You might never have expected to hear these words uttered in the same breath: ‘the uncomplicated and gorgeous sounds of City and Colour’ and ‘festival-heads vomiting out of moving cars’, but such was the dichotomy at Red Hill Auditorium on Wednesday night.
For every ardent fan there was a drunken lout tumbling into them (that’s Newton’s third law, isn’t it?). And to every bespectacled bass player in the band (there was only one: Nashville’s acclaimed Jack Lawrence), around ten ignorant voices hollered “Hey Skrillex!”
Some disinterested and downright disrespectful punters aside, there couldn’t have been a more ideal venue for Dallas Green, the man behind the City and Colour pseudonym, to deliver his signature honeyed vocals. The intimacy afforded by the limestone amphitheatre (the standing area and all of the seats are within 45-metres of the stage) belies its capacity for 5000 people. And with Perth’s glittering skyline as its backdrop, Green’s voice lingered in the open air, sweetened by the smells of pulled pork and smoke.
The place was already heaving by the time support act Little May took to the stage. The Sydney trio’s tight harmonies and folky guitar parts were bolstered by a backing band on drums, keys and bass. Mostly lifted from their debut record For The Company, the set showcased Hannah Field and Liz Drummond’s reedy vocals, which complemented each other and the sophisticated instrumentation beautifully. Little May recorded For The Company with The National’s Aaron Brooking Dessner last year, and those influences were palpable on newer tracks like Home and Seven Hours, which were underscored by meaty, sauntering drums.
Crowd favourite, and tale of lust and loss, Hide was a highlight, as was Field’s banter. Her stories about socks and lovers were often awkward and always charming. If she was at all wooden when speaking, though, she certainly wasn’t while singing. Without an instrument to hold, Field was free to move and she did so in ethereal, fluid motions that made the music’s lumbering groove all the more infectious. As the coda to Dust gained momentum with swelling keys and rousing three-part harmonies it became abundantly clear that Little May, with their well-executed, if a little morose, set, were the perfect opener for City and Colour.
It was surprisingly chilly when those who hadn’t clambered to secure a spot on the amphitheatre eagerly pressed closer to the stage. Then, with little fuss, Dallas Green and his band launched into the first two tracks off his latest album If I Should Go Before You. They opened with Woman, a nine-minute slow burn that capitalised on Green’s enviable vocal range. As the track’s bass-heavy crescendo eventually petered off, the dull wub of the Rhodes’ piano bled into groovier territory on Northern Blues. Understandably, much of the 100-minute set was devoted to his latest record, but Green still treated us to a smattering of favourites from his five-album strong back catalogue.
“It’s pretty humbling to be in some place like this on the other side of the world, playing my guitar,” Green told the crowd, before delivering the achingly-beautiful Hello, I’m In Delaware off his 2005 debut Sometimes. Older songs like this one and Sleeping Sickness had punters singing along with their heads thrown back towards the sky. An incomparable sense of solidarity fell across the venue during The Grand Optimist; if you needed any proof that misery loves company, this was it (Green, himself, made a quip about trying not to be “such a miserable c***”).
It seemed there was one particular song everyone wanted to hear. Embarrassingly-rude voices screeched out for it between, and during the most tender parts of, songs (“Fucking play The Girl already, Dallas!”). It’s hard to say whether or not those belligerent audience members, who made themselves too loud and too aggressive to ignore, were the reason Green and the band obliged with such a lacklustre and stony-faced rendition. At that moment, they looked as though they’d rather have been anywhere else and who could blame them? There’s a video on the City and Colour Facebook page of Dallas playing The Girl to the Brisbane audience a few days earlier. It shows him so taken aback by the crowd’s fervent and gentle singing that he lays a delicate harmony over the top. It would have been interesting to watch him try to collaborate with that one Perth guy who deliberately yodelled and bellowed, drowning out Green’s voice and garnering awkward sniggers. Instead Green just looked decidedly pissed off.
The songs do rely heavily on Green’s vocals, but there’s something so comforting about vulnerable, self-deprecating lyrics delivered by that warm falsetto. Fragile Bird and Sorrowing Man rounded out what was, for the most part, a superb set that pleased City and Colour fans, both old and new.
Dallas Green seems to be fond of Australia – this was his fifteenth visit. Here’s to hoping he opts for Perth again on his next one.
Words: Stephanie McGann