Reviewed on Monday April 28 (photo by Ashley Mar, full gallery available here)
The past few years have seen the iconic white sails on Sydney Harbour transformed into an indie haven, with internationals like Bon Iver and Grizzly Bear taking to the stage and charming the patterned socks off audiences who are more accustomed to music venues that reek of gin and tobacco. So when everyone’s favourite band-comp-winners-turned-global-exports lock in two shows at the Opera House, it’s a celebration of sorts, and a chance to cry away to The Jezabels’ melancholic musings with a little more class than with a beer in each hand at Laneway (Wait. You did that too, right?).
From small bars to colossal arenas, The Jezabels have carved out a reputation for maximising the aural capacity of any given space. So it’s no surprise when a single spotlight illuminates keys player Heather Shannon, who prefaces the show seated high above the stage at the Concert Hall’s Grand Organ. Performing an immaculately crafted original composition, Shannon propels concertgoers into a wide-eyed trance, only broken when Hayley Mary’s fiery voice pierces the room. One song in, however, and it becomes evident that something just doesn’t… feel quite right.
“Tony Abbott hasn’t made it illegal to stand up in the Opera House just yet,” Mary reminds us, tauntingly. Her words are met with deafening applause and the entire room is immediately on foot, leaning in for the next gut-wrenching melodic hook. Drummer Nik Kaloper offers up a percussive assault as the Byron Bay natives take us through the best of their discography, spanning old favourites from their trilogy of EPs to their latest album, The Brink. Kaloper’s rhythmic prose is softened only by Shannon’s textured synth waves and guitarist Sam Lockwood’s crisp riffs. All eyes are fixed on our leading lady, though, who glides across the stage in her black sequined jacket, whipping out pelvic thrusts and weaving between a flawless vibrato and her signature falsetto. After belting out the feminist anthem ‘Mace Spray’, Mary fights back tears as she recounts her childhood friendship with Shannon and what it means for the classically trained musician to be performing at the Opera House. R.I.P. any dry eyes that are left.
While the newer, more silver-lined material is received with unbridled singalong, it is the older cuts like ‘Hurt Me’ and ‘City Girl’ that have the entire audience on tiptoe, waving arms wildly in the air and reaching ambitiously for those high notes. You think you’ve seen it all, right until the ’Bels return for their encore, complete with a giggle-inducing lap dance from Mary (“as promised”) to a female audience member. Who knows how these former Sydney Uni kids pulled it all off – a pop crusade through one of the country’s finest venues? But they did.