Reviewed on Thursday January 16 (Image by Jamie Williams)

For the second year running, Sydney Festival transformed Town Hall into an echo of the legendary Amsterdam venue Paradiso, with warm pendant lights and the rainbow glow of neon signs bouncing off art deco mirrors. As noted by the evening’s MC, “We get to rock out in the same place local councillors make arbitrary decisions. But please don’t scratch the floors, they’re very expensive!”

Melburnian Darren Sylvester warmed up the space with his melancholy-tinged, ’80s disco snare-driven beats looping through his sampler as he sang of love lost and awkward encounters.

Mississippi-born John Murry led with a question for the conspiracy theorists – in a soft Southern drawl he asked, “Whatever happened to Prime Minister Holt?” before launching into ‘The Ballad Of The Pyjama Kid’ from last year’s stunning The Graceless Age, a collection of rough-hewn ballads on which he laid bare his battle with heroin addiction. He’s able to joke about his past struggles, though: “This song’s also about heroin addiction, unfortunately, just not mine.” And he conducted a vote over which cover to play, in the end going with John Prine’s ‘Paradise’. The sprawling ‘Things We Lost In The Fire’ was gut-wrenching but magnificent.

The second John of the evening, John Grant, took the stage impressive beard first, followed by his (mostly) Icelandic band. The former Czars member has two solo albums under his belt, the title tracks of which made impressive set highlights. ‘Pale Green Ghosts’ was all roiling, clanging synths, with an unearthly rhythm that echoed around the hall. ‘Queen Of Denmark’ was equal parts boisterous and victorious. Grant has got to be one of the most enunciated cursers performing today; his wit and scathing observations were a delight to behold, and ‘GMF’ was particularly impressive. To his credit he balances the snark – “You’ve got really nice clothes / Bet you didn’t pay for those” – with measures of self-criticism: “I had it all the way up to my hairline / Which keeps receding like my self-confidence”.

Grant was dashing and appreciative, and after an encore of ‘Chicken Bones’, left Soft Pink Truth et al. to spin the party into Friday morning.

Tell Us What You Think