Live Review: Birdy + Lewis Watson + Lakyn - Palais Theatre (08.04.13)

Photo by Perri Cassie

It was the night of young, attractive cover artists, with a talented line up from Australia’s Lakyn Heperi to British teenage superstar Birdy.

An excited, teenage crowded arrived early at Palais in time for Lakyn, the first support act of the evening. Walking on stage promptly at 7.25, Lakyn’s popularity was made well known with dozens of squeals and “I love you,” cries at the mere sight of the singer songwriter.

Lakyn [Heperi] was a contestant on last year’s season of The Voice under the coaching of Joel Madden, and became known for his very loyal female fan base. Although the female attention is mostly harnessed on the artist’s good looks, his set tonight proved he is worthy of the acclaim he receives.
Lakyn’s set was entirely acoustic and consisted a mix of his original songs, covers made famous from The Voice, and additional covers he has recreated on his YouTube channel. Early in the half hour set, the audience was treated to a new song called “Poetry” by Lakyn, which was written and performed for the first time mere days before on the Adelaide leg of the tour.

Original track “With The Water” showed an impressive diversity in Lakyn’s voice, which has improved considerably since his Voice performances last year. The song’s howling and whistling was reminiscent of Matt Corby who, alike Lakyn, has been successful at moving away from simply being labelled a reality television cover artist.

But just when you thought Lakyn was channeling Corby, he introduced his first cover track for the evening. Calling it “a song he originally didn’t like”, the 20 year old decided to create his own rendition of the 2012 pop hit “Call Me Maybe”, made famous by Carly Rae Jepsen. Lakyn certainly made his own mark on the song, but his voice felt wasted on the melodically basic track.

The remainder of Lakyn’s set was lifted from his debut EP of original tracksBetter Than That before ending on a final cover. This time it was MGMT’s “Kids” mixed with sample of Bob Marley’s “Is This Love”. “Kids” was recognised instantly by the crowd, as it was Lakyn’s blind audition song from The Voice.

Lakyn’s stage presence was perhaps the most distinguished of the evening, despite still being quite modest and brief with song descriptions. Although appreciative for the crowd arriving so early to see him play, he repeatedly made a lighthearted mockery of the dozens of admirers calling his name at every opportunity.

With not so much as a lighting change, British singer songwriter Lewis Watson walked on stage. A sense of déjà vu descended on the theatre with the young artist being greeted by an almost identical reception to Lakyn, filled with squeals and fans declaring their love. Although very talented in his own right, it’s hard to shake the feeling that Watson is merely the slightly more successful British version of Lakyn. Both of the 20 year old artists presented entirely acoustic sets consisting of their own original EP tracks and covers, while having to bat off their admirers to get a word in about the story behind the songs. Watson went on to cover Angus and Julia Stone’s “Big Jet Plane”, another one of Lakyn’s signature Voice covers, AND they both have 52,000 Twitter followers! Freaky stuff.

That being said, Watson’s songwriting was the stronger of the two sets, with the highlight being “Bones” from his 2012 EP It’s Got Four Sad Songs On It BTW. Very rarely does a live acoustic song strike me on first listen, but the simple beauty in “Bones” was truly heartwarming from the opening words, “Open your eyes no don’t be scared at all. We’ll jump out of aeroplanes and the lakes will break our fall. No don’t make a sound because I’ll be with you the whole way down. And I told you everything.”
The rest of the set was filled with tracks from Watson’s latest EP The Wild, including “Little Darling” which was written whilst Watson was last in Australia.

The artist stopped for a short break to take photos of the crowd; one on his SLR, and a panorama shot for his Instagram. The crowd was more than willing to oblige, raising their hands for the endearing moment.

Watson reminded fans he will be busking at Fitzroy Gardens tomorrow, before ending on title EP track “Into The Wild.” Although a lyrically beautiful track, the acoustic rendition failed to capture the true beauty of the song without Watson’s band and backing vocals.

Watson’s set was a mere sample of his musical capabilities, which are better showcased on his recordings.

Lakyn and Watson provided a wonderful opening setting for the evening, leaving me filled with an overwhelmingly jealousy of what these youngsters have already accomplished. And then Birdy appeared.

The 16 year old was relatively unknown this time last year, but has since become globally renowned for her covers of alternative artists, most notably Bon Iver’s track “Skinny Love.” Her debut album has only one original track, which begs the question, what makes Birdy so different from the thousands of other YouTube hopefuls uploading covers everyday? Well, she’s really freaking good.

The artist puts her own unique interpretation on each song, rather than simply regurgitating the melody they were originally recorded with. She’s also a sensational pianist, with her live piano arrangements played exactly as they appear on her self-titled album.

Without so much as a glance towards the crowd Birdy (real name Jasmine van den Bogaerde) sat down at her piano where she remained for the entire set to play her first cover of The XX’s Shelter. Although she appears shy and timid, her singing voice is the polar opposite. Rather, Birdy’s voice rings throughout the theatre, instantly giving the audience an overwhelming understanding of why this girl has managed to forge an international career based almost only on covers.

Birdy didn’t utter a word until introducing her band after the second track. Her cellist, two guitarists and drummer accompanied her on piano for the majority of her remaining tracks.

“1901” originally by Phoenix was a set highlight, which was followed by Fleet Foxes’ "White Winter Hymnal” and her only original song on the debut album, “Without A Word.” Judging from her overwhelming success with covers, you could be forgiven for thinking Birdy isn’t a capable songwriter, but she is in fact very accomplished in this field too. She has stated her second album is going to be entirely original songs, and “Without A Word” is merely a taste of the good things to come.

An additional cover was included for the Australia tour, John Butler Trio’s “What You Want.” In true Birdy form, the Australian track was transformed into a beautiful ballad.

Also included in the set was “Learn Me Right”, a song written with Mumford and Sons for the Brave soundtrack, and “Just A Game” written for The Hunger Games Soundtrack

“People Help The People” provided a near perfect four minutes, with the audience watching intently and without a sound throughout the track. The song, which reached number 10 on the ARIA chart last year, is a far cry from the original indie rock version by British band Cherry Ghost. Unlike “Skinny Love” which was already a remarkable song, Birdy’s piano rendition of “People Help The People” transforms the previously mediocre song into an extraordinarily haunting and memorable track.

A final cover of The National’s “Terrible Love” was played before a very awkward and pre-planned encore. All awkwardness was quickly put to rest however when the opening bars of “Skinny Love” were heard and the audience cheered with excitement. The Bon Iver cover was a hit for Birdy late last year, partly in due to a cover of the cover by X-Factor contestant Bella Ferraro. Although Ferraro’s cover became a viral hit, it does not hold a candle to the performance Birdy displayed at the Palais. Birdy’s rendition of “Skinny Love” is performed in a higher key than is usually heard in her covers, but she hit every note with ease.

The night finished on two final covers; “Comforting Sounds” and “Fire and Rain.” The audience did not hesitate to give a standing ovation for the young performer, who smiled and faced the crowd for the first and only time throughout her set for a bow with her band.

What was severely lacking from Birdy’s performance was some crowd interaction. If the audience’s eyes had been closed, there would have been little to suggest they were not just listening to a recording on CD. The combination of the polite crowd, plus Birdy’s flawless singing and piano playing meant there was little to differentiate her live show from her studio recordings. Not once were her songs introduced as covers, and the audience was given no insight as to why she chooses to recreate these particular songs.

With more performing experience and the promise of more original songs, Birdy’s next Australian tour is set to be an unforgettable show.

Photo by Perri Cassie for the AU review