear that this was going to be a much more stripped-back performance than the last one, as it was just her and another acoustic guitarist looking small and exposed at the front and centre of such an expansive stage. But the relatively small production was forgotten about thanks to King’s jubilant personality, cheerfully admitting, “I’m a little nervous but we’ll get into it.” It was the first time the New York artist had been to Australia and she was visibly elated by the size and enthusiasm of the audience that had come to greet her for her first performance here. From the opener Out of the Clouds King’s distinctive voice showed a remarkable level of control without losing a fraction of its rich intimacy, wavering tenderly like a trickle through a dam wall with a colossal supply of range and emotion to draw from.

On the title track to her latest album The Switch, King put the guitar down allowing her to move around with a bit more sass. She introduced her stage partner and producer Jeremy Most on the acoustic guitar and thanked him for the next song he wrote called No More Room. It was a pertinent title for the moment because it was clear there was enough room for them on the stage for not just one, but a whole herd of elephants. While they simply couldn’t have played or done anything better you couldn’t help but imagine just how much more impressive it would have been with a full backing band behind them.

Still it was an endearingly human performance. You could hear every scratch and slide on the frets of the guitar as the two played off each other in an intricate blend of chords and melodies. They breezed through favourites like Down, BYIMM (By You I Mean Me) and the tender Every Part from 2011’s The Seven EP. It was about this time Jeremy Most started to introduce new sounds from the effects pad that had previously sat dormant in front of him. It was impressive to see him triggering drum beats, orchestral swells and more amidst his already captivating display on the six-string.

Emily King
King’s banter between the songs felt refreshingly impulsive. She exclaimed that she was happy to be out of New York City, and was enjoying seeing this side of the world,  joking, “I never knew there were so many species of pigeons out there. There’s so many wild things here.” She also talked about how she wrote Off Center with the express intention of getting fired from her record label. Distance was another crowd favourite, while on Sleepwalker she actually broke into laughter half way through a line. Even when she literally “dropped the mic” and joked about it the crowd seemed to warm to her. After an unconvincing departure the duo returned for a couple more songs. The touching and repetitious Ordinary Heart prompted a mass singalong and to close out the set King brought a member of the crowd to join her onstage, who blew the audience away hitting peak pitch as he joined her in the chorus.

Overall the night left everyone on a noticeable high, with some crowd members all too happy to fulfill King’s closing request of meeting her for a drink afterwards in the beer garden. Harry James Angus and his band won everyone over with a near perfect delivery of a creative and original show idea. Emily King’s first performance on Australian soil will also go down as a triumph, just one that could have been enhanced further with the kind of widescreen musical production the audience enjoyed in the opening set.

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