There was a moment at the start of the set, with the crowd hushed and listening intently to the gentle “Song For…”, when a girl, at the top of her lungs, screamed out ‘MATT CORBY!’ Such was the intensity of the audience’s concentration on the 21 year old musician that the outburst was met with a kind of bemused but knowing laughter from around the room. It seemed to sum up the huge expectations and admiration that has sprung up around Corby and that we all held tonight.
Supporting the man on the first night of his three sold out Sydney shows though was boy/girl duo We Are The Birdcage. Juggling guitars and ukuleles the pair’s pleasant, up-beat, folk-country tunes got a good reception from the crowd. After the third or fourth steadily mid-tempo song in a row though the constant duets tended to bludgen rather than charm. The second half of the set bought more variety with a touching (if slightly overdone) ballad and some more exciting changes in tempo. Only on their final song did they layer their vocals, allowing them to show off their distinctly impressive voices.
Next up were the purveyors of angular indie-electro, Alpine, who have been supporting Corby around Australia. The vastly underrated Melbourne six-piece nailed their set from the thumping groove of opener “Hands” to the wonderfully jarring set-closer “Villages”. Sultry new track “Gasoline” had the self-confident strut of a middle finger to the object of unfulfilled desires. Front-women Phoebe Baker and Lou James were completely at home prowling the stage and their harmonies spot on. The only downer was the crowd who unfortunately seemed slightly stunned and reluctant to even bob their heads to the beat.
By 10pm though and with the lights down it was time for the main event. There was no showmanship around Corby. He didn't need any embellishment to hold the audience in the palm of his hand and as he entered with his band and started strumming the first chords of “Song For…” you could hear a hush fall over the room.
At one point he let forth a soaring wail which sprang from nowhere and vanished all in an instant drawing gasps and cheers from the audience (the type that TV talent shows are so fond of but which here were completely real here). This was just a taster. From crooning in moments of intimate and achingly earnest folk to roaring over colossal walls of sound Corby’s voice is absolutely incredible live, with amazing power and flexibility.
But it’s not just his voice that made his live performance so impressive. Corby is a very talented musician.
For one, he can communicate clearly through song. “June”, which was dedicated to his unwell grandmother, was poignant yet up-beat with its jaunty guitar picking and sweet melodies. By the end of the song you shared a sense of acceptance and appreciation in the face of impending loss.
There was variety in his performance too, not least thanks to his amazing band which was remarkably in tune with its frontman. They provided the energy which lifted songs where necessary and fell back in the quieter moments. Corby’s duet with bandmate and former Middle East keyboardist Bree Tranter was spellbinding, the silent crowd hanging off the faintest murmur from Tranter and the softly strummed chords from Corby.
The now famous ‘Ooo-oo-oo! Ooo-oo-oo!’ emerged halfway through the set much to the delight of the crowd but it was the dirty blues of “Souls A’fire” which really shone with Corby clearly enjoying playing the rollicking number with his band. A thundering version of “My False” was the perfect ending to the set as the lights went out and the audience screamed their lungs out. But then out of the blackened stage someone shouted ‘1, 2, 3, 4!’ and the band burst straight back into the chorus. It was an exhilarating end to an incredible performance.
There’s a reason these three Sydney shows sold out months in advance and it’s not just because of the hype. Make sure you see Matt Corby the very next chance you get.