It’s a casual sit-down affair at The Rails on Thursday evening, candle-lit, except for those dastardly flashing fairy lights.
Support act Mark Gray is local singer-songwriter, who comes armed to face a sold out crowd with a handful of really decent songs and solid guitar technique. But in the face of an increasingly loud room, despite his very charming way with the audience (“I’m a local, so if you wanna come up and say ‘g’day’ after the gig, maybe we can be friends”. Irony detection results inconclusive.), his nerves take hold. He’d definitely turn your head if you passed him busking in the mall, but his charm struggles to translate to a difficult and indifferent crowd. He’s got shed-loads of potential, so it’s promising that he’s keeping good company with Josh Pyke.
Pyke’s standard-issue boy-with-a-guitar schtick is elevated to a cut above by a consummate professionalism and complete at-homeness on stage; where others might make this comfort look like another day at the office, Pyke’s self-confessed and well-known love for live performance translates to genuine audience engagement. “It’s an amazingly joyous experience,” he tells me in an earlier interview, “to connect with people every night in that way.”
A well-used loop pedal gives the solo performance the same lush layering effects of the studio, most liberally used in Only Sparrows with beats, percussion and harmonies layered into the mix.
Numbers like ‘The Summer’, the second song off the rank were a reminder of why punters came, comfortable melodies lifted by pathos-laden riffs, and lovely imagery. ‘Make You Happy’ soars, and the audience along with it and though we remain seated for the time being, feet are tapping, and shoulders swaying.
He creates an audience rapport early, getting an audience member up on stage, ostensibly for audience participation, and then gets him to adjust the fan positioned up on stage.
Finally, in a deft play of expectation management and mock humbleness, Pyke explains to his policy on encores when playing solo – it’s awkward for everyone, he doesn’t do it. “let’s pretend,” he tells us, “that this is the encore”. The genius in the move, is that five extra songs later, the audience is left with a just-recorded harmony layered on the loop pedal, and the feeling we’ve just been gifted some Josh Pyke overtime.