Winter has come way too early to South-Eastern Australia this year, and by the sea was the last place I would usually want to be on a frigid Wednesday evening. On this particular night, however, the short tram ride out of the Melbourne CBD to St.Kilda’s charming Palais Theatre would be well and truly worth it, with City & Colour adding warmth to the first of two sold-out performances. The venue itself is an odd one for concerts: an all-seated bona fide theatre which plays home to everything from stage-shows to film festivals, and from comedians to rock gigs. Usually, I’d prefer my venues a little more – shall we say – beer-soaked, but complementing one of the world’s truly great voices with the acoustics of a high ceiling & some beautiful architecture (which was brought to life by a genuinely unexpected light-show) seemed very appropriate… Even if a portion of the strange cross-section of folk and hardcore fans may not have seen an actual theatre in their lives!
First up this evening would be the act known as Bahamas – aka 31 year old Toronto singer-songwriter Afie Jurvanen. Having just joined the touring City & Colour quintet as lead guitarist, Jurvanen casually paces out all by his lonesome tonight, with nothing but an acoustic guitar, his voice and a spotlight. In front of a half-capacity audience, he initially seems uncomfortable, taking two or three songs to truly find his rhythm and win over a crowd who most likely had no idea who he was. His stripped-down and languidly paced brand of indie-folk adds further emphasis to his above-average lyrics, which he eventually begins to explain as the half hour set goes on. At one stage, he asks us to imagine where the backing band would come in, even giving spectators a nod or a raised guitar to emphasize such timing. Overall, it was a fitting, if understated performance to kick off proceedings.
For those yet to experience Bahamas, here is a live version of his track ‘I Got You Babe’ (no, it’s not a Sonny & Cher cover)… Just try to imagine him with an acoustic guitar, no back-up singers & no drummer. I’ll give you a nod at the appropriate times (Davey nods as soon as you press ‘play’).
Arriving on stage as a quintet, I was immediately taken aback by Dallas Green’s positioning stage left. I couldn’t help but recall the similar post he took up when I had seen him play in post-hardcore outfit Alexisonfire, and wondered if he quite simply did not enjoy the spotlight. Located next to a stool which was solely used for the purpose of balancing his beer, Green clearly had no confidence issues when it came to his voice; a glorious instrument in itself which would shine brightest no matter what the musical accompaniment. As it turned out, there were no showmanship issues either… Any reported hiccups circa City & Colour being a side-project were long gone, with Green handling a couple of hecklers with aplomb, and earning genuine laughs with his casual observations of current Australian happenings.
Beginning with ‘We Found Each Other in the Dark’, the setlist was predominantly one up & one down in terms of tempo. Early highlights included 2008 single ‘Sleeping Sickness’, a touching version of new single ‘The Grand Optimist’, and a surprisingly raucous ‘Weightless’; which proved this would not be your average acoustic show. To that extent, Green would regularly swap between acoustic and electric guitars, allowing Jurvanen to finally show his own electric chops. Mid-set, however, his accompanying band would depart to allow Green to rekindle memories of the projects formative years. ‘Day Old Hate’, a “no phones allowed” ‘Body In a Box’, ‘Sam Malone’ and a crowd assisted ‘What Makes a Man’ perfectly led into fan favorite ‘The Girl’, with the crowd silent & captivated throughout the solo portion of the performance. Not wanting the audience to forget that City & Colour were now a fully-formed outfit, the full band really revved up upon their return. ‘Little Hell’, ‘Fragile Bird’ and ‘Sorrowing Man’ were all superb, with Green’s voice during the climax to the latter an all-time vocal highlight for this attendee!
And what of the “band”? Well, it’s fair to say that they are more workmanlike than show stealing. Occasionally, Jurvanan would steal a glance with a fancy lick, while a daggy looking pedal steel player will always garner some (what the hell is he doing?) interest. The fantastic thing – and one of the night’s most pleasant surprises – is the way in which the quieter periods of the evening seamlessly meshed with the more band-focused tunes. An argument could be made that some of the louder moments weren’t the best way to showcase an individual song or two, and unfortunately resulted in very little tunes from debut LP ‘Sometimes’ being played. However, not only did this approach provide variety, but it also allowed Green to figuratively take center stage, truly testing his wonderful voice and not just going through the motions. In the end, however, it was no test, with Green’s vocals truly a thing to splendor. And if an exclamation point for the evening was required, it was provided come the two song encore; the gentle, catchy melody of ‘Comin’ Home’ followed by the beautiful build-up of ‘Hope For Now’, which provided the apt closing lyrics of:
“Oh when I sing all that I can sing
Maybe just for a moment things would seem all right.
Oh when I sing, oh when I sing”.