I know it’s clichéd, but Washington truly has had an incredible couple of years. We’ve watched her transform from an adorable musical nerd playing the Oxford Arts Factory to an absolutely breathtaking artist selling out the Sydney Opera House in just two years. Her Insomnia show for Sydney Festival completely lived up to the hype surrounding it, to say the least.
Rising Sydney star Oliver Tank took the prestigious Opera House stage first, fresh from winning FBi Radio’s Northern Lights competition in October that took him to a festival in Iceland as a performer. It was clear that he was quite humbled to take such a huge stage, and his minimalistic electronic pop was entrancing and quite beautiful. A cute moment during his half hour set was when he mentioned that it was his Mum’s birthday the next day, and did a little shoutout to her – the half-full Concert Hall was bemused and touched by this, and some cheered and applauded. It was lovely to witness such young, talented musician being given such a great opportunity. Oliver Tank was a wonderful warm-up act and I’d love to see him live again.
There was a half hour interval in which I took a glance at the stage set up – on the left there were seats for a small string section, as well as the usual band and percussion. Towards the front right of the stage, there was a microphone on a stand and near the back right of the stage, there was an extremely comfortable looking, well-worn sofa. The centerpiece of the stage was a gorgeous black piano, while the backdrop consisted of a blank screen with a black design sectioning the screen off.
As the interval ended, the orchestra and band entered the stage, sparking excitement and applause from the suddenly full Concert Hall. The conductor started a graceful string based piece, and soon Washington graced the stage, collapsing gently yet theatrically onto the sofa. The instrumental piece was the first of four instrumental interludes, composed by Washington and arranged by Daniel Denholm. The screen showed a video of Washington herself, with long hair decorated with flowers, bouncing up and down on an unseen trampoline in slow motion. The interlude finished, and Washington took to the microphone as she opened with one of my favourite tracks off the Insomnia EP, “Sentimental Education”.
The acoustics were fantastic and her voice sounded flawless as it filled the huge room. Washington went on to perform the rest of her EP. Between every two songs there was the instrumental interlude, during which the screen would show films of her doing some pretty obscure things, such as devouring all kinds of fruits quite messily. I even caught Megan herself shaking her head in amused disbelief (and most likely embarrassment) as these videos (to which words can’t do justice) lit up the backdrop. Sometimes, the images were so ridiculous that the audience had an audible chuckle, but for the most part, everyone was silent and spellbound.
Certainly no-one could utter a word when Washington was singing. The Insomnia show is only to be performed once in Australia, and four times internationally, and Washington explained this is because the EP is quite emotionally draining – the songs are intense and sad and she doesn’t really want to revisit them when constantly singing them live. Seeing Washington perform these songs made you understand how emotionally draining they could be to sing. The heart and soul with which Washington told her stories melodically was astounding and heartbreaking to watch.
Washington performed one song not featured on the EP, “Mirror In The Mirror”, just before the fourth interlude, and she closed the first part of her performance with “Holy Moses”, her only single from Insomnia. Although it was written into the program that she would perform two more songs (also not featured on the EP), she still received a huge cheer and applause to ensure she returned onstage.
After her two final songs, Washington received a unanimous standing ovation from the sold out crowd, and she looked genuinely humbled. Tears filled many peoples’ eyes, possibly including the singer’s own as she took a bow and made sure the people who shared the stage with her received the thanks they were certainly worthy of. She left the stage, but the cheering and applause carried on so long that she returned with a big smile on her face, mouthing thank you as she signaled to the orchestra what song she wanted to play. She sat herself at the piano and did the most heart-wrenchingly honest and magical performance of her ballad “80 Miles”, accompanied by cello, that I’ve ever seen. I know that my eyes were not dry when she played the last chord, and I’d go as far to say that there wouldn’t have been many dry eyes left in the house as Washington and the orchestra and band bowed, packed up and left the stage.
I have been to many concerts, and I have never been so moved by a performer, let alone been moved to tears. Washington’s Insomnia show was truly the best gig I have ever had the honour of attending – and I really hope for the benefit of all that missed it that she releases a DVD edition of it.
I’d recommend that the next time Washington announces anything like this, you buy tickets immediately. You certainly will not regret it. A quote from the souvenir Insomnia program reads: “This will be Washington’s first headline show in the main Concert Hall. But it won’t be her last.” Similarly, this was my sixth time having the pleasure of seeing Washington live, and it certainly will not be my last. She is truly something special.